12.17.2012

Lost to the Ages

It's crazy to think that there are films out there that never made it to DVD.  They saw a release on Laserdisc or VHS, but never made the jump.

Original Super Mario Bros 3
We're getting to the point where it's hard to believe that something like a movie or a song can fade away and die.  Sure it's popularity might decline, it might be overlooked or derided, but a piece of media's availability is almost never doubted.  I know that The Matrix: Reloaded is generally an unfavorably regarded movie, but if I love it (and I do) I can go to iTunes or Amazon or Blockbuster or Netflix and I can track down a copy.

That's why it's interesting to me that of all the media formats out there, there are some that don't quite have longevity figured out yet.

Super Mario Bros 3 remake for GBA
We've seen our favorite albums released on vinyl and then 8-track, cassette, CD and MP3.  We've seen all of the movie formats and then some, but what about video games?

We're at the point now where video games (and I'm mainly speaking of the home console variety) are about a generation old.  Video games are easily pushing 40.  My first reaction is to start talking about preservation, but preservation isn't the problem.  Anyone can take a factory sealed Nintendo Entertainment System and a factory sealed copy of StarTropics and lock them away in a humidity controlled vault somewhere.

No, I think the idea I want to explore here isn't preservation but prevalence.  I'd like to live in a future where older games can be purchased and played just like classic movies.  Albeit, we've already seen a resurgence in the prevalence of "classic" video games.  The old school stuff like Space Invaders, Galaga, Pac-Man and Dig Dug.  It's all out there on just about any platform you can think of.  But what about those other games that came out around the same time and have since fallen into obscurity.

The PC is probably the shining example of how to do old games right.  It's not a perfect eco-system, but chances are if you've got a game that ran on Windows back in the day, it can probably still run today.  It's exciting to think that barring any kind of crazy hardware compatibility you can still play Wolfenstein 3D largely unchanged from the way it was in 1992.

The problem with home console video games is that those games and the hardware they ran on were so inextricably linked that it leaves us with only three options should we want to replay them now.  The first is the obvious but cumbersome one.  We can lug out our old equipment and hook it up.  With the jump to HD, this could be impossible nowadays (I'd have no clue how to connect an RF switch to my Bravia).  If you can get everything working your picture is still going to look terrible without an upscaler.  HD TVs are rather unkind to old sub-480p content.  Lastly, everytime you drag that stuff out you get closer and closer to the day it won't work anymore.

The future proof way would be to use an emulator.  Emulators are software engines coded to behave like those old video game consoles.  The problem with that is that since there's no way to hook your game cartridge up to your computer and your optical media-based games can't be read by the blu-ray drive in your computer, you have to go to shady websites and downloaded pirated ROMs of the games you want to play.  Now you're a criminal, and unless the emulator and ROM were done well, your game may not play even closely to the way you remember it.

The last way to to enjoy those old games is through re-makes and re-releases.  This phenomenon has been going on for quite a while now.  The first major rush on our nostalgic tendencies I can clearly remember were the re-releases of NES classics on the Game Boy Advance with Nintendo's Classic NES series.  This was the first time I could remember an old game being repackaged and resold (at a ridiculous price) back to the people who had already bought it.  As insulting as it may have seemed, it worked.  Players didn't want to drag out their NES, if it even still worked, and buying these old games again scratched that nostalgic itch.  This idea has been adopted by just about every video game company with an old, well-regarded game worth re-releasing, but the trend has gone from selling a straight re-production of the original to compilations or collections of games to remakes of games and now to HD remakes and collections.

And here's where we get to the real meat of the issue.  When a company sets out to produce an HD remake of a game, even if the remake is simply "up-resing" existing assets and putting out a prettier version of an old game, that company is going to need a team, and money to pay that team.  If you have to pay that team, then you expect to recoup your investment.  If you expect to recoup your investment then you choose your remakes carefully and only choose those that are likely to turn a profit.  The list of video game remakes is surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) short.

So far, this model isn't actually sounding too different than the movie or music industry.  Media that is good and popular or has some kind of merit will continually be brought to future formats.  Media that is bad will fall by the wayside.  Except with video games there's an extra wrinkle and that is rights management.  For example every once in awhile in the other industry, a record label goes under and the rights to their catalog get trapped in legal limbo, or a book publisher refuses to make ebook versions of their titles available.  However with video games, often times the companies can still be in business, healthy and profitable, but unable to release their old games because they don't have the legal right.

Have fun playing in 4:3 480i...forever!
There are plenty of scenarios, but one example is the James Bond game 007: Everything Or Nothing.  This game came out in 2004 and was developed by EA and MGM Interactive.  Since 2004, the video game rights to the James Bond franchise have changed hands to Activision while MGM has since fallen under the umbