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7:44 PM on 02.07.2010

My Expertise: Little Plastic Instruments

There are two things in my life that give me joy on a daily basis (personal relationships excluded). These are things I have enjoyed for almost as long as I can remember: Music and Video Games. I was interested in music ever since my mom would play Beatles covers in our living room prompting me to join my elementary school band program (Bank Geeks Unite!) and video games have been an eliminator of my free time for just as long. I fondly remember going to my friend's house after school to practice both my saxophone key fingerings and practicing how fast we could get the Turtles to rescue April O'Neal before my mom picked me up. For most of my life these two things had remained autonomous from each other, save for haunting soundtracks for RPGs or the classic themes that complete strangers can whistle along with you (I'm looking at you, Super Mario Bros). Then one fateful Christmas I received my very own Super Nintendo Entertainment System. I got a few games that were awesome (Super Metroid and Super Mario World) and a few games that gave me a bad taste in my mouth (Chester Cheetah: Too Cool to Fool and Home Alone 2: Lost In New York...ew).

There was one game that stood out to me, though. It didn't have a plot, it didn't have levels, it didn't have any memorable characters or soundtrack. What it did have was a familiar plumber and his friends, and tools to expand your creativity and your imagination. I'm talking about Mario Paint.

Mario Paint my have flown under some kids radars, but not mine. Well, my parents got it for me because they knew I liked drawing and video games (good move, Mom!) But what they didn't know about was the music composer that also came with it. It was simplistic, yet the depth of your creation was completely up to you! Hell, people still use the program (emulated, most likely) to make awesome covers of popular song both from video games and from pop music (if you haven't seen these please choose from any of these fine selections.) I still find this to be a very innovative piece of technology that helped to shape Nintendo's way of changing the way video games are played.

Cut to my sophomore year of high school. I was still playing in my school band, started playing a few other instruments (bass and keyboards, and professional kazoo) and still playing the shit out of video games. I had even evolved to the modern technology of the long-awaited PS2, which had quite the selection of software to choose from. I remember for my birthday I had a gift card to the now defunct Electronics Boutique (not really defunct, just swallowed whole by the Game Stop beast). Not really knowing what I was looking for, I decided to try the demo disc that was playing up at the counter to see if there was anything worth getting. The first demo I played ended up being the last for that day. It was a demo for the amazing and unprecedented Frequency. I had never seen a game like it. Not only did it have an amazing electronic/metal/hip hop music soundtrack with puzzle-like gameplay (similar to my beloved DDR), but it had ANOTHER music editing feature! You could customize the tracks to make your very own song to challenge your friends with. I had never heard of this developer named Harmonix, but I knew I had to watch out for them. Lo and behold, a few years later they made the sequel Amplitude

After that I would see Harmonix's name on some odd games here and there (Karaoke Revolution? Really?). It wasn't until 2 years later that Harmonix really took off with one of the most well-known and culturally relevant music games ever made: GUITAR HERO.
Holy shit, you guys. Admittedly, as a musician I thought the idea to be rather absurd.

I mean little plastic baby guitars? Bad covers of songs that I really like? I kind of saw the appeal but I didn't really give it a try until I played the demo setup at Best Buy. There was this kid who could be older than 8 playing, so I decided to give it a shot and do a face-off with him (keep in mind I was about 20 years old at the time). I chose the song that popped out to me the most, Infected by Bad Religion, one of my favorite bands. Let me tell you, that kid totally DESTROYED me. I was playing on easy and I just couldn't figure out how to get it. I picked it up along the way, but eventually the kid won and I had to leave before the small crowd that gathered made fun of me anymore. Now, any lesser person would just think to themselves "It appears that this is not, nor ever will be my game. I should go back to playing Diablo or Halo or just maybe pick up a book and quit games forever."

Let me say this: I am not a quitter. So what did I do? I freakin' went to the Game Crazy my friend worked at where they had a demo copy of Guitar Hero 2, played it for 2 hours until I mastered Medium difficulty, ended up buying the game and playing until I had tunnel vision for 2 minutes, and spent countless hours over countless days wasting my time and cramping my hands all to spite one 8 year old kid.

