8 bit Music Goodness

I’ll be starting on another game trailer project in June but for now I’m moving on to a couple of game music projects.

Any music can be used for games nowadays – if it suits – but one type of music that will always be associated with videogames is chip music – to use a broad definition: music created using sound chips on game console hardware. I’m keen to create music for the first game project using PXTone, the tracker (i.e. chip music creator) made by Cave Story‘s Daisuke Amaya; I’ll be taking a more traditional approach with the other project (more on that later).

Chip music has its superstars – especially from the C64 era – and some tunes stick in my head to this day. Ben Daglish and Rob Hubbard are two such personalities – Ben created one of my favourite soundtracks from the 8bit era: Last Ninja. Rob was responsible for some stonkin’ great tunes like the Commando theme.

Just recently I came across a morsel of greatness – Christopher Voss has created an 8 bit version of The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind, combining two great artforms in one. Now I’m more than ready to dive into some 8bit music creation for Tom Mulgrew‘s Thunderbolt!

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Hypnotic R&B Vibes

We’ve finished the video for “Amour”, a song by South Auckland R&B group, The Hypnotics.

My role was offline edit and post production grading. It was an enjoyable experience – especially getting to know a bit more about the group and their support network, which included long-time friends and members of the crew. Noma and Rita (the admin team for The Hypnotics and for Anonymouz Workz, the production company for producer / musician Anonymouz) threw a video launch party in Onehunga on Wednesday night where singer Jess put on some tasty nibbles and we got to see the video on a large projector screen in all its finished glory. Noma, Rita and The Hypnotics in general like to keep a real family vibe to the proceedings which makes a nice change from some industry events and ensures a relaxing atmosphere.

One minor annoyance about the night was a purely technical one – and whilst not my fault, still something to do with me. The problem was the occasional stutter in the playback of the video – I took my laptop along (Sony Vaio) to play the vid in HD through the Infocus x1 projector (the laptop the team planned to use wasn’t up to the HD playback). I tested the playback before I left home and it was smooth as silk. However, plugging into the projector saw the resolution of my screen pushed down from 1600×900 to something sad like 1024×768; my guess is that the slight lag about 2/3rds of the way into the video was caused by the laptop having to ‘scale’ the video down to the res the projector was putting out. At least the audio sync caught up in short order…

The edit itself went well all up – the most productive part was when Anonymouz, Jess and Ashley (Pitman – co-director and writer) sat in on the final draft for 6 hours and we spat out the finished edit together (with a few pizzas in the mix). I know some directors/editors create the final video without any input from the artists and present it to them as a completed product but I really enjoy the process of involving the artist, when they want to be involved, and getting their insight on what works for them and what doesn’t. I find I learn a lot in the process too and each time I’ve taken something significant away that’s cropped up in how I treat the next video I work on.

Follow The Hypnotics on Facebook and check out Anonymouz, producer wunderkind at www.anonymouz.co.nz

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Dope Myoozik

Dope D.O.D. hail from the Netherlands and bring a fresh take on hip hop that matches pulsing electronica beats to euro-inflected street rap.

Their videos are a big part of their appeal for me, showcasing the grimy and gritty with a polished cinematic visual aesthetic. I like the way the videos are tweaked by effects that twitch and stutter like a visual representation of the electronic backbone of the music.

Their bio makes for an interesting read – they have a visual arts team comprised of four artists who handle the photography, videos and paintings. After seeing the video below and being taken by the marriage of dubstep and street rap I went poking around the interwebs and was impressed by the cohesive brand they present to the world via their strong visual style. It’s a great idea to have a dedicated art team – hopefully they will all evolve together in new and interesting ways.

Their debut album “Branded” is due September this year (2011) and I’ll be keeping an eye and ear out to see whether there’s enough depth to the group and their music to herald a new wave in euro hip hop.

Thanks Ashley for the heads up!

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The Hart of New Zealand Comedy

NZ’s Leigh Hart is one of my favourite comedians.

This clip from the excellent Moon TV series shows Leigh’s trademark style of deadpan, gormless delivery as he bounces epic inanities off straight man and accomplished author, Joe Bennett.

