Best Of Debated Endured Narrated

Rub The Felt: Looking Back At ETech 2007

I’ve just spent the week in San Diego at O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference – aka ETech 2007. The theme was the old Arthur C. Clarke quote, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

I came out to San Diego for two reasons. The first was intentional: my job has an underlying requirement that I be aware of what’s going on in the tech world, and I can’t think of a conference more targeted at that line of thinking than ETech. The second was unintentional: in the time since I booked my conference registration, I have burned out very hard on a serious personal project, and I grew to look forward to this time as a chance to reboot myself in terms of technological interests.

In both respects, I believe it was a success.

Best Of Enjoyed

TaQ at Carnegie Hall

Today was a special day for Bemani nerds in the NYC area.

Taku “TaQ” Sakakibara, well known as the producer of hard techno for the Beatmania IIDX series, had his first symphony, “Antevorte”, premiered at Carnegie Hall. The piece was performed by the New York Symphonic Ensemble, as part of the Velia International Music Festival.

The program describes TaQ thusly:

TaQ Program + Autograph

Winning a second prize in the violin competition called “Jugend Musiziert” at 10 years old, TaQ started his career as the composer at the age of 11 in Germany. He is well known in Techno and Electronica at first. However, since he has been familiar to classical music and orchestra for a long time, there have been wide variations among his music in terms of taste of orchestral music. Joining digital sound and analog sound together such as techno and classical music, he immediately hit his stride and excelled. Both digital and acoustic music fans excitedly welcomed his gargantuan distribution to the famous multimedia online game “Granado Espada”.

Recently, he got more concentrated in orchestration itself. TaQ’s music has been more focused on “ongaq (music)” than any kind of specific genre of music with his faith that there’s no precise and strict boundary in music to enjoy listening.

The notes on the piece:

Stromatiolite, the oldest of mineral substances that first released oxygen, is often described as an inorganic organic matter that provides a spark for an emergence of life on earth. TaQ’s album ongaq: stromatolite, which was consisted of electronic music, runs on the following motif, inspired by the title stromatolite: the expansiveness of the nature, the genesis of life, and the long path to the present. A long flow of history that went from a piece of ore and finally formed a town through a sum of things that the nature kingdom holds is expressed through the world of his music.

Although it is just a little mineral ore, stromatolite has been kept watching the long and the epic proportional life of everything on earth for an excessive amount of long time. Stromatolite has been always philosophical about releasing oxygen though any drastic changes or big biological evolution had been occurred in its surroundings. For the ore, all evolutionary transitions that have been happened in the universe through the enormously long time and eras for us is perfectly same as what it does today and the future is sure to be scheduled naturally by continue doing the same thing. Tremendous long time is almost like a blap. It’s same as the fact that the structure of universe and human cellula are so the same each other.

This four-movement symphony shows you the parallel universe of “stromatolite,” the world as a theme, with philharmonic orchestra. The keyword for the entire symphony is “time.” Since it is the parallel world, main theme of the symphony is from “stromatolite.” The parallel world shows a life of a person so a lot of changes are happening during the movements.

Antevorte, the great Roman goddess of “time” and “future” join sthese two world which seems to be different each other together. She lets us know that there’s no difference in time, what we can see is only a fragment of the long time and the future is neither dreamy nor uncertain but full of reality.

The piece itself is what I could best describe as “cinematically orchestral” – it would not feel out of place in a movie or game. It was certainly in line with TaQ’s existing work – I felt some touches of the stromatolite album, as well as the inevitable comparison to Distress (which had a very orchestral feel in the middle).

To those people hoping for a recording, Carnegie Hall rules forbid anything even resembling a recording device, although there’s a chance the hall itself could release a CD of the event.

While I didn’t get to say much to TaQ myself, these were the bits I caught in conversation:

  • He is fluent in English, German, and Japanese.
  • He will not be returning to make any more music for Bemani games in the foreseeable future – was very firm about this.
  • He did mention a Konami-related project he was asked to work on that he will probably be contributing to – but asked us not to tell anyone, so that’s as far as this goes.
  • His manager, Jade, mentioned to me that this was TaQ’s first trip to NYC, that he loved it, and that they would love to do a “bounce” night at a club in New York. Pacha was mentioned as a possible venue. (I agreed this was a fantastic idea.)


(My apologies to anyone who was looking to talk to me more – we had to depart after the intermission because another project needed my time, and I figured I had gotten what I came for.)

Best Of Debated

Save Yourself

Back in July, in a fit of self-documenting, I took two pictures relating to my gaming library. I caught a small amount of hell because the PSP library is larger than the DS library by at least a 2:1 ratio. (It should be noted that games are missing from both pictures, and this ratio has not changed since the pictures were taken.)

There are many reasons for this, but this post is not about why. At least, this is not about most of the reasons why. Instead, it’s about one reason that is not solely limited to the DS, although it does happen there more than anywhere else.

Save The Data

Many video games are too long to finish in one sitting. Because of this, ways to save the game state have been created over the years. Three have stood out.

First was the idea of passwords: usually a string of letters which you can re-enter later and the game deciphers it to drop you back around where you were. Some games used other methods – symbols, numbers, and in the case of Capcom’s Mega Man series, a grid. Mega Man 3 is pictured at right with a password that starts you at the end of the game – two colored symbols placed in key locations on a 6×6 grid.

