Date archives for October, 2006

October 28th, 2006
Blog Entry

Meeting a hero

As regular readers and fans of important video game composers everywhere are aware, today was the day of Richard Jacques’s SEGA: A Retrospective concert in Nottingham’s St Mary’s Church. How was it? I’ll tell you!


Sitting at the piano a little after two, Mr Jacques began with his specially-arranged version of the medley to the end credits of Sonic the Hedgehog. He played piano whilst his laptop and some very nice kit provided the rest of the orchestration, and it sounded awesome. I would have loved to have heard what he could have done with more Sonic music, but perhaps that’s next year!

Second up was Shenmue: Improvisations, another medley of all the main themes from AM2’s Shenmue. During this particular piece I was struck by how identifiable and yet versatile these themes are, as Richard transposed and intertwined them expertly.

Richard Jacques: Defender of the Future (of video game music)

After these two undeniably “big” tracks we had two perhaps lesser-known tunes: the main theme from Ecco: Defender of the Future and a very playful rendition of Diamond Dust zone from Sonic 3D: Flickies Island on the Saturn. The latter was the first Richard Jacques soundtrack I ever heard, and I learnt today he composed, recorded and mixed it all in just two weeks, which is frankly incredible considering its quality and the number of strong themes and melodies it possesses.

Following this Richard had a special guest join him on stage, long-time collaborator and voice of many Jacques tracks (this doesn’t work now I know how his name is really pronounced, but never mind), T.J. Davis! I was glad she made the concert as I don’t think any other singer would be able to do the tracks justice, but she proved she’s as good live as on record with two great versions of Sonic R’s all-time classic “Can You Feel the Sunshine?” and Metropolis Street Racer’s most poppy tune, “I Can Still Believe”. Neither of these are easy tracks to sing with lots of high parts, modulations and so on, but they did a great job between them and seemed to enjoy revisiting tracks that they recorded almost five or ten years ago! The arrangements for these tracks were also great, with a lovely crisp acoustic guitar in the background and a little gentle percussion; perfect.

A one-man Anti Music-Crime Network

Okay, so the references are a little laboured, but Richard’s performance is going from strength to strength. Of all the impressive themes from his rightly celebrated Headhunter soundtracks, he chose to perform the gentle yet evocative “Jack’s Dream”, wisely avoiding the bombast of Jack’s Theme for a more atmospheric track that sounded great again. All the main Headhunter themes were there, and again I was struck by how clearly he creates and states his themes, yet how versatile they are too. People sometimes assume classical music and video game music are closer than people would like to admit, but I find video game music tends to be more overtly emblematic and thematic than classical music; in that regard it certainly has more in common with film scoring. Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.

Had I not snuck a look at the next track in the – very nice – programme, I would have been very shocked and possibly even taken to hospital. The brushes, the piano, the drums… it’s Dreams Dreams! I was sincerely hoping T.J. would join him for this one, but it was an instrumental rendition instead; a little disappointing, but Richard did a great job of capturing the nuances and flavour of the original vocals. As with Sonic, I would have loved to have heard more NiGHTs music – as complex as it is, I’m sure Richard would have done an awesome job. I hereby make an extremely request for more NiGHTS music at GameCity 2007!

Last Wave

Had it been that kind of concert I would have been up and dancing like a madman to the next two tunes, a seamless medley between Richard’s Euro remixes of Magical Sound Shower and Passing Breeze. The tunes themselves are a joy to listen to in any form, but the Euro remixes are exemplary, with wonderful Latin percussion, bold brassy colours and
huge amounts of sheer fun and joy. Seeing and hearing them played live was a similar joy, and demonstrated Mr Jacques’s amazing piano skills, both tracks involving very fast modulations and fingerwork. Perhaps the best part was the awesome jazzy breakdown between the two tracks that absolutely stunned me. Tremendous.


I haven’t even got to the best part yet. Before leaving the church I spotted T.J. Davis at the front signing an autograph for a young gentleman (who lent us his pen; much obliged!), and so Phil and I both strode forward and received lovely personalised autographs on our very nice programmes. Thanks, T.J.!

