Friday, June 30, 2017

Technodrome Tales 7: Return of the Shredder


This episode was really goofy.  Across the board, the quality is a step back from the first season.  Also, we watched an episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (rim shot!)  Jerry liked the episode.  Brad and I both weren't feeling it as much.  We cracked some jokes and genuinely had some fun and stuff.

Un-Guitar'd: This Time



When I first started writing songs, they mostly consisted of me singing a basic memory over a few chords pounded over and over on the piano.  This Time was the last song I wrote like this prior to getting a guitar and singing a basic memory over the same three chords.  It's also a song that I've pulled out for various bands and projects.  I actually arranged the melody into a basic trombone quartet that was on "The After School Sessions," the first album I made in high school, and reworked the song into a laid back acoustic guitar tune on "Love, Politics, Religion," the other solo album I recorded in High School.  The version for Un-Guitar'd, however, is actually the only recording I remember doing that's done in the style that I've been banging on the piano all these years.  The piano was even the same one I wrote the song on all those years ago.

There were a few minor changes to the arrangement.  Originally, the song had a fourth verse that I honestly forgot about until after I'd already recorded the basic piano and vocals.  Many of the songs from that era had too many verses anyway.  Like Heart Shaped Rock, This Time works much better with fewer verses.  Also, the harmony parts at the end and the melodica part throughout were new, but various versions from high school introduced similar elements to the song.

I'll be starting work on my Christmas Album soon, so this may be the last Un-Guitar'd song for a little while, but I'd like to eventually put out 10 songs, so I'll continue to post them here as I record them.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Post-Mortem: Defenders of Oasis


A few weeks ago, I gave my first impressions of Defenders of Oasis, the (classic?) JRPG originally for Game Gear, but available on the 3ds Virtual Console.  When I wrote that review, I had a pretty positive opinion of the game.  Now that I've finally completed it, that opinion has gone down hill a bit.  I wouldn't go so far as to say this is a bad game, but another ten hours of play revealed some issues.

On losing battles:  The two JRPGs I've spent the most time with are Pok√©mon and Dragon Warrior.  Both games send you back to town and take half your money when you lose an encounter.  Earthbound does the same thing.  Because of this, my preferred method of grinding is to go as far as I can into a dungeon, fighting stronger and stronger monsters, and eventually losing and getting sent back to town.  In Defenders of Oasis, I consistently would get to a point where I was deep in a dungeon, out of healing supplies and magic, take two steps, lose the encounter, and repeat.  I just started Final Fantasy III for DS, which has the same system but it doesn't constantly save your progress.  I'm wondering if this will end up better or worse.  I guess at least in a Final Fantasy game, if I save before entering the dungeon, I won't have to deal with the take two steps then die issue...

On combat:  At first, I felt like the combat system was pleasantly simple.  Each character had a special ability and they were introduced slowly enough that I did not get overwhelmed by complicated rock/paper/scissors mechanics the way I did when playing something like Final Fantasy X.  However, once you've got all four characters, you basically always end up doing the same thing in every encounter.  I was looking for a repetitive, grindy game, but this took things a bit too far.

On the Genie:  Having a magic user who doesn't gain levels except with power up items is an interesting idea, but the execution left some to be desired.  By the end of the game, even tracking down as many power up items as I could, the rest of my party outclassed the Genie to the point where he couldn't even heal them fast enough and ran out of magic before I got anywhere in the last few dungeons.

The game was still alright, and even though the last few dungeons(or was that all one long dungeon?) took a lot longer than expected, it was still a reasonable length.  Also, you can't argue with the $3 price tag if you're interested in a game like this.  I'm house-sitting again this week, so look for my first impressions of Final Fantasy III for DS in the next week or two!

Monday, June 26, 2017

First Impressions: Comix Zone(Sega Forever)

By this point, everyone in my weird corner of the internet has heard the negative reviews of the "Sega Forever" games. They're bad ports that aren't 60 fps and use weird touch screen controls. I tried out Comix Zone this past weekend and was pleasantly surprised. The platform is not nearly as bad as reviewers would have you believe.

