narcogen's blog

How To Open Sheet Music Files

To open PrintMusic files, get the free FinaleNotepad program. Versions are available for Windows and Mac OS X. It opens PrintMusic files, as well as imports and exports MIDI.

To download the free program, the Finale website will require you to register a free account with them. Be sure to check the opt-in marketing settings at the bottom of the form if you don't want them to email you or give your contact information to their partners.

UPDATE: The free program for reading PrintMusic files is now Finale Reader.

How To Upload Sheet Music

Siege of Madrigal by Marty O'Donnell

After the last tutorial on how to download sheet music files there were some requests on how to upload files to the site for other readers to see.

If you've transcribed some music from Halo or any other Bungie or Wideload game and would like to share it with the community here through Rampancy's sheet music section, first you need to have an account, confirm that account, and be logged in. All of those steps are covered in the tutorial on How To Download Sheet Music Files. After you've followed those steps, come back here.

How To Download Sheet Music Files

Siege of Madrigal by Marty O'Donnell

Every so often readers have some trouble obtaining access to the sheet music files on Rampancy.net. Below is a short tutorial to help you out.

The short answer is that these files are freely available to anyone. All I ask in return is that you register an account first. Registration is free. I don't give out your email address to anyone, and the site will not mail you anything unless you ask.

Destiny: What's In A Name

We've had Destiny awhile now, and I've been playing it as much as I can. I've finished the story, and I'm enjoying leveling up my three Guardians quite a bit. I'm having fun and I feel I've gotten my money's worth, but there are still a lot of things about the game that I think are worth notice-- things that may challenge the expectations of gamers coming from shooters, those coming from MMOs and RPGs, and those coming to the game straight from Halo.

One of these is how Destiny throws so many names at you in such a short time it feels like we've been hit in the face with Bungie' little black book of aliens. In comparison, here are all of the times that the aliens that comprise the Covenant are mentioned within the transcripts of Halo 1, taken from HBO:

Truth and Reconciliation

CORTANA: Captain! Hunters!

Silent Cartographer

CORTANA: Chief, Bravo 22 was bringing us some heavy weapons. After I saw we were up against Hunters, I thought you could use them.

343 Guilty Spark

SARGE: Looks like a Covenant patrol. Badass elite units, all KIA.

That is it. All the mentions of Halo's iconic enemy types that occur within the game's official transcript. The player encounters Elites, Grunts, and Jackals all before any character ever names them, and it's arguable that Sniper Sergeant's reference to "elite" is as an adjective and not a proper noun-- after all, at this point even he doesn't have a name. Hunters, for some reason, get special attention from Cortana, as they are called out by name at the end of their first appearance in Truth and Reconciliation, and then namechecked again midway through the next level, Silent Cartographer.

If players knew the names of these units, it came from the manual, from Bungie's website or fan websites, from gaming press, or Bungie's own PR. The game itself is practically silent on the subject. And why shouldn't it be? The Master Chief has been at war with the Covenant for quite awhile. The UNSC has been at war with them for four decades. The player doesn't know either of those things, either, without reading external material like the novels, but the point is that no time is wasted telling the characters things they already know just for the benefit of the player, especially when it is relevant to the greater context but not immediately relevant to the action at hand.

Contrast that to Destiny, which tosses out both names of enemy factions (Fallen, Hive, Vex and Cabal) as well as subfactions (House of Winter, House of Devils, Hezen Corrective, Virgo Prohibition, Hidden Swarm, Dust Giants, Blind Legion) and the names of individual enemies (Sepiks Prime, Draksis, Riksis, Aksor, Bracus Tho'ourg, Bracus Tha'aurn, Valus Ta'Aurc, and many others. It's not so much assumed that we already know these (they are mentioned in briefings as well as in the Grimoire) as it is assumed that it means something. It's even harder to make these enemies and their defeats mean something when they can be repeated infinitely-- and not just the way Halo missions are repeated. Campaign levels in Halo are repeated by looping the same moment in time. Each time you choose a level, you're returning to a fixed point within a linear story and repeating the general events, while changing only the details.

This is not the case in Destiny. In Destiny, you can defeat a boss, pick up some loot he drops, like boots or a gun, and then put on those boots and use that gun to fight the same guy a second time. You're not repeating a fixed point within the story, the moment when that boss character was finally defeated, even though the intro and outro sequences of story missions try to treat it that way. You're performing similar actions at a different time, as evidenced by the fact that you still have the boots and the gun from the first fight when you start the second. Like it or not, Destiny's loot stream enforces continuity on the coop nature of the campaign. It makes we wonder why Bungie didn't stop naming things with types, instead of individual names. It invites heckling to hear the Vanguard talk about how Sepiks Prime cast a shadow over the city and now it's great he's gone when I know he'll be back in five minutes. If it was just a Prime Servitor, a thing the Fallen keep bringing back into position because it's important and necessary for them, then I could get behind it. Same for all the other leaders-- I'll buy that promotion from within means that for every target we take out, eventually someone else will take his place.

