Tag Archives: vjarmy

Game Over Media Interviewed Me

Back in November, I got an email from a friend-of-a-friend named Alan Flaten, a grad student at University of Florida. One of his projects was related to beatmania IIDX, and he felt that an interview with me would really help bring the project together.

The interview went live on his site back in April, and I realized just now that I neglected to link to it. So if you’re deeply interested in my answers to questions like “When and why did you decide to start-up VJ Army?” and “Do you still play IIDX today?”, now you can know! (Not much has changed answer-wise since November.)

Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

Going Beyond

On May 3rd of last year, I made a critical decision that I never spoke about here: I began a shutdown of VJ Army and Pop’n Navy, the two Bemani community sites that had been the lifeblood of my web presence since 2004. (No, my blog is not called VJ Army.)

The decision was not a hard one: a lack of time/resources for programming had left both sites in a code stasis for over a year. Bugs weren’t getting fixed, and no relief was in sight. Complicating things was a forum community that was mostly interested in sniping and trolling each other. I no longer felt like a member in my own forums, and that weighed heavily on my conscious. It was a deeply painful failure to keep what had once been a civil, “good” corner of the gaming community from turning toxic.
While the sites officially shut down a month later on my birthday (a perverse birthday gift for myself), users were able to export their personal data into a portable XML format until what was supposed to be December 31st, 2009.

IIDX Hardcore For Life

As it turned out, that day I was in Akihabara, playing the very games that I had fallen in love with back in 2003. As my interest in Bemani has waned dramatically over the last few years, it’s not lost on me that as I clicked away and slapped the plastic turntable back and forth, no thoughts passed through my head about recording scores or checking where I was ranked.

The data survived into 2010 until tonight, when I finally pulled the trigger and expunged all the data from my database. So if you hadn’t exported your data yet – I apologize, but you’re too late. I don’t have a copy anymore.

There were countless things I learned from the five years the sites ran: nerdy things about database optimization and PHP’s image libraries; hard fought struggles with moderating communities and building good controls for data review; pointers on staffing a no-profit web site and balancing life versus your projects. Maybe these lessons will surface in other posts over the coming year – maybe they won’t. There is just one on my mind tonight:

The best schools and books and teachers in the world are no comparison to going out and building something that people want to use. Go: dig your hands into the soil (as it were), and create something. Be the president, the support technician, the artist, the lead programmer, the project manager. Take all of the credit and accept all of the blame.
I’ve quoted this before, but I can think of nothing more fitting:

> Don’t be afraid. If you want to do something, just go ahead and do it, but be prepared to take the blame, to feel the fall. Don’t sit around waiting to be asked, to be given permission. Just get out there and do it.

As I said in the original shutdown notice – it was a great five years, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.


Regret, Sadness, Heartbreak, and Disbelief

It is fall of 2005, and Bemanistyle is down for an indeterminable length of time.
An upstart gaming center in Rhode Island called Tokyo Game Action immediately felt the effects of this outage – their website was hosted by Bemanistyle. Without a proper website, their community was being extinguished – and for an arcade that largely relied on the patronage of hardcore gamers, community is everything.
But as luck would have it, my forums were readily available – and in a decision I don’t honestly recall making, I quickly made a temporary forum so they could keep operations going. (A similar forum popped up on Shoryuken to maintain the fighting game side of the house.)
That was when I first had a chance to talk to Andy McGuire, the owner of TGA, who sent me a heartfelt note. I was immediately struck by his courtesy and motivations for opening TGA:

I don’t know how much you know about TGA, but TGA is unique in the fact that we are 100% dedicated to bringing the best Bemani experience possible to the United States. I won’t bore you with the sacrifices I have made and continue to make to make TGA a reality, but in short I do it for the love of the Bemani community and a service to humanity.

Every penny that TGA receives, goes right back into the store. I have accepted that TGA is my God given mission (literally, I am a Christian) to bring happiness to people in a way that’s not violent or vulgar. I live a simple life and dedicate all my time and finances to make this work.

Besides finances the most important part of keeping TGA alive is communications. And our website being down has killed us. But because of your assistance TGA is surviving and helping keep it’s head above water.

He offered to send me a full set of IIDX Happy Sky E-Amuse cards as a token of his gratitude – but as enticing as they may have been, I declined. I wrote to him then:

While I greatly appreciate the offer, I’m going to have to politely decline for a simple reason: After being in the community for 4 years (as of next week, anyhow), I have seen far too many places come and go – people who pour their heart and souls into businesses like this and unfortunately after a certain number of months, flame out for whatever reason. I would much rather see you keep the cards and sell them to your regular customers and keep the business going properly.



Andy’s dream had, thanks to his selflessness and sacrifice, managed to survive since that time. TGA played host to two Bemani community festivals, both fantastically received. And through the last three years, Andy always managed to keep all of his Bemani machines up to date with the latest releases – which is not an easy task when they are intended for release in Japan only.
But while he was in Japan in December – researching the newest Bemani releases, working on getting BlazBluedisaster struck Massachusetts, and TGA was heavily damaged by flooding.
TGA stayed closed after the flood, but Andy did everything he could to work towards re-opening.
Today, Andy’s dream has come to a heartbreaking end:

Tokyo Game Action is officially closed forever. With no income and other problems due to the flood, we are drowning in bills it is impossible to recover and reopen.

To pay our creditors and to prevent my family from being thrown out on the street (literally), I am left with no choice but to auction all of TGA’s assets.

TGA will be auctioning everything we have in May to pay our bills. Every game, pcb, poster, keychain, chair, plate, fork, Arch stand, figures, software, bowling ball, everything in TGA has to be sold.

