As hinted at yesterday, the syndicated feed gamegirladvance (now with two watchers - woohoo, saved 0.301 of a unit!) point to a gamers.com report that there'll be an orchestral concert of video game music in May. Expected attendance: 18,000. This apparently isn't a first; a followup on GGA points to a similar Japanese CD of orchestrations of video game themes that's over eleven years old. That page includes samples of some of them, including a minute and a half of streaming Super Mario World. <jazz-club>Mmm... quickstep</jazz-club>. I declare it to be really rather nice; the first reason to be of good cheer. Big band fans, where might I turn next for more similar works?
We've heard things a little like this before: imperious Bubble Bobble fan site www.bubandbob.com points to a marching band's live performance of the Bubble Bobble theme and more and dr4b has mentioned that her marching band have done a few video game tunes in the past.
OK, here's the RealAudio trick. The document above streams, so when you click on the link you have to download 200K of Mario every single time you want to listen to it. Now suppose you want to download it to your computer either because you don't want the expense of downloading it every single time you want to listen to it - or, possibly more to the point, because you don't want the possibility of the site voluntarily or involuntarily deciding not to permit you to listen to it any more. When you try "Save Target As..." then it downloads a 44-byte text file consisting of rtsp://www.rpgfan.com/soundtracks/ogc1/0
From here, what I do is create a new HTML document in some text editor which reads <a href="http://www.rpgfan.com/soundtracks/ogc1/06.rm">x</a> and save it as (in my case) temp.html on the desktop. Then viewing this temp.html in a web browser, right-clicking on your little x link and using "Save Target As..." is normally enough to yoink a copy of the file off their server for you to keep locally. It doesn't always work (notably, the BBC are particularly good at protecting their RealMedia content) and quite frequently you find that the file extension will change beyond your control (so you have to twiddle the HTML by hand again) but I find that I want to try it, or other related URL-mangling save-target-as tricks, about once a month and so it's a technique that comes in handy enough for me to keep this temp.html on my desktop. It's hardly 31337 rocket science, but it's kind of neat. The usual copyright restrictions apply to any files that you yoink in this fashion, of course.
Bit of a shame that nobody has expressed interest in the "weird games" blog, but I may well go ahead and do it myself anyhow. (I may well edit and reuse some of the content from here and other things I have written in the past, at least to get things started. It's a bit of a cheat, but never mind.) This is the sort of thing that I would like to include.
I've always been interested in trying to discover what the next big new sport will be. My last hope, Slamball (as televised on TNN, three thousand miles away from here) sank without trace, but apparently it's good to watch when you're drunk. Well, that's something, at least. I've also long been interested in the overlap between sports and video games.
The world of pro video gaming is very slowly getting its act together. There have been video game contests for very nearly as long as there have been video games, the (spiritual if not necessarily organisational) centre of which has long been the boldly-named Twin Galaxies Intergalactic Scoreboard. (Their record book contains some interesting historical matter other than the records themselves.) Now in this day and age when the biggest PC and console games can and do sell millions, you would have thought that the one-in-a-million best PC gamer would attract as much attention as the one-in-a-million outstanding competitor in another field. This hasn't happened yet to the extent that I would expect.
Specifically, console game competitions are relatively weak; the advantage that console game contests would have over PC games is that consoles are remarkably standardised compared to PCs. My suspicion is that there isn't more prominence paid simply because there are so many different games and it's not necessarily the case that it's the games that have sold the most which attract most prominence among the pro video gaming community. One might expect Nintendo to sponsor the World Nintendo Games Championships, but it doesn't seem to have happened. Perhaps console games depend too much on fast twitch reactions to be effectively played online, though I don't suppose they would necessarily require faster communication than PC games played online; first-person shooters (etc.) played online aren't perfect, but they have proved "good enough" for very many.
However, the World Cyber Games doesn't seem to have exploded yet, three annual iterations in, so it looks like having a reasonable shot at being there for the long term and becoming the big name in the field - all assuming (fingers crossed) that there aren't severe problems in perpetual host nation South Korea. At a national level, things seem to be picking up in the UK with the existence of the Virtual Gaming Alliance, which brings together lots of internet cafés set up for online games and the like. As trade organisations go, it seems to be fairly well-founded from the outside. A quiet grower for the next 3-5 years, I say, then it might start to get somewhere; depends whether EasyEverything has a huge impact on the Internet café market in the end or not.
I'm going to assume that everyone's familiar with at least the concept of Dance Dance Revolution by now - if not, please see previous discussion and links therefrom. Even if you're only familiar with the concept, you may very well be as amused, impressed and gobsmacked as I was by these videos of Yasu getting AAA on Max 300. In non-technical language, this represents ridiculously-small-fraction-of-a-second accuracy on each of 555 steps within 88 seconds of dance. (Technical question: so why does the combo metre go up to 573 when the final results claim 555?)