I prefer comedians who play completely farcical characters in a straight, almost dramatic style. Leigh nails this style in his largely pseudo-documentary work with clips like this and this. He also works with other great comics who play off his style in a perfectly complementary fashion – as in this clip where Leigh, Jason and Matai speak with NZ Prime Minister, John Key.

We’ve exported a few good comedy acts lately – from Flight of the Conchords to Rhys Darby – it’s surely only a matter of time before Leigh Hart gets more high profile work overseas!

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At the time of writing there are 190 clips on Moon TV’s Youtube channel so check it out when you need a laugh!

Puddy Babypants

Those talented boffins at Mukpuddy Animation have put together the perfect little video for a track by Caspar Babypants called “Mister Rabbit”. (I always wanted to use the word “boffins” and now I really regret it…)

Caspar Babypants is a side project for the talented lead singer and songwriter of PUSA, Presidents of the USA, Chris Ballew.

The song is as catchy as any PUSA song; Chris Ballew reworks many children’s classics like “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Mary had a little lamb” and makes them sound fresh and engaging all over again.

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The hunt for decent 3D

In the last few years scouring the ‘Tube for 3D vids I have still only found one that seems to hit the ball out of the park. At the beginning of last year someone finally posted an HD version that uses Youtube’s 3D platform.

From what I can find out, Pangea The Neverending World hasn’t yet made it out of trailer form. It’s a proof of concept developed by a Hungarian animation studio: Aenima CGS. Someone should give them some money to make the full thing!

Of all the 3D content now on Youtube this lengthy trailer has the best 3D I’ve seen. Creatures and foliage loom out of the screen and the world feels layered and deep. It’s a pity there isn’t more work that shows this attention to detail. Even in nasty anaglyph (red/blue glasses) the 3D detail is palpable.

Be sure to watch it fullscreen, in the dark, in 1080p!

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I’ve gotten sick of clicking through so many videos on Youtube claiming to be 3D that are either badly transferred or just badly made in the source so I’ve started putting together a Youtube Playlist of 3D videos that are worth watching. It’s very small at the moment but I intend to grow it as I discover more videos that are worth the time. Please let me know if you find any and I’ll add them to the list!

Hypocrite Central

I saw our music video on the news again tonight – usually a cause for celebration but the circumstances weren’t so great.

Plenty can be said about the wrongs of celebrities but what I find most frustrating is the self-righteousness of the public. Celebrities do the same things the rest of us do – some more so than others, of course, but they’re imperfect beings like every single one of us. Acknowledging that doesn’t justify what they do, and certainly, some “flaws” may be considered less socially acceptable than others, but we seem to think that celebs should be possessed of some superhuman capacity for perfection.

Where does the sense of self-righteousness come from? Morality as society has known it came originally from simple words of wisdom like “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” and yet from the same book we discover what I find to be a compelling truth – that there are no degrees of “wrong” – there’s right and there’s wrong. I can hear the accusations of fundamentalism already but my make-up isn’t baked that way. I just agree with the sentiment of letting “him who is without sin cast the first stone.”

This reflection was brought about when I saw the aforementioned article and recalled a Facebook post from a few years back where some woman had been caught molesting children in a daycare – a horrible crime, but what scared me at the time was the mass of comments from Facebookers saying things like: “she should be tied to a chair and beaten and left to burn. I’ll light the match” and, “if you see this woman in the street spit in her face and pull her hair out”. Things to that effect. What further shocked me was the varying demographics of the virtual lynch mob – an elderly woman had left some equally vicious comments.

What a bunch of perfect, self-righteous hypocrites we are!

Warning: black comedy (with a sarcastically valid message) alert – if you’re sensitive, do not watch

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Additional: a friend pointed out that I should probably explain the context of the embedded video to avoid any misinterpretation. My reading of the video is that it’s a sarcastic comment intending the opposite message than that stated at the end of the video i.e. there is no excuse. I thought the patent absurdity of the situation was made clear (that level of reaction to… that?) If you’ve seen much in the way of scottish and irish humour you’d likely be used to its sometimes dark nature. I included the video in case someone reading this post thought I condoned or excused domestic violence in associates or friends. I do not. I just don’t think I have any right to judge them.