The piece de (UK) resistance

A little way away from the venue, Lee Rosie’s Tea Rooms hosted Sonic’s birthday party. The birthday boy himself attended – and gave me a hug, cheers Sonic! – as did Mr Jacques at 4pm. He was quite happy to sit and chat to anyone who came up to him, not getting near his coffee for a good half hour or so! Of course, about twenty of those minutes were taken up by Phil and I as we – mostly Phil, actually – engaged Mr Jacques in topics such as prepared pianos, who had the best Sonic shirt and how often people mispronounce his name. For years I assumed it was “Jaxx”, but recently found – thanks to UK:Resistance – that it is in fact “Jakes”. Many blushes spared there.

I can’t remember the entire conversation we had, but I do know that he was a very interesting and friendly man who seemed interested in what we had to say, gave his thoughts on various matters – we discussed how I might achieve a moody Max Payne sound for my soundtrack – and shook our hands and said perhaps we’ll catch up at GameCity next year.

Thank you

Well, with a day such as today it’s only right I make a long, detailed post. The concert itself was wonderfully arranged and performed and I would have been very happy just with that, but actually getting to talk to someone whose music I have listened to and been inspired by for years was an honour, especially as he was a really nice bloke.

Mr Jacques, thank you for the concert and taking the time to meet and talk to us. Also, if you don’t want that “spare” t-shirt, I’m sure I could find a home for it!


Richard Jacques’s homepage
UK:Resistance – fuelled with Jacques love.

October 21st, 2006
Blog Entry

Games expert rewrites console history

That’s right readers, the console timeline as you know it has been rewritten.

Watching the repeat of the British Video Game Awards 2006 – I promised I wouldn’t, but how bad could it be? – I came to have a better understanding of games. Vernon Kay made jokes about joysticks, some bunged-up woman asked “are games just for geeks?” and the most annoying of them all gave a rundown of gaming history that included the usual clichés:

  • E.T. – copies buried in the desert? Check.
  • Made-up technical jargon like “super-real photoanalytic gouraudalising polygons”? Of course.
  • Jokes about “waggling your joystick” and “playing with yourself”? Check.

So far, so expected.

However, as the Exhumed voiceover guy says, something has gone terribly wrong.

At 1990 in the gaming timeline presented by renowned gaming journalist “some cockney guy from MTV”, the Mega Drive was praised to high heaven. It was “beefier [than the SNES], with more hard-hitting arcade ports”. Good, – this is accurate, although SNES did have some good ports from Konami, Taito and so on.

“In 1995 Sony released their PlayStation, with amazing games like [Insert titles of 3D games here], gaming would never be the same again.

Then, in 1997, Nintendo released their Nintendo 64. Blah blah Mario 64 blah blah GoldenEye. Cartridges blah 3D blah.

Sega weren’t done though. They waited patiently and, in 1998, released their Dreamcast that looked like something you would ‘find in your kitchen'”

Quite apart from the Dreamcast looking nothing like any piece of kitchen equipment EVER – what was he getting at? Does it look like his cooker? A pair of scales? The sink? – we’re sort of missing something out here.

It’s that little guy to the right there. I know it’s small because it’s only a model, but that, there, is the Sega Saturn. Just because it wasn’t a huge success doesn’t mean it should be written out of history. It gave birth to some of the greatest games of all time and, worldwide at least, hardly gave Sony the clear playing field that lots of people think they had.

Of course I’m being very selective here. They also missed out the Amiga CD32, the CDi, the NeoGeo and, I’ve just realised, the GameBoy, although perhaps these were covered in a separate segment – I switched off in outrage after realising there was no Saturn.

Games on TV – getting worse.

An even worse abuse of videogames on TV was evident in the programme “Don’t Make Me Angry” this week, in which some lad with anger management issues was offered the chance to pitch a game idea to Ubisoft.

That’s right – UBISOFT. In Paris. We’re not talking one of those crap developers who makes rubbish games like Ultimate Downhill Racer and FIFA, we’re talking about one of the world’s best videogame houses, responsible for, as I’m sure you know, Beyond Good and Evil, among others. Or, according to the voiceover:

“Developers of King Kong, Rayman and Resident Evil.”

Er, come again? How come Capcom’s name is all over the Resident Evil games? I can imagine the researcher or presenter asked Ubisoft a few questions.

Presenter: So what games have you made then?

Ubisoft: Well, we did Rayman, Peter Jackson’s King Kong and Beyond Good and Evil.

P (writing notes): … and Resident Evil. Great, thanks.

U: No no, Beyond Good and Evil.

P: Yeah, Resident Evil. That’s a game. You make games. You made Resident Evil.

