29 Sep 2010 1:15 pm

It’s hard to be a gamer without being a fan of Nintendo’s portable lineup, especially if you were of an age to have started with their very first offerings — and no, I’m not talking about the original Game Boy. As a young lad living in the Philippines, it was a special treat when my seafaring uncles would come by the house, bearing gifts in tow, and more so if said gifts were a Nintendo Game and Watch. Since my family didn’t have anything resembling a home console at the time, and moreover since arcades were outlawed in the country, having a hand held gaming device was akin to possessing some piece of inscrutable and empowering alien technology. Never mind that the games were often simplistic; the LCD format meant that the animations (if you can call it that) were highly detailed and charming as all hell. I had a small collection of these, all of which were abandoned when I moved to Canada (which is a bit sad, considering that I kept them in near-immaculate condition, and considering that said collection would be worth a pretty penny to a collector these days…)

When Nintendo released the original Game Boy, it quickly became a must-have item, setting a precedent for acquisition that’s been followed ever since. Somewhere in one of the “miscellaneous hardware boxes” in here, there’s a black GBA SP (with its leatherette pelican glove), my original Japanese DS (with its ridiculously awesome plastic armor case that I won from a claw machine in Akihabara), and DS Lite. My current go-to, the DS Lite XL, is sitting on the games bench next to me, a position that won’t be usurped until sometime next February-ish, when the 3DS gets launched (hopefully internationally and simultaneously, as well).

3DS in a color North America won't get for years

Aside from the upgraded hardware, I’m really excited about the 3DS’ NES Max-esque analogue stick, or the “slide pad”, as they’re calling it. I’ve been wanting a return to that particular configuration for a while, though I’m not entirely certain it’s due to any inherent strength of that form, or if it’s due to many fond memories of playing Blades of Steel with that controller.

I’m a lot less sure about the whole 3D approach. Lenticular column pixel-display is neat technology, but does it make for neat gameplay? The only title that I can see seriously benefiting from this at launch would be Super Monkey Ball 3DS, but given Nintendo’s track record for enthusiastically embracing new modes of gameplay, I’m willing to give them a lot of leeway on this.

The most exciting part about the 3DS launch would have to be the starting lineup of games, even if they are remakes of a lot of their older properties. Then again, those were pretty fun games, and it’ll be nice to have them in a portable format — Kid Icarus and Ocarina of Time especially. The movie from the 3DS announcement conference has a lot of cool visuals of these games in action, assuming it isn’t just a load of corporate bullshot.

The one big bit that isn’t in the movie is the revelation that Mega Man Legends 3 is finally being produced; and that it’s a 3DS exclusive title. That’s another decade-long wait that’s finally over (along with Duke Nukem Forever). Depending on the presentation, this may be enough to absolve Capcom of the horror that is Mega Man Universe.

The only real concern I have about the 3DS is the 25,000 yen price point; currently tracking at over 300 Canadian dollars, this makes the 3DS as pricey as a home-based console. Considering that Nintendo has generally fielded their handhelds at lower price points, this new direction seems to take them into PSP / iPod Touch territory, which has worrisome implications. But Nintendo’s slowly been taking more and more cues from Apple’s playbook, and only time will tell if it’ll be to their benefit.

28 Sep 2010 2:49 pm

Being able to watch fansubbed anime on my TV is a lot more pleasant than watching it on my monitor; for one thing, the TV’s larger (barely), but more importantly, it’s way easier to lounge about while doing so. When I first got my Xbox 360, my buddy Doug pointed out TVersity to me. Essentially, it lets you stream media from your computers to your Xbox without having to hassle with the vagaries of the Windows Media Center nonsense. Also, it lets me watch video in a wider array of formats… like, say, .mkv, which as far as I can tell, WMC still doesn’t support without extensive modification.

Now, until the last year or so, this setup was pretty sweet, as almost all my shows were either hardsubbed anime (old fashioned .avi files) or non-subtitled shows in mkv. The twist came when I tried watching subtitled .mkv’s, which seems to be the format of choice for most fansub groups these days (just check out the ratio of mkv to avi on animesuki‘s list…). Then my system ended up giving me conniption fits when I tried to watch those shows; either I’d get sound but no video, video with no subtitles, or desynchronized audio and video.

After giving my system a thorough sweep, I’ve finally gotten to the point where, with one minor kludge, I can watch soft-subtitled .mkv format anime. I’m noting down what I did here so that I can re-create it in the future, and to help anyone else who’s been having problems getting this to work, since relatively stepwise information for enabling soft-subtitles in .mkv formatted files via TVersity are sort of scarce on the internet. Do note that these instructions are very Vista/Windows 7-centric. I also highly recommend that anyone following these steps actually reads the instructions and FAQ’s for the two things we’ll be installing: TVersity and CCCP — the Combined Community Codec Pack, as what I’ll be describing later is more of an overview rather than an in-depth series of instructions.

First, download and install TVersity. During the install process, opt not to install any video codecs, as we’ll be using CCCP’s codecs later. Don’t bother installing any video players that come with TVersity either, as you’ll be getting a more up-to-date copy of Media Player Classic in a bit anyway. Once TVersity is installed, bring up your Services panel and look for the TVersityMediaServer entry. Choose the “Log On” tab, select the “This Account” radio button and fill in the data for the primary user on your system (the user who actually watches anime, and who’s running the TVersity application in general). This is necessary because the ffdshow settings that you’ll be changing later are saved on a per-user basis.