My heart goes out to Andy and his family, to all the staff of TGA, and to everyone who had the opportunity to call it their arcade home.
I hope to finally make the trek to TGA in May for the final liquidation – not in the hopes of purchasing anything, but to give my respects to a man who wanted nothing more than to bring happiness to a community of gamers.

VJ Army Thanked In Burning Crusade Manual

I can’t claim discovery rights for this – said credit goes to [Omni](http://omni-remix.livejournal.com/) from my forums – but [VJ Army](http://vjarmy.com/iidx/) was [thanked in the manual](http://vjarmy.com/junkbin/wowbc-vja.jpg) of the new World Of Warcraft expansion, [Burning Crusade](http://media.worldofwarcraft.com/bc-minisite/index.htm).

This doesn’t come as a huge shock to me – details as to the how and why are detailed in my [needlessly gushing post](http://vjarmy.com/forum/index.php?s=&showtopic=3721&view=findpost&p=99945) on the forums.

Still, it’s well timed – VJ Army turns 3 this Friday.

VJ Army 4.0 Preview

In January of 2004, I launched the first major version of [VJ Army](http://vjarmy.com/iidx/), my Beatmania IIDX score tracking and community site.

Since that time, over 2500 users have registered, inputting nearly 500,000 scores collectively across 10 different game titles. By all traditional means, the site is a smashing success.

However, reality has set in recently: the site has always been rough around the edges, because I am not a designer. Worse, my time to work on the site has been greatly limited as my work obligations continue to grow.

Luckily, there is relief in sight. I am happy to announce VJ Army 4.0, scheduled for release around September 1st of this year. 4.0 represents massive overhauls to both the codebase and the VJ Army coding process. I’ve been really pleased with what’s been accomplished so far, and I’d like to give you a little tour through some of the fantastical newness.

Warning: lots of mind-blowing screenshots ahead.

Continue reading VJ Army 4.0 Preview

Illogical

You may have noticed the server is having some availability problems lately.

I can assure you that we’re working on it, but at this point it’s pretty baffling. The hardware has been replaced, the OS has been reinstalled, there aren’t any weird syslog messages, and yet still we crash for unknown reasons.

Mighty frustrating.

beatmania IIDX RED Rival Exchange

The recently released *[beatmania IIDX RED](http://www.konami.jp/gs/game/bm2dx/11red/)* features a new set of functionality allowing you to load up to five saves from other players into your game as rivals, and giving you in-game comparison between your scores and theirs.

While it’s a great feature, there’s one small shortcoming: there’s no way to go online to exchange saves.

As of late last night, [VJ Army](http://vjarmy.com/iidx/) has begun supporting upload of PS2 save files for your profile. Any user can upload one save in any of the common save formats (XPO, XPS, MAX, SPS), and the file will be hosted on this server. If you’re a VJ Army member, sign in and then look on the left hand menu for “Upload Rival Data” to find the form. (And remember to set your user ranking in the control panel.)

If you’re not a member of VJ Army – or even if you are – and want to browse the files that have been uploaded, you can do so on the [Find Rival Data](http://vjarmy.com/iidx/findrivaldata.php) page.

And if this all confuses you, documentation should be available within the next couple of days.

Slow Country

VJ Army/Pop’n Navy users may be noticing the site is terribly slow.

There are a few causes for this – explosive growth in the user base in the past few weeks, my rather poorly optimized code – but there’s also an issue with the kernel on the box the site is hosted on. We’re working on it as best we can, but unfortunately, performance is wavering. I appreciate any patience you can manage to hold on to while we try to resolve this.

Blog will continue running at regular speed.

Don’t Let It Go

This post is going to be somewhat cryptic and bizarre, and I apologize for those of you who end up scratching your heads. I promise, this will be the only one for now.

A little over four years ago, I first stepped into the Bemani community. As with most passionate online communities, it has never been a friendly world. Know-it-alls, shit-talkers, preachers and perverts, gangsters and thugs. Even a few people who just wanted to enjoy their video games.

My love/hate relationship with DDR provided cover as I buried myself in Beatmania IIDX. IIDX, you see, has historically been a game for isolationists. It is not exciting to watch at parties. It does not make you look excessively idiotic. Two-player modes are more of a distraction than an enjoyable mode of play. It is the sort of game that requires heavy concentration and discipline. It begs for the sort of perfection that can only come from someone playing the same song over and over again, much like modern day Japanese [shmups](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scrolling_shooter).

While I was playing IIDX for that first year, I began slapping down a small score tool in PHP to provide me with the ability to track my scores from game to game. And somewhere in there, as I closed flamewar threads on [DDRFreak](http://www.ddrfreak.com/) and thumbed through the junk on [Bemanistyle](http://www.bemanistyle.com/), some thoughts popped into my head.

> What if there was a way to move the community in a positive direction?
> What if all these people could come together and be civilized?
> Is it worth pouring time and energy into something – purely out of my love for a game – in the hopes that people will enjoy it?
> Can this be done without causing more drama?

I took a chance and leapt at the project. I will spare you the cataloging of sacrifices I’ve made for the project, because the truth is, I enjoyed challenging myself with some of the work.

The site has been, to a large extent, a success. It’s popular, the code is not entirely broken, and the community is mostly harmonious. But it’s that “mostly” is what gets to me.

I’ve always said that it’s far more easy to remember the bad times than the good – you’re going to remember stress over pleasure. Happiness doesn’t leave scars. Thus, I know that I’m overreacting to the drama that has arisen in the last few hours. I know that steps I have taken to smother the flames were overly broad.

But when I realize that the amount of time I’m pouring into the site is dominating the time I actually spend playing the game that inspired it by a ratio of at least 4:1, and that a sizable chunk of that time is spent babysitting the community, it’s hard not to have your faith shaken.