Music of the Week #7

Tracks: “Metroid Legacy” and “Solitude”

From: Harmony of a Hunter – the tracks featured here are from the original HOAH album, but they also released a follow-up (“HOAH 101%”), which can be downloaded from the same page.  I haven’t heard the follow-up yet, but I will be downloading it tonight!

Composed by:  Omni-Psyence (“Metroid Legacy”) / zircon & C-GPO (“Solitude”)

Two of my favorite tracks from an excellent album.  Of course, if you are a fan of Metroid (and who WOULDN’T be?!), then you are familiar with the source music, and it’s likely you’ve heard stuff from HOAH already, too.  But even if you have never played a Metroid game in your life, these are just some really top-notch tunes.

“Metroid Legacy” remixes “Theme of Super Metroid,” and really sounds like the beginning of a huge, epic adventure.  Which is fitting, because that’s kind of what the source music was in Super Metroid.  The blend of electronic elements, strings, and that soaring choir really works.  There’s a very dark, sort of foreboding element to it as well – which, again, is really just a reflection and amplification of the source music itself.

“Solitude” remixes “Tallon Overworld” from Metroid Prime, beautifully capturing that feel of isolation, danger, and… well, solitude, that the game itself evokes.  You are ALONE, and virtually everything on this planet with you is hostile; now get to work, you have mysteries involving ancient aliens and superpowered nightmarish monsters to solve.

The sudden inclusion of strong electric guitar during the last part of the track marks a break from the mood of the original, but works very well as it injects a shot of adrenaline and determination into the whole thing, reminding you of the fact that – while Samus may always be alone – she’d never let that stop her.

I actually heard about 101% a while ago, but then completely forgot about it until I went to look up the info for this post.  So I’m going to go download that now!

-Saito S

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Not dead, just busy

There hasn’t been a lot I’ve felt worth talking about lately, and there’s been a lot going on, so I’ve been taking a bit of a break for the most part from adding new posts.  Also, I’ve been spending a LOT of my free time working in CC3 on a not-crappy-looking Valocea map.

And that’s going… pretty well.  Mostly.  The Modern Political style I mentioned before is certainly very cool; the maps that result from using it really do look like real political maps.  But, at the scale I’m working with (Valocea is almost 1500 km across the main island, so a map of the whole country is pretty big), there are some problems with exporting the maps to PNG or BMP files.  Because of the size of the map, details such as symbols for cities, paths for roads, text for names of everything, etc. are pretty small; some are too small to even be legible when the whole map is fully zoomed out.  But, how far you can zoom in is of course dependent on how large the dimensions of the image are, which is a function of CC3 itself (you export your map to a PNG/BMP, and you tell it you want the image to be, say, 5000×4000, and it gets as close as it can to those dimensions based on the ratio of the map).  Additionally, some elements of the map (particularly one of the types of road/highway and some of the symbols) look really jaggy at anything but very high resolutions.

What all of the above means is that to get an image that looks good when zoomed out, but also still looks right if you zoom in to see more of the details, requires large dimensions on the export.  And there is an anti-aliasing function which can be applied to the exports as well, to cut down on the jagginess with those roads and symbols, but this adds to the required time to render an image.  With a large resolution, AA, and CC3s effects on, rendering a map of this size can literally take like 45 minutes or more.  But that’s fine.  I understand that that’s how it works.  No problem.  Not like I’m going to be exporting full res images with high AA and all the effects on every DAY.

The problem is that above a certain level, the export just fails.  The program just crashes before it finishes rendering it.  So, with that problem in place, I’d have to settle for not being able to export really high quality images of my map, and just deal with those roads and whatnot looking jaggy.  I’ve been posting in their forums (which, to their credit, usually ARE very helpful; several people who actually work for ProFantasy post there), so hopefully some light can be shed on this behavior.  Fortunately, there IS a workaround of sorts: I can export the map a piece at a time, exporting multiple rectangular sections of it rather than all at once.  Each section can be very high res with AA on, but since it’s only a portion of the map, the render is much less demanding and doesn’t fail.  Then I stitch the pieces together in Gimp.  Kind of a pain, but at least I know it DOES work for what I want to achieve.  Still, I hope the problem can be addressed anyway.

So yus.  Aside from that, I continue to work in the program on my map (a HUGE amount of time was also spent getting used to the Modern Political style, as well as re-familiarizing myself with CC3 in general, since it had been a while).  So between that and other stuff, I’m sort of still preoccupied, but I’ll put up another music of the week tomorrow, and maybe a really basic map showing what the landmasses of Valocea look like in CC3!

So, to anyone who might be reading this (haha, I made a funny), hope you have a good weekend, and I hope to be back to posting more than I have at some point in the near future.

