Saturday, January 31, 2009

Participation Award

I didn't know Taylor very well. We can all agree that his time in this blog challenge was too short. And while while we wish that he were still with us here today, we can always fondly browse his archives and look back on all the good times we shared. Never will he leave our thoughts. He will be greatly missed, and I bet even now, removed from this challenge, he's looking down on us and blogging.

It is in memory of Taylor that I present the bronze Shiny Buttons Blog-Off! award of participation.

For those of you who aren't pathetic losers who couldn't even last a month, here's a little something you can stick on your blog if you so choose.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Sonic Boom

Around the mid-nineties, everything changed.

Sonic CD - Sonic Boom (Sega CD)

Technology was improving and CD-ROMs were beginning to replace cartridges as the default computer and video game format. CD-ROMs provided an enormous amount of space, and video game consoles finally had the power to play CD-quality sound. Video games could finally be scored with recordings of real instruments and un-compressed human voices. Even on the Nintendo 64, which still used limited-capacity cartridges, games could feature the same sort of music you might hear on the radio.

Tony Hawk's Pro Skater (Nintendo 64)

And so we enter the Modern Age, which is admittedly a poor way of putting it. It's not fair to lump the past fifteen or so years together. In fact, this period has be marked by far more variety than any era of video game music before it.

Space Channel 5 (Sega Dreamcast)
Can someone please tell me why this game doesn't have a sequel on Wii yet?

That's exactly my point, though. With new technology, video game music didn't have to be video game music anymore. Synthetic beeps of the past could be replaced with the sweeping orchestral scores of a Hollywood movie. Game developers could grab a few songs that were already popular with the target demographic, pay some licensing fees, and be done with the soundtrack. It would even be possible for record labels to pay to get a few new, flash-in-the-pan songs into a game in order to promote their artists.

All of the above do happen now, and with incredible frequency. Video game music is no longer exclusively composed of "chiptunes," and while I've spent the last week writing this love letter to video game music of the past, I love the present just as much. There were plenty of awful soundtracks on the NES. Generic, thrashy guitars may not be my thing, but I won't say it's any worse than generic, thrashy beeping.

No More Heroes (Wii)
The soundtrack, like the rest of the game, is a superb mix of the traditional and the hyper-original.

The first big advance in game music of the modern age was, of course, the predictable changes that came from game systems with more storage space and better playback capabilities. To the best of my knowledge, the next revolution came from Koji Kondo's Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time score.

Kondo's theory in creating music is that the music should match the game, and I can't imagine a valid arguement to the contrary. It's not enough to simply have some groovy tunes. The music should match the game's controls, the game's tone and feel. In Ocarina of Time, he took this a bit further with a dynamic, non-linear score, though I'll note that I can't say with any authority that Ocarina was the first to do it. Plenty of early games would have the music speed up, for instance, when the player was approaching the end of a time limit, but Ocarina took it a bit further. While roaming the games expansive fields, eight different music samples would play in random order - a small modification, but it cut down on repetition and predictablity. Even better, music would grow more intense as enemies approached.

Since I've already linked so much of the Zelda stuff, I tried to find an example from the GameCube version of snowboard racing game SSX3, but I can't find any good clips on YouTube. SSX3 has a fairly average soundtrack which feature around forty pop/rock songs. The game was developed for multiple systems, but because the discs on the GameCube were a bit smaller than the other systems' DVDs, the songs couldn't be fit into the game in their entirety. Instead, there are only pieces of these songs which are dynamically spliced together to match the game. This way, 45 seconds of audio can be stretched to fill a ten minute race. In other versions, the songs are played straight-ahead, and once one song is done, another starts. It may sound surprising, but I'v never heard of another person even noticing the difference between the versions. It may seem that this trick would make the GameCube the aurally inferior version, but, in fact, it makes for a significantly more engaging game. As you speed down the mountain, the fastest, most aggressive part of the music plays. A ramp launches you into the air, and suddenly the lyrics cut out as you soar through the sky. It picks up again as you hit the ground, and seamlessly transitions to a more relaxed section as you ride through a cave. Subtle, but hugely effective.

