Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Dance Dance Retrospective: 5thMIX

2001 was a banner year for Dance Dance Revolution.  It marked the series' first home releases in America and Europe (as previously discussed, both were based on 3rdMIX), and Japan would see some major changes take place on their own turf with not one, but two games.  The first one of these, Dance Dance Revolution 5thMIX (March 27 2001), is not the more revolutionary of the two, nor its its PlayStation home version (September 9 2001, Japan only), but codified a few things which, for better or worse, would carry on for nearly the rest of the series from then on.

The music menu.  A glimpse of things to come.
What changes could I be talking about?  The first is right in front of your eyes.  The new color scheme shies away from 4thMIX's high-contrast neons in favor of a more consistent blue-green pallette.  It all starts out with style and character menus, which work similarly to those from 4thMIX, but the song selection menu has been redesigned yet again.  Song titles and artists in a curving list, or "song wheel", on the right side of the screen.  Over on the left is a cutout of the background artwork, difficulty levels, and high scores.  As in 3rdMIX, you can change difficulties at any time on this menu, by pressing Up or Down twice.  By pressing the left and right menu buttons at the same time, you can also sort the tracklist by title, tempo, or the most-songs played on that machine.  Konami seems to have finally found their sweet spot in this department; the "song wheel"-style music menu would be used for almost all DDR titles from then on.  In fact, it was so good, they planned to use it for DDR Konamix in America, but when they realized it would be too similar to their next game planned for PlayStation 2 (stay tuned), they switched to using the 4thMIX UI.

During gameplay, the Groove Gauges eschew the jumping pills from previous core series games and instead look like wavy bars.  Well, anything to avoid unintented drug references, I guess.  The background animations have also been re-done again, and follow a general color theme to match the song's genre.  Also, for those who care, while the display resolution was cut back to its previous level (240i), the frame rate runs at the traditional maximum speed of 60 frames per second.  For those of us wowed by the first wave of 60fps 3D games (for me they were Mortal Kombat 4 and F-Zero X), you'll really notice the difference, but everyone else, whatever.
You should see this in motion.
So I've mentioned the interface changes being one of most influential additions brought on by 5thMIX, but there are quite a few other things it brings to the table.  Apart from tempo changes, some songs actually pause the sequence for a few seconds at certain points.  Three songs (four in the home version) make use of this gimmick: "Abyss", "Ecstacy", and "INSERTiON" (plus "Healing Vision ~Angelic Mix~" in the home version).  There are also four "long version" songs which, in a gimmick brought back from the Solo series, last about three minutes each and cost two stages to play.  For some reason, this time around you can only select them on your second-to-last stage.  Few other games from then on would bring back long songs in any form (I can think of DDR X and Universe off the top of my head).  The scoring system has also been revamped yet again: the maximum score attainable is five million times the difficulty plus one (i.e. a level-1 chart has a maximum score of 10 million points, where a level-9 song has a maximum of 50 million), with a bonus added on top of that.  The grading system has gone back to E through AAA, which would also become a standard mechanic from that point on.

