Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Time Capsule: The Returners - Debut Performance

We apologize for the lack of recent discussions that resulted from a hectic end of semester and final exam schedule.  We’re back with a new entry into The Time Capsule, this time with a post on a double event: the debut performance of video game music cover band The Returners as well as the second show for Gimmick! Video Game Rock Band.  The show took place at Genuine Joe’s coffeehouse in Austin on May 11th, 2013, which is the same location where Gimmick’s debut performance took place roughly four months earlier. 

The Returners lineup includes three former members of Descendants of Erdrick – Lauren Leibowitz playing flute and providing vocals (not at the same time, surprisingly), Mike Villalobos playing guitar, and John Pike playing drums – as well as K.C. “Wedge” Hawes-Domingue playing the keyboard and Andrew Dangerfield playing bass guitar.  With Lauren’s vocal and instrumental talents, The Returners has a sound that is a bit different from most other VGM cover bands that you may have heard before.

The Returners debut performance (5-11-2013)

Their entire debut performance was recorded and uploaded to Youtube by Robert Swackhamer from the 8bitX Radio Network, this time as individual videos for individual tracks, but with a playlist containing all of the tracks included.  There is also a playlist for the individual tracks of the songs performed by Gimmick.  Since Gimmick actually played before The Returners, that’s the order that the set lists will appear in.  Gimmick plays some tunes from two games that were not in their debut set list, so even if you listened to the first show and are too stretched for time to listen to the entire second show, check out the first and last tracks for the new material. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Great Library: Star Wars: The Heir To The Empire Trilogy

Previously in The Great Library, we looked at String Theory, a web comic about a physicist headed down the path towards supervillainy.  Today on Nerd Up, we return to the Great Library to discuss a series of science fiction novels set in the expanded universe of Star Wars.  It is not unusual for many science fiction and fantasy intellectual properties that begin as a film to have novelizations based off of the original property.  Sometimes, there are officially expanded product universes created containing comic books, animated television shows, additional films, toys, video games, clothing, and just about anything else you can think of with the purpose of expanding upon the original story, enhancing the immersion into the fictional world, and making the intellectual property rights holders a lot of money.

The Star Wars universe is certainly no exception to this, and in fact the term Expanded Universe is used to refer to the entirety of the officially licensed background material produced outside of the (currently, as of the time of this writing) six feature films.  While we’re not going to go too in-depth about specific details here, the ghost writer of the novelization of “A New Hope” published the first novel in the Expanded Universe, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, in 1978 and there were also comics published during this time that contained material set in the Star Wars universe that was not directly originated from the main films.  All told, there have been over one hundred novels and multiple comics, animated series, and video games which comprise the Expanded Universe.

The Heir to the Empire trilogy by Timothy Zahn, also known as the Thrawn trilogy based on the name of one of the primary characters, has sold over 15 million copies since its first print, and it was responsible for bringing new interest to the Star Wars universe nearly a decade after Return of the Jedi was released in (1983).  Set roughly five years after the death of Emperor Palpatine and the conclusion of Return of the Jedi, it is a direct continuation of the events in Episodes IV, V, and VI, and features many of the characters from the original movies as well as multiple groups of new characters.  The surviving forces of the Galactic Empire are now being led by the lone remaining Grand Admiral of the Imperial Fleet, the previously unknown Grand Admiral Thrawn.  The Rebel Alliance has now begun to move away from the temporary organization during the rebellion and is attempting to create a new government, the New Republic, to once again bring peace to the galaxy.  I’m going to attempt to avoid discussing spoilers here, but that won’t be entirely possible considering these books are now over twenty years old and the characters and subjects contained within have been mentioned elsewhere, some even within Episodes I, II, and III.

Star Wars: Heir To The Empire (1991)

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Listening Chamber: Metroid Metal - Metroid Metal (2003)

After a brief period of extreme business In Real Life, and with several other entries having been started but none yet finished, we’re back with another installation in the Listening Chamber.  In the last two discussions in the Listening Chamber, we featured a band that focused on the music from games from a particular console and a band that only played songs from a particular company.  This time, we will take a look at a project that only features the music from games in a particular series.

The project is Metroid Metal, and the album is the self-titled Metroid Metal, self-released in 2003.  The original Metroid Metal was a project begun by Stemage (aka Grant Henry) in 2003 with the intent to only cover all of the songs from the original Famicom Disk System / Nintendo Entertainment System title, and not songs from other Metroid titles.  Stemage later decided to cover songs from other games in the series, and the project expanded into a full band playing as Metroid Metal Live.  Additional songs have been recorded since the original release in 2003, and an extended version of the album was released in 2007 with the same title.  This discussion will focus on the original 2003 release.