Can’t Control myself…

One thing I find annoying of late is the misuse of traditional “joystick” type controls in iOS games – that is, a less-than-ideal implementation of the virtual joystick on the left side of the screen with buttons on the right – or any variation thereof. NB: After posting the first draft of this article I had to repost to acknowledge games I’ve played where the virtual joystick did work ok – that’s what I get for rushing a post out just to meet a deadline xD. But what does stand out to me is the feeling that the virtual joystick seems like a retreat to traditional methods for convenience. I won’t go so far as to claim a lack of originality but it seems like the new interface paradigm of touch and tilt calls for a completely new approach.

The dual virtual joysticks of games like Minigore work relatively well for me – and I played through Lego Harry Potter with only minimal frustration. However, I stand by my original post in that I haven’t yet seen a stand out implementation that definitively validates the combination of the touch platform with the joystick control scheme.

The video below shows an RPG for iOS that I really like and would play a lot more if I could but the control scheme is waaaaay too frustrating. The joystick control is small and fiddly and so are the buttons. Maneuvering through menus is an extremely annoying affair involving much backtracking and careful presses. I know I’ve got fat fingers but this is ridiculous!

I’ve got the first two games in this series so far but have only played a little way through the first. I see the third game is out now but I can’t bring myself to purchase it when the control scheme for the first two isn’t manageable. The game is great fun, as far as I’m able to play it, but the control scheme is too annoying to continue. I know I’m not alone in this – it’s been mentioned in a few reviews and by many a player in various forums and feedback spots. Without being too derogatory of the effort Gamevil have put into every other aspect of the game – the excellent graphics, reasonably engaging story, world design, and RPG fan-friendly game mechanics – I’m convinced the virtual joystick method could’ve been implemented far better than it is here, and the design of the menus seems, frankly, to be ill-conceived in its fall back to a standard approach.

So are there any “traditional” RPGs out there for iOS with a decent control scheme?

Developers, PLAY your own game! Um… well, actually, in this video they are, so… yeah… but note how he keeps lifting his thumb/finger off to change direction – you should be able to roll it for true ease of use! <– so say I

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3D Gaming Sux… if you’re BLIND

I realised I haven’t posted a lot of game stuff on ‘the interactivist’ because I’m posting that on PlayMaker. But as that’s always about NZ development I can at least post about some of the stuff I’ve been playing that isn’t from NZ.¬†Problem is, I haven’t been playing a lot lately haha.

It’s a sad thing when it feels like a luxury to play a game but I’ve been fairly busy. However, I’m well aware it’s a bit rich to call yourself a game designer if you don’t play games! The problem for me is that I like playing the big games – big story, big setting, loooooooong play time. I don’t enjoy FPS multiplayer anymore because I don’t put in enough time to last longer than 5 seconds against the tween assassins out there.

I have Assassin’s Creed II to play through. Yes, I haven’t even made it to Brotherhood yet. But I’ve held off AC2 because I want to put aside a good chunk of time to really get into it. I played Assassin’s Creed 1 in stereoscopic 3D and it was such a great experience that I wanted to do the same with 2. And I know from experience that you can get well caught up in a game that you’re fully immersed in…

What I’m sick of are all the web commenters out there who say that 3D is crap, a gimmick, a passing fad. What is a passing fad, perhaps, are the glasses – the way we view 3D now. But if you’ve ever seen 3D gaming with the right settings (not as straightforward as you’d think – see below) you can’t compare 2D gaming at all. I can understand that some people don’t like it, don’t get it yet, and aren’t impressed with our current standard. But to outright deny 3D as the next step in visual media is stupid.

Put your 3D glasses on… now.

