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May 18, 2013 4:45 PM   Subscribe

posted by DoctorFedora at 7:00 PM on May 18, 2013

I was a Unix admin when my sister bought me a Sega Saturn. I was astonished at the time... it was a bad-ass MP RISC workstation with discrete GFX and sound chips, only instead of modeling biosystems or geologic data for oil exploration, it was playing games...

The Dreamcast was more of that, only with networking. I'm at a loss as how to explain the system's failure... it was Atari ST levels of marketing ineptitude.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:49 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Love it. I'm a big fan of digital examples of the "When I was your age" trope. :-)
posted by danb at 8:19 PM on May 18, 2013

Isn't interesting how for so many of us growing up in the "video game era" shaped our futures in some obvious, tangible way. It's amazing, what so many of our elders (read - parents) wrote off as a time-wasting diversion ended up being a force for creativity and learning.

For me it was video game music instead of the games themselves. Specifically Legend of Zelda and the Squaresoft RPGs of the SNES era. They were so evocative, so entrancing to me. One year for Christmas my friend got a little Korg synthesizer and a copy of Cakewalk, which he "lent" to me. Pretty soon I found I was spending more time on the computer writing music and less time playing the games (a state that has occurred ever since).

I dropped my computer class and enrolled in AP Music Theory instead. I was already in the high school orchestra (as a violinist), but the whole video-game music + cakewalk + realizing I could WRITE music myself unlocked this insatiable hunger in me. I joined every musical endeavor I could: concert choir, madrigals, mixed chorus. I formed a barbershop quartet. I offered to play piano in church. I volunteered to write incidental music for all the non-musical play productions the drama department put on. I tried out for all the musicals, any musical event or contest I could think of. I found songwriting contests in the backs of my band teacher's various subscription music magazines that he had delivered to the school. When the choir went to New York for a festival I blew all my souvenir money at the Juilliard book store buying textbooks on orchestration and advanced theory. I was such a dork!*

While I haven't made a full-blown career of it (yet) the music has been a major factor in everything I've done since. I've made some modest money from it, here and there. I've had a children's musical published and occasionally get a royalty check from it. I've sold tracks to local ad-agencies. But more importantly I have this hobby, this obsession and all this crazy goofy niche-knowledge and skill that I wouldn't have if it wasn't for video games.

*Still am.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:46 PM on May 18, 2013 [7 favorites]

That was beautiful.

Slap*Happy: The thing about the Saturn is that it was hard to code for - I mean, there were a ton of cores on the thing - and so while anyone who made a game on it had a lot to work with, a lot of developers left for other consoles. Then there was the problem that the Saturn was more expensive than the Playstation, so it had fewer players too. The Dreamcast was well ahead of its time, but without a critical mass of developers or players Sega no longer had the cash to deal with Sony's marketing push when the PS2 came out.

That said, the Saturn has a ton of great gems available for it, and while I've got my PS3 and Wii hooked up the Saturn is getting more play time these days.
posted by 23 at 8:48 PM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]

Phantasy Star Online. It was the future, man. The future.
posted by cmoj at 12:56 AM on May 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Dreamcast was more of that, only with networking. I'm at a loss as how to explain the system's failure... it was Atari ST levels of marketing ineptitude.

Yeah, basically Sega ran out of money. IIRC Sonic for the DC was also underwhelming and Sonic had bigger name recognition compared to great but unknown games like Shenmue.
posted by ersatz at 4:06 AM on May 19, 2013

I was allowed to do this one hour per week, on a Saturday if I'd been behaved that week.

Oh I know, I've so been there.
posted by Twang at 9:35 AM on May 19, 2013

This entire thing left a big-ass smile on my face.

Interestingly, i can relate to this, Doleful Creature's post, and they both kind of tie together for me.

Right around this same exact time, i had an N64 and a gameshark. My family also had a hunk of crap hand-me-down 486, and i was taking piano classes at a little music/arts school near our house.

I slayed a lot of time trying to find "cool" cheats online for the few games i had, and trying this kind of stuff.