Well, I have fifteen minutes left until the day is over and my daily post is due, so I'd like to skip ahead and wrap this up, and finish with a few last videos. This isn't the strong conclusion I wanted in ending the week, but I suppose it doesn't matter. I've said several times that I know I'm not appealing to people who migh actually read this blog with all this nerdy video game talk, but it has been a fun trip for me. I'm glad I got a bit of this self-indulgance out, and it really has out of my blogging funk. After a long, long break, I think I'm ready to write again. If you read this week, thanks; if not, we now return you to your regularly scheduled JakeyPen. Enjoy.

TimeSplitters 2 - Wild West (GameCube)

Pikmin (GameCube)

Animal Crossing - 5 P.M. (GameCube)
Oh, how I love Animal Crossing music. Every hour, different music would play.

Luigi's Mansion

Metroid Prime (GameCube)

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Genesis Does

Here's one more theory that I'm sure you'll all understand: Video game music is far less meaningful when it comes from a game you haven't played. I'll use an example from yesterday's post. Mega Man 2 is widely considered one of the greatest games of all time, and its soundtrack is frequently declared as the best of the incredibly prolific Mega Man series. But if you scroll down you'll see that I embedded music from Mega Man 3. I adore Mega Man 2, the game and the music, but I have a much stronger appreciation for Mega Man 3, and the reason is very simple. I've had Mega Man 3 since I was, maybe, five or six years old. I've owned Mega Man 2 for only a few months. I'd heard much of the music from 2 before ever really having played the game. After playing it, I immediately started listening to rock covers of the Bubble Man theme and learning to play the music from the second level of Dr. Wiley's Castle on my guitar. While I'm not going to go into all the reasons, I will say that playing a video game gives you an emotional connection to the music that you'll never find otherwise.

So I know most of the people reading this blog have never touched of a video game, and I know that that means you're probably not interested in any of the stuff I've been posting here this week. It doesn't mean anything to you. And while I know I'm not going to convince anyone, I'd like to suggest that you try. A quote from Nintendo of America president Reggie Fils-Aime:
Do you know anyone who's never watched TV, never seen a movie, never read a book? Of course not. So let me ask you one more question. Do you know someone, maybe even in your own family, who's never played a video game? I bet you do. How can this be?
Today, I'll be showing you a few games from the 16-bit era of video games. Many consider it the epitome, the defining epoch of video games. While I adore this age, and I agree that it birthed many of the greatest games (and greatest game music) ever, I never had a Super Nintendo of my own, and I only have three games on my Sega Genesis, and it does affect my relationship with the period a little. I did have friends who had these systems, though, and so I haven't been hit with Mega Man 2 syndrome quite so strongly.

Sonic the Hedgehog - Green Hill Zone theme (Genesis)

The 16-bit systems proudly boasted their audio capabilities, and they certainly could produce sounds far beyond the realm of the NES, but they still had a very simple, electronic quality. I think in many cases, the slight boost in fidelity may have actually given games of this time a less distinct, charmingly quaint sound. In the case of games like Sonic, though, they just sound great. Disagree? Fair enough - Sonic was one of my most-played games of this time. It's not unreasonable to think that I now give it more credit than it deserves.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Angel Island Zone theme (Genesis)

Legend has it that Michael Jackson worked on the soundtrack for Sonic 3. While I have no idea if this is actually true, I do know one Genesis game that was definitely inspired by the sounds of the Smooth Criminal.

Michael Jackson's Moonwalker (Genesis)

F-Zero - Big Blue theme (Super Nintendo)

Mega Man X (Super Nintendo)

As I said, I've never had a Super Nintendo, but I do have the PC version of Mega Man X. Unfortunately, much of the game was dumbed down rather severely, and several channels of sound appear to have been removed.

Thanks to oddities like this, and the fact that, although there's been a computer in my house almost as far back as I can remember, I didn't have computer speakers until probably around nine, have given me a slightly odd relationship with computer music of this time. Still, I can think of a few gems that stick out.

Doom (PC)

Jazz Jackrabbit - Main Theme (PC)

Secret of Mana - It Happened Late One Evening (Super Nintendo)

Donkey Kong Country (Super Nintendo)

There's been much debate in recent years about whether or not the Donkey Kong Country series is any good. There has been no debate about whether David Wise's score was anything less than genuis.