It's been a few years now, and we've seen Harmonix move on from their inception of Guitar Hero to make the multiplayer smash Rock Band (which I still sort of prefer now, mainly just because I'm loyal to Harmonix) in which now you and 3 of your friends play (slightly bigger) little plastic instruments and sing badly. Yet out of all my friends I am one of 3 who can actually play Expert mode on anything and get a 5-Star average. Playing against my friends would usually end up in my playing game after game and having my hands throb. Maybe it's because I have a music/rhythm background, or maybe it's because I have no life, but it would seem that mashing little colored buttons to the beat of a song made by a guy with a chicken bucket on his head is my area of expertise. And it's all thanks to that snot-nosed little kid.   read

9:08 PM on 01.12.2010

Relationships and Gaming: a Cautionary Tale

Relationships are hard. They are rewarding, of course, but it takes some semblance of skill and patience to appropriately deal with your significant other. It's even harder for those of us that like to spend just as much quality time with your friends online shooting zombies in the head as with the woman who makes you feel like you are actually worth something more. I've had my fair share of relationships over the years, and like pretty much everything in existence, you get better at it over time. The only thing I haven't mastered is those days that our gaming live revolve around - the glorious Release Date! Now I don't want to come off sounding like a jerk, but I'm relatively sure that most readers of this site know where I'm coming from. Case in point: The Beatles: Rock Band release.

September 9th, 2009 - The moment I woke up I felt a little off. I couldn't figure it out until my roommate (ie: guy living on my couch) told me he was going to go pick up The Beatles: Rock Band and some beers.
"I have to go to work...also my girlfriend is coming over tonight" I exclaim.
"Dude, no worries...we can play when you get back" he says while rolling a joint.
"Alright", etc.

While heading to work I hear all the advertisements on the radio hyping up the one of the biggest games of the year, see bus ads showing the Fab Four crossing Abby Road with a bunch of fans in tow, the whole nine yards. It was pretty much all over the internet, too so there was no escape. I was experiencing Beatlemania minus the screaming girls. While daydreaming about the lucid animations and vocal harmonizing and fun I was going to have when I got home, I got a text from my girlfriend asking what I wanted from In-n-Out (California burger place that is amazing, for all you non-Californian readers out there). Little did she know what was going to be waiting for her when she arrived at my place.

When she finally did arrive she was greeted by a short "Hey, baby!" while I was furiously looking for my spare USB microphone.
"Hey honey, I brought you foods!" she says to me while leaning in for a loving embrace.

"Oh, awesome!" I exclaim while quickly hugging her then going back to the task at hand.

"Um...what are you doing?" (a very reasonable question to ask a sweaty man digging through piles of clothes and trash to find a piece of plastic).

"I'm looking for a microphone so we can do the harmonies on Beatles Rock Band" (duh!)

"Well...are you hungry? Here's your burger" (she's so sweet!)

"Mmphthanksh muffinsh omnomnom" (it's hard to show appreciation with a full mouth.)

"Say, do you want to watch this movie I brought over?"

"Yeah, sure, honey, I'd love to after I play this game; it just came out today and I've been waiting for over a year for it"

"Um..sure if that's wha-"

"Sweet! I'll be in the living room."

Now I know this makes me seem like an insensitive jerk, and quite frankly, I was! I do love video games, and she knows this; she says its one of the reasons she loves me so much. That doesn't mean I should completely blow her off, ESPECIALLY if she spent money buying me (delicious) food. We have talked about it and she told me that she would "try to plan romantic things around release dates". It's all about compromise, right? Now I have the task of telling her exactly what I'll be doing the week Final Fantasy XIII come out...

*NOTE* I'm thinking of making this a regular topic of my blog, so if you have any suggestions or stories please let me know!   read

5:35 PM on 01.11.2010

I Know How the Pioneers Felt

Friends, I write this today from my work, since this is my only form of internet besides my phone. I'm writing this as a cautionary tale of laziness and bad planning. You see I have been without internet for a month and a (proper) working Xbox 360 for about 6 or 7 months. Before any ps3 fanboys laugh in my face, not it wasn't a RRoD error. It was way more human than that (never leave your roommate alone with your 360 and a warped copy of Soul Caliber 4 because "he needs to practice kicking ass with Yoda"). Fortunately I had internet and a credit card so I was able to at least entertain myself with the best games XboxLive's Arcade had to offer. Sure, I could BUY a new 360 but I'm not the King of Prussia or anything.