Metroid Metal - Metroid Metal (2003)

Metroid Metal contains 12 tracks – all 12 of which are VGM covers from the original Metroid game – and runs for roughly 29:21.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Screening Room: Vampire Hunter D (1985)

The topic of discussion in The Screening Room this week is another older anime movie, the 1985 film Vampire Hunter D.  The film was directed by Toyoo Ashida, animated by Ashi Productions, and produced and distributed by CBS Sony Group, Inc.  The anime was based on the series of illustrated novels created by Hideyuki Kikuchi.  The series of novels also inspired manga adaptations, American comics, an audio drama, and a survival-horror video game of the same name released on the Sony PlayStation.  A second anime film, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, was released in 2000.

The plot of the film differs from the original novels, mostly in regards to the behavior of specific characters and their interactions with each other.  The story takes place in the year 12,090 AD in a post-apocalyptic world in which vampires and their mutant slaves terrorize and manipulate ordinary humans by means of both special powers and advanced technologies.  Doris Lang, the daughter of a deceased werewolf hunter, is attacked by Count Magnus Lee, a member of the vampire nobility.  She survives the attack although she has been bitten by the count, and later hires a mysterious caped hunter named D to protect her from further attacks.  Doris is attacked by Count Magnus Lee again, and is kidnapped and brought to the Count’s castle.  D must attempt to rescue her from Count Lee, the Count’s daughter Lamica, the Count’s mutant servant Rei Ginsei, and various other minions. 

Various battles with different kinds of monsters and mutants take place during this rescue attempt, and both clues to the back story of the mysterious D as well as his special powers are revealed.  The powers of specific beings, the technologies used by both protagonist and antagonist, the dress of certain characters, and even the final battle scene itself have been changed from the novel to the film adaptation.  However, the story’s conclusion does remain similar to the canon story.  The runtime of the film is 80 minutes, which is similar in length to Ghost in the Shell but shorter than Akira, Venus Wars, or Lensman: Secret of the Lens.

In North America, a dubbed version of Vampire Hunter D was published by CBS Theatrical Films, with dubbing work done by Streamline Pictures.  Streamline Pictures released the dubbed version of the film on VHS in 1992.  Urban Vision Entertainment acquired the rights to the film in 2000, and released a Special Edition DVD which included the original dub as well as subtitles done by New Generation Pictures.  In addition to the Japanese and North American markets, the film has also been released in multiple European markets in a variety of languages.

Vampire Hunter D (1985)

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Time Capsule: Gimmick! Video Game Rock Band - Debut Performance

The Time Capsule is a section for quick blurbs about “current” events that don’t necessarily fit into any other category on Nerd Up, such as a movie or game trailer, an album release, an astronomical observance, etc.  The implied joke is that most of the content discussed on Nerd Up is from years or decades in the past so we need to come into a different time frame to discuss topics in the present, with the normal understanding of the function of a time capsule being to view in the present things that were preserved in the past.  If you got that on your own from the beginning, then I’m sorry you had to read the explanation… your brain is apparently as broken as my own.

The topic here is something that did happen a few months in the past from this posting: the debut performance of the video game music cover band Gimmick! Video Game Rock Band.  Gimmick! contains two former members of Descendants of Erdrick – Chris Taylor and Mike Villalobos, who have switched instruments from their previous roles – as well as guitarist Kenneth Reichelderfer and drummer Justin Olejnik.  Based out of Austin, Texas, the group performs rock versions of songs from old video games that are close covers to the original songs.

Their entire debut performance – at Genuine Joe’s coffeehouse in Austin on January 12th, 2013 – was recorded and uploaded to Youtube by Robert Swackhamer from the 8bitX Radio Network, and we’re going to embed that video here for your enjoyment.  Check it out, and keep an eye out for these guys going forward.  Rumor has it that a demo CD may or may not have been recorded and may or may not be available in the not too distant future.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Great Library: String Theory

When people think of libraries they do not automatically think of nerds.  A youth that spent all their time in a library instead of outside playing would possibly draw the stigma, but that is not the type of person that one would expect to encounter when going to a library.  The initial and automatic association with a library is “books” and not people.  However, when people start to think about different genres of books – especially with fantasy, adventure, and science fiction – the association with nerds begins to creep in. 

Libraries are also not usually associated with comic books, and certainly not with the digital comics available on the internet that are known as web comics.  Nerds, on the other hand, often would be – perhaps with the later more than the former.  Here at Nerd Up, we’re not making a distinction between different forms of literature, and they’ll all be found within The Great Library.  It’s not like we’re in Alexandria, and we certainly hope that the Romans don’t have cause to burn us down, accident or not.