The other big change brought on by 5thMIX is not necessarily a positive one, however.  Going from 3rdMIX to 4thMIX, only two songs were cut ("Strictly Business" and "So Many Men") due to specific requests from the artists.  On the other hand, 5thMIX cut out a sizeable chunk of songs from previous games, mostly from 1st and 2ndMIX.  The reasons for this could be to make room for the new content, or to cut down on licensing fees, since it's mostly licenced songs that were affected, or some other third thing.  Sadly, there are no nonstop course modes in this game either.  That said and done, the total songlist of 5thMIX still comes out to be roughly the same size as 4thMIX's.  Genre-wise, there's towards trance and eurobeat which will only get stronger over the next couple of games, and content-wise, there are a lot of songs with Maniac charts ranked at 9 out of 9 in difficulty.  This means that on the whole there's more challenge in 5thMIX than anything that's come before in the series - and this progression will only continue.  Think about that.  Notable songs from 5thMIX include:
  • "Can't Stop Fallin' In Love (Speed Mix)" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry.  A speed-rave remix of the song from Solo 2000.  The Maniac chart is infamously known for its "machine gun" sequences, which are chains of eight notes using only one arrow - meaning you have to tap one foot repeatedly.  At 170 BPM, these can be way tough to nail down.  Commonly abbreviated as 'CSFILSM' by fans.
  • "Dive" by BeForU.  This is the first song released by BeForU, a J-pop girl group founded by Konami.  BeForU would become mainstays in the Bemani games over the next few years, and to my knowledge they were one of the first Bemani-based acts to release albums commercially outside of game soundtracks.  Also, this and "Sana Mollete Ne Ente" are the first songs in the core series with Japanese lyrics.
  • "Ecstacy" by D-CompleX (Naoki Maeda).  A trance song with not one, but two pauses.
  • "Healing Vision" by De-Sire (Naoki Maeda).  An ethereal drum'n'bass song which switches to double and half speed at different points.  The Angelic Mix from the home version (by 2MB) keeps a mostly constant tempo apart from the aforementioned pause near the end, but that is immediately preceded by a 20-second rush of high-speed, high-density notes.
  • "INSERTiON" by Naoki Underground (guess who).  A trance/techno song with a pause and slow section in the middle, and a speed-up at the end.
  • "PARANOiA Eternal" by STM200.  This remix of PARANOiA was actually made by a fan outside of Konami, who one a contest and had it put it into the game.  It experiments with 7/4 time signatures in some parts, and the Maniac chart has "machine gun" sections like in CSFILSM, but 30 BPM faster. 
  • Eight unlockable songs are transplants from beatmania IIDX, including "Absolute" and "Abyss" by dj TAKA, and "Electro Tuned (The SubS Mix)" and "Radical Faith" by TaQ.
  • There also three songs transplanted from Dance ManiaX (spelled with an X to differentiate itself with the Dancemania CD series), another dance-based game in the Bemani family.  This one uses motion sensors you wave your hands over or under, but the series only lasted for a couple of titles.  Dance ManiaX transplants in DDR 5thMIX include "Afronova Primeval" by 8-bit, "Broken My Heart" by Naoki feat. Paula Terry, and "Matsuri Japan" by Re-Venge.
  • Also, 5thMIX is the first core series game to use Japanese text in some of the song titles and artists.
So there we have it: our little franchise is finally start to grow up.  But we'll see it truly come of age when we take it to the 'max': DDRMAX, that is, on the next installment of Dance Dance Retrospective.  ...Which may either come within this week or not until July.  I'm planning another month-long tribute to a certain little blue guy who's about to have his 20th anniversary...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Editorial: Rapture 2011

Just when you thought 2012 doomsday predictions were all the rage, we're getting another one - for tomorrow.  Although unlike the lamestream media, to crib a certain Palinism, I suppose I should explain.  The concept has been promoted by a mister Harold Camping, president of the Christian radio network Family Radio.  It's not as simple as the world blowing up on the date; here are his predictions.  On May 21st, 2011, the Rapture will call 200 million people, approximately 3% of the world's population, to Heaven.  On Earth, mighty earthquakes are to occur at 6PM for each of the world's time zones.  The actual destruction of Earth is not scheduled to happen until five months later, or October 21st.

So where does he get this stuff?  He combined two Bible verses: Genesis 7:4 (Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth) and 2 Peter 3:8 (With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day).  Since he previously dated the Great Flood (the one with Noah's Ark) to 4900 BC, he added seven thousand years to get in the ballpark of AD 2011.  As for the specific date, he converted the Hebrew date of the Great Flood from Genesis 7:11 ([...] on the second month, on the seventeenth day of the month, on that day, all the wells of the abyss did overflow, and the storehouses of the sky did open.) and converted it  Furthermore, the chain of earthquakes across all time zones was inspired by Jeremiah 25:32 (Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Behold, evil shall go forth from nation to nation, and a great whirlwind shall be raised up from the coasts of the earth).  He explained more of his mathematification in an article on SFGate.com2.  Long story short, it involves the time in days between Jesus Christ's crucifixion, given as  April 1st AD 33, and May 21st 2011 equaling the squared product of some arbitrary values...  Sorry, dude, you're gonna have to tell me why atonement = 5, completeness = 10, and Heaven = 17 before you start to make a lick of sense.