Donkey Kong Country 2 (Super Nintendo)

Tomorrow: The final day of this noise! It's almost over!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

More Videos No One Will Click

Today: The Nintendo Entertainment System, with a dash of Game Boy.

Early arcade games were capable of producing pleasing, if very synthetic sounding music (which reminds me - I totally forgot about the Journey game!), but bombastic noise of an arcade combined with the sort of quick, unvaried gameplay offered by most arcade games meant that most games of the time had simple, single-song soundtracks, at most, and games for home consoles were too limited by hardware to go beyond the most basic beeps, boops, and beeeeenghs.

Oh, Pac-Man, what have they done to you? (Atari 2600) I daresay it's still better than the farts coming out of the technologically superior Intellivision with Intellivoice speech-enabling add-on.

The NES was the first popular home system capable of decent audio. It also had games that were meant to be played in longer sessions than those of the arcade, and with games like Super Mario Bros. raising the standard, video game music rapidly evolved. The sound was still primitive and synthetic, but it was enough to let the talent of a good composer shine through.

Balloon Fight (NES) So catchy.

This leads to another of my theories on why video game music is so widely loved - the simplicity. In these days, when so much about video game music was defined, the limitations were significant. Space limitations, a limited number of tracks that could be played, limited "instruments." There was nowhere to hide and no time to waste. Early composers couldn't mess around with endless chords and meandering riffs. Every note had to contribute something, every track had to be able to withstand constant looping. Back a game with annoying music and kids would either mute you or be sent to play outside by their enraged parents. Certainly the NES had its share of trash, but the good songs are some of the catchiest, most memorable, best loved tracks in video game history.

Bubble Bobble (NES)

This may not be the best example - it actually originated in the arcades and was later brought to many home systems. The NES version is what I have, though, and like so many kids of my general age, this is where I spent my bubbling-bobbling time. Here's the thing about Bubble Bobble: In the above clip, you hear all five of the game's tracks. In the game, you hear one of those on the title screen, one during the fight with the final boss, I can't even identify two of them (ending credits or bonus levels, maybe), and the other song plays for the rest of the game. Over 100 levels, each probably lasting a minute or more. This song will never leave my head.

There's a theory in visual arts - bad cartoons and comics, mostly - that the less detail you give a character, the more an audience can identify with it. The idea is that the more you leave out, the more blanks the audience will subconsciously fill to match their perceptions. While this is often used as an excuse for laziness and poorly defined characters, I think in the case of NES music, it applies. Take, for instance, Contra.

Contra (NES)

I could listen to this all day. When I listen to it, though, I'm hearing heavy, crunchy guitars. I recently saw a video in which someone plays a little music from the game for its composer, Hidenori Maezawa, twenty years after the game was released. Maezawa then listens to a heavy guitar cover of the opening song and says that it was exactly the sound he originally intended. I'm amazed how well it was conveyed through the NES.

Another important series is Mega Man, or, as it is known in Japan, Rockman, and they aren't talkin' about pebbles. I don't even know where to start with Mega Man. There were six Mega Man games released on the NES, and while there's some fantastic music in all of them, I think I'll post the tunes from Mega Man 3, but I must also point your attention to Mega Man 2, particularly the track from the second level of Dr. Wiley's castle.

Mega Man 3 (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (NES)

I always thought it was a little odd that the Turtles game didn't include the Turtles theme song. The soundtrack still rocks, but it seems odd. I guess the movies didn't include it, but at least they managed had a few songs by hot acts like Partners in Kryme, M.C. Hammer, and Vanilla Ice.

Metroid (NES)

Kirby's Adventure (NES)

Tetris - Music A (Game Boy)

Dr. Mario - Chill (NES) Be sure to check out Fever, as well.

The NES could even output high quality voice reordings. Prepare to be amazed.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pac-Man Fever

I absolutely refuse to believe that there are this many hours in every day. Here's some music. No explanations today. Maybe I'll tell you why you should care some other time, but I have other things to do tonight.