It wasn't until Halo 2 that we knew the name of any individual enemies in the Covenant, and that was when he became a playable character-- the Arbiter. Later, we grew familiar with two boss characters, Truth and Tartarus, and another NPC, Gravemind. Before that, the game was basically the Master Chief, Cortana, 343 Guilty Spark, Captain Keyes, and a crowd of semi-anonymous marines and targets. Individual enemies in Destiny have no role within the story except as targets, unlike the Arbiter, the Prophet of Truth, and Tartarus. Why do they have names? Why do we need to know what those names are, especially when the factional similiarities between individual names is so strong, as well as the nature of each name so arbitrary, that it becomes difficult to tell them apart even after several plays?

Players in Destiny spend as much time with their Ghost as the Master Chief does with Cortana, but while the part got big-name casting, the character itself doesn't have a name, unlike many of the enemies he helps us fight. This is another area where the coop nature of the Destiny experience collides with the needs of a traditional linear narrative. Is the Ghost voiced by Peter Dinklage "our" Ghost or everybody's Ghost? NPCs in the Tower also have their own Ghosts, but we never hear them speak. Would they also sound like Peter Dinklage? This is complicated by the fact that Destiny cutscenes, even when playing story mode with a fireteam of four, only show the avatar of the current player. So each guardian appears to be interacting with their own Ghost and NPCs alone during cutscenes-- fireteam members disappear and reappear magically for reasons I don't think can be justified technically or narratively. This is a big step backwards from Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, where squadmates function together both as part of the story and as part of the action.

Reflections On The Destiny Beta

Dumping on Story
I've seen this for Destiny as well as Halo before it... accusations of being silly, derivative, and obscure, and I don't really understand it. Some of it seems to come from those who either don't want any story in their shooters and so don't pay attention to it, or those who are used to the kind of depth you get in an RPG and are put off by things drawn with a broad brush. The Halo series supplemented its backstory with the novelizations, whereas Marathon and Myth used the in-game terminals and journal entries, respectively. I have high hopes that the Grimoire cards you get in-game and then view on Bungie.net will be the best of both worlds here, allowing those who want to explore the world in-depth a chance to do so without overburdening the game with backstory during gameplay or through traditional cutscenes.

What Halo's Ancient History Can Tell Us About Destiny

You can never truly know a game until you play it.
Seraph, from Matrix Reloaded

Okay, so I'm paraphrasing, but the point stands. Right now we don't know much about Destiny, but it might be pretty difficult to say we know anything at all. I'm starting to get a sort of pleasant feeling of deja vu, and wondering what it was we thought we knew about Halo when it was first revealed. Our first glance at the game back then was more substantial back in the summer of 1999, when Steve Jobs welcomed Jason Jones on stage to show Halo running live, in real time, using OpenGL, on a Macintosh. He then said it was coming out on PCs and Macs next year.

The rest is history.

Perhaps Bungie showed more of Halo back then than of Destiny now because they honestly thought they were closer to releasing Halo than they really were. Possibly they felt they had to generate some hype for the game. Despite being an award-winning cross-platform developer, it's hard to say that Bungie commanded the kind of attention before that game's release in the Macintosh gaming market that they have occupied in the console world ever since. Now, independent from Microsoft, without the need to serve the well being of the Xbox platform over and above all else, the players on Sony's platform may now be their thrall as well, and after that, who knows, perhaps those on Macs, Windows, and even Linux, iOS and Android. Bungie would appear to have big plans for Destiny.

It's not the first time Bungie's had big plans, though, and things have a way of taking on a life of their own. In particular, some of Bungie's plans for Destiny remind me of what I always guessed were Bungie's original plans for Halo...

Rampancy Reformatted Has Been, Seven Is Darker

Narcogen on XBL

Websites, like smart AIs, start to go rampant after seven years, and that's about how old the software and hardware that underpinned Rampancy had gotten.

No more. The site is now on a new machine, and although it's modest, it still outspecs the old one by a significant margin. The CMS that runs that site has been upgraded to a version that, while it is not the latest, is officially supported, and we have a clearer upgrade path to later versions than we had before.

Nearly all of the content has been saved; I'm not actually aware of anything that was lost, and nearly all site features-- the sheet music database, the gamertag database, the forgemap database-- should work as well if not better than they did before.