In the end the angry boy didn’t even sketch or write anything down before getting the once-in-a-lifetime chance – he was on the Eurostar to Paris (you know, on his way to visit UBISOFT) and just had a blank sheet of paper. The word that springs to mind is “ungrateful“.

Following the absolutely abysmal “report” about games on the ITN news this week – in which a presenter pretended to be a character in a 16-bit platformer ON THE NEWS – I was going to make a post about why games, in fact, shouldn’t be allowed on TV, not even if they’re made by people who know what they’re doing. By comparison, my own videos seem totally winning.

Tell me what you think about games on TV, the Saturn and so on underneath.

I’m listening to Gateway To Your Dreams, from NiGHTS Into Dreams [Sega Saturn] by Sonic Team. Yes, it DID exist, DAVE BERRY.

October 11th, 2006
Blog Entry

A catch-all catch-up

Canny TCW subscribers will have noticed I didn’t update my Virtual Tour yesterday. Having cycled over 300km in just over a week I thought I deserved a break, so only did half my distance yesterday. I should be back to full speed today or tomorrow, so don’t think I’ve given up!

As for what I’m doing (or not!) at the moment, surprisingly it’s not playing lots of games. As usual I’m getting on with projects, both new and old, and trying to fit in doing the things I want to whilst I can. That said, I am very much enjoying Shining Force: Resurrection of the Dark Dragon (GBA) and Animal Crossing: Wild World‘s Acorn Festival. I hope you AC fans are all enjoying the company of the mighty Cornimer!

Useful links

On the subject of AC, I get a lot of hits from people searching for design ideas, catchphrases and information. Unfortunately I don’t have that kind of information here, but I can recommend to you two tremendous websites that can meet all your AC needs. Links at the bottom!

Similarly, lots of hits come from people searching for info about NiGHTS into Dreams. I hope you guys enjoyed my article on it – I must write another one soon! There are good NiGHTS links at the bottom, so make sure you check them out too.


Aside from that, the website is doing great. I very rarely talk about how well it does, but in the past two months alone I’ve had over 60,000 hits, which is tremendous, and 130,000 since I switched servers in June. My subscribers have doubled in about a month, so if you’re one of them I thank you most sincerely. If you haven’t subscribed yet, don’t worry – it’s easy! Click one of these links and you’ll never miss an update:

Click here to subscribe
Receive posts in your email!

Thanks to everyone for visiting, reading, commenting and hopefully enjoying what you find here!

NiGHTS into Dreams: – brilliant repository of videos, scores and tips for getting amazing scores on NiGHTS. What quality that, over ten years after its release, NiGHTS can still open your eyes like this.

NiGHTS into – just about everything on NiGHTS ever. Run with the same fervour and passion that Moogie used to have at Shining Force Central (not a dig, by the way).

Animal Crossing:

Animal Crossing Community – enormous messageboards and community. Allows you to keep a diary, share your town’s layout and villagers and more!

Animal Crossing Ahead – The place to go for information, tunes, patterns and designs. Lots of goodies here!

Other cool things I’m into at the moment:

Toribash – very strange but interesting turns-based fighting game, where you control muscles and joints. Hard to describe but genuinely fascinating.

JapanCast – it’s been a long time since I studied Japanese, so this informal and enjoyable set of free podcasts is helping me recover my lost knowledge!

JapanesePod101 – more free podcasts with the option to pay a subscription fee. Currently over 200 free lessons!

That’s just about it. I know it’s not the usual content I post but it was about time I did a little housekeeping. I’m sure there’ll be interesting content before the week is out!

I’m listening to Criticize, from Hearsay by Alexander O’Neal

October 4th, 2006
Blog Entry

What is prosody?

I get a lot of hits from people wondering what the heck prosody is. Well, here’s the answer!

Prosody is the study of poetic and linguistic techniques and patterns.

As I’m an English graduate, I know most about poetic prosody, the sum total of which follows.

Before we go on, if anyone is unsure about the correct pronunciation, I had a famous (in England at least) singer record this handy guide.

If you’re more interested in who Prosody is – i.e. what my website is, who I am – you can learn more about me in the about page.

Poetic prosody

Poetic prosody is concerned with the meter and rhythm of poetry – how the line runs and scans. It’s sometimes easy to forget that poetry is meant to be heard; it has an aural tradition that stresses the importance of… well… stresses, really.

What’s a stress?

When we speak or read aloud, we naturally emphasise certain syllables. The word emphasise, for example, has the first syllable stressed – em-pha-sise; the rest is unstressed.