Next, get and install the latest copy of CCCP. Yes, this is a beta; it’s what’s working for me, so it’s what I’m advising. Leave things pretty much on default. The only thing you’ll be changing here will be the above-mentioned ffdshow settings. Find and play an .avi file on your system (yes, this is a bit of a shortcut, but bear with me). Look in your toolbar, and rightclick the red ffdshow video decoder icon. Check the “subtitles” option, and then, near the top, select the ffdshow Video Decoder menu item. In the ffdshow video decoder configuration window that comes up, check the “subtitles” box and basically check off all the applicable options (blu-ray subtitles, vobsub subtitles, text subtitles, Substation alpha subtitles, etc). Click on Apply.

Congratulations! The hard part’s over with. Now all you have to do is tweak your TVersity settings for maximum clarity. From your icon bar, bring up TVersity and select settings; in the left hand pane, select Transcoder. Under the heading “Maximum Video and Image Resolution”, fill in the appropriate values as per your TV’s specs for the Video Resolution line (either 1280 x 720 if you’re running 720p, or 1920 x 1080 if you’ve got 1080p on your TV). Click on Save, and you’re done this part.

The last bit is getting the subtitles to display. While it is a bit of a kludge, the least painful way to get this to work is to just extract the subtitle file from the video that you intend to watch. Download MKVToolnix and MKVExtractGui (make sure to unarchive the MKVExtractGui files into the MKVToolnix folder). Then, just run MKVExtractGui and point it at your .mkv of choice. Let it extract all the relevant files (it should do so in the same directory as the target file itself). It’ll tend to append a” _chapters” pseudo-suffix to the .ass file, just rename that file so that it’s the same as the .mkv, barring the extension. Say the file was called “example.mkv”; you’d end up with “example_chapters.ass” in the same folder — just rename that to “example.ass”, and you’re good to go. When you watch this on your XBox, you should now have functioning softsubs for your show.

If you think that this is a pain, it’s infinitely preferable to the old process, which was to extract the subtitles, then re-encode them with the video into a hardsub format (which could take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours per file…). This way is much faster, and relatively cleaner. And also, yeah, before anyone says anything, I know this is a lot easier on the PS3. I don’t own one, and very few of my friends do, so the network effects are more in favor of me retaining my 360 rather than going out and spending cash on a PS3. Mind you, this may change a year down the line when I finally break down to get Disgaea 4…

March 21, 2011 edit: After having all kinds of headaches with TVersity (including massive CPU consumption and garbage collection problems), I’ve made the switch to PS3 Media Server, and it does the trick right out of the box, with no finagling of files. It reads embedded subtitles in .mkv’s with no problems whatsoever. It does have the occasional issue with some older format .avi’s and I have yet to figure out how to get it to stream youtube videos, but since the majority of my use of the Xbox 360 as a media server is to stream subtitled anime, I’m not too concerned with these issues.

27 Sep 2010 5:29 pm

I know these things probably don’t roll true. That doesn’t stop me from wanting them. They’d go so well with my chainmail dicebag too! The only way these could be better would be if they were made of meteoric metal (much like Sir Pratchett’s new sword…)

March 21, 2011 edit: Finally found the maker! It’s a designer called Ceramicwombat, and he’s got an online store on Shapeways. The default material is some kind of flexible plastic (and you can step on them and they’ll just flatten then bounce back to shape), though if you’re willing to shell out more cash, they can come in harder materials.

25 Sep 2010 5:46 pm

4chan boards personified

Pictured above, from left to right: /ck (food and cooking), /co (comics and cartoons), /i (oekaki – drawing/doodling), and /x (paranormal). Personally, I’d kill to see /a (anime and manga), /g (technology), or /v (vidya gaems). And if I were really honest? Maybe some /u (yuri). That last link? NSFW. The others are “generally” safe, unless some /b/tard decides to post promotions on a worksafe board.

10 Sep 2010 7:35 pm

Quite some time back, a random comment on Tycho’s newspost sent me searching for a song called “Breaking Out“, by the Protomen. The piano opening hook and the low, angry/mournful lyrics grabbed me viscerally, and I had to go and find out what these guys were about. Discovering a whole goddamn Rock Opera, in two acts (so far), based deep in Mega Man lore was such an unexpected delight that I was compelled to buy their albums off of iTunes.

It took several listenings to fully grok the whole elaborate world they’d built around the original game framework, but that just meant that I’d have more time to really experience the work in its entirety. There’s something about 80′s style rock with a chiptune sensibility, laid over a groundwork of apocalyptic dystopia and fallen heroes that just speaks to me; hell, it doesn’t just speak, it growls my name and grabs me by the throat.

The Protomen Cast

So it was really goddamn awesome to see them rock out Beneroya Hall in Seattle last Friday, opening up the PAX concert weekend. And man, their live show? It kicks so much ass. From the opening narration, to the drum procession down the isles, to the bugle calls from the balcony, and the hard rocking all throughout, they delivered a show so incandescent that it could have blinded God himself. The fans certainly got into the mood, with the fist-pumping, light-fist glowing, yellow-scarf-swinging call-and-answer singalongs that ran through their set. Like PAX itself, the worst thing about experiencing their performance was knowing that it had to end all too soon.

On the other hand, they were coming to Vancouver in just a few days, so I’d get to see them again, this time in a much more intimate venue (the Biltmore Cabaret). When they took to the stage there, if they were weary of the 2500 miles of travel between them and their home in Nashville, you’d never have known it. Having them perform Act II in its entirety was ridiculously awesome; especially since you didn’t get to hear a lot of their quieter songs like “Here Comes the Arm” during their PAX performance. Plus, seeing them cover Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in the encore was one of the highlights of an already unbelievably cool week.

As of this writing, they should either be in St. Louis or on their way home to Nashville; godspeed to you, Protomen! Here’s to your return to Canada and your release of Act III!