Music of the Week #6

Tracks: “Mother Earth of Dishonesty – Part 1” and “Rose Confession”

From: Phantasy Star Online: Episode 1&2

Composed by:  Hideaki Kobayashi/Fumie Kumatani (note: including both of the names that are associated with PSO’s music, because I don’t know which of them composed these specific tracks)

Picking just one track to feature from the music of PSO would be a daunting task.  The game’s beautiful, atmospheric music was one of it’s strengths.  So again I am cheating and picking two.  (I wonder if – since I started letting myself put up more than one track at a time – we’ll ever see a single-track MOTW again).

The first track is one of the background pieces that played during the “exploration” segments (i.e. when no enemies are present) of the game’s dungeons, in this case, the  Forest.  It really captures the feeling of mystery, of strange, unknown lands that the game has (and it’s fitting as the music for the first area you visit as a new player).  It also fits perfectly with the fusion of sci-fi and fantasy that fuels the game’s setting.  The “battle” version of this music is quite good as well, though overall, I prefer this version.

The other track is rather well-known among players of PSO or it’s quasi-sequel, PSU.  A haunting, but also uplifting, piano-dominated piece, this plays at the end of certain quests (though if I recall correctly, the full version featured here didn’t actually play during the game – not in the original PSO, anyway – and a truncated version took its place).  The piece evokes a very strong sense of the end of a long journey, of a mainly positive but still bittersweet resolution; it’d be perfect as the final piece of music that plays at the end of a sci-fi movie trilogy or long-running series or something like that, accompanying the last shots of the main characters and the world their stories took place in, showing the results of all the events leading to that point.

There are plenty of other good tracks from PSO, so I won’t try to list them here.  Perhaps I’ll feature the series again in future MOTW posts, though.

Boston Marathon bombing

I’m not going to say too much about this; tons of things have already been said, and I’ve felt a bit lost for words over the entire thing, other than that it’s tragic, upsetting, disturbing… but everyone already knows that, of course.

I can’t imagine what that would be like, to be in a situation like that, to have to go through something like that – weather as a direct victim or a loved on of a victim or even just someone who was not near enough to be injured, but near enough to witness it… And I hope that I never DO end up knowing what any of that is like.

Thoughts and hope to everyone involved.

Lastly – and highlighting this is probably the main reason I posted this at all (after deliberating for hours about weather or not I should say anything, since I don’t have much of any significance to say on the matter) – there’s this, which just made me feel really good about my fellow human beings, in the wake of something that would easily do the exact opposite.

Hang in there, Boston, and keep helping each other.  And to everyone else in the world who isn’t a terrorist: stay safe.

-Saito S

Music of the Week #5

Tracks: Themes of Rainbow Dash, Applejack, and Pinkie Pie

Album: Fighting is Magic OST

Artist: RainbowCrash88 (Dash and AJ), Whitetail (Pinkie)

Damn shame about the cancellation of this game due to the C&D thrown down by Hasbro.  But at least some amazing music came out of it!

While all 6 of the tracks made for the game are good, and fit the characters well, I do find I like these three better than the other three.  And if I had to pick ONE favorite… it’d have to be Dashie’s theme.  It’s just perfect, from being a badass rock theme in its own right that would feel at home in an ArcSys fighter, to being something that I think Rainbow Dash herself would listen to.

Still, the other two are quite good, as well: Applejack’s theme is weird, because I really don’t like country-flavored music (or banjo) at all, yet I like this.  Maybe it’s just because I like the character so much, I don’t know.  Either way it’s just really fun to listen to, and again, I think AJ herself would like it.

Pinkie Pie’s theme is an appropriately hyper electronic piece (and I DO like electronic stuff, so this was less of a surprise), with a break in the middle for a brass section that is slower, but still retains that feeling of irrepressible happiness that makes it perfect as a Pinkie theme (and she’d definitely like it herself!).  This track is also just really addicting. 

And honestly, the other three tracks are still good, even if they’re not as good.  Kudos to both composers for an excellent job all around!

-Saito S

Valocea – refined map

There’s been a lot going on, but I’ve found some time recently to continue working on this.  In addition to refining the map itself a bit more, I’ve now named several of the country’s administrative divisions (of which there are now 22 total).  Usually, names (whether for a person, place, anything) are really hard for me, but I’ve managed to come up with quite a few region names in a relatively short amount of time. Continue reading

Money sucks

The short version of what happened is that I thought my rent check had cleared – it hadn’t, so all the payments toward credit cards and bills that I set up made my bank account become overdrawn.  So, I have to pay $56 in fees (it WAS $84, I did get them to knock out one of the fees).  In addition, after the account was already overdrawn, I had a credit card payment (an automatic recurring minimum payment) scheduled to go through on Monday, which would have overdrawn it MORE.  I called Chase (the card provider), and was told point blank that there was NO WAY to stop the recurring payment from going through; I could cancel the auto pay, but Monday’s payment would absolutely still happen because it was too close (I called them on Saturday night).  Fortunately, even though the payment would be processed on Monday, the money wouldn’t actually be pulled from my bank account until Tuesday or Wednesday, giving me time to make deposits to bring my account back up to not-overdrawn status.  Okay, fine.