Some different antispam methods are in place, which means I'm going to experiment with reopening user registration without admin approval soon.

Kick the tires and let me know if anything breaks.

UPDATE: There is one thing broken; the podcast feed. It's being worked on.

UPDATE: The podcast feed should be fixed. I apologize if this creates duplicates for anyone; I've seen this happen before on other podcasts I follow, and I know I hate it when it happens. The upgrade has been a long time coming, though, ad some hiccups are inevitable.

Frog Blast The Vent Core

Marathon Logo

The last Penny Arcade comic of 2012 (warning: profanity) features a free iOS game called Spaceteam that Tycho described as being to Galaxy Quest what Artemis is to Star Trek. It's a cooperative science fiction jargon game that allows players to-- among other things-- actually frog blast the vent core. Whatever that actually means.

More Early Reveals For Bungie's Destiny

Third Time's The Charm

Leaks seem to be de rigeur for Bungie's new game, codenamed and possibly titled Destiny. First, court documents relating to legal disputes involving new publisher Activision revealed some of the general parameters of the game and the intended products, platforms and publishing schedules.

Now, apparently a third party employee forgot a flash drive at a restaurant, and supplied the gaming press with a few more documents and a few pieces of what appears to be concept art. In response, Bungie appeared to acknowledge the leak as legitimate, and replied with a bit of concept art of their own.

Since the leaked images have all been watermarked from hell to breakfast so that sites like IGN can stop other sites from stealing their "found footage" so to speak, I'm only going to take a close look at the shot Bungie actually wanted us to see, as well as the text quoted by some of the leak stories, and only describe the other images to try and back up some interpretation of the text or the official image. If you really need to see those other images, I'm sure the Internet will find a way to accede to your wishes.

Between the official image and the quoted portions of the text, it's possible to build up a few tentative ideas about what to expect from Destiny, and the kinds of ideas and themes the new game might share with past Bungie works.

Marathon Hits The iPad

Marathon for iOS controls

The free, iOS version of Marathon that Bungie mentioned last week is now available in the App Store. The base application itself is free, but there are in-game purchases that improve the experience (better textures) or provide cheats ("Master Chief" mode).

I've not played a lot of games on the iPad, but due to its origins, this may be one of the more difficult ones to control. There's an on-screen joystick for handling movement forwards and backwards as well as strafing side-to-side. Aiming and turning are controlled just by pressing on the screen where you want to aim. Primary fire has an on-screen button, but there's an option to do it by tapping the screen. There's another on-screen button for secondary fire, and one for the use key, and hitting the motion tracker switches to the map screen. There are also two more buttons to scroll forward and back through the available weapons. And a pause button. Marathon's movement speed is a lot faster than Halo's, so moving around the game's labyrinthine levels proficiently with the touch controls takes a bit of work.

It's hard for me to see this as much more than a novelty-- hey, look, I've got Marathon on my iPad! Playing seems less enjoyable than other old game ports to the platform, like the Monkey Island adventure games, and just like those games, there are a lot of options-- Aleph One, which served as the basis for this conversion, runs all the Marathon games on all modern operating systems, plus Marathon 2 was ported to XBLA, so if this game is serving people who have no other way to play Marathon, it's because they don't have a Mac, a PC, or an Xbox. Perhaps the target audience is PlayStation owners who don't have a computer, but own an iPad? I'm not sure.

I'm guessing the main game is free in order to maintain compliance with Aleph One's license, although if history is any lesson, it might only take one developer who has contributed to Aleph One and alleges that Apple's App Store license is incompatible with the GPL to get the app removed. Of course, it's also undoubtedly true that this project took a considerable amount of effort, for which the seller would like to be compensated; hence the in-game purchases of high definition upgrades and cheat codes. I find it hard to imagine how many people will want or need those-- the game looks plenty good to me in its current form, and I haven't seen screenshots of the paid upgrade. I can see people having enough difficulty with the game to want the cheat code, but there's already a wide range of difficulty levels, and myself I wouldn't really feel good about buying a cheat code-- perhaps others won't have that problem.

The iPad conversion seems to score over the other recent port of the Marathon franchise in one important area: unlike Marathon 2 on XBLA (and the more recent port of American McGee's Alice) it doesn't give me motion sickness.

How to Still Care About Halo

HaloLocationRetcon.jpg

The following is a crosspost from the HBO forum, in a discussion started by Cody Miller about retcons of Halo's continuity by the latest game in the series, Reach. Some fans (namely Hawaiian Pig) take exception to David "Evil Otto" Candland, Bungie UI Designer, saying canon arguments aren't important. The image is from another post of Cody's, seemingly showing that Installation 04 isn't located in the Milky Way galaxy any more.