I also sat down one day after hitting the "manual" mode on my angelfire page and wondered if it worked the same kind of way, if i could swap around bits of code or step my way through possible stuff between the html tags would i get different, or possibly interesting results? This lead in to a deep delve into webdev stuff, as it was circa 1997/8/9/2000 dhtml, netscape specific weirdness, etc. By the end of it i actually had a fairly awesome website, even looking back on it now. Fairly minimal, some cool automatic on scrolling to the end of the page stuff like you see on modern sites now, etc.

On the music front though, is where i actually have some truly fond memories. One day a bit before the dreamcast was launched, i was at piano class and i noticed a shiny new 88 key weighted roland keyboard with a small monitor and PC tower sitting next to it, and asked about it. They said it was for MIDI stuff. Having already played around with midis a bunch(don't hurt me! this was the 90s, everyone was doing it on the web maaaaan) i was instantly super excited that i could possibly make my very own midi files.

After that, every "piano" class i went to was 90% me multi-tracking files in cakewalk. Eventually the little music school moved to a bigger building, and somehow got a TON of awesome new equipment. Midi sound modules, more synths, a better computer, etc. I ended up singlehandedly writing the entire soundtrack for a 10 minute or so stop motion short film some other students were making. I also quickly realized the semi-crappy cheap yamaha keyboard i had at home had MIDI capability, and that my junky PCs soundcard did as well through the gameport. I made some absolutely awesome compositions that i'm still pissed about losing to a computer failure right around the age of 10.

I later revisited web design and having a personal site, but it took many years before i got back to multi-tracking little recordings.

When i eventually did though, senior year of highschool, i felt like fry when he wakes up in the future. Cakewalk, and similar apps had evolved in to logic, reason, and ableton live(which i'm embarrassed to say i said "oh, i want to learn that" after reading that daft punk used it for their tour in some random interview). People were producing entire albums of everything from orchestral symphonies(although, not with that software usually) to stuff like this with nothing but a laptop and a set of headphones.

I spent an entire summer learning the program, and learning the capabilities of what you could really do now. I didn't read a single tutorial, just picked apart the demo song that pops up when you open the program and then opened a blank file and sat there going "Hmm, i wonder what happens if you do this...". I then spent the winter writing tracks with a friend, and in the spring played a show at a small venue. A few months later a little local label that had just formed asked us if we'd like to sign on...

This doesn't end in me going "and i'm actually the artist XYZ" or anything. I never got famous, but i met some interesting and well known people and got a lot of great stories out of it.

I mostly just felt compelled to write all this because the story posted here brought me right back to sitting on the floor in front of a shitty CRT tv, turning my N64 off and on again trying to get it to "boot" with the gameshark plugged in. And then to messing around with cakewalk on that crappy computer after i got bored searching gamefaqs forums, codejunkies, and various shitty sites i found on altavista for more codes. And eventually realizing i'd rather be messing around with HTML, or cakewalk...

I can't even explain it either, but a lot of this "early days of the internet" stuff always comes off to me as really feeling like it was a bit of the wild west back then. Software, hardware, the internet itself. I know someone will post calling me a baby and talking about how it was logging on to BBSs in the 80s to fuck with games on their brothers c64, but compare that to this kind of stuff and realize that how much has changed between the 80s, the 90s, and now is so incredibly top heavy to "now" vs the first two that its 95% of the change being say, 98-2008 with the sliver of the rest being beforehand.

I also think a lot of stuff was legitimately simpler and more accessible. You couldn't do this type of hex editing/memory injection stuff on a Wii U, or any other modern system. You couldn't learn the basics of html and make anything that looked remotely presentable in an afternoon like you could then. I could teach someone cakewalk enough to start exploring and writing on their own in probably an hour, but any new app like reason or ableton takes days, hell, weeks to learn a reasonable amount.

This type of screwing around as a kid and exploring is a bit of a dead experience. Sure, you could screw around with simple iOS dev stuff or something, but even then the barrier to entry is pretty damn high.

It's actually more than a bit sad.
posted by emptythought at 2:09 AM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

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