So I dealt with the bank account (fortunately part of my tax return just came, nice timing), got it back to positive, with enough to cover that automatic payment.

Went home Monday evening, checked on everything… suddenly, that credit card has a “Minimum payment was due today, Monday the 8th, please make a payment to avoid being past due.” notice.

Called Chase again.  Was this time told that of COURSE the automatic payment didn’t go through!  You cancelled it, why would it go through?

They had actually slapped a late fee on the card (for being past due, at 10PM on the 8th… but it was already the 9th by eastern time).  They reversed that, thankfully, though I would have raised hell until it got reversed if they had not offered to do it, since they had previously flat-out stated unambiguously that the recurring minimum payment would still go through on the 8th whether I cancelled it or not.

So THAT seems to be mostly ironed out.  Which means that all I have to deal with now is the charge that was mysteriously put on my credit card by ADP (the HR benefits agency we use at my work).  We have a “commuter benefits” program, which deducts pre-tax money from your paychecks to fund commuter expenses.  I put my personal credit card on the program as a “backup funding source”; it draws from that if for some reason the paycheck deductions are insufficient to fund the order for a given month, so that the order will still be funded even if that happens.

Naturally, it charged my credit card this week… even though there absolutely WERE enough funds from the paycheck deductions.  Spent 30 minutes on the phone with them, which led to me being told that their payroll department would have to get back to me sometime within 72 hours to investigate this.  That was on Monday.  Haven’t heard back from them yet.  That’s some amazing customer service right there.

So yeah.  Shoutout to Chase and ADP for being ass.

Music of the Week #4

Tracks: “Prologue & Birth” and “Eternal Flame”

Album: Epica

Artist: Audiomachine

So, today I’m BREAKING THE RULES by posting two tracks!

Okay, so there are no rules to break, really.  I just felt like being a little dramatic.  Anyway, I couldn’t decide between these two tracks, since they are both great and have a somewhat similar feel.  So I just figured I’d post em both.  There’s not really any reason why “music of the week” has to specifically be just one piece of music, after all.

“Trailer music”, as a genre, has gained some popularity over the years since the year 2000.  A lot of it can sound kind of generic or same-y, but some stand out, and these two are among them.  Audiomachine is one of the better artists in the genre.  “Prologue & Birth” is a more slow-paced, almost contemplative piece.  It still has parts that begin to feel uplifting and epic (in the middle and end of the track when the music rises and gets louder), but it never just goes full-on with that feeling, retaining a quietness that makes me think of something less adventurous or grand and more personal, with a distinctly enigmatic or mysterious flavor as well.  And that “shimmer” sound that can be heard a few times at the very beginning, and once more at the very end, really adds an air of magic to the whole thing.

Like “Prologue & Birth”, “Eternal Flame” has a similar feel of being uplifting, and seems appropriate for something with more of an almost fairy-tale-esque feel, rather than “epic conflict” stories (i.e. as trailer music, it’d work better with a preview for something like a Hayao Miyazaki film than for something like Lord of the Rings).  However, it does still have epic as an important aspect of the piece, much more so than “Prologue…” does.  The sequence from 2:30 to 3:15 is absolutely amazing, and makes me think of dragons and pegasi soaring through the air as feats of incredible magic change the face of the world around them.  And I really like how it has that huge, epic section, but then it still ends as it begins: with that quiet, serene piano.

I have a bit more to say about these than usual, because both of these tracks actually have a special connection to story ideas of mine. Continue reading

Look what I found!

Spotted a brand new AC Transit Gillig Advantage on Tuesday!  Saw it coming from over a block away as I was walking toward the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, so I had time to set up a pretty decent shot.  Snapped another one from behind it, as well.

Aside from this San Francisco sighting, they’ve been using them only on certain lines so far, according to AC’s website anyway.  None of those lines are ones I ever use except for 58L, which I don’t take often, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get a chance to ride one of these soon.  And with the arrival of the Gillig, it’s time to start saying farewell to the old NABI 416s.  They weren’t always the most comfortable ride, but they made for a decent workhorse nonetheless.

This is the first time I’ve updated my Flickr in months.  I need to stop neglecting it soon!  I’ve still got a bunch of photos from last year that haven’t been uploaded…

Jedi Master Ceti Maru

Timeline Photos | Facebook.

Click it.  CLICK IT.

 

The only problem with this is, if it were real, it’d be so awesome it could eclipse everything else that will potentially go into the new Star Wars movie.  And since it’s not real, suddenly that movie sounds less interesting.

CONGRATULATIONS GEORGE.  YOU’VE SINGLE-HANDEDLY RUINED THE MOVIE BEFORE IT’S EVEN BEEN MADE.