Friday, April 22, 2011

Return of the VIC

Odin. My. God.

The eight-year old kid in me just had a massive nerdgasm. I know, that sounds completely inappropriate, but I can't think of any other way to describe my reaction when I saw this:

The Commodore 64 is back in production. It's been updated of course. The internals include an Intel Atom dual-core 1.8 GHz processor, up to 4 Gb RAM, NVidia ION2 512Mb on-board graphics, and Ethernet, SATA with RAID 0, 1, JBOD. Unfortunately, there is no tape drive, just a slot or tray-load DVD (Blu-ray optional) drive on the left side.

The O/S is Ubuntu 10.4, and they claim that Windows can be also run on the hardware, but you'll have to purchase it separately, of course. Most awesome of all, the operating system supports an 8-bit Commodore emulator (selectable at bootup or run from within Ubuntu), allowing us older nerds to reminisce about the old days of spending (what felt like) hours typing in BASIC commands in order to get the screen to print out "Hello, world!"

They will also be bringing out updated versions of the Amiga as well. I'll probably never pick up either unit, but it's fun just having a look for the nostalgia value.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Scenes From My Youth: Now Orchestrated!

Last week I finally received the opportunity to spend time in the company of a couple thousand fellow nerds when I dragged the wife along to Video Games Live in Vancouver. (Truth be told, my woman watched the PBS special on VGL and immediately demanded that her next birthday present be the chance to see it in person. I can't say I was disappointed to hear that.)

We arrived in Vancouver and dropped off our belongings (and dog) at our hotel a couple of blocks from the concert, ate dinner, then walked on over to the show venue an hour before curtain time.

The building was full of nerds, LARPers, geeks, gamers, role playing gamers, goths, and all the other societal misfits that you expect at such an event. From what I saw the ages ranged from ten to about early-to-mid forties, revealing that I was truly amongst my element.

The show started with a costume contest that had about nine people dressed up as various video game characters. As the contestants walked out on the stage, they were led a couple of girls in spandex outfits, dressed up as Psylocke and Rogue from the X-Men, and I immediately assumed they would win the contest. Girls in tight clothes, dressed up like popular comic book characters - how could they lose? However, the judge of the contest was the crowd, which was filled with video game nerds, not regular people. The winner of the competition was selected by who could prompt the loudest cheers from the audience. Although the superheroines placed well, they were ousted by the mob's favorite costume: a tall, lanky kid dressed up in a pretty good recreation of Altaïr ibn La-Ahad from Assassin's Creed. Other noteable costumes were a young woman dressed up as Tifa from FFVII, a gentleman with an imaginative splicer costume from Bioshock, Doctor Mario, and a very well done Link from Legend Of Zelda.

The music began with in medly of early video games, starting with Pong, then moving on to classic music from Space Invaders, Asteriods, Pac-Man, Tank, Defender, Frogger, Battlezone, Centipede, Guantlet, Ghosts 'N Goblins, and a whole range of arcade games from Dragon's Lair to Outrun. I lost track of the huge number of games represented during this montage.

What followed was a grand collection of orchestrated music (with a choir performing vocal work) from some of the greatest video game franchises in gaming history, including Mario Bros, Castlevania, the Legend Of Zelda, Metal Gear Solid, God Of War, Tetris, World Of Warcraft, Sonic The Hedgehog, Halo, Street Fighter II, Final Fantasy, and Silent Hill.

Interspersed between the longer songs played by the symphony were short video clips such as mashups (Donkey Kong vs. Mortal Kombat was my favorite) and top ten lists of the worst video game titles and most painful voice acting in a game.

There were also solo performances, with video game pianist Martin Leung playing the theme from Super Mario Brothers while blindfolded, followed by a medly of music from the Final Fantasy series. Laura Intravia played a suite of themes from the Legend Of Zelda on her flute (while dressed up as Link, and competing against Navi, a doll attached to her shoulder by a wire).

There were so many musical standouts from the show that it was difficult to select a favorite. The God Of War theme, accompanied by video clips from the series, was every bit as epic and intense as the games themselves. Laura Intravia crafted an amazing performance as Lady Silvanas during Lament Of The Highborne from World Of Warcraft. One Winged Angel from FFVII was every bit as spectacular live as someone coule hoped for. Finally, the second encore to finish off the evening was Tommy Talarico and Laura hosting an enjoyable sing-along with the crowd to Still Alive from Portal.

There were lots of entertaining non-musical moments that were worth noting, as well. Tommy had people hold up their cell phones instead of lighters to show support for a slower song, when he noticed somebody in the back waving a laptop. When it was pointed out the machine was a Mac, the crowd booed loudly, and Tommy commented, "You can't play games on that, can you?" There were funny and timely catchphrases and commentary called out from the crowd as well, such as "The cake is a lie!" as the intro video to Still Alive began; another person lamented "My car!" at the end of the Frogger Vs Grand Theft Auto mashup; and (in response to Tommy stating that "some people believe video games cause violence"), "Kill those people!"

My wife and I both enjoyed ourselves, and will attend VGL again at some point. It was nice to spend an evening reminiscing about the games I played growing up, presented in a relatively mature manner. Although gaming has become much more mainstream than when I was young, and I certainly can't devote the same amount of playing time and effort I used to give games, it was still nice to share the experience of classic and new gaming with a small horde of fellow video game lovers.

If you're a video game geek and you haven't experienced Video Games Live, I recommend heading to a show, or at least taking a peek at it on PBS or Youtube.