Soundtrack Saturdays: Pokemon Stadium Theme (SSBM Version)

Hey, did you know Pokemon turned 20 this week? Yeah, I was surprised, too. I remember when the series first came to America. I was in that perfect target demographic sweet spot; I had a Game Boy, watched weekday afternoon cartoons (Pokemon was technically my first anime, as Toonami hadn’t premiered yet), and still had the time to dedicate hours to catching ’em all. I can still recite the original PokeRap. I don’t think I need to elaborate on Nintendo’s brilliant marketing campaign; the fact that the series has survived this long – with two brand new games coming out this Christmas – speaks for itself. Nintendo definitely knew they were onto something by 2001, when they included this song in Super Smash Bros. Melee. A fully-orchestrated remix of the anime’s title theme, complete with an utterly epic choir? Yeah, that’ll blow any fan’s mind the first time they hear it. While I don’t play Pokemon anymore (an exercise in futility if there ever was one), I still remember the original games fondly.

If you want more SSBM, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

RIP, Satoru Iwata

Yesterday, Satoru Iwata passed away. For those unfamiliar with his work, he was the president and CEO of Nintendo. But he was so much more than that; unlike countless other businessmen and executives, he earned his success the old fashioned way: starting from the bottom and working his way up. He studied programming in the 1970s, when video games were still in their infancy. He began as an unpaid intern for Commodore, then became a freelancer for HAL Laboratory while in college. After graduating, he worked full time and rose up its ranks in the early 90s. He had a hand in founding Creatures Inc., the folks responsible for bringing Pokemon to the world. He didn’t wasn’t just some guy in suit, either. He took over programming for Earthbound and saved it from developmental oblivion. He programmed the original Pokemon Red/Blue battle mechanics into Pokemon Stadium without any reference documents, using just the Game Boy’s source code instead…in one week. He famously compressed the all of the original game into the Gold/Silver cartridge, just to surprise and reward players for beating the regular quest. When Super Smash Bros. Melee was facing a delayed release date due to programming issues, he – already Nintendo’s General Manager of Corporate Planning – went downstairs and personally debugged the game hands-on, all in less than a month.

Yeah, he was that good.

He was in a unique position of growing alongside his industry; unlike many of his peers, his insight into game design came from the effort of making games the old fashioned way, with a focus on the fun experience while dealing with the hardware limitations. He understood that focusing so much on flashier graphics and processing power wasn’t necessarily the answer, and that appealing to people beyond hardcore gamers was incredibly important. Nintendo is often derided for appealing to kids instead of adults, but he was proud of it; he argued that children have an instinctual understanding of whether a game was good or not. He refused to let the company stagnate, constantly pushing them to try new things. He was initially mocked for bringing forth the DS and Wii – both consoles had unorthodox designs and admittedly terrible launch lineups – but was eventually vindicated via record-breaking sales numbers and some of the finest games in the last decade.

What was more inspiring is what Iwata did when the company wasn’t succeeding. Nintendo fell into a slump when it released the Wii U, mainly due to its high prices, strange design, and lacking lineup. The company was losing money, and he was being roasted by both gamers and corporate shareholders alike. Instead of stepping down, he voluntarily cut his salary in half to make up for it! That was the second time he did it, too; when the 3DS’s sales went poorly, he took the same action. When corporate demanded why he hadn’t fired employees for the sake of profit, he absolutely refused to do so, saying that it wouldn’t work well long-term, and that it’d wreck the company’s morale. If you look around online, you’ll find countless stories of people meeting Iwata and saying what a passionate, candid, and kind guy he was in person. When Ocarina of Time was released, he even went out and bought a copy on the way home from work. His hilarious “Direct To You” presentations and sense of humor have become the stuff of Internet memetic legend. The hundreds of thousands of tributes pouring in – even from Sony and Microsoft, Nintendo’s business rivals – shows just how loved and respected Iwata was.

