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by Mike Schiller

1 Apr 2008

For a good portion of the ‘80s and ‘90s, a major (major!) part of developing for the home console market was wrapped up in translations of arcade games.  This is an art that has slowly dwindled over the course of the last decade, as arcades have slowly but surely dwindled in popularity.

For an arcade port to succeed, it must do at least one of two things: It can either be incredibly faithful to the original, à la the console translations of Street Fighter II, which may not have been quite as powerfully in a graphical sense as their arcade counterparts, but actually managed to retain the spirit, the tight control, and the full set of characters and moves from the coin-op.  To a point, the Mortal Kombat ports were the same way (at least, the ones that retained the blood), and if you go back to the Atari 2600, Asteroids, Defender, and even Pong were games that were faithfully reproduced to varying extents, but it was truly their similarity to their arcade counterparts that led to their high amounts of commercial success.

In certain cases, however, a strict port of the arcade experience just won’t cut it—Gyruss, one of the more underappreciated NES experiences, is one of those cases.  For one thing, the arcade version of Gyruss had been around for a solid five years before the Nintendo version was released.  A port had even been released for the 2600 some four years before the NES version.  The fact that it was even a candidate for a port is a testament to just how popular the Famicom/NES was at that point in its life, as publishers scrounged up just about any property they had lying around to put out on the uberpopular system.  Given its already well established history, then, it made sense that a new version, five years late to the party, would have to be souped up a bit to appeal to an audience that may well already have tried three versions of the thing.

For those who have never seen it or heard of it, Gyruss is a “tube shooter”—think Tempest, or Space Giraffe if you’re a Jeff Minter fan.  Basically, you have a 360-degree range of motion, as you fly around in strict circles shooting at whatever shows up.  The enemies in Gyruss appear in Galaga-like patterns, swirling onto the screen before taking their spots in the distant center.  The point of a tube shooter like Gyruss is that it’s a way to give the player a three-dimensional combat experience using sprites; theoretically, objects closer to the outer circumference of the screen are “closer” to the player, while those in the center are further away.  It’s a play mechanic that takes some getting used to as you acquaint yourself to the perspective.

Still, once you do that, the thing’s a blast.  HRdK0rE shmup players won’t have too much trouble with it, as it’s probably one of the easiest shooters the NES has to offer, but those just looking for a good time blasting away some spaceships will find much to enjoy.

Thanks to the arcade version’s re-release via the Xbox Live Arcade, I was able to see just how much of the game had changed from the original arcade version.  Perhaps most notable are the boss fights—the Nintendo version has bosses that must be tackled before reaching each of the planets of the solar system, bosses that range from stupefyingly easy to oddly random and frustrating.  Thankfully, there’s another new addition to the NES Gyruss arsenal, that being the use of super shot bomb things that do a heck of a lot more damage than your typical pea-shooter.  There are a few other subtle changes like the order of the stages and the types of sprites used, but mostly, it’s the bosses that set this game apart.

It doesn’t seem like much of a change, really, but it actually does enhance the sense of accomplishment one gets from beating these levels and making it to the various planets.  Being able to modify the control scheme is nice, too, and even a little bit ahead of its time.

The NES Gyruss, sadly, has not yet made its way to the Wii’s Virtual Console service, and it’s a shame, as there’s certainly an audience for this sort of game; heck, non-popularity hasn’t stopped them from putting out a metric ton of Turbografx-16 shmups.  As such, hidden treasures like Gyruss are why God invented Ebay, and why any connoiseur of retro games needs an actual console in their living room.  Gyruss will never get your heart pounding with snazzy graphics or anything approximating true innovation (even for its time), but as far as don’t-blink arcade-style shooter experiences go, it’s one of the best the old-school has to offer.

by Terry Sawyer

1 Apr 2008

Founding Father and Santo Gold Inspiration

Founding Father and Santogold Inspiration

For starters, Santogold will be blowing up in iPod near you by the time you finished reading this. Though some may dismiss her as an M.I.A. dilution, I think she’s got every bit the defiance and skill of Ms. Arulpragasam, even if she has a more narrowly niched sense of hip-hop gone global. In this video, I think she plays with a lot of artistic mythology in setting up a persona of wise disconnection and power. 

I can’t personally comment on the connection between women and horses, though I do find it interesting that there’s an entire magazine and an apparently vibrant subculture devoted to the subject. I understand why people would be inclined to use them for all the mythical weight they bring to bear. I like that Santogold seems to be reconfiguring the artist in embattled but victorious terms. The positioning in the video suggests military portraiture. In fact, the first thing the opening image evoked for me, was painting of George Washington on horseback, with all the implied mastery of human over nature that comes from a majestic and gorgeous animal holding steady for a regal pose. Of course, the militancy of the video’s image is buttressed by two stiff dancers in the margin whose movements have more in common with martial parades than they do back-up dancing.

