2012 – Revengineers – Self Titled EP

I don’t typically do music “reviews” but this is a special case. The music I highlight, generally, is not main stream, but usually popular enough I can just spread the word and let you discover the rest. Revengineers is a local band that I think deserves a little more time than my typical Music Monday post. My little website certainly won’t drive them any additional traffic, but hopefully at least one person out there picks up the album after this read!

I recently heard that Anamanaguchi would be playing a show just a few blocks from where I live. Big fan, I had to go check them out. When I did that, I found out about a local band, Revengineers. The band is a four piece, featuring Gameboy and NES Chiptune music, guitars, bass, and drums. There’s a vocals credit in the sleeve, but I never heard anybody speak up. I found out they are a driving force behind a local community of chiptune artists and enthusiasts, Rochester Chip. Rochester Chip has gone so far as to release compilation albums of the acts that have performed at shows in the area over the last two years. Acts like Anamanaguchi, Zen Albatross, Sabrepulse, and Starscream, to a name a few.

I was astounded to find that these chiptune acts had all been playing almost literally in my back yard, and I’ve had no idea. I’m thrilled at finding this oasis of nerd culture and can’t wait to dive deeper in to it. And I thought I was all along driving around with Beefy on repeat.

When I met the guys in Revengineers at this show in Rochester, they were great. Surrounded by friends and fans, people talking about this “new album.” It’s the band’s first. A Self-Titled EP, which was officially released maybe 24 hours before I had met the band. This was, by all accounts, their album release party – and they were sharing the night with Anamanaguchi. I immediately gave them my money (which they gleefully took using their just-out-of-the-box credit card swiper for the iPad).

Weeks later I would finally listen to the album. Five tracks, which begin in a surreal, floating through space kind of way. The first track is titled “Earth that Was” and gives me the feeling that I’m looking down at that Pale Blue Dot we call Earth. Despite the title, at no time is it post-apocalyptic or depressing, the song is hopeful at all times and crescendos to finality where it fades directly in to the next track.

The band has said on their website that they are moving away from thier pop punk sound, but track four, Exploding Threat, makes my want to strap on my chuck taylors and bob my head with a big smile on my face. It takes an edgier stance in the middle of the song, but comes right back to that almost fist-pumpable chorus. The albums last track is a somewhat softer power ballad, which ends as though it had the plug pulled on it. It’s the only track on the album that I think could’ve used another going over. Perhaps the band wants us to take the soft and cuddlies and shove them? But after three minutes and thirty-eight seconds of building up a calming chiptune refrain, it suddenly changes to angry guitar, seemingly thrashing out a phrase like “I don’t — I don’t need you!” These are of course lyrics I’ve made up and put in place, but it gives you an idea of where I’m coming from. It doesn’t seem to fit the prior three and a half minutes of a song that you might expect to be featured on a Pure Moods album.

Overall, though, I’m looking forward to more from the band. And you can’t go wrong picking up the five dollar album from their Bandcamp Site. So check out Revengineers, and if you’re in the chiptune scene, but sure to lookout for more from the band. They seem to have the drive, they’ll be around for a while.

Play in Peace: Disable Notifications on your Xbox 360

Ever tried watching a movie or listening to music, only to have the Xbox 360 notifications pop up and alert you that someone came online, invited you to play a game, or sent you a message? It can get annoying, particularly when I’m just trying to watch a DVD or stream from Netflix. Microsoft knows that, so they’ve made it very simple to disable the alerts on the Xbox 360.

In the latest Dashboard of the Xbox 360 (“Metro UI”), you simply need to go to the far right of the Dashboard where it says Settings, then select Preferences, then hit Notifications. There you have a few options.

Did you know: Many people refer to these notifications as “toast” because they “pop up!”

Show notifications, Play Sound, or Show During Video can all be enabled or disabled using “radio button” selectors. You can disbale the notifications altogether by unchecking them, or just disable the alert during video polayback. Or you can keep the popups (the “toast”) and just disable the sounds!

There are rumors that a future update will allow you disable notifications for the new “Beacons” feature if you don’t want to be bugged every single time you sign in to a popular game (do people really need to set Beacons for Modern Warfare 3? If you wanted to get that last Fuzion Frenzy 2 achievement, I’d understand – but you don’t really need to look too far to find people playing Halo Reach or Gears of War 3!).