I've played Comix Zone on the original hardware as well as on my little @games Genesis. It's got a neat esthetic, and it's fun to pick up and play for 20 minutes here and there, but I've never played it in a format with save states nor put hours at a time into the game, so I've never completed it. Even so, it could easily make a list of my top ten Genesis games on the merits of the first level alone.

If you're somehow unfamiliar with the game, you play as a comic book artist who gets sucked into a comic book and you have to fight your way through panels and pages to get out. Each frame is a room where you fight monsters, and once you defeat the monsters the next panel opens up. Also, sometimes there are basic puzzle elements like pushing something out of the way or flipping a switch to move on. Each page is a level, and there's a boss and a new theme every two pages or so.

This game's simplicity combines with its esthetic appeal make it perfect for something like Sega Forever. I played the free, add supported version, and feel like the ads are not nearly as bad as the experiences I've had in a game like Angry Birds. The adds pop up in the initial menu and when I go to save the game, but do not interrupt the flow of gameplay like many of these games. Visually, the scaled down screen size makes the Genesis's 16 bits look beautiful. The music isn't perfect, and I did run into occasional lagging in the emulation, but not enough to detract from my play experience.

I thought I would hate the touch controls. I've heard horror stories about people playing bootleg Super Mario ports on their touch screen devices, but like the rest of the game, the controls are fine. If I could hook up a Bluetooth controller to my iphone, I'm sure I'd have a better experience, but once I started to develop new muscle memory it wasn't a big deal at all. Comix Zone is a game with clunky, imprecise controls on any platform, so it felt more like learning a new interface than a flawed attempt.

Overall, my experience with Sega Forever was a positive one. If they continue to develop a library with interesting games for $2 a piece, this is the sort of thing that would lead me to skipping the Swith and getting a $20 Bluetooth controller instead. It could be something really special, if it can fix a few bugs and get around all the negative press it's getting for what are really extremely minor flaws.  I would strongly encourage everyone with a smart phone or tablet to give these a try if you have any interest at all in playing Genesis games on those devices.  There is really very little risk involved.  Thanks for reading!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Infinite Pull List 6-14



I'm extremely late posting this episode, because I had roughly 35 podcasts come out last week and this week got away from me somehow. This episode was fun, and eventually does devolve into Jared and I bickering about whether Guardians of the Galaxy 2 was a bad movie(it was). I don't really have much more to say about it. Maybe next month's episode I'll post a longer blog entry. Nobody reads these things anyway right?

Here's the episode!

Saturday, June 24, 2017

KendallCast presents War and Beast's Kendall Halman's incoherant reaction to Transformers: The Last Knight

I was slowly drifting into madness this week, and decided to record a quick reaction to the latest Transformers movie. It was really a lot of fun. Also, for the first time anywhere, you can hear the season 3 theme to War and Beast!(I know the season started this week, but I forgot to upload the file before the deadline.)

Here it is!


War and Beast 41: Optimus is a Monster

 

Greg used my title again!  I'd like to give you guys a quick peak behind the curtain on our recording process, since I don't have much to say about this episode.  It was fine, but I'm having to come to terms that the show isn't what I wanted it to be based on my memories of the first season.  Anyway, here's that peak behind the curtain.

We usually meet up on Skype after watching the episode around 8:30 eastern on Monday night.  More often than not, we have one or two stragglers and/or run into some sort of technical difficluties.  Then, we talk about nonsense for an hour or more before beginning the recording. 

My recording setup is a weird one.  I run the audio from the Skype call through my mixing board and USB interface into a second computer which records it onto Audacity, a free multi-track recording software that is one of the standard programs for amateur podcasters like us.  I also send my microphone through the mixing board and output into the laptop where the Skype call is(so Greg and the other cohosts can hear me) and into the USB interface which goes into Audacity.  My microphone and the feed from the Skype call are panned left and right respectively so that we can adjust the levels on each channel as needed before merging the tracks into one mono feed.  At that point, I export the raw audio, give it an incoherent title and send it to Greg, who does all the real work.