I guess I’m a stone cold sucker for images of artistic power, especially those that boldly suggest transcendence or flirt with the supernatural. The song is about the sacrifices people make in order to make art and the tortures of having a private world made public.  But throughout the bright and graphic scenes of dismemberment, vomit, and projectile goblin blood, Santogold never breaks a catwalk stride. She emerges from the fog nonplussed. Okay, maybe she should have stopped the stranger playing with the neon Play-Doh intestines, but I’m personally so enthralled by her triumphalism, that I tend to sweep away all the nicking moral niceties.

by Rob Horning

1 Apr 2008

Last Friday, the WSJ ran an intentionally inflammatory article about “trash-outs,” when foreclosed homeowners vandalize their homes before being forced to abandon them to the banks. The opening gambit of the article is to depict how some banks have taken to bribing foreclosed occupants not to trash the homes before leaving.

These days, bankers and mortgage companies often find that by the time they get the keys back, embittered homeowners have stripped out appliances, punched holes in walls, dumped paint on carpets and, as a parting gift, locked their pets inside to wreak further havoc. Real-estate agents estimate that about half of foreclosed properties to be sold by mortgage companies nationwide have “substantial” damage, according to a new survey by Campbell Communications, a marketing and research firm based in Washington, D.C.
The most practical way to ensure the houses are returned in decent shape, lenders and their agents say, is to pay homeowners hundreds or even thousands of dollars to put their anger in escrow and leave quietly. A ransom? A bribe? “Yeah, somewhat,” says John Carver, an agent specializing in foreclosed homes for Prudential Americana Group in Las Vegas. But “you lose a house, and then you get some financial help—it’s a good thing…It’s a win-win for both parties.”

Yes, a real “win” for the people who have lost their house, who are “losing the dream” in the words of a real-estate agent quoted in the story. A tough break, to be sure. Still, it is also natural for readers to respond to an article gleefully detailing the spiteful destruction on the part of delinquent borrowers with perplexity. You might even be inspired to think, What a bunch of assholes.

At Calculated Risk, Tanta takes issue with this short-sighted attitude and seizes on the phrase foreclosed tenants to provide the rationale behind such vandalism.

When you take an interest-only no-down-payment loan to buy a house at market price—that is, at anything other than a significant discount to market price—you are in effect, if not in fact, merely “leasing” the house from the bank….
Possibly some borrowers are coming to the belated recognition that they were, de facto, not much more than tenants who were paying well above “market rent,” but the market no longer allows them to “sell” the “lease” to the next sucker, and the law does not allow them to simply forfeit the security deposit and move away. To be a “foreclosed tenant” is to live in the worst of both worlds…. They begin to grasp that they had only ever been given a short-term lease on the “American Dream,” not a piece of the “ownership society” pie. More than a few of them are very, very, crabby.

If success and respectability in America is popularly predicated on homeownership, then losing a home is much more likely to make someone lose regard for restraining mores. They tried to “work hard and play by the rules” that said you start by securing a home for your family. But then forces beyond their control—shifts in interest rates and financial risk management, in the economic climate and the future of house prices (which everyone was virtually guaranteeing couldn’t come down)—made the mortgage payments untenable and refinancing impossible. So the conclusion that following unspoken rules about conduct is a waste of time is actually fairly understandable. The joke of the American dream was on them, and they want to turn the tables by taking the implication of that one step further: If we can’t realistically aspire to society’s rewards, we won’t adhere to its codes.

It is within the realm of possibility that some folks engaging in “trash-out refinances” are, well, making the point that the joke’s on you, Mr. Bank. You might consider it a kind of performance art of the gallows-humor subgenre.

Subprime borrowers: the return of Lazlo Toth?

by PopMatters Staff

1 Apr 2008

1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
An article about the Busby Babes, the legendary Manchester United Football Club soccer team that lost eight players in a plane crash in 1958.

2. The fictional character most like you?
Some people say Peter Pan because I refuse to grow up, but I totally disagree.

3. The greatest album, ever?
There are many great albums but if I have to pick just one it’ll be Odessey & Oracle by The Zombies from 1968.

4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
I know it’s one of these questions “AC/DC” or “Kiss”? But I have to say I like both. Though William Shatner is the coolest of all!

by Jason Gross

1 Apr 2008

In already what’s shaping up to be a terrible year for music magazines (Harp, No Depression), yet another publication is going under.  Folio reports that Resonance is now calling it quits.  They were a fine indie publication- how could you not love a zine that puts Octopus Project on the cover and does a purposely fake Yo La Tengo cover with three models posing at the band?  Not to mention the fact that they offer the last two issues online for free.  Chalk it up to the usual problems- the postal rates for mailing mags shot up sharply, ad dollars sinking because of a bad economy (plus those bucks going online) and business models that didn’t embrace the web enough.  Harp and ND were looking to do more on the last front but it was too late.  I hate to say this but don’t be surprised if you see a spate of other print-first music pubs (not to mention many non-music pubs) go belly up in the rest of 2008.

//Mixed media

Country Fried Rock: Drivin' N' Cryin' to Be Inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame

// Sound Affects

""If Drivin' N' Cryin' sounded as good in the '80s as we do now, we could have been as big as Cinderella." -- Kevn Kinney

READ the article