The sixth video on the linked page - sorry, the web page requests no direct links to the videos - shows you what the player would have seen, not least just how distracting the psychedelic in-game background graphics are; the seventh video down shows you the player's feet - a ridiculous, phenomenal feat of pedal dexterity - and the fifth video down shows you a whole-body view of the overall performance. I wish this had been recorded on a quadruple-speed video camera and played back at about half speed as the legs sometimes quite literally motion blur almost out of recognition. It's an outrageous physical feat that advances the state of human achievement, albeit in a specialised field. I can't think what sustained, ceaseless act of outlandish timing in any other sport to compare it to. (One only wonders what the future can hold.)
That said, I still tend to enjoy the freestyle videos more and have found a link to my favourite DDR video of all time - not technically the most impressive, but the one which I enjoy most. (Maybe because it's the first one I downloaded; maybe because it's a full, sensible dance routine with an identifiable start, an identifiable end and a lovely sense of progression to it.) It's the third on this page. Admittedly I can't get the link there to work, but I can't think of a better way to identify the video in question. :-) A glass raised to the stars, then to those who play just for fun. It's a conceptually impressive game not least because of its amazing learning curve, yet it should be fun wherever you are on it with the precise position really being irrelevant.
Finally, let's go retro-futuro. Ten years ago, I was hoping that laser games would turn out to be the sport of the future. Admittedly the technology involved is older than some of you are - there's a good history, but it's pretty US-centric. What it doesn't mention is that much as there was a huge franchise-driven mid-'80s Photon boom in the US, there was similar mania in the UK around about 1990-1991. I believe that something like 150 or 200 centres were inaugurated around the UK, maybe even slightly more, of which very many fairly quickly failed as businesses. Currently I think there are something like forty or fifty left - Laser Arena was a pretty good resource but is being rebuilt right now. The number is probably staying roughly constant, with a handful of inaugurations and a handful of failures.
At the time there was considerable rivalry between the various systems, not least because each system has its own quirks and requires different timing in order to play well. There were (are!) three prevalent systems in the UK, Quasar, Laser Quest and Megazone. Quasar (known around the rest of the world as Q-Zar) had the biggest supernova of them all, peaking at well over a hundred franchises. Indeed, they once managed to organise a regional => national => European knockout competition with slightly more than a hundred British teams involved. I learned laser games at a Quasar centre in Hartlepool, an inconvenient fifteen-mile journey away, so it remains my first love. Detractors will point to the famous width of the Quasar gun beams - you typically only need to shoot within a few inches of a sensor for your shot to count. Laser Quest was the major rival at the time, though it's now down to fewer than twenty locations. Megazone (known as Ultrazone in the US, and many other Zone-ish names around the world...) still claims to have 21 UK locations left. There are a number of smaller systems left, but scattered very thinly.
Worldwide, things have broadly stabilised over the last three years or so. Laser games (or laser tag, if you're American) aren't the next big thing any more - very nearly anyone who wants to play will have played at least once by now. Successful businesses tend to be based first and foremost on being a location birthday parties, though a healthy tourist population and a good location can provide useful back-up with drop-in income. As a sport, it's always struggled - there have been centre-vs.-centre competitions; these days, the hardest-fought competition is the Laser Quest North American Challenge, which has been running for about seven years now and is up to about 50-60 entrants with four regional heats preceding the finals. Sometimes a team will travel intercontinentally for competition, but only quite rarely.
The other reason why I've always been interested in laser games as having the "next big sport" potential is that they have that very-faintly-outlaw vibe common with many of the sports in the X-Games and so forth. Crucially, it's more usually played as a team sport whereas the X-Games "action sports" are largely individual (or pairs, or threes). Admittedly the most frequent way for this to manifest itself is with some slightly naughty taunting and derived "smack talk". There have proved to be exactly two guys who have proved that they can do it with charisma, style and wit over the years to the extent that I have kept some of their funnier newsgroup postings simply because they can be guaranteed to amuse me anew a couple of times per year. Take bows, Messrs. Brian Obee and Bernie Bregman. Everyone else just ends up being half-baked, insulting punks more often than not when they do it.
However, whether you're a seasoned player or just vaguely interested, you may well enjoy this video (.mov Quicktime format, about 15 MB) by the aforementioned talented Mr. Obee. The details aside, it's simply a group of guys playing with tremendous skill, speed and athleticism. There's a real sort of jousting competitiveness to the action - it's as fast-moving, aesthetic and spectacular as a good wrestling bout. You'll soon see why I've coupled it with a post about the spectacular DDR movies above. Of course, when (you or...?) I play a laser game, it looks almost nothing like the way that the best players can play, but it's fun all the same. Certainly something to aspire to, though, and fantastic demonstrations of just how exciting and admirable both games can look when played at their top levels. To me, that's a reason to be very cheerful.
More about laser games another day.
As if by magic, the last entry but one went Friends-only. Sorry!