This concept is at odds with the beliefs of many other Christian scholars, especially Catholics.  They don't believe the Bible is a code book waiting to be cracked.  They cite verses like Matthew 24:35-36 (Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away./But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.) which state that only God is supposed to know when it will happen.  Atheist thinkers are also standing against him, with Richard Dawkins of the Washington Post writing, "[...]he will inevitably explain, on May 22nd, that 'there must have been some error in the calculation, the rapture is postponed to . . . and please send more money to pay for updated billboards'."3  While I have become more cynical over the past few years and am tempted to agree with him, Mr. Camping does seem to honestly believe he is right.  "I know it's absolutely true, because the Bible is always absolutely true."4  If I may be allowed to do some Biblification of my own, I would like to point out a contradiction.  Camping is saying the Great Flood refers to the Rapture, and that since a day on Earth supposedly lasts a thousand years for God, it hasn't happened yet.  But at least as far as the Bible goes, the disaster did happen - it was the whole point of Noah's episode!

At this point you may want to consider the idea that, from a secular point of view, the Bible was written by man instead of God, but I won't officially claim that to be truth or falsehood.  Rather, let's understand where this man is coming from.  Now, he has made a series of doomsdate predictions before, as early as September 4th, 1994.  So what's his excuse?  "That, he says, was a mistake, a misreading of the biblical codes used to decipher the exact date of the 'rapture'.  In order to get the warning out in time he fudged his calculations, a mistake he maintains he did not make this time."  All the same, it's something to be said if he's been wrong before.

Oh, and you know what really strains this man's credulity in my eyes?  In one of his countdown videos, he's claiming that the gay pride movement is another sign of the apocalypse.  Any further extrapolation on this topic will have to wait (or better yet, let someone else handle it), but long story short, this places him in the same cage of nutcases as the Westboro Baptist Church.  That's right: self-presumed "religious crusaders".  Didn't we kill one of those earlier this month?  ...Okay, so it would be a little harsh to compare Camping and the WBC to the likes of the late Osama bin Laden.  The main difference, of course, is that these guys lack the military force to spread the message in a bad way, and in all honesty, we must be thankful for that.

All mudslinging aside, I do not believe what Harold Camping has said to be will transpire.  Sure, I am honestly worried inside, but rationally speaking - something he seems incapable of doing - I cannot picture it happening, especially so suddenly.  Going back to my opening statement, look at the disaster movie 2012.  The disaster therein didn't peak on the day itself, rather the characters noticed it starting up a few years before the title date.  Certainly we would've noticed a trend like that in the real world a lot sooo...  ...I'm sorry, there seems to be a Haitian, a Chilean, a New Zealander, a Japanese, and a Spaniard in the room with me.  Joke aborted!  Long story short, lemme tell ya: if we get through tomorrow unscathed, the 2012 prophecies are gonna look a lot less credible.  But in the quite unlikely case I don't make it, for this or any other reason, I encourage all my readers, and then some, to question popular opinion and find the truth at any cost.

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.

12011 end times prediction. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved 2011 May 20.
2Dawkins, Richard. "Biblical scholar's date for rapture: May 21st, 2011". On Faith, Washington Post. 2011 May 10. Retrieved 2011 May 20.
3Dawkins, Richard. "Science explains the end of the world". On Faith, Washington Post. 2011 May 10. Retrieved 2011 May 20.
4Daily Mail Reporter.  "Doomsday campers Project Caravan say the world will end May 21". 2011 March 8Retrieved 2011 May 20.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Editorial: Death of Osama bin Laden

I'd like to take it to a serious level, if that's okay with you.  Every so often, people hear of an event in the news that's so shocking and/or unexpected that, whether or not they choose to believe it at first, it feels surreal to them until they learn more about it.  It helps matters if they can remember the time and place they first heard it.  For example, my grandmother remembers the time when she heard about the 1941 Pearl Harbor raid on the radio, and I can remember first learning about the attacks on September 11th, 2001 from a PA announcement during my Spanish class.  Just over the past couple of years it's happened many more times, such as the death of Michael Jackson in 2009, and the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear accident in Japan earlier this year.  And now there's this: Osama bin Laden, founder and first-in-command of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, was reported dead late night on Sunday, May 1st, 2011 (EST).  I first heard the news shortly after getting up for work the following day, so add that to the memory banks.

Based on what the public knows at the moment, how it went down was that a team of US Navy SEALs raided his safehouse near Abbottabad, Pakistan.  Notably, this goes against pre-assumed intelligence that the man was hiding closer to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border after fleeing the former during the anti-Taliban war in 2001.  (It's actually closer to India, depending on how you would go about divvying up the Kashmir region.)  The body was taken by US authorities for DNA confirmation, and within 24 hours was buried at sea.  A few islamic clerics here and there are decrying the practice of burying him at sea since he was not killed at sea in the first place, but the US did follow the numerous specific Islamic customs while doing so.  And for the record, among the official rationale for doing so was not wanting to have a land-based grave site being a shrine for his terrorist supporters.