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I’ve never had a more immersive experience than when I was playing in stereoscopic 3D. I’ve never felt more fully transported to another world. It’s like the difference between sound and colour and black and white silent – if not greater. I played Tomb Raider 1 on a huge projector screen for an entire weekend when it first came out and me and a friend at the time were completely caught up in the experience. I played Tomb Raider Anniversary – the remake of the first game – in stereoscopic 3D a few years ago and felt like I’d taken a revolutionary step forward in immersion. COD4′s modern warfare genre is not something I’d usually play but as soon as I started up the first level and landed on the boat I was sold. I pretty much didn’t put either COD4, TRA or AC1 down when I picked them up in 3D. Hence my need to hold off on AC2 for now…

The problem with 3D gaming is that you can manually fiddle with the convergence and depth settings. This is a problem because they aren’t automatically set for you and different games require different settings to best convey the experience. It’s also a problem because the settings I’ve found on the net that are supposedly “optimal” seem to be setup in most cases to reduce eyestrain. That’s obviously not a bad thing but I’m convinced the better experience to be had in 3D should strain your eyes – at least, at first.¬†I found that pushing the settings so that you were right inside the world was the most immersive thing to do (sounds obvious but when you see what an initial strain that is it seems better, at first, to push the settings back). When we made our 3D music video we had a number of 3D technologists who essentially said that the common concern about eyestrain was a storm in a teacup as the effect was something that your eyes eventually adjusted to – like most things we experience that push us physically in some way.

To ensure the best experience you also have to have your screen fill your field of view. That generally means sitting right in front of your monitor. I haven’t tried PS3 3D yet but I wouldn’t be surprised if Sony have gone with ‘safe’ settings by default when it comes to convergence and depth, thus lessening the overall experience. And how many people sit close enough to their TV to have it fill their field of view?

Bah! I’ve got a lot more to say on 3D but I’ve blathered enough for now. I’ll make a more readable bullet-point list at some stage in the future!

Editing a music video – the balancing act

One of the interesting things about editing a music video, I find, is that there’s a real balancing act to manage the expectations of the artist(s) against those of the technical crew. This is even more apparent when working on relatively low budget productions.

The artist, of course, wants to look their best – and ideally that’s everyone’s goal for the video, as a music video’s primary purpose is to promote the artist and their music. The technical crew want their work to look the best – the shots they’ve taken, the way they’ve lit the set and every aspect of production that showcases their abilities. Their needs are also important as they are usually (at least in New Zealand) contributing their time and effort for a greatly reduced rate based on the understanding that they will use the resultant product as a calling card for their services.

The DP (Director of Photography) wants you, as an editor, to use only the shots with the best photography – the best lighting on the subject, the most interesting angle and ‘how’d they do that’ camera move. The artist wants only the shots that show their good side; those that catch their most natural moments of showmanship, not the ones where they’ve pulled a strange look to camera or performed an awkward move during the discomfort of trying to get “in the moment” at a public location with a crowded set and a tinny ghetto blaster providing playback(!). These issues may well be mitigated by larger budgets but with the scope of productions in New Zealand we are forced to deal with them on a regular basis.

The obvious issue that arises is when the needs of the two parties clash – the perfect shot that shows the DPs best-lit work contains a less-than-flattering angle of the artist, or the artist’s most natural looking moment of rock-star-cool happens as they pull back from their mark and go slightly soft focus… And when you’ve had to cram a three day shoot into one day there aren’t a lot of options.

Speaking of conflict between actor and crew, here’s the famous Klaus Kinski in one his many tirades at a crew member. The balancing act of managing volatile temperaments under pressure conditions is a whooole other post for another time…

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There’s no easy answer for this. My personal choice 95% of the time is to go with the best look for the artist over any technical issues – but I’ve also made the call at the 11th hour to completely reedit a significant chunk of a video because the DP was really unhappy with the shots used. In that case, the artist had made his own stipulations around any changes made to the cut he’d seen (i.e. we weren’t allowed to make any!) but thankfully, when it came down to it, he didn’t mind – I think mostly because he was unavailable at the time we had to make the edit and he only saw it much later so time had probably dulled his memory somewhat. I made the choice to edit, even so late in the piece, because my relationship with the DP was important to me and the shots used were important to him.

I don’t know if anyone else outside of NZ faces these issues but I know it’s something you have to get used to, working here. It keeps the tension high and makes for a significant personal win when everyone is pleased with the results! (fingers crossed for the current project!)