We usually power through recording the episode with maybe one short break if something comes up.  The whole experience goes until about 11 or 12 eastern time, which is particularly fun for Greg and I, as I work at 6 am on Tuesdays and Greg is actually an hour ahead of eastern time, whatever that time zone's called.  Oh, I almost forgot, Greg, Jordan, and Emily all use a program called mp3 Skype Recorder to record backup recordings just in case.  Having everyone record backups is just one of the little things that make this one of the only podcasts I've ever been on that never lost an episode. 

Once Greg gets the raw file, he runs a "noise reduction" filter to get rid of those pesky background noises and a "truncate silence" filter to get rid of the awkward silences after I make all of my unfunny, mildly offensive jokes.  He also runs the file through a program called Levelator, which does a great job of mixing and mastering the track so our audio levels are reasonably level.  Recently I've noticed that it's been leveling things a little too high and causing the track to clip a little bit, but that's something we're working on.  After levelating the file, Greg adds music, writes show notes, and schedules the episode to go public at the appropriate time.  He also edits for content to some extent, but I forget when he does this.

Well, thanks for reading if you got this far.  I recently read one or two blog entries like this from another podcast/blog that I follow and I figured there might be one or two people out there interested in reading something like this.  Without further ado:

Here's the episode!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Un-Guitar'd: Second Best



This week, I finished recording 2 songs for my Un-Guitar'd project. Both were written while I was in High School. The first, A Heart Shaped Rock, I wrote about in last week's blurb. Second best is another song that's always been very important to me.

I took piano lessons as a kid, but never got along with my piano teachers. It may have been the juxtaposition of an instrument that I had to practice on my own 6 days a week with my experience learning the Trombone, where I had the opportunity to learn it alongside my peers. I also always had an inferiority complex about the piano. Because I wasn't surrounded by students who had been playing a comparable amount of time, I was always jealous of people who'd been playing two and three times as long as me, and thus were stronger players.

In spite of all this, the first handful of song that I wrote in eighth grade were written on the piano. After all, I wouldn't get a guitar until I turned sixteen two years later. As I developed as a songwriter, however, I all but stopped writing for the piano. My piano teacher suddenly "couldn't find room in her schedule" for me once I started high school, so I stopped taking lessons until college(another story in altogether). Then, one night, I got an idea for a lead line and wrote Second Best.

The verses are about my experience taking a girl to the homecoming dance my senior year of high school. She was someone I'd had a crush on more or less since middle school, and it almost looked like we might have a chance at dating. Then, about halfway through the evening she started talking about a bunch of drama related to her on again off again boyfriend. Even before I expressed my feelings for her later that night, I knew I didn't stand a chance.  Just for the record, we did remain close friends for the remainder of high school and had a falling out after an unrelated disagreement the following summer.  I still got sad when she didn't want to go out with me though.

Although the song was written initially about a very specific event, the idea of always coming up second best is something I've grappled with before and since. In high school, I was always in the running for various awards and leadership opportunities, but was consistently passed over. I'd even joke that my band, "Whoever Shows Up" was everyone's second favorite band in the school, since we were well liked, but always did poorly in the battle of the bands. More recently, I was passed over for a promotion at work that I was sure I was being groomed for. The point of this project was to find meaning and value today in songs I wrote at completely different points in my life. Second Best still resonates today almost as much as it did back then.

Thanks for reading.  The song is below, and you can pay what you want for the full project at kendallhalman.bandcamp.com.  Look for a couple more songs next week, and then I'll have to start work on my Christmas album.


Monday, June 19, 2017

Let's Place Let's Place



Many of you all know that my favorite podcast is a show called Let's Place.  The premise of the show is that they're reviewing and placing every video game ever made.  The rotating crew of guests run the gamut of attempting to be serious to taking things completely off the rails.  It's hard to explain exactly why I love the show so much, what it is that gives it that special something, but I was able to find a couple other people with similar feelings and recorded this pilot episode of "Let's Place Let's Place" in which we review and place 5 random episodes of Let's Place.  Between Jordan, Tal, and myself, I feel like we had a few good insights on what makes the show great. 