After reading part of this thread at HBO and finding myself in agreement simultaneously with HP and Evil Otto, I had another series of thoughts about how works are viewed by their creators, as opposed to their fans.

A work like Halo is not the creation of a single person, even if some people contribute more to some aspects of it than others. It is also not a static thing. While certain key concepts may endure from the start of brainstorming until the declaration of a Golden Master, many of the details may be in flux for months or years. Listening to the commentary by Jones, Staten and O'Donnell for the cutscenes of the first two games, it becomes apparent how different the series might have been if Bungie had made different decisions.

Child Neglect Is Not Gaming News

I would like to propose that the gaming press stop posting stories like this one:

Man Let Son Suffocate Because He Was Playing WoW

Before I go on, I'd like to say that I do not now, nor have I ever, worked in the gaming industry in any capacity.

Any number of children lose their lives each year to causes relating to parental neglect or abuse. Each one is a personal tragedy, and indeed, many may have been entirely preventable if the parents behaved differently. In many cases, there may have been circumstances relating to some other activity that led a parent to believe, temporarily, that their unjustifiable actions were justifiable, or that some other activity they were engaged in was more important than attending to the child.

However there is also no justification for the peculiar attention paid to gaming when the other activity is somehow gaming-related. I'd wager that any number of infants smother, suffocate or strangle on pillows or bedclothes all over the world each year while an inattentive parent is performing some other activity: watching television, speaking on the telephone, working out, gambling, drinking, perhaps even reading a good book. When the parent was watching TV, I'm not going to read about this tragedy in TV Guide. When the parent was watching a film, I'm not going to end up reading about it in Premiere magazine. When the parent was eating or drinking, I'm not going to read about it in Gourmet. If they were reading a book, I'm not going to read about this death in the New York Times Review of Books, along with a sidebar about whether or not reading is addictive or leads to child abuse. If an inattentive parent leaves a child locked in a hot car on a summer day, I'm not going to read about it in Road & Track.

Making Sequels That Don't Suck

This VGChartz article bugged me as an example of bad and sometimes contradictory advice.

Lesson 1 - Don't Take Six Years to Make Your Sequel
Gran Turismo 4: 89.61%
Gran Turismo 5: 84.69%

First of all, a MetaCritic GameRankings score (why is he using GameRankings instead of Metacritic, anyway?) drop of 5% is not necessarily statistically significant, especially since there's no way, from just the scores, of verifying that the same selection of outlets or reviewers were included. The drop may indicate a drop in popularity of the genre, or many factors other than the development cycle.

If what he means to say is that the earlier you release, the earlier you get paid, then he's right, but for every GT5 that fails to meet expectations or Daiktana that becomes the butt of jokes or DNF that fails to materialize, there are games rushed out the door lacking polish or originality. Of course, since the subject is sequels perhaps originality is not a factor.

Sure, six years might be extreme, and there might very well be a point of diminishing returns, where more development time doesn't necessarily improve things. However there may very well be cases where 2 years is not enough, and where even three or four may be justified. Might not another 6-12 months have improved, say, Halo 2?

Why Buying Used Games Isn't Cheating

Nothing to do with Bungie directly, but I did write a couple of blog posts about the recent discussion on the interwebz in general (and at Penny Arcade in specific) about the used game market, spurred by comments made by THQ's Cory Ledesma earlier this week.

On Firefight

It's not hard to see the appeal of the idea of the Firefight mode in Halo 3: ODST. If you follow Bungie's shooter roots back to Marathon, and to the PC shooter that really kicked off the modern era, Doom, you can see the start of it.

Doom didn't have discrete multiplayer 'levels' the way Marathon and Halo did. It had a series of Episodes, each broken down into Missions that comprised one map. Each map had a series of keys necessary to open a series of doors. The last door was the Exit and led to the next Mission. Between you and each key and each door were a number of demons to kill. You could tackle this challenge solo, or bring in some friends on a local network.

Of course, you could just as easily shoot your friends as the demons. You could also set up a game on any Mission map without any demons and just play deathmatch, or you could play a deathmatch game with continually respawning demons on it.

Marathon had a similar setting, an "Aliens" checkbox that put enemies from the campaign mode onto the multiplayer maps. So while it wasn't always referred to the same way, Marathon had all the current play modes: campaign solo, campaign co-op, multiplayer (deathmatch and objective) and deathmatch-with-aliens. That's essentially what Firefight is, except it's supposed to be more towards cooperative.

So we can now safely say that with the release of Halo 3: ODST, in combination with Halo 3's multiplayer mode, has finally brought all the features of a 1994 Mac shooter to Xbox Live.

I'm only half kidding.

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