I'm also pretty annoyed by all these big, slow loading YouTube videos hogging my front page. I'd find some way to embed music in a more aesthetically pleasing manner, but I'm in no mood right now.

So that's a pretty limited sample, but ya know what? I don't care. Do you care? No. Me neither. Here, here's your stupid Pac-Man song. And here's perhaps the best thing you'll ever find on this blog:

Monday, January 26, 2009

Swing Your Arms From Side to Side

Ugh - the idea behind this video game music thing was that it would give me an easy topic to write about during a busy week. Blogging's much easier when you don't have to think of a topic. Even so, it feels like today just wouldn't stop. So little blogging energy. What is the standard unit of blogging energy? The blogocalorie? Whatever. I'm sticking to the schedule, but it's going to be a little light today. Probably doesn't make a difference to any of you, but it's tough for me to have to leave so much out when talking about something like Koji Kondo's music.

And that's exactly where we left off. I have a few theories about why video game music resonates so strongly with video game fans, and Kondo's tunes give plenty of supporting evidence for one of these. Repetition.

First, in the sense that video games tend to last many hours, and music generally plays the whole time. The two biggest memory hogs in video games are graphics and sounds. In the early days of home video games, cartridges could hold less than a megabyte of memory. I hear people complain from time to time about how little they can fit on their MP3 players. Depending on quality, the average size of an MP3 is about one megabyte per minute. Super Mario Bros. contained six different tracks tracks and was considered impressive for the huge variety of its music.

Mario is made up of eight worlds of four levels each. 32 levels, six music tracks, and that includes the Invincibility music that plays if you get a Starman, and I believe one is only at the end. I'm not sure; I don't think I've ever heard it in the game.

That's right, shocking admission: I've never beaten Super Mario Bros. I've tried. Oh, Lordy, how I have tried. I've been trying for 20 years and I just can't do it. Not even with Game Genie. Go ahead and mock me.

My point is, I've played hours of this game that contains minutes of looping music, maybe less, and I've never gotten tired of it.

The complete Mario Bros. soundtrack (NES)

So that's one kind of repetition. Koji Kondo knew what he was up against while composing the score, and he wrote with the purpose of creating something that would be pleasing even when looped for hours on end.

Zelda probably has even less music than Mario and is meant to be a longer adventure (NES)

The other sort of repetition probably wasn't pre-planned in quite the same way. It's the repetition that comes from sequels.

Super Mario Sunshine pays homage to its roots (GameCube)

Video games change rapidly as technology advances. Upgrades in sound, graphics, physics, memory, and computing power mean the possibilities of what gamemakers can create are always expanding. This, combined with insatiable video game fans and marketing people who are too nervous to take chances on original characters and gameplay ideas, means the video games industry is lousy with sequels. While new music is typically written for sequels, a few classic pieces are usually left in in some form. They provide a strong connection throughout a series, provide a dose of nostalgia to fans, and save composers from having to start from scratch on every game.

Well, it's five minutes until midnight, so I better wrap this up before I waste my Mulligan. Here are a few of Kondo's best tunes.

Tomorrow: Sounds of the arcade

Super Mario Bros. 2 / Doki Doki Panic (NES/Famicom)

Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)

Super Mario World Super Nintendo

Super Mario 64
had a far larger soundtrack than the previous games. This is widely considered the main theme, but there are so many other fantastic tunes in there. I'm instantly eight years old every time I here this one. The water theme is absolutely moving. There's something so charmingly mid-nineties about this unabashedly electronic tune, and you gotta love that twangy accent. (Nintendo 64)

More Super Mario Sunshine. The technical limitations had more or less been lifted by this point. (GameCube)

Super Mario Galaxy
was, if I'm not mistaken, the first time Kondo used an orchestra to record music for a game (Wii)

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
Elegant. Understated. Incredible. Ocarina of Time is frequently called the best game of all time, and while I reserve that title for Donkey Kong, I have to agree that the game is pretty close to perfect, and this is the perfect way to open the game. Even picking a few highlights from the soundtrack is a difficult process. Every second of music is memorable and fitting, and the variety is stunning. You go from this carefree incidental piece to this haunting minimalism to this anxious madness in the games opening level, but would you expect any less from a game named after a musical instrument. Early in the game you're given an ocarina. Different button presses create different notes, and you have to learn to play simple melodies to cause various effects, like the Song of Storms and the Song of Time. I'm leaving too many good songs out. (Nintendo 64)

Note: So, I published the post at midnight, but wasn't quite done, so I thought, "Eh, five more minutes." It's now an hour after midnight. I think I'm ginna stop now. I know no one's going to listen to all the music posted above, but even spending two days on one man's career, I'm having a tough time even picking the essential games, let alone songs.