I'm also very grateful for Zach, for facilitating having the episode posted on Audio Entropy, home of War and Beast and of course Let's Place.  Will there be more episodes?  Well, Tal did point out that we'd only need to do 8 more to go through all 44 current Let's Place episodes.

Here's the episode!


Saturday, June 17, 2017

War and Beast 40: The End of Time and Space


Hey, Greg used my title!

I was tired during the latter part of recording this episode, but as I recall this was a pretty solid episode of Beast Wars.  There was definitely some interesting Megatron type stuff going on, and it did a pretty good job connecting to G1.  Emily thought it was a love letter to G1.  I felt like it was editorially mandated fan service.  We bickered as we do. 

I also probably was overly defensive of the new Transformers movie coming out with a lot of trailers... I don't know.  I was tired then, and I'm tired now.  Maybe I should try sleeping more.

Here's the episode!

A few more sentences about Un-Guitar'd

For most of this year, and really since finishing last year's album, Dahltry Lane, I've had a bit of writer's block. To make matters worse, I haven't felt the desire to write new music. YouTube ukulele cover videos have been a lot of fun, but recently I've gotten a little bit burnt out on those as well. I've also been writing songs off and on for roughly 15 years now, so I have a back catalog that's just asking to be reinvented. Lastly, I've been really been trying to develop my skills on a growing collection of what I call "hipster" instruments including ukulele, mandolin, bongos, melodica, and a few other things. Whenever I pull out a guitar for a ukulele cover, it almost feels like cheating. All of these factors led me to start Un-Guitar'd.

Un-Guitar'd was going to originally just be an EP of about four or five songs from various points in my songwriting, but after recording three(almost 4) songs in one day, I figured I'd keep going and record a handful more. This will likely not end up as a full length album, and it's not necessarily meant to be listened to in a particular order, but it would be nice if after another week or two I have 8 or 9 total songs under that patrician on my Bandcamp page. Basically, like many of my Kendallcast type projects, I'm doing whatever I feel like and as much of it as I want. Here are some notes about the first few songs.

Oh Oh Oh: This is a song I wrote when I was 20 about the grind of working at Waffle House by day and hitting every open mike possible by night. Particularly, it was about my feelings for a young lady who made a point to come out to many of the open mikes where I was performing, sometimes several times a week. The melody and music came about after someone advised me that most of the originals I was playing at the time did not take advantage of my very powerful voice. It's always been a favorite of mine, as it doesn't seem to need any more than guitar(or in this case ukulele) and vocals. One thing I noticed while recording this version is that over the years the tempo has become less steady than it was back then, speeding up and slowing down to follow the inflections in my voice. It's almost got a Broadway musical feel to it.

Imagination: I wrote this song in 2009 in the summer that I now realize could be seen as the time my band 7 Book Trilogy was at its best. It stemmed from a conversation where a girl I was talking to told me, "Someday you'll meet a girl with quirky tastes and an artsy lifestyle that's perfect for you." It's hard to believe that only a year later our lead guitar player would quit the band right before we recorded this song in a studio at Ohio University in what is still the best recording session I've ever been involved with. Also of note, this was the theme for my first podcast "Kitchen Finks," so it's probably the song with the most reach of anything I've written. I kept this recording pretty simple only adding a ukulele solo and doubling the vocals for a particular effect.

Still Without a Name: In 2007, just before running off to Los Angeles in a poorly thought out plan to become a rock star, I wrote a song called "It doesn't have a name yet" about a new girlfriend(the same one I dragged to Los Angeles). A few months later, in early 2008, she dumped me, I was back in Ohio, and sinking into a deeper vat of depression. Fortunately, these days this song and a few friends who got me through that time are all that I have left from that dark period. I thought about bringing this song back for Dahltry Lane, but realized that the recording I'd made with 7 Book Trilogy felt like the definitive version of the song. One nice thing about Un-Guitar'd is its nature of being an exercise allows me to reinvent songs that don't really need it. Combining the ukulele and vocals with an improvised harmonica line gives the song a different more raw, unrefined feel than it's previous version.