Cloud Based Gaming – This Decade?

For kicks and giggles, let’s say that the “Xbox 365” (my predicted name for the next Xbox console) gets released next year. The advent of the Wii U begins the “next” generation of consoles. Let’s say that generation falls short of the ‘ten year lifecycle’ for consoles. I say that with a little wink and a nod, you see, because only Sony attempted to promote that this time around – and the desire to be “first” out with a “next” generation console is usually a big deal in this industry. Even though consoles may be sold at a loss for a while, it doesn’t take long for the companies to see the benefits of being the leading console manufacturer of that generation.

So with the next round of hardware coming soon, I anticipate we’ll all be talking about the “Xbox 4” and the “Nintendo GROUP HUG” (or whatever crazy name the come up with next) by 2019. But will that generation of consoles be the ‘cloud based’ console? Seven years separate now from then, and in the technology industry as a whole, that is multiple lifetimes of countless startups. But in the timeline of rolling out new technologies on a nationwide scale to the public, it’s “just another decade.”

It’s no secret that everyone is looking to the cloud, and that no doubt includes the video game industry. Ahead of their time, many startups fall flat on their face, only to be overtaken by a better and more mature product of similar design later in their life cycle. Although OnLive is still kicking, many accounts say they’re on life support, trying to find their niche. While I expect OnLive’s Microconsole to become a thing of the past, and for OnLive to find a home on tablets, their technology is no doubt catching the eyes of companies like Microsoft. They’re already dreaming of the money that could be stuffing the mattresses of execs who sell you a $200 device (and what a deal for consumers that is compared to the $700 launch price of the PlayStation 3), which is designed to do little more than stream a video feed, and allow some button press feedback to be sent to a server. The profit margins are too attractive to ignore, and the infrastructure is already there, at least in Microsoft’s camp.

Do I think it’ll happen this decade, tough? In the “next, next” generation, the early 2020’s? No. And here’s why. Broadband is still not as ubiquitous as people think. While “target markets” make a lot of decisions, corporate execs are smart enough to not turn a blind eye to the large swath of the country which still does not have good broadband options. A good chunk of the country is mountainous, rocky, and spattered with deep valleys. In places like these, even things like wireless communication will be difficult to get good coverage, as line of site connections can be hard to establish in such terrain, and it’s nearly as difficult to run cable.

If there is any way to reduce the latency of satellite internet access, that would be about the only savior of several of these places which are still reliant, literally, on dial up internet. I know because I grew up in one of those valleys. I moved away in 2002, which was the year, for the first time, that we could get DSL internet access. Since then, Time Warner Cable has come in and provided cable internet access at a blazing fast 6 Mbps (maximum). And if you take a ten minute (or less) drive from my parents’ house, deeper into the valley, you’ll arrive in an internet wasteland, where customers are restricted to their only choice of dialup internet access, and even then you’ll be lucky to connect over 36Kbps.

Many people playing games on Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network right now don’t even recall those days. They don’t know the joy of hearing that modem dial your friend’s computer directly so you and a friend can play DooM over DWANGO. But we do. Because that wasn’t so long ago for us. It may have been last week. Because we can’t do much better than that.

I may have moved away since then, but I still know how hard it is to run a business on low bandwidth, and believe me I remember all of the problems I had trying to get connected to Xbox Live. Small towns make America great, any politician running for office will tell you. But they’re losing the broadband race, and companies like Verizon, Comcast (or whatever they’re calling themselves this year), and Time Warner couldn’t care less – unless perhaps a government grant comes their way to expand. But without the telco’s finding a way to bring broadband to the disenfranchised middle-American masses, I don’t expect “cloud gaming” to take over, for fear of alienating a large chunk of their audience.

I don’t anticipate cloud gaming to become a reality outside of the niche it already has any time soon. Console developers are too concerned about telling the American citizens of the year 2020 that they won’t be playing the latest video games, because somebody hasn’t run any new wires to them since the phone companies of the mid-1900’s. And considering the speeds back home have peaked at about 6 Mbps, I do not anticipate anybody to want to play the future’s 4K resolution games on a streaming connection that barely handles YouTube in 2012. I think we can count on a few more generations of amped up hardware and mini super computers hanging out on, under, around, or even in our TVs.