One more. You wouldn't want the title of today's post to be left a mystery, would you?

Sunday, January 25, 2009

It's the Legend of Zelda and It's Really Rad

So, I've been slacking a bit on the blog front lately, and The Legend of Zelda is to blame. Or, Zelda, roommates, and the cardboard room. Now that we've made our living room livable, we've actually been spending time outside of our rooms. One day, Robin started playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past out there, so for the last week, every time I've left my room to get something to eat, every time I've gone to bathroom, every time I've walked in after school, I've been drawn into the Cardboard Box. Tiffany and I have both been glued to the TV watching Robin play, all of us trading strategies, pointing out secrets, and debating the highs and lows of the series.

So Robin finally landed the killing blow on Ganon and used the power of the Triforce to restore the land of Hyrule last night, and what did we do as soon the credits stopped rolling by? I broke out the NES and Tiffany started a new file on the first Zelda game. And this morning, before the others woke up, I started a new file of my own (I'm playing the Second Quest - the difficulty is absolutely as cruel as I recalled). They came in to watching me play, and mentioned that Tiffany had started playing The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess last night. Then Robin ran off for a minute and grabbed a Game Boy and The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons. We're all addicts.

So, here's the thing - no one can be around this much Zelda without getting the music firmly stuck in their head, and I'm happy to have it there. It's brilliant stuff.

The first game's title theme, complete with poorly translated story screen

Between this Zelda folderol and a game I've started working on for school, I've had video game music on the mind lately.

Hyrule Castle Theme from The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

I'm thinking of doing a short series here on video game music. It looks like I'll be having a busy week anyway, so this should at least be more interesting than a week of "I have nothing to blog about."

Title Theme from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

If you've ever played any of the Zelda games, you know the feelings that come from hearing just a few seconds of the series' music. If you haven't, maybe you'll learn a bit about what you're missing.

Gerudo Valley theme from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Of course, if we're going to talk about video game music, what better place to start than with THE video game song?

Do I even have to tell you what song this is?

In the world of video game music, there is one big name. There are scores of phenomenal video game composers - I'll be introducing you to only a small sample of the field's many geniuses over the next few days - but Koji Kondo is the champ. No question, no contest. This isn't my opinion. Opinions have no place here. Koji Kondo is the master of video game music. Everything* you hear above? Koji Kondo. He wrote the music for Zelda and Mario. You just can't beat a
résumé like that.

Tomorrow: Part II of Koji Kondo.

Japanese The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past commercial

I was going to let the in-joke of this post's title remain vague, but I can't resist the urge to show you what I'm referencing.

Just be glad I didn't link to the other Zelda commercial

*Kenta Nagata, Hajime Wakai, and Toru Minegishi are also credited for the Wind Waker soundtrack. I can't any proof that Kondo composed this particular song, it's my understanding that he was heavily involved in overseeing all the music in The Wind Waker. Plus, I love the music in that game so much that I'm willing to miscredit a song and weaken my point if it means I get an excuse to place it on my blog.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Friday, January 23, 2009

Play It Loud

I hear Super Nintendo in the other room. I'll write two posts tomorrow, I swear.

No promises that one of those posts will say anything more than, "Obligation fulfilled," though.

Here's a silly dance:

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Not That There's Anything Wrong With Homo Sapiens

I don't remember seeing a single non-human animal all day. Not a dog, not a bird, not even a bug. It's winter, so that kind of explains it, but shouldn't there be some sign of life in the world? I walked through suburbs, past forests, and near open fields - nothing.