In this excursion into The Great Library we will be taking a first look at a science-fiction themed web comic titled String Theory.  Written and illustrated by the pseudonymous Dirk Grundy, String Theory is a character-driven story set in a dystopian alternate future timeline.  The comic was started in 2009, and features a mostly-weekly release schedule.  Since this is an independent project that is not funded by outside sources, there is no official release timeframe; however, if one of you billionaire entrepreneurs out there reading this wants to financially back the project, Mr. Grundy might be willing to negotiate a release schedule and project budget with you.  The primary focus of the story is Dr. Herville Schtein, a brilliant physicist with a few personal problems who may or may not be on the path to becoming an evil super villain.  Everybody makes mistakes sometimes, right?  In this alternate future, the events of the Cuban missile crisis went differently and history has taken an alternate path for the United States of America.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Expansion Of Scope

While contemplating future topics of discussion for Nerd Up, I realized that when I made the original post outlining areas of discussion for the blog I had neglected to create topical divisions for several types of discussions.  For instance, there is no place to talk about books, comics, stories, and other types of literature.  Also, there is no place to talk about games themselves. 

And while the discussions on specific albums, movies, recipes, and novels fit nicely within their respective divisions, there is no space to place current news about various topics such as an album release or a movie trailer.  In order to remedy these oversights, we will introduce the following divisions:

The Great Library – Discussion of books, comics, and stories.
The Gaming Den – Video game, board game, and tabletop game discussion.
The Time Capsule – News and announcements relevant to “current” events.

I did mention in the original post that the listing of topics was preliminary, precisely because I knew that I was likely to forget something.  Since this has not yet changed, I will maintain that these listed divisions of topics are still preliminary.  If you can think of anything else that needs to be added, please let me know in the comments below.

And now back to our regularly scheduled ramblings.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Listening Chamber: MegaDriver - Push Start Button (Round One) (2003)

Most VGM cover bands tend to focus on games that were well known, or on games from systems that were more popular when development for the system still occurred.  Where games from the 8-bit or 16-bit consoles are concerned, the focus in VGM covers has tended to be oriented towards consoles produced by Nintendo, with the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System receiving more attention than their contemporary competitors.  However, those systems were not the only popular consoles of their day, and they are not the only systems with games that have had VGM covers made.

Sega’s Mega Drive (known as the Genesis in North American markets) led the gaming market for a time while Nintendo transitioned from the 8-bit NES to the 16-bit SNES, in part due to their advertising campaigns which claimed that “Sega does what Nintendon’t” and included the fictitious “blast processing” term.  “Welcome to the next level” indeed.  And while Wii all know that Sega is no longer in the console making business and Nintendo is still around, there is no denying that Sega certainly had their time on top.  Thus, it should not be surprising that there are VGM cover bands focused on covering songs from Mega Drive games, and we’ll be looking at just such a group in this discussion in The Listening Chamber. 

The band is MegaDriver, and the album is Push Start Button (Round One), self-released in 2003.  MegaDriver is based out of São Paulo, Brazil, and they play heavy metal renditions of music from video games on various consoles, with an emphasis towards games from the Sega Mega Drive.  The group currently consists of two guitar players, a bass player, a drummer, and a vocalist, although they did not have a vocalist at the time that Push Start Button (Round One) was created.  Of special note is that the lead guitar player, Nino MegaDriver, plays tracks on two special custom guitars.  One guitar has been made out of a Mega Drive console, and the other is made in the shape of Sonic the Hedgehog’s head.

MegaDriver - Push Start Button (Round One) (2003)

Push Start Button (Round One) contains 11 tracks – all 11 of which are VGM covers – and runs for roughly 30:53.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Listening Chamber: The Black Mages - The Black Mages (2003)

Video game music cover bands are usually made up of fans of video games, and it’s probably safe to say that they’re also composed of fans of video game music in general.  There are also orchestral covers of video game music made by groups of musicians who aren’t necessarily invested in video games at all.  But what about VGM cover bands comprised of VGM creators?  In this discussion in the Listening Chamber, we’ll look at just such a group.

The band is The Black Mages, and the album is the self-titled The Black Mages from 2003.  The Black Mages were originally comprised of three members, all of whom were video game music composers for Square Enix: Nobuo Uematsu, Kenichiro Fukui, and Tsuyoshi Sekito.  They performed instrumental rock covers of songs from the Final Fantasy series of games.  On The Black Mages, the group consisted of Uematsu and Fukui on keyboards and Sekito on guitar.

