Tracking the Past (Part 5)

Part 5: Trackerfixing, Self-Addressing

The 604 Crew made us an offer we couldn’t refuse, one summer. While my participation in various Vantari and VCVGC parties garnered some attention, and the respect of people who fascinated me, I was hungry for recognition. Roger Earl provided some of that, sharing his endless enthusiasm and incisive analytic talent to the table.

He was the cool geek, and he made me feel cool. I didn’t understand what it was to be cool then, and it would be another ten years before I began to figure it out. He was that guy, you know, the one who didn’t just own an Amiga, but grokked it. He was into the underbelly of technology and always had a fascinating story about his work to tell.

Banks are every bit as fallible as the rest of us, don’t forget that.

Roger’s legitimizing of my hobby increased my hunger for more of the same. Then, The 604 Crew, more of an idea than a group, extended us an invitation to participate in a competition they called “Trackerfix”. A compo! An honest to goodness compo! In Canada!

Awesome!

Rowan turned out to be a pretty cool guy too. He actually knew music theory, whereas I’ve – until recently – flown by the seat of my pants. Very little theory, except for what my Dad taught me. Valuable things like – in solos you can go where ever you want, as long as you come back. Question and answer, and be an avid listener.

It wasn’t a coincidence I used Yes samples in my music, but I digress.

Rowan told us we had a half hour to compose something with the chip samples we were given, so I did what I do best: Immediate response. It’s something I learned from watching Emily Carr art courses on PBS that applies to creativity of all kinds. You don’t think – you just take it in and create.

1 Gig Per Byte had a good bassline and not much else, but I could be proud of it. After this we were invited to contribute to The 604 Crew’s music disk, so I submitted a few tracks that were admittedly repetitious in nature. I was pretty upset by this, and it is possible to find some of that vitriol in my sampletexts, if you look.

Not my more gracious moments. I composed songs to combat this view and … frankly, aspect of myself. I had no musical education to lean on, so I had to find it in external influences. Those in my immediate vicinity worth mentioning are Derek who expected higher quality samples from me, and Ryan who was never satisfied with my first effort. Dave selflessly hosted out music, and without him – well, I’ve been over that, haven’t I?

I was growing as a musician in leaps and bounds. Yet, it was those who I never met who contributed significantly to my development. Where to start? Moby, of course, because anyone who says they don’t know Moby, just doesn’t know it. Jogier Liljedahl, u4ia (Jim Young), Count Zero (gotta love some bombastic YM2149 drumlines!), EuphoniX and so many more.

The Atari demoscene was my bread and butter.

Even now my most ‘popular’ downloads online are my simpler, less technically advanced tracks. Theme of Light, for instance, was my response to Robert Miles’ Children. Songs like that prove I wasn’t a good judge of how my music will be received. The sample quality is simply atrocious, but it does have a good beat, and under the right circumstances, might be rave or dance material.

Who knows?

Dave and Ryan believed in my music, and me, enough to help me progress to a higher form of music. Well, enter the multi-channel era. Whilst they tinkered with ScreamTracker and FastTracker, Dave provided me with an Atari STe, which I used to produce my 8-channel works.

While audio fidelity suffered with doubtful mixing quality, my skills flourished. 1997 and 1998 were banner years for me, with 1998: Sailor Rifts my magnum opus. Filling a single disk to the brim and stacking samples together to make it all fit into a single module, I composed until Octalyzer STe couldn’t possibly manage another pattern. 830K not once, but twice.

It wasn’t long before I was going to need a new machine.

Continued next week.

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Let it be “Drumpf”

So I jotted out a quick sketch of the energy Trump was giving off after the Republican debate on Thursday…and for some reason I didn’t have a name for it. That’s strange because I almost always do. Now that John Oliver has responded to Donald’s attacks formally those of us who saw his flaws finally have a voice.

Not to mention that someone finally did it. About time! Among his counterpoints is the fact that Trump’s family name was originally “Drumpf”. That’s all I needed! So let this piece be named “A Drumpf Abstract.”

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Troubleshot in the Wallet

Microsoft’s idea of help has always been questionable, but you can rely upon the focus of someone getting paid for something. That’s not inherently wrong, but it does come across as sneaky and underhanded, especially the way Microsoft presents it.

For instance: Adobe Photoshop, once worth $700-$1200 now ships under the guise of a service entitled “Creative Cloud”. For a nominal monthly fee you get access to the unfettered, full version of Photoshop, or any other single program they ship via this model.

Even $260 a year doesn’t sound that bad for a single program, unlimited support and handy extras like stock photos, cloud storage and a bunch of other stuff. Frankly it’s a good ideal and probably more than most people need.