I'm not sure what made me notice this, but now I'm curious... how often do I spend days exclusively in the company of my own species?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Steal These Albums

I'm a dude who enjoys reading a good critical analysis. I can usually read a few movie reviews and get a good sense of whether or not I'd like the movie and I've learned almost as much about video games from magazines and Web sites as I have from playing them, but you know what's never been of any use to me? Music reviews. Seriously, guys, go read some music reviews. They're terrible, all of 'em. How do you describe music to someone? "The album is a magnificent journey that sounds like a golden delicious apples being gently grazed over an electric razor, but it's an uneven affair, as the second half turns to the feeling of shampoo separating mud from hair after a flag football game on a lazy summer afternoon." The metaphors these people write - meaningless!

With that, here are some music reviews written for dude's like me, by a dude who is me. I'll be reviewing the CDs I got for Christmas.

Of Montreal
Skeletal Lamping

Of Montreal ~ An Eluardian Instance (2008) Dir: Jesse Ewles from jesse ewles on Vimeo.

This album is so fantastic. You should go buy it right now. It has lots of songs that are really good. I think they sound good. I enjoy listening to them. Also, I like the words. The packaging is very pretty and clever.

Sex Pistols
Never Mind the [swear words], Here's the [swear word] Pistols

This is a seriously good record. I like it. If your tastes are similar to mine, you might also like it. That Johnny Rotten is a charming fellow. I listen to it often. I plan to continue listening to it frequently in the future, if there is a future.

Slow Motion Reign
Slow Motion Reign

I didn't really get this CD for Christmas. I was ordering school books off of Amazon and I looked at this CD because I was curious how much it cost and I knew many of the songs and I thought they were great. It was very cheap. This is good because it means that you won't have to pay very much when you buy this album, and you should by it because it's terrific and the songs on it are nice.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bush's Reign is Over

There is nothing more to say today.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Up all night reading (Dougie C's Girlfriend in a Coma - a real page-turner). Up before the sun with blood gushing out of my nose. A morning spent in bed racing to the book's end. Moving only to hock more bloody phlegm or wet my dry mouth with artificially peachy iced tea. A bowl of off-brand Froot Loops and the last of a carton of soymilk. Checking the results of the previous day's blogs. Conversation with a friend I've never met. How many hours? Saying nothing; just putting words together. The kind of meaningless chatter everyone should take a while to enjoy now and then. Casual. Comfortable. The washer stops. The dryer starts. The washer starts again. The roommates shuffle laundry. I rinse my bowl, shower, insert my contacts. Mom answers the phone. Typos fixed. Dewy's Adventure on the Wii. Water boils. Noodles soften. One more level. A timer's beep ignored. Turn down the heat, drain the pot. Heat oil. Add vegetables and synthetic meat. Spaghetti sauce. Tiffany plays DOOM on his hacked Wii. I enter the box of a room without a word. We sit. Silently transfixed to the screen. Worlds from another time given life by a machine of the future, coaxed into existence by law-breaking nerds. Unspoken contimplation of history that's already passed. History that can never be repeated. The Z-axis changed everything. A shakey segue to talk of Duke Nukem. KILLS: 97% ITEMS: 84% SECRETS: 0% There may be a door here. Shareware endings. Buy the next exciting episode. MasterCard. VISA. Return to our rooms. Pre-heat oven. Measuring cups. Artificial butter. Sugar. Peanut butter. The sound of the mixer attracts an audience. Brown sugar. Vanilla extract. Teaspoons. Flour Baking soda. Mash with a fork. Someone taps the door of the fridge. No one takes responsibility. Gunstar Heroes. Squabbles. A Link to the Past. Beaters. Will the kids born today remember their first games the way we do? The oven beeps. Stones overturned. Trees rammed. Pop-culture philosophy. The games of today have no secrets. Hidden pixels. Simple geometry. Patterns. The endless thirst for realism has given us games without memories. There are no secret doors hiding in the walls of a believably rendered house. Seeing everything. Leaving no secrets. The dirty secret of high definition. How will Halo compare to Commander Keen? Hope for physics. Super Mario Sunshine was still full of wonder. The Wind Waker. We move on. Entering the dark world. Twisted. Demented. The pink bunny listens to the pumpkin-headed goblin. Fight Club on DVD. Fear of nudity. No one ran the dishwasher. Tofu fried. Reminiscing about catchy, brain-dead popular rock. Remembering the pick-up trucks the blared country and waved confederate flags. The popularity of rap. Songs have laid dormant in the mind for years, but spring to the lips as if it was still 2003. A sandwich alone in my room. An unexpected blog post. A plastic cup of iced tea. Homework?