The way these stresses and unstresses combine creates rhythm, which isn’t the same as meter. Rhythm is the rising and falling sound that all speech naturally possesses. In fact, if you read that last sentence out, it’ll be clearer. Go on, try it.

Rhythm is the rising and falling sound that all speech naturally possesses.

Do you hear the way you stress certain parts and leave others unstressed? Well, that’s how poetic rhythm works! There’s even a special system for denoting it using / and U, but I can’t mimic it online so I won’t.

From meter you

So if rhythm is the up and down sound, what’s meter? This is the poem’s beat, and is a bit more complicated than rhythm, but let’s try to boil it down anyway.

In most English poetry, lines are divided into feet, which are groups of syllables. As we’ve seen with rhythm, syllables can be stressed or unstressed, and combinations of these create feet.

  • Stress-unstress is one foot, called a trochee. Keyboard is a trochee.
  • Unstress-stress is one foot, called an iamb. Sustain is an iamb.

There are more, but these are the two most common in poetry and the English language.

Lines are divided into feet, and the way these feet combine makes meter.

Remember how I said unstress-stress is called an iamb? Well, if you have five iambs in a line, that’s called iambic pentameter:

  • Iamb is the type of foot;
  • Pent is the number of feet: five;
  • Meter lets us know this is about the measure or beat of the line.

Iambic pentameter is very common in all aspects of writing, not just poetry. William Shakespeare was particularly fond of iambic pentameter for his big speeches; it’s said to mimic the natural beat of our speech, although I’m not sure its other poetic devices are especially common in everyday chat!


  • RHYTHM is the up-and-down sound that speech and poetry possesses.
  • FEET are combinations of stressed and unstressed syllables.
  • METER is the length of a line expressed in feet.
  • PROSODY is the study of these and more poetic techniques!

I realise this isn’t exactly University-level stuff here, but as a basic introduction to prosody it serves its purpose. If you have any suggestions, corrections or other comments, do leave a comment by clicking here. I’d love to hear your feedback!

Useful prosody-related links:

Tinablue’s in-depth but accessible page
The best numberplate ever
Wikipedia’s prosody disambiguation page – useful for more on linguistic prosody

I’m listening to Orpheus [Live], from Meltdown [Bonus CD] Disc 2 by Ash

October 2nd, 2006
Blog Entry

Player P.O.V. – Beyond Good and Evil

In the Beginning

This is the second of my “Player P.O.V” series of articles, that examines the way the best games involve and entertain the player. The previous article, Shining Force III, is here.
It’s a joint project between myself and my brother, Phil over at Sodaware. My articles will focus on player experience, and his deal with lessons game developers can learn from these great games.

You can read his article here.

Both our articles are featured in October’s Carnival of Gamers, which you can find at Man Bytes Blog. If you’re here from Man Bytes Blog, welcome! Bookmark us with Ctrl + D, subscribe to the RSS feed and enjoy your stay!

This time I’m looking at the Ubisoft classic Beyond Good and Evil.

Beyond Good and Evil
Developer: Ubisoft
European release: November 2003
Platform: PC, PS2, Xbox, Gamecube

Find at Find at

Ancient Chinese Secrets

The deepest way BG&E creates its connection with the player is by locking the story onto the main character, the journalist Jade. Although it’s a third-person adventure, we see through Jade’s eyes when using her camera to photograph animals, or during her IRIS reports. This creates a true sense of discovery, as neither player nor character is ahead of the other; you find out the truth at the same instant by sharing the same view.

Home Sweet Home

You never lose your connection with Jade. As far as I recall, she is present in every scene in the game. Aspects of the story come from other characters, of course, but they’re all delivered to Jade, not without her:

  • News bulletins are used by the Alpha Sections;
  • M-disks – essentially DVDs – reveal security footage and personal messages from absent friends;
  • Emails – newsletters, notes from friends and those assisting your quest.

All this helps Beyond Good and Evil to achieve the focus it needs. Although its story deals with an entire planet under threat, it has the emotional clarity due to its total devotion to this one character. It reminds me of what was wrong with The Day After Tomorrow, where the viewer was so often separated from its main character that the film’s core was misplaced. Here, Ubisoft maintain this tight grip on Jade, making her the game’s driving force.