  Finally, I accidentally typed up this blurb about the song whose recording isn't up yet. Oh well, here it is. It should be up on Bandcamp sometime this week.

A Heart Shaped Rock: Originally a 9 minute long jam, I wrote this when I was 16 for my band Whoever Shows Up. It was about how I dealt with breaking up with the most serious girlfriend I'd had up to that point. Just a few weeks before I broke up with her(was it August or September?), she gave me the titular rock in the shape of a heart, a souvenir from her family vacation. Being the self-obsessed songwriter that I was at the time, I immediately knew I'd use it as a metaphor for the end of our relationship. I remember sitting in my room in late December and just writing verse after verse of the song. Once we added an extended guitar and sax solo to the arrangement, the song was really long. I've performed various versions of the song solo over the years, usually combining or cutting a verse or two and shortening the solo section. The simplicity and mellow-drama of the lyrics and melody lend themselves well to the ukulele, and I added a melodica solo for good measure in this version.

Thanks for reading and checking out everything at KendallHalman.Bandcamp.com. Look for more songs in the next couple of weeks.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Introducing Un-Guitar'd, my new music project

So I decided my Bandcamp page hadn't had any new content in a while, and was little burnt out on Youtube videos.  I've also been having a lot of nostalgia for some of my old original works from various points in time.  Thus Un-Guitar'd was born.

 Look for a more in depth blog entry in the coming weeks, but here are a few of my old originals reworked to feature the Ukulele.


The Katarn Collection 4: Episode I Racer and Rogue Squadron


On this week's Katarn Collection, Nick and I review two classic N64 games.  This was an interesting episode, since we went into it thinking we were going to be pretty negative toward these games.  They both suffer from the limitations of the N64 era, but we ended up talking each other into giving them decent reviews

Here's the episode!

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Technodrome Tales 6: 1990 "TMNT" Film


On this week's episode, my War and Beast cohost Emily joins Brad, Jerry and I to talk about the classic 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film.  We basically spend the whole episode gushing about what makes this film great.  Emily is an expert on all things Turtles, so she fits right in on the show(and is much less profane than she would be on War and Beast).  Brad keeps us from getting off track, and Jerry just goes deep on many of the greatest moments in the film.  If you're only going to listen to one episode of Technodrome Tales, this is definitely a great one to try!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Super Mario World(Japanese!): First Impressions

So I guess I'm going to just start calling this feature "First Impressions," since I've accidentally titled it that more than once.  It's nice when a name for a thing comes about naturally like that.

My Retrobit Trio not only plays Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis games, it also can play Super Famicom games as the region locking in that era just had to do with the shape of the game and not the actual hardware or whatever.  This is nice, because sometimes the Japanese version of a game is much cheaper than its American localization.  Super Mario World is a perfect example.  I picked it up from Warp Zone, my local vintage gaming store, for about $10-$15 less than I'd have paid for the American version.

It did take me a minute to figure out how to navigate the save menu, since it was all in Japanese, and the hint blocks also present blocks of Japanese text, but aside from that, most of the rest of the text in the game is already in English. 

For some reason, I always had an irrational dislike for Super Mario World growing up.  Super Mario 3 was the first video game I ever played, so it has always held a special place in my heart.  I suppose that may have something to do with it, but upon playing through the beginning of Super Mario World as an adult, it's clear why so many people rank this among the best platformers of all time.  The level design makes it feel like more of a puzzle game than a game about memorization and pixel-perfect jumping.  Also, just as Super Mario 3 built off of the mechanical foundation of Super Mario Bros,  Super Mario World takes things several steps further, adding among other things an additional jump mechanic and of course Yoshi.

I made it through the first world with little difficulty, but did start to hit some stumbling blocks in World 2.  Even when I hit a point I can't beat, however, the game feels more fair than previous Mario games.  As usual, we'll see how the game hold up over time, and whether I hit a wall that I just can't get through as usually happens in every 2d platformer I play.  Maybe I'll eventually write follow up blog entries after I complete or give up on some of these games.  Until then, thanks for reading, and again, please let me know if you actually read these things!