Why was this, discounting Christmas break, the best weekend of recent memory?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

'Ello, I Am Michel Gondry

Eh, hello, this is my house; I built it out of my dreams.

When Robin and Tiffany moved in, they brought with them boxes and boxes of things that wouldn't quite fit in their room. At the time, they weren't much interested in sorting their things, and we didn't have any type of chests or shelves or other storage furniture to contain their loose belongings. What we did have was a large, open living room, and nothing to put in it, so I agreed that they could drop everything in there temporarily. After looking at the mess for a few days, I made a suggestion: What if we built furniture out of the boxes? We kicked the idea around for a few minutes, but it was soon dropped.

Cut to earlier this week, nearly half a year after the kids and their boxes moved in. Tiffany's family had ordered a fancy new TV for them for Christmas, which arrived three days ago, meaning they now had a sleek flat-screen for their room, and a clunky old giant of a TV which would be relegated to THE ROOM. After looking at the mess, Robin started thinking aloud. "I really want to do something with this room... What if we made some furniture for it... We could make furniture out of boxes!"

Ordinarily, this would be the point where I would go nuts and start yelling about how I'd come up with that idea months ago, and don't get me wrong, I totally did, but I cooled myself quickly to start planning the work. Here is how I spent yesterday.

We've actually been using a cardboard card table for quite a while, though in a slightly different form. The top was a box used to ship Robin's bike here, which provides a nice, table-sized surface but it was previously prone to caving in if faced with holding even the slightest pressure. The TV was shipped with four large blocks of Styrofoam used to hold in place. We hot-glued the Styrofoam inside the tabletop, making it surprisingly stable. Next, we hot-glued the flaps closed, then used a combination of hot glue and masking tape to cover the top of the dirty box with 18"x24" sheets of brown craft paper. The slightly wonky edges of the box left us with some nasty bubbles underneath the paper on the sides of the box, but the top is pretty smooth.

We used to use four smaller boxes for table legs, but those boxes were going to be turned into shelves, so we took the new TV's new box and used it instead. It's made of thick cardboard, so we didn't have to reinforce it. The only modification made was that we hot-glued the flap shut. The top and bottom pieces of the table aren't attached in any way, which is why it looks so funky in the picture above.

Also pictured: the chair. This is one of the two non-cardboard things in this room that belongs to me.

Robin has an incredible number of stuffed animals, so I whipped up a simple display case. It's just a shallow box with the top flaps cut off. You can see a small triangle sticking out over the top of the box. The weight of the stuffed animals caused it to tip over, so I made an angled A-frame support that holds it up from the back, a bit like an easel. Pikachu is large enough to support himself.

We'll take this picture from left to right. First is a cable-sorter box, built entirely by Robin. It's a simple, flap-less box with a few boards of cardboard glued and taped in vertically to separate A/V and power cables for the video game systems seen on the left.

Next is the first of two matching shelves. We cut the flaps off of a box, then glued them inside, on the tops and sides of the box, along with a rectangle of spare cardboard reinforcing the back. This process is done twice, once for the bottom shelf, and again for the top. Then we'd lay down a layer of hot glue on the top of the bottom shelf, and carefully set the bottom of the top shelf on the top of the bottom shelf. After that, we'd take a strip of packing tape and place it across the front where the two shelves meet. Then, a bit more tape around the seam on the back, and, voilà, a suave shelf. It's surprisingly strong, seen here hefting a load of Super Nintendo cartridges, a case of Dreamcast discs, a box of controllers, and piles of trash.

Then the old TV.

Finally, the shrine of video game consoles, sorted now in order of importance, but by size. On top, we have the Super Nintendo, followed by the Wii and Sega Dreamcast, with the special Pikachu edition Nintendo 64 on the bottom, and some garbage wasting space back in the corner. The supports here are ordinary, unaltered boxes.