Which brings me to the alternatives. You can pick up Paint.net for the glorious price of free, or grab Photoshop CS2 which grants you 90% of the greatness that otherwise costs so dang much. CS2 is free because its unsupported, so if you’re in need of a full, legit version of Photoshop, you can hardly go wrong with this.

(Adobe’s links are now behind an Adobe ID sign in blockade. They’re obviously not pleased with the adoption rate of Creative Cloud…) Adobe Suite CS2 was developed for use Windows XP and glitches a little on newer versions of Windows. The last patch brings it up to version 9.0.2 but doesn’t address any of these issues, and they have no plans to do so.

Microsoft knows this and has tailored the Compatibility Troubleshooter to pitch you the retail solution if you’re unsatisfied with the glitches, which are minor and entirely tolerable. Specifically, after roughly a half hour the floating menus begin to disappear, not to mention your photo windows. Clicking on them brings them back from … whereever it is they jaunted off to.

I tried setting the compatibility setting to Windows XP Service Pack 2, and this solved the issue of the floating windows going away, but upon exiting Photoshop I was greeted with a question. You know the one: “Did this program run correctly?” Auotmatically I selected no, because I wanted to try another setting. Instead it popped up this window:Troubleshot_in_the_back

A what is who now? Excuse me? How does it know? Oh wait … I mean, I turned off Siri—um, Cortana. All of those advertising options and sharing nonsense are also switched off.

I don’t trust Microsoft, that’s all. Ultimately this isn’t hard to understand, Adobe’s a big company and have a vested interest in making sure depreciated versions of their software are broken… I mean, that new software runs great on the latest Operating Systems.

Am I suggesting sabotage? Perhaps by inaction. Adobe isn’t required to patch their old software, but it would encourage me to invest in the Creative Cloud for new features that overshadowed the old software. Except of course that none of the CC “apps” do that. We’re talking about a value proposition that can be difficult to substantiate when so many other pieces of software give you a high percentage of the functionality for free.

Yes, I can use Gimp, and it does more, but it also turns filters into a ridiculous guessing game. Anyone determined to become proficient with Gimp has too much time on their hands, and that doesn’t represent most of us.  Photoshop just works and is still more user friendly than Gimp.

I know that’s like saying building a house is easier than baking a cake.

The strangeness didn’t end with Microsoft’s retail pitch. Curious, I clicked on the link to take me to the “paid software upgrade”. Here’s where I landed:

Er_What-Adobe_in_Spanish

Er … um. Hey, what? In Canada our national languages are English and Canadian French. Not … Spanish. I think that’s Spanish. Truly impressive. Why do I think that this was something simple they should have gotten right but still managed to screw up?

Because I know Microsoft. This is what they’ve been doing for over thirty years.

Stay on your toes folks, because I don’t expect that to change.

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Tracking the Past (Part 4)

Part 4: Mostly Infamous

Trideja was formed before Derek joined the group and in a way returned to three key creative talents. Dave was more confident in his pursuit of Total Eclipse II BBS, for many years the only release site of Trideja tunes to the world. It would lay the foundation for his current job as a system administrator for Rockstar Games. We had hopes of taking our music to the next level, turning professional.

Attending computer conferences, submitting music tapes. Answering responses to requests for game music which never turned out. The most compelling to me was a Asteroid inspired beta that needed some atmospheric aural backing. My infamous claim would come well after I had neglected my trideja.com email.

Meteor 2. James Bunting needed music, and through email I brashly gave him permission. These days its a charming throw back to top down shooters with a Paint.exe style aesthetic. I swallowed the pill of having a game that fit in some ways but not in others. I hadn’t tailored my tracks to first, they were just energetic and the visuals were underwhelming.

The community ate it up, however, and it’s something I’m known for. “You’re that guy from Trideja, right?” It might even make it on Greenlight, and I am grateful. Little successes uncounted are meaningless, but when noticed weave a fabric that can form a safety net for some of life’s more challenging times.

For instance: Betas. These were snippets of ideas, half realized patterns sometimes amounting to half-complete songs. Derek began to amass these, and would ask about ideas he was interested in. There are some that would never have been finished without his relentlessness.

We collaborated very well and somehow never realized our own potential, but not for a moment do I regret the time spent and fun had. Perhaps there’s room for another collaboration the future. If there’s something I can think to say now, it’s not to frown on a style of music but to look to the purity of its expression. Techno never stopped Bowie from advancing his mastery, nor did it fail to communicate his messages.

Yet down the road, after spending some time with DJs, having songs played in clubs, I became aware that my betas were a ball and chain. Can you imagine recording every jam session just to have the memory of every melody haunt you as wasted potential?