Eventually the group expanded to six members, and they released two additional albums before dissolving in 2010 after several members, including Uematsu, were no longer working for Square Enix.  The group never toured, but rather played several concerts to promote sales of their albums.  They were limited to playing covers of music from games owned by Square Enix since the company owned the band, so there were not covers of songs from any other companies released under The Black Mages name

The Black Mages - The Black Mages (2003)

The Black Mages contains 10 tracks, all of which are battle themes composed by Nobuo Uematsu that are present in games in the Final Fantasy series, and has a run-time of 51:23.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Lecture Hall - Physics - Beginner - Introduction

When I decided to start writing this blog, one of the goals I set was to try and communicate my understanding of various topics ranging from games and music to science and technology in a manner that anyone could understand.  In my previous career working in Information Technology, I frequently had to explain technical issues to people who lacked a technical background.  When I returned to college a few years ago to study Physics, I again found myself trying to explain various mathematics-intensive scientific topics to individuals who did not have much of a background in mathematics.  While explaining a select bit of particle physics to my wife, I decided that it would be worthwhile to try and create written explanations of scientific topics that did not rely on mathematics to define the processes.  After all, in vocabulary and grammar classes as children, we’re taught that you shouldn’t use a word to define itself.  And since mathematical explanations of a physical system are a form of defining the system using a circular definition, a solely mathematical explanation is against the rules.  -5, recursive definition.

Thus the idea for The Lecture Hall was born.  Originally I wanted to attempt to describe all aspects of Physics without using any mathematics or – at worst – minimal mathematical concepts only where it was necessary.  After thinking for some time on exactly how I might go about achieving this goal, I decided that it might be beyond my skills, so I revised my plans a bit.  The new plan calls for a series of discussions on various topics within the realm of Physics with a bare minimum of mathematical explanations that will serve to inform people on what the topics of discussion are, show how the topics relate to other topics, give some understandable and observable examples of the topics, and set the framework for a more advanced understanding of these and related topics to be discussed at a later point in time.

The Lecture Hall
Welcome to the Lecture Hall

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Screening Room: Lensman - Secret of the Lens (1984)

In the second installment of The Screening Room, we’ll travel a bit further back in time and look at an anime movie from 1984, SF Shinseiki Lensman, also known in other parts of the world as Lensman: Secret of the Lens.  The film was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri & Kazuyuki Hirokawa, animated by Madhouse Inc., produced by MK Productions, Ltd., and distributed by Toei Co., Ltd. in Japan.  Both the movie and an anime television series, Galactic Patrol Lensman, were based on the Lensman novels written by E. E. Smith.  Four original Lensman novels were written between 1937 and 1948, and then in 1948 an earlier novel from 1934, Triplanetary, was re-worked to fit with the Lensman series.  In 1950, a sixth novel, First Lensman, was written to bridge the gap between Triplanetary and the four original novels.  Finally, in 1954, the original novels were re-written to remove remaining inconsistencies, and the full Lensman canon was established. 

SF Shinseiki Lensman (1984)

The plot of the movie differs greatly from that of the original novels, although the TV series was closer to the original source material.  In the film, a young human named Kimball Kinnison is living on an agricultural world with his father.  He is preparing to leave the planet to apply to the Galactic Patrol when he encounters a dying Lensman, and the Lensman’s Lens is transferred to Kimball.  This Lens holds special powers, and it contains information that is vital to the Galactic Patrol in its struggles against the Boskone Empire.  Kimball’s father, Ken Kinnison, who had helped form the Galactic Patrol and had himself aspired to becoming a Lensman before losing his arm in an accident during his younger years, understands the importance of the situation and sacrifices himself so that Kimball can bring the Lens to the Galactic Patrol.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Listening Chamber: The NESkimos - Battle: Perfect Selection (2002)

Nerd Up returns from a Holiday break with another installation of The Listening Chamber.  Not every VGM cover band is successful, and not all successful VGM cover bands play what would be called “good” covers.  Determining what constitutes “successful” or “good” is rather subjective, and opinions on styles vary from person to person.  This can lead to a polarizing situation where different people might love or hate the music, and that is the case with the topic of today’s discussion. 

The band in question is The NESkimos, and the album is Battle: Perfect Selection, self-released in 2002.  The NESkimos are based out of St. Augustine, Florida, and although they had hung up their instruments in 2008, they started making some appearances at conventions and other events again in 2012.  In general, The NESkimos play rock covers of music from video games from the NES and SNES, but the group does perform some songs in different styles such as surf rock and bossa nova.  The group currently consists of two guitar players who also provide vocals on some tracks, a bass player, and a drummer.  Between the period of their last album release and their reformation, they had no drummer and used sequenced drum tracks instead.

Most of the differences in opinion on the band’s quality arise from the fact that they do not always attempt to recreate the songs they are covering note-for-note, and they will often create additional parts to songs, change the way the song is played, or add lyrics to the arrangement.  While none of these things is unheard of in cover bands, The NESkimos were the first widely known VGM cover band to do this.  Some people had issues with the improvisation.  Others thought that the songs were simply being played poorly or incorrectly since the notes were not the same as the original music from the games.  I’ll leave it to each individual to decide for themselves if they like the style or not.

The NESkimos - Battle: Perfect Selection (2002)

Battle: Perfect Selection contains 23 tracks – 22 covers and 1 original skit – and runs for roughly 1:12:08, making it longer than most other VGM cover albums.