The interesting thing about this was I was no longer able to play my favorite online games such as Left 4 Dead and the CoD series. Here I was with masturbatory games like Mega Man 9 (awesome!) and Castlevania:SOTN (also awesome!) or Shadow Complex (omg so awesome!). Nobody calling me "fucking n00b shit fucker" or "asshat nade spammer" or my personal favorite "monkey fucking clownshoes" (I did play Marvel vs Capcom 2 online but I suck at fighting games as it is). All in all this experience was very...nostalgic.
Remember when the only way you could play multiplayer games was to have someone ACTUALLY in the room with you? It was just like the old days when the person that was bitching and complaining was at arms length so you could just smack them and say "quit being such a baby" and that's that. Now that kid is on the other side of the country and has a severe case of Asperger's. At least you can mute him.

My only problem is that I don't find these Arcade games as challenging as a human opponent. They do provide for a little entertainment or outright frustration (thanks Mega Man) but it's just not the same. So I did what anyone would do... start playing PC games again. I dug out my trusty ol' Orange Box and re-installed everything. And while at it, I got Left 4 Dead and pre-ordered L4D2 just for the hell of it (I can't go too long without shooting zombies). Because of this I felt renewed. I was staying up late and spending free time playing with others and having a damn good time. Everything was right again, all because of my PC gaming roots...until I had to move.

It has now been a month and still no internet (I'm poor). It's been hard trying to entertain myself in the same ways I used to. No internet means no more Arcade. I can play the same old games I've had for months and already beaten, or I can play my online games, but offline. I mean seriously, the AI in L4D is borderline retarded. I'm in a gaming rut. Who knew I would come to miss those yelling, snarky, childish voices so much?   read

5:25 PM on 01.10.2010

The Future: Better Than Yesterday

2010! "Twenty-ten", "Oh-Ten", "its just another crappy year", whatever you call it, it brings in a new dawn of video game innovations and technologies. With it being almost 20 years since I first picked up a controller, I feel it necessary to use my keen observations of the trends surrounding our favorite form of media to predict THE FUTURE!!!

In the year 2010 Zombies will rule the earth!
Well, not exactly but they will rule our consoles and PC's. With the growth of zombie-related games such as the Left 4 Dead series to I MAED A GAM3 W1TH Z0MB1ES!!!1, there are starting to be just as many zombie games as there are WW2 games (you can see how many zombie-related video games there have been over the years in this neat and tidy Wikipedia article. It's only a matter of time before everyone starts getting in on this trend. Zombie MMO's, zombie FPS's, zombie strategy games; all we need is a zombie Flight Sim and we'd be set.

Motion-Capture + 3D TVs = TRON
The upcoming Project NATAL and the recent showing of 3D TV's at the CES mean that we will no longer need to bother with things like peripherals (sorry, MadCatz, we will miss your cheap, plastic crap). Imagine playing Guitar Hero with these sweet-ass Power Gloves so it's like YOU'RE PLAYING AIR GUITAR. Also playing games like its a fucking IMAX experience but only 1.5 times the price of a IMAX ticket?!?! That's a sweet deal to me. Except flash grenades in Modern Warfare 3 1/2 will probably cause people to actually go blind, which would maybe help cut down on nade-spam, so it's probably a good thing.


Pretty soon we will no longer have the need for hard copies of media as Digital Distribution grows and grows. Sure, it doesn't cut down on pirating as much as the big companies want it to, but by cutting down prices by eliminating price-gouging middle men it sure does make for really, really cheap games. So much it's hard to keep up with, really. Soon we will be able to get everything online, such as digital pizza and the as-of-yet unannounced "Cyber Dew".

My crystal ball is getting hazy so I will just leave it alone before it blows up again. I had to vacuum my carpet for 3 hours after the last time.   read

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