Osama bin Laden was born into a wealthy Saudi Arabian family in 1957, and after college fought with the Mujahadeen rebellion against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan during the 80s.  Yeah, the same rebellion, that became the Taliban regime, the US backed as part of their Cold War efforts...  This probably gave birth to many of the conspiracy theories involving a CIA-bin Laden alliance that popped up after 9/11, but to be fair, we certainly have no way of knowing the intents of everyone we give military aid to.  Afterwards, he founded al-Qaeda and, after a string of bombing incidents in the late 90s, we got the big one.  Under his command, on Sep/11/2011 teams of hijackers commandeered multiple planes, destroying the twin towers of the New York World Trade Center, a chunk of the Pentagon, and killed a total almost 3,000 people.

As aforementioned, the confusion after the fact gave birth to a series of conspiracy theories, many implying that the US government co-engineered this attack.  They actually originated in European nations like France and Germany, and didn't catch on until a few years later, when the Iraq warccupation was a hot issue.  The very notion of such, if I may be permitted to editorialize on the subject, is bullshizzle.  It is simply ludicrous that then-President George W. Bush, or anyone in his cabinet, would willfully cause the deaths of thousands and the loss of $I-don't-know-how-many-millions in damage.  (Besides, I didn't really start to mistrust him until his second term started.)  The same goes today: as the story of bin Laden's death began to unfold, people saw the fact that he was buried at sea and no visual proof was immediately released as points of contention, and claimed that at best the US Marines kept posession of his body, and at worst he was still alive.  Once I heard those points of view, I did admit that would have preferred to see more proof, but at this point I'm reading confirmations from all sides.

And on that note, the reactions to his death cover the whole proverbial board.  Governments the world over are generally praising the action, although most warn that despite the death of the one head man, al-Qaeda will continue to operate and we should not let down our guard; on the contrary, raising protection levels for the time being would be advisable.  Dissenting voices generally come from anti-American states.  Ismail Haniya, one of two disputed Prime Ministers of Palestine, condemned the killing of someone he deemed a "holy warrior";shocking but unsuprising coming from a state which, like al-Qaeda itself, is at odds with the Jewish Israel.  Palestine, Pakistan, and Sudan also played host to a few notable pro-bin Laden rallies here and there.  Officials from Iran mentioned that the US no longer has an excuse to keep forces in its neighboring Afghanistan and Iraq.  I won't comment on that... yet.  And the vice-president of Venezuela condemned not only the killing, but the subsequent celebration of American and other citizens.

It does say something awful about us, as a culture, when we express so much joy over the killing of a specific individual, but need I remind you that Osama bin Laden was no ordinary specific individual.  By engineering and green-lighting the 9/11 attacks with others in his organization, he sent almost 3,000 non-combat personnel to their unwitting deaths.  And then there are the tens of thousands more killed in the wars carried out against him and everything he stood for.  (For the record, most of those deaths were al-Qaeda and allied soldiers, but still.)  He painted almost the entire decade of the 2000s and beyond in a culture of fear - just ask your local air traveler.  And for something I happen to find annoying, it forever ingrained a correlation of "Muslim = terrorist" in the minds of, well, less-educated Euro/Americans.  (I assume he also had a hand in promoting the opposite ideal of "Euro/American = terrorist" among Arabs and the like.)  For us outsiders to hear shibboleths like "allahu akbar" (it literally means "God is great" and is common to hear in Arabic-speaking regions) and run for cover in fear of an alleged suicide bomb vest, well, this is also a step back for us as a culture.  Among all the scrutiny we have put under the raid which took him down - how we buried him, whether he was unarmed, whether the Pakistanis knew he was there all along - I still haven't forgotten why we wanted him, captured or dead, in the first place.

Long story short: As a Christian I have no right to officially invoke this, but inside, in the grand scheme of things, I hope the god of Islam sees no virtue in Osama bin Laden's soul.

Information was provided from the following Wikipedia pages: "Death of Osama bin Laden", "Osama bin Laden", and "Reactions to the Death of Osama bin Laden".  Visit the pages for direct citations.  Information is accurate as of 2011.