I wish I had a personal story about meeting him. I wish I could say that we crossed paths at a convention, or that we shared an elevator, or that I pitched an idea and worked for him. But I can’t, and now I never will. Instead, all I have are the games he made, and the memories of how he helped shape my childhood. Yes, I caught all 151 of the original Pokemon, played almost every Kirby game, and spent countless hours fighting in Smash Bros. My gaming library is full of titles made with him as the Executive Producer; I wouldn’t be the same person without Mario, Zelda, Metroid, and other Nintendo franchises influencing me. While I don’t play nearly as much as I used to, gaming is still very much a part of me. It reminds me of something Iwata once said:

“On my business card, I am a corporate president. In my mind, I am a game developer. But in my heart, I am a gamer.”

Thank you for everything, Mr. Iwata. We understand.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact – Nile (Gill’s Theme)

Much like its predecessors, Street Fighter III went through multiple iterations over the years. New characters were added and rebalanced, and gameplay mechanics were tweaked to be more complex and technically challenging. It’s understandable why it the game ended up with three versions; at the time, the folks at Capcom believed this was going to be the final Street Fighter game. If you’re going to send off one of the greatest and most influential gaming franchises in existence, you want to go out on a high note. They pulled it off, too; 15 years later, Third Strike is still regarded as arguably the best 2D fighting game ever crafted.

However, many gamers tend to forget the previous versions – New Generation and 2nd Impact – even existed. The latter not only introduced more strategic options to the series, but had an excellent jazz, techno, rap, and drum and base soundtrack. The “Nile” theme encompasses what makes the final showdown with Gill so awesome: a calculating, tense feeling hiding beneath a serene and beautiful surface.

If you want more 2nd Impact, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Jet Force Gemini – Eschebone

Jet Force Gemini is one of the great unsung gems of the Nintendo 64 library. Oh sure, everyone talks about Goldeneye, Ocarina of Time, and Star Fox 64. But anyone who’s played this game knows better. It’s an epic space saga involving twin space soldiers, their trusty robot dog, and an evil empire of mutant ants. There are tons of flashy weapons, relatively intelligent AI, and special effects that push the N64’s graphics to their limits. The levels are huge, varied, and creatively designed. The sheer scope of it all is rather stunning for such an old game. It’s hurt by its late endgame developments, though; like any other title made by Rare, it requires a ridiculous amount of item collecting in order to beat. In this case, it involves rescuing every member of a race of sentient teddy bears hidden throughout the galaxy.

Yeah, it’s about as fun as it sounds.

However, the any potential tedium is drowned out by the game’s incredible soundtrack. Just listen to that track. Can you believe that came out a Nintendo cartridge? It’s so atmospheric. The composer took cues from major film scores; this particular track is based on the works of Danny Elfman. It’s one of many, many amazing songs in an equally amazing game.

If you want more Jet Force Gemini, you can find the full OST here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Mega Man X – Electric Spark Remix

When you ask gamers about the best titles on the SNES, you’ll probably hear things like Super Mario World, A Link To The Past, Chrono Trigger, or Super Metroid. Occasionally, someone will mention Mega Man X, the continuation of the classic Capcom franchise. It set a high standard for every action/platformer that came after it. It took everything from the old NES games and improved on them in every way. There were characters with actual personalities, more upgrades, flashier graphics, tighter controls, versatile weapons, several secrets, fast pacing, gorgeous levels, and epic bosses.

It was so good.

Its success (it eventually spawned eight sequels!) was also due to its incredible sound design. When something exploded, you heard it. The game was one of the first to demonstrate what the SNES could really do, especially with regards to the soundtrack. The guitar riffs in Storm Eagle’s stage, the jazzy, complex beat of Armored Armadillo’s mine…and of course, Spark Mandrill’s classic rock theme. That last one was revamped by Sixto Sounds for OC Remix’s For Everlasting Peace: 25 Years Of Mega Man, and it’s arguably the best track on the album. It’s an amazing song paying homage to an even more amazing game.

If you want more Mega Man X, you can find the full OST here. If you want more Sixto Sounds, you can find his page here.

Good gaming, good music.