On the mantle, we have an enormous collection of Zoids toys, which was some kind of animé show, I think. Then we have our second shelf, with beany stuffed Pokémon on top, Beanie Babies in the middle, a supremely creepy dog statuette with a broken-off-and-reattached leg (why can't it just stay dead!?), and, on the bottom shelf, we have an assortment of books and art supplies and such, and, if you'll look very closely, my second belonging in this room: On top of the red-and-clear plastic pencil box, in a snack-sized Ziploc bag is one deck of my Pokémon cards.

I think the room looks a bit sparse, so I've been playing around a little with ways of prettying the place up a bit. Here we have a hastily constructed plane: cardboard, paperclips, and dental floss. We're all toying with a few other ideas.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oohs & Aahs

I don't know exactly what kind of blogging time I'll have tonight, so here's a quick safety blog for now. What I do know is that I'm madly in love with the new Say Hi to Your Mom song, "November Was White, December Was Grey." Only forty more days until I get to hear this song live.

Friday, January 16, 2009


My smiling muscles hurt. Watch:
Thanks, Ted Leo!

There probably is an ad that's more adorably bad than this, but I can't think of it. In other news, Microsoft may layoff up to 15,000 employees this week. Also, Bill Gates was seriously hitting on my mom in a dream I had a few nights ago. That may not be quite as relevant.

I hate to default to a YouTube post this early in the game. In fact, I started writing more, but it's becoming a bit more involved than I'd planned, so I'll save it for tomorrow.

Don't get too excited. I assure you, it's nothing you care about.

Hellooooooooo, Jake's mom!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Shiny Buttons Blog-Off!

This is... I dunno. I... think I like it. I would've expected me to go with some sort of pun-based title, but I think I prefer the elegant, meaningless simplicity of Shiny Buttons. It's not just about me, though; not at all. We should pick a title that we can all agree to love. No one wants to be stuck in a poorly-named blog challenge. This was derived from one challenger's suggestion, so I don't feel I'm being too dictatorial in my naming.

If you're unhappy, throw out a new name within the next week. After that, I'm making a logo or something.

I was going to talk about other stuff (non-Shiny Buttons Blog-Off stuff), but, man, I have things to do tonight, and plenty of writing to do in the coming months, so I'm taking the lazy way out this time. Dudes, have you seen my blog? I've written, like, six entries since that last challenge ended. I gots ta ease myself back into this daily habit, ya dig?

Tonight's homework: Invent an original game using two six-sided dice and one ten-sided die. Whoooooo!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Rules

1. Blog everyday
It doesn't matter what you write - a single word, a single character, a single image, a 400-page virtual tome - you must make a new entry containing anything at least once per day. That means you have until midnight each day. Rather than learning each of your time zones and committing myself to checking your blogs at that time, I will trust all of you to be cool, and just do a round each morning. No cheating, no changing timestamps.

2. One Mulligan
That is, you can miss one - and no more than one - day of blogging. Miss one day, and I'll put your name in italics on the master blogs list. Miss two, and you're outta there. Cool kids names' stand straight and tall.

3. The Challenge ends on June 30th
I took this date from last year's challenge. Too long? Too short? Make your requests for changes now.

3. Have fun, gang!
Alright, let's all put our hands in here, and I want to see a lot of spirit! That's it, everybody! Now let's give it our all!

Oh, and the challenge's name? It's a secret. Tune in tomorrow to find out!

So I Says, "That's No Blog Challenge - That's My Wife!"

Well, some Blog Challenge host I turned out to be - this thing starts tomorrow and I still haven't announced any firm details. I'll try to get it all written out today, but thanks to a fine combination of classes and homework, it might take a while, and I want to make sure I have a list of all our challengers.

The Year's Bloggers
(In Order of Acceptance of the Challenge)


Did I miss anyone? Did I link the wrong blog? Would you rather have me separate your names with ♥ than ☼? Official rules will be up soon and blogging begins in less than 24 hours - if you have any requests, make 'em now!

Update: Hearts won! Also: Jaime added. And Vera added.