Passwords were painful for two reasons: one, they were often long and unwieldy. Passwords for the NES game Rambo were 32 characters long and case-sensitive. This made most passwords hard to capture, hard to re-enter, and easy to mess up. Two, passwords can only capture so much information – so for games with detailed inventories or statistics, a password is rarely able to save the state properly.

Next came per-game battery backups. By adding a small battery and some RAM to a game cartridge, games could save their state and have it maintained with the power off. Often users were given three or four “slots” in which to save state. This worked terribly well for most games that needed to save more data. Pictured at right is Nintendo’s Startropics – the save screen is familiar to anyone who’s every played The Legend Of Zelda

Still, battery backups were not flawless. They added cost to the production of the game, which was difficult to justify when saving things like settings or high scores. But even more problematic was when the gaming media of choice shifted from cartridges (which could be read-write) to CD-ROM media (read-only). In a related sense, as games grew and grew, the amount of data that needed to be stored also grew – and battery backup didn’t provide a lot of space.

The answer to this problem – and in a way, where we still stand today – became memory cards, or at least user-controlled storage. Gamers could have a small card that they plugged into their consoles, and the games knew how to interface with them to read and write their data files.

Besides being portable and not associated with any one copy of the game, there’s an added benefit to memory cards. Saves are basically files, so they can be copied between cards, deleted if no longer needed, and with the right software, modified/edited/hacked. The PSP’s memory stick is treated by most computers as just an attached disk, so it’s very easy to backup all of your game saves or load in other people’s saves. At right is a listing of a handful of the 105 saves and add-ons I have backed up from my PSP memory card.

Even arcade games have memory cards now – Konami, Namco, and Sega have multiple games that support small magnetized cards for saving stats and profiles.

The Multi-Gamer Problem

(At this point, the people who game a lot are getting restless with this post – this is all reasonably common knowledge. Stay with me.)

I live in a house where everyone is a gamer. (This includes my cat.) Katie and I both game – me considerably more than her, but she does have her own DS, her own PSP, her own 360 profile, her own PS2 memory cards. Not every game we purchase is shared, but there is a reasonable amount of overlap.

For the PS2, sharing games isn’t a problem, outside of occasionally figuring out which save is hers. The 360 works beautifully – her profile only shows her games and her stats, and nothing of mine. On her PSP, her memory stick contains all of her saves – no problem there.

The DS, on the other hand, is a nightmare for multi-gamer households. This manifests itself in two ways:

First, because it has no internal memory, all games must use battery backup. For reasons that escape me, too many games only offer a single slot. Feel The Magic, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Mario Kart DS, Meteos, Ouendan, Tetris DS, Point Blank DS, and Cooking Mama (the game that sparked this post) – all only support a single profile. I’m sure there are more; these are just the ones I’ve purchased and can remember. (I’m fairly sure Metroid Prime Hunters and Starfox DS don’t either.)

The response to this might be “Who cares?” – an appropriate response for most gaming complaints, I will admit. What it boils down to is the integrity of my data. I want to know how far I am in the game. I want to see what my best times are. I want to load from where I left off. If someone else wants to borrow these games, they are only able to work off of my game. My records are no longer guaranteed to be my records.

The second manifestation is even more dire; it lies in Nintendo’s Wi-Fi implementation. To connect to other people using Nintendo’s Wi-Fi Connection (or WFC), you have to exchange friends codes, a 12-digit number that is generated based on the game you have in and the DS you’re using.

Having it generate based off the game you’re playing means that for a gamer with fives WFC-capable games, they have five different codes to give to all of their friends, and all of their friends also have five codes. Having it generate based off the DS you’re using means that you can’t go online with a different DS without erasing all of your existing WFC data. (If you’re permanently switching DSes, there is a transfer mechanism, but again, this de-activates the code on the first unit – and this has to be done for each game.)

This is, quite frankly, bullshit. Why is my “account” – and I do use that term very loosely, as very little is stored on the cart – tied to my device, instead of on the server? Why is there an assumption that the game will only ever be used in one handheld, by one unique player?

This Is Ridiculous

It’s hard to deny that the technology world has focused on multi-user systems in the last 10 years. Social networking is big; “collaborative software” actually means something; all major OSes support individual user profiles to great extent.

With multi-user gaming, there are plenty of instances of things going right. Xbox Live, despite the overwhelming population of southern racist teenagers, nails how to do user profiles. It’s in fact one of my favorite features about my Xbox 360. Sony’s standardization on memory cards have made multiple users support a no-brainer for almost all Playstation-family games.

The issues with the DS I’ve listed above are show-stoppers for me. I cannot get the very basic functionality I want out of games I have purchased. There is nothing I can do, short of buying a second copy of any game I intend on sharing.

Worst of all, this is not limited to third parties. I could understand if it was just Taito, or even just Namco or Capcom, but no – Nintendo, alleged savior of the gaming world, is doing this with their AAA titles. It’s their system, and even they can’t get it right. (Maybe this is brilliance on Nintendo’s part. Forcing parents to buy each one of their kids their own copy of Pokemon sure seems like an easy way to sell more games…)

We had games with multiple save slots twenty years ago. We shouldn’t be regressing.