What a waste of time, but nothing is, when practice results in a performance greater than the last. Improvement comes from many quarters and can go unnoticed. My attitude of trusting the flow meant some songs bloomed and others busted, but I always put my best effort into them. The value in that is the lesson learned; don’t be dragged down by could-be.

Continues next week.

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Tracking the Past (Part 3)

Part 3: Honing and Honed

PCCFA Fair, where I was asked to turn down my music. Me? A disturber of the peace? How about thrilled to be noticed? My early techno did not impress, but it was on that day I met Admiral Skuttlebutt, who played 280-JOKE for me, a mod I’ve carefully sheltered over the last twenty some odd years. It is a nostalgic song, clumsy in execution, off beat in humour. It still holds deep meaning to me.

We would be back to the fair later, too.

It was the beginning of my education about what I mean to other people. In high school I was the six foot ghost, striding deliberately through the halls to avoid confrontation. In the computer lab Ryan and I were nobles, blessed with access to Foolproof and knowledge of Mac OS’ inner workings. Resource forks, oh, how I miss you.

HyperCard was too easy, too functional. Too good. Modules didn’t have that flaw, and we waited a long time to be able to share our music with friends on Mac LC II, LC III and LC 520 with their caddy loading CD-drives. We (mostly me at first) could impress with four channel audio when most programs managed just two. It was our music, and opened many doors. Ryan would not only compose the music for his graduation, but he also produced a “multi-media video” on the Centris 660AV (with badass AT&T 55Mhz DSP and lightning fast 68040 CPU@25/50Mhz. What a beast!).

PlayerPRO (still kicking?!) and Soundtracker entertained in different ways. The former tried too hard to be a studio with every toy in the box, always failing to play essential mod commands and loops. We’d amuse ourselves by seeing what the programmer’d figured out since the last version. Which of our mods played right? Soundtracker was slow, even on fast machines, but far more accurate.

Ryan was focused on audio fidelity, as ever, learning MIDI and the Roland MT-32 synthesizer our school lent him for the summer. I couldn’t afford to step up, but I did happen into a 20MB SCSI hard drive thanks to him, so I gave it my all, musically, and somewhere we met in the middle. Perhaps because I was blindly persistent. It’s a valuable quality worth cultivating at times.

The Mod format was still in development in those days, with new commands being added from the Amiga side of the scene. So was I, incidentally. Untrained as a musician, I found my own way to enjoyable melodies. Perhaps a paradigm would have improved my development, yet in place of it I gained something else: Confidence.

It was always a struggle, and I admit to deleting mods because of disapproval – gone forever, limited storage, remember? Bygones, naturally, as I was persistent. I didn’t know it then but experience was for me the better part of my musical education. Valour? Probably not.

‘E-Tempral Society’, ‘Power of Emotion’, ‘Faded Thrill’ and most of all ‘Sudden Swiftness’ were my formative tracks in the first four years of involvement with DT. By sheer passion I proved a capable, if unpredictable, musician. Oh yes, and ‘1995’. It was that summer we discovered the Internet, and that our group name was in use by a German industrial company of some variety.

Newly dubbed Trideja, we quickly added Derek Warren to the roster just to destroy the symbolism of the name. What’s done was done, and we laughed about it. Derek’s enthusiasm was infectious.

We had already designed a new logo with my skills in ClarisWorks Draw and Ryan’s with Photoshop and web design. We had our own website before we quite new what to do with it.

Continues next week.

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6 Free Games from Sega

Make Love Not War features 6 top-rated titles on Steam! Hop on over now and click “Install Games” to add the lot to your account! Included are:

  • Hell Yeah! Wrath of the Dead Rabbit
  • Hell Yeah! Virtual Rabbit Missions (DLC)
  • Hell Yeah! Pimp My Rabbit (DLC)
  • Jet Set Radio
  • Sega Classics: Golden Axe, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic 3 and knuckles, Sonic 3D Blast, Sonic Spinball

Of course check out the sales on Total War: Attila, Company of Heros 2, Warhammer Dawn of War II, Total War Master Collection 2014, Company of Heros 2 Master Collection and associated DLC.

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Transistor Gallery

Enjoy these drop-dead gorgeous screenshots of SuperGiant’s art deco masterpiece, Transistor!

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Tracking the Past (Part 2)

Part 2: Quality vs Fidelity

We played our own computers as instruments and each wrote our own whole songs. In retrospect I only see now the high demands we had placed on ourselves. At the time I had the time, energy and talent to do that, but certainly without the support of the group it would have been futile.