Saturday, June 10, 2017

War and Beast 39: No Duh I'm Evil!



Finally, we're back to regular episodes of the show.  I was pretty down on this one, but the rest of the crew seemed to enjoy the episode.  I'm trying to stay more positive.  I promise!  Also, we recorded this on my brand new USB interface.  I may be too close to the project to be objective, but I feel like the audio quality took a giant leap.  It's really exciting!

Here's the episode!

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Defenders of Oasis: The game that made my hand cramp up

Last weekend, I was housesitting for my parents and found myself away from my consoles and laptop, so I decided to try and find a random JRPG from the 3ds Virtual Console.  After spending entirely too much time researching which game I'd try, I landed on the $3 Defenders of Oasis.  It had the perfect mix of being cheap and looking like a clone of Dragon Quest.  After putting in 10-15 hours this past week on the game, it's definitely a cheap clone of Dragon Quest, which is exactly what I wanted in this game. 

Originally on the Game Gear, the game stars an unnamed prince who goes on a quest first to save a princess and then to prevent an evil force from resurrecting something evil with 3 rings or something like that.  The story is pretty important, and fairly compelling, but it also drops the player into a world with minimum setup.  One interesting thing about the game's world is that it does not fall under the umbrella of traditional high fantasy.  Instead, the setting was inspired by Middle Eastern mythology.  One of the party members is even a genie that lives in a lamp.

As the game goes on, 3 other characters, including the aforementioned genie,  round out the adventuring party.  Each of these characters has a special ability.  The prince can attempt to run from the battle, another character can do the "dance of death" hitting all enemies in the encounter, another character can hide and then assault to do double damage on the next turn, and the genie can cast spells.  In addition, while the other characters level up the way they might in a traditional RPG, the genie only gets stronger when you can add items to make his lamp fancier.

The one other interesting mechanic in the game that makes it different from a typical Dragon Quest clone is the save system.  In the original game, the game constantly saved itself even if you randomly turned it off.  Obviously in a Virtual Console, I used the restore point system, but I did still run into this quirk every time I lost an encounter.  Instead of doing the old system of taking half of your money and sending the player back to town, the game simply reboots and has the player continue right before the battle.  This is actually usually a hindrance, as if the party is in rough enough shape to all get defeated in one battle, they're probably not in the best shape to move forward in the dungeon.  A number of times, I would limp a few spaces, lose a battle, reboot and repeat that process until I got out of the dungeon.

I put several hours into the game this past Saturday night, more than I've put on the 3ds in a long time, and woke up Sunday morning with a cramped up hand that only today(Tuesday) seems to have mostly healed.  If you're looking for a standard JRPG on your 3ds for a long weekend or a car trip, you could definitely do worse than Defenders of Oasis.  The game is pretty short, and there are only a few spots where it's not obvious what to do to move the story forward. 

Thanks for reading!  Hey, if anyone actually reads these retro gaming reviews I've been doing, please let me know either in the comment section or somewhere else.  I'll probably keep writing them either way, but it would be nice to know people are reading them.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Skullcrusher Mountain - Ukulele Cover




I just felt like doing a single camera tonight, and get things back to basics.  This is one of my all time favorite songs by Jonathan Coulton.

War and Beast Bonus Episode 6: Just Jake

Another bonus episode? We'll be back to the regular show next week, but this week we bring on a very special guest. Jeff was going to be involved with the podcast from the beginning, but was unable to join due to his schedule. However, due to the holiday, he was able to join us for our review of the first aired episode (not the pilot, as we learn from the Animorphs Wiki). This show is amazing. It's the perfect blend of low budget scifi camp, 90s nostalgia, and actual good acting/writing. It's definitely a crime that it's not available to stream on Netflix, but it is definitely worth the $1.99 to download it from Amazon... or I'm sure there are other ways to watch it if you're that type of person...

Here's the Podcast!