Dancing with Domz

The game starts almost instantly, with the player taking control of Jade at the first opportunity. The short intro works brilliantly well, not just because it means you get to play more quickly – which is absolutely crucial – but by playing on certain conventions and player awarenesses.

As soon as the pompous horns blurt out their tune and the overbearing Alpha Sections begin their speech, the game has made you aware you’re watching a news bulletin, something we’re all familiar with, regardless of whether the subjects are Domz and Hyllis or something slightly more Earthly.

The media I listed earlier are used to present this strange world to the player in much the same way as our own. We watch news bulletins, films, read emails and so on about our own world, so why not Hyllis? Rather than create a bizarre and arbitrary way of communication, Ubisoft use the best mankind has collectively designed in its history. Pretty smart, and much cheaper too, I’m sure.

Thoughtful Reflections

The deeper point to presenting Hyllis like Earth is to emphasise the game’s major issue, that of received information. Through its journalist elements BG&E promotes independent thinking, and the importance of being active in meaning and knowledge. It might not be tackling global warming or trying to unearth a huge Government conspiracy, but any game with an actual, proper moral other than kill/steal/pimp has to be worth celebrating.

Organic Beauty

This is all well and good, but what makes Beyond Good and Evil fun to play? In amidst all the multimedia intertextuality and the talking rhinos, did Ubisoft put any good gameplay in there?

Yes, they did. And you get to it almost straight away. The first time the game hands control over to you is in a multi-enemy battle, with nothing more than a useful icon in the corner indicating which button is “fight”. Jade’s already an Aikido master who carries her staff with her all the time, which Ubisoft thankfully realised would make a training section pretty redundant. Far be it from me to come over all “Game Design Lessons”, but certain game developers could learn a lesson from this.

The battling is fun, and plays out like Darth Maul in a Zelda game. Spins, smashes and flips are all carried off with the analogue stick and that useful “fight” button. There’s one special move which you carry off by holding down attack, and that’s pretty much it; no need for finger-knotting attacks, just simple, intuitive controls.

Travelling around Hyllis in your hovercraft is also pretty awesome, as you’d expect from a sea-and-land vehicle with lock-on lasers, guns, boosts and jump jets. Most of these you buy with your precious pearls, which lets you get to new areas and animals.

Say Cheese, Fellas

Taking photos of the many animals on Hyllis provides you with both forms of the game’s currency, namely credits and pearls. Credits buy you little things (and sometimes pearls), and the pearls buy you upgrades at Mammago garage, they of the talking Jamaican rhinos.

The camera’s interface is again very simple, with just point, zoom and click. A certain icon appears on screen when you point it at specific things – a paw for an animal, for example – and a bar fills until it’s in focus. Unfortunately you can’t look back over your entire album unless you photograph every single animal on the planet, but you can look over shots on your current roll, and previous assignments. A more extensive gallery would have been nice, or some form of scoring system, but you can’t argue with a game where you uncover secret identities not with a gun but a very long zoom lens.


Beyond Good and Evil is a tremendous game, which is perhaps wider than it is deep. The mixture of different gameplay styles naturally means some excel – combat is often a highlight – and others do less well – stealth mode’s Flying Death Lasers.

On the whole, its pin-sharp focus on the main character and the player’s relationship with her creates a bond that is strong enough to paper over some of the game’s flaws.

If you’d like to read more about Beyond Good and Evil, check out Phil’s fantastic Game Design Lessons article over at Sodaware, or my previous article on the game, “The best game of this generation“.

October 1st, 2006
Blog Entry

I’m off on an adventure!

Well, in a manner of speaking, anyway!

I’ve been using this exercise bike we have at home for a couple of months, doing between ten and twenty kilometres a day in order to improve my fitness. In total I’ve done over 560km, quite a distance when you think about it. Not half as far as I’m going now, though…

I am using my exercise bike to cycle – virtually – from Land’s End to John O’ Groats.

In total this is about 1200km, more than twice what I’ve done in the past two months. I also want to finish it within about thirty-five days!

Not only is this a great way to improve my fitness, I’m also going to be writing about the places I virtually visit on my website, so I can also include some worthwhile educational and tourist aspects as well.

All in all I’m really looking forward to this challenge, improving my fitness and discovering lots of fascinating facts about the places I will be virtually staying!

The I have created a new page for this challenge, “Virtual Tour”. RSS readers will need a new feed – will work.

I’ll be updating every day, so come back to see where I am!

I am now in St Columb Major, Cornwall, where it is cloudy.

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