Ryan had The Phone Call, which had some lewd humour, until we changed that and he released it on Total Eclipse II, Dave Toews BBS. Dave was tinkering with Mega Jammer and the quality of his samples was impressive, and drove me to raise the fidelity of my own work. Incidentally, it is humbling to realize that his sole track ranks higher in downloads than the showy mix I made of his samples many years later. That speaks well of the integrity of the song, arguably simplistic, but memorable. That’s worthwhile, and there’s gratitude owed there. So thank you, Dave.

At the time I had no sense of competition, which was best. I floundered along with heavy criticism from the then-founder of our group. It was his sampler that made my first track possible, but later my acquisition of samples from favored modules that set the tone and pace for all of my continuing works.

Oh, to name a few; 1991, Piano Plinker, After the Rain, Cortouchka!, anyone remember Batmeat? I’ve always liked that track, when I could tolerate it. Mods do require some tolerance. It was Burton’s flair for the dramatic that got everyone’s attention.

Meanwhile, I forged onward through tracks like ‘The Fire of my Soul’, which exhibited some of the teachings of my Dad, who saw the possibilities, and did try to learn. I later used some sampled riffs, somewhat ill-fated and perhaps unfocused. A valuable learning experience, nonetheless with its own impact on the gaming community at large.

In 1994 there was much pressure to improve, to be the equal of those Ryan and I listened to, and usually that was fine. What was I expected to write? We weren’t a demo crew, though we wanted to be. I was a budding artist and writer, and took to embedding short stories into the last sample of many of my early tracks. Load them out and they’re quite readable.

But if you know anything about me, it’s that I’m passive aggressive. That meant I wasn’t going to be content with my progress or position for too long. For a while, though, I was pleased to grow as a musician, discovering that I had talent and local impact.

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Final Fantasy II is free, sort of.

According to an email I received Final Fantasy II a free download until Feb. 14th 2016 on the Final Fantasy Portal ( Google Play | iOS ), but if you need to re-download again after this event, you’ll be paying for the download. Is that to add it to your account or is this a game vending machine?

DRaMa
In the process of trying to find out I hit an absolutely ridiculous security wall called “One Time Passwords” and “Security Tokens”. These are heavy handed DRM controls to restrict both piracy and rampant farming in Square’s MMORPGs. This is why ratings don’t matter. You can’t taste awesome cake under lock and key if you don’t know which doors to open to get to it.

Why does everyone play Candy Crush? Open the package, taste the cake. It may be cheap, it may gouge you on the price of the drink you need to choke it down. It may even shove twenty other kinds of cakes at you while you’re eating, but you know what you’re getting and where to find more.

Square “cakes” are gorgeous, luscious, many layers works of art they’d rather not see abused. Who can blame them? I can. Creating an account to register the game I purchase is like going into the neighbour’s house to get dressed in my clothes. Go to site you’ve never heard of to create a two factor authentication code only you can use or just go play something else.

You need to be invested in order to do this.

LoopHoles
If anyone wonders why MMOs are reported as being on the decline, this is one of the reasons why. Who wants to spent twenty minutes hassling with trumped up security features when there’s so much competition? Square-Enix reported profits last quarter, but they’ve also been making cost cutting decisions and have a tendency to never put their games on sale.

Consequently no one talks about them, and even fewer play them.

Steam, GOG, Origin and Uplay appreciate the power of presence. Put a product in their hands, don’t worry if they like it. The point is you gave them something of value and they’ll remember you fondly. They have a higher chance of returning and spending money on you. Sampling. There you are.

Back to FFII. There’s no reason to jump through so many hoops for this game. There are superior free to plays available. I said it. Go find a few at Itch.io! FFII is classic, but its mobile presentation is lacking: Clumsy and boring by current standards. Few agree it’s worth its asking price.

Note that FFII is not available on the Google Play store as a stand alone purchase. If Squarix was looking to hook players on must have IP, this isn’t the way to go. Deal seekers beware.

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Game Giveaway: Choose My Next Critique

It’s easy to critique games I like, and not so bad with the ones I don’t understand. Challenge entails leaving one’s comfort zone, so in aid of this I’ll be looking for some help. I invite you, Internet, to choose my next review. Choose from this list: My Steam Library

For doing do I will reward you with a retail key for a digital game download, your choice from the following:

The Last RemantSteam Page – Reviewed “Very Positive” by players
Guacamelee Super Championship Turbo EditionSteam Page – Reviewed “Overwhelmingly Positive”
EvolandSteam Page – Reviewed “Very Positive”
SurvivalistSteam Page – Reviewed “Very Positive”
Splinter Cell: BlacklistUplay Page

Submissions are to be made via email to contest@hastypixels.com and will be open until Monday, Feb. 8th, 2016, 12:00PM (-8 GMT). I will contact the winner to arrange selection of their game and retail key. The winner’s chosen critique will appear here on the 12th.

Good luck!

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