Soundtrack Saturdays: Super Smash Bros. Brawl – Tetris: Type A

Video

Quick show of hands: Who’s played Tetris? I know at least some of you have; it even has a cognitive phenomenon named after it. It’s been around since the mid-80’s, though people in my generation probably associate it most with the original Gameboy (which just celebrated its 25th anniversary this week!) and NES. I don’t think I need to expound on the virtues of the greatest puzzle video game ever made. The fact that it’s lasted this long is testament enough. When Nintendo released Super Smash Bros. Brawl on the Wii, they were sure to pay homage to one of the many games that put their consoles on the map. Case in point: A fully orchestrated version of the classic Type A theme, which itself is an arranged version of Korobeiniki, a 19th century Russian folk song.

As far as Brawl goes, however, Type A is just one entry in its over 250-song soundtrack. It’s such a massive ensemble that it would take almost eight hours to complete! You can find a song listing here, and a partial playlist here.

Good gaming, good music.

Haha, Ian Malcolm!

Remember Jurassic Park? Remember how awkward but strangely fascinating Jeff Goldblum was? Soundcloud user FLIPSH0T has captured the bizarre spectacle and turned into something wonderful.

If I Had A Billion Dollars…

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about winning. Specifically, what you’d do if you won one billion dollars, tax-free. I like that the prompt included that little bit on the end, because that makes things far less complicated in terms of structuring a portfolio. Nobody likes paying taxes, and doing it for a billion dollars would probably physically hurt. So, what do you do with that kind of money? A lot of people would spring for some kind of mansion, cars, an island, etc. Sorry to be boring, but I don’t think I’d go that route. Not immediately, anyway. Having that much cash suddenly dropped on me would certainly solve some of my short-term problems, but it’d potentially cause a ton more without a good amount of foresight and planning.

There’s a pervasive belief that being rich means you can retire. Maybe you’ll get a big coin vault and go swimming in it like Scrooge McDuck. Or maybe you'll fight crime. Spending the rest of your life in the lap of luxury sounds pretty awesome, doesn’t it? And while it’s technically possible to do with a tax-free billion, it would be inherently limiting. The amount of money in your account isn’t as important as how you spend it to maintain your standard of living. Basically, stuff adds up. Read up on Warren Buffett sometime; the dude’s lived in the same house since 1956. His lack of extravagance is something I’d like to emulate. For example: I don’t have a car, so I walk and take public transit. Sure, that makes me a scrub in most people’s eyes. But I’m saving thousands annually on insurance premiums and maintenance. The same goes with the phone; I’ve been using the same ratty old flip phone for the better part of a decade. Its data plan is almost non-existent. It doesn’t have a camera, a music player, or even the Internet. But it can make or take calls, and that’s all I need.

General rule of thumb/common sense: If you want to make a profit, earn more than what you spend.

However, that doesn’t mean I could or want do more. Money is one (and certainly not the only) means by which we get resources and opportunities. I may not need a smart phone, but it’d make managing a business and building relationships much easier. So, if I want more opportunities, I’d have to make more money. I’d get the immediate problems out of the way, like getting the house paid off and health insurance coverage handled. After calculating my standard of living and doubling it in case of unforeseen expenses, the rest would be left for investments. Since this money is tax free, I won’t have to put all of it immediately into my IRA, though a portion of it certainly would. Some of it would go towards at least a few interest bearing accounts or fixed-rate CDs, even though the percentages these days are pathetically low.

Did I mention I was in banking for 12 years?

The investments wouldn’t be just in terms of accounts, either. Technically, everything you own is an investment. They just have varying degrees of necessity and returns. I may be a huge geek, but I know a week’s worth of groceries is always better investment than a TARDIS replica. If you’re in the photography business, you don’t just get the best camera money can buy; you get one that doesn’t break your bank and still suits your needs. If you’re a diplomat en route to Beijing, it’s probably a good idea to invest in learning Mandarin. Everything you pick up along the way are just pieces of the foundation of your financial career.

Mine would likely include investments in real estate development, particularly in China. Renewable energy, psychology, educational, food, transportation, and health care technology developments would also be essential. Communications, preferably with a focus online streaming and messaging, would also be a priority. Privacy, too. The stock market is also plausible, but it’s way riskier. I still have chilling flashbacks of working at a bank when the recession hit. I’d rather have a good, steady burn instead relying on just finicky economic confidence. Once I have a solid return, I’d donate to charities, particularly those involved with world hunger, depression, and education. Maybe start a college.

…And build a personal library. Deep down, I’m still a bookworm.