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.

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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.

Happy Free Comic Book Day 2015!

Hey, folks. May 2nd was the annual Free Comic Book Day. Basically, you go to a participating shop and get a bag of free samplers (and buy anything else that looks interesting), all while enjoying whatever other promotions are going on. Fantastic Comics is only a short BART ride away, but I was kind of on the fence about attending. Then I found out Gail Simone was going to be there, which was an insta-YES condition. I I left early, assuming I’d be able to beat the line. Turns out everyone else had the same idea.

Yeah, I should’ve left earlier. It took an hour and fifteen minutes to get inside, but it went by fast. Everyone was in high spirits, particularly those who’d just seen Avengers: Age of Ultron. The kids ahead of me were debating who’d win in a fight between Goku and Superman (Seriously?! I remember high school lunch hours focused about that exact topic over a decade ago.), while some guys nearby were getting their Xenoblade Chronicles 3D on. The couple standing behind me even offered to share some pizza, but I declined. Between my DSLR, backpack, and Italian phrasebook (yes, I’m still working on that), I don’t think I could’ve juggled a freshly-baked slice.

I took the opportunity to take photos of the few – but quite awesome – cosplayers in attendance. I feel uncomfortable taking photos of people, though. I’m awkward enough around others as it is; How do you just walk up to someone as say, “Hey, you look awesome, may I take your picture?” without sounding like some kind of creepy stalker? Seriously, that’s the last thing I want; even when I’m doing beach photography, I wait until everyone is out of the frame. After taking these photos, I made sure to promise that I’d send copies to them just as a record of the event. Not sure if they believed me, but they were good sports. Check these out:

Things stayed upbeat and organized inside the store as well. The flow and layout was simple: the line was kept off to the side as much as possible, then directed to the shelves of comics towards the back. That way, customers could look at/consider purchasing interesting comics while waiting to reach the free stuff at the table in the corner. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety; I’m not a hardcore comic book fan by any means – I’m far more into literature and games – but the selection was impressive. I ended up buying a copy of Secret Six #1 and an exclusive Swords of Sorrow print by Kate Leth, then getting into another line that was reserved for meeting Gail Simone.

It was totally worth the wait. She – and her husband – were incredibly nice and gracious. A lot of folks could’ve just autographed stuff and called it a day, but they actually spoke with fans  – someone in front of me took the time to show off all of his superhero-related tattoos – the entire time. I wonder how many of these signings/conventions/etc. they attend every year. I promised myself that I wouldn’t geek out too much, but I ended up babbling a little bit anyway. I’m awkward enough when it comes to regular conversation; what was I going to one of the most famous comic book writers in existence? I settled on a handshake, and thanking her for awesome writing, and how inspirational she is. I even managed to get a photo:

After that, I’m pretty sure I’d been standing there too long. I’m just one random guy, after all. There were plenty of other fans waiting. I collected everything she autographed, gave both Gail and her husband a final thank you, and left. I felt relieved to be out of there – crowded places are not my thing – but sad that I couldn’t stay longer. I nursed my regrets by going next door to Half Price Books and stocking up on a few things. I also walked to University Press Books by the campus (yesterday was also Independent Bookstore Day) and spent an hour looking over old texts. By the time I got home, my Free Comic Book Day haul included:

Autographed by Gail Simone:

Comic Book Samplers:

  • Attack On Titan by Kodansha Comics
  • Street Fighter: Super Combo Special by UDON
  • Mega Man & Sonic the Hedgehog: Worlds Unite Prelude by Archie Action
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender/Plants vs Zombies/Bandette by Dark Horse Comics
  • Secret Wars #0 by Marvel
  • Pokemon X/Y by Perfect Square
  • Teen Titans Go/Scooby Doo & Super Friends Team-Up by DC
  • Cleopatra In Space by Scholastic
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by IDW
  • Ten Year Celebration by Boom Studios
  • Simpsons Free-For-All by Bongo Comics.

Note: Photos of the above can be seen here.

Books:

Man, I’ve got a lot to read…

 

The Wiivengers – A Marvel / Nintendo-Verse Mashup (Parody)

Check out this awesome animation James Farr made for the recent release of Smash 3DS! Never thought I’d see a Nintendo and Marvel mashup!

Daily Prompt: Simply Irresistible, Or: Spicy Around The World

Hey, folks. Today’s Daily Prompt is all about temptation. No, not the trashy novel kind. This is about the food that you just can’t turn down, regardless of better judgment and/or guilt tripping. I’m not a big eater by any means – people marvel at the carefully portioned, home-made lunches I bring every day – but I’m a sucker for a few things. My sweet-tooth yearns for Cookies and Cream in any style; I even got some cupcake ones for my last birthday! The best part of the holidays is my family’s awesome homemade spumoni. In terms of regular meals, however, I’ve got to go with chicken and fish. Salmon with freshly-squeezed lemon? Yes, please. Chicken marsala? I will hunger.

Here’s the thing about chicken and fish. They’re fine on their own, but they’re even better when they’re spicy. I’ve always loved spicy food, even as a child. Lemon and herb, cayenne pepper, rosemary, jalepeños, garlic, onions, basil…There’s so much potential. Sure, my breath may cause an environmental disaster afterwards, but I don’t care. You think that stuff stinks? Try eating a durian. There’s a very good reason why some countries ban it from public places. Oh, and if you want a place that has a huge variety of spices and really good food in general, I highly recommend the casbah in Tangier, Morocco. You will never find another place with such a ridiculously huge amount of fresh products. Moroccan saffron (no, not the Pokemon city) is almost criminally delicious.

After traveling and tasting all of that, I didn’t think I could be surprised anymore. Especially not in Aruba, where I was visiting just this past April. That island is an incredibly popular tourist spot for a reason: it’s quite possibly the most hassle-free place you can find. Aruba is all about tourism, for the better and worse. The staffs are really accommodating and speak English well. Multilingualism is a huge part of their education system. But it doesn’t feel like a foreign country; it has all of those tried and true fast food places and services you’d see back home. There’s no thrill, just the ever-present trade winds and utterly stunning beaches. I never thought I’d find great Caribbean food in this hive of sand and tourism…until I went to downtown Oranjestad and came across this:

Iguana Joe’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken Sandwich

Take a good look. Jamaican Jerk-seasoned chicken breast with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a chunk of fried pineapple. This ensemble was further enriched with Iguana Joe’s legendary Caribbean spice hot sauces. I’m not kidding. That stuff is so good that the restaurant sells and ships it worldwide. I don’t remember all the ingredients, but scotch bonnet was definitely part of it. The resulting wonderful, tongue-blisteringly spicy dish was the best thing I ate the entire time. After I returned home, I stocked up on Caribbean spices and had chicken sandwiches every day for a week.

…Yeah, I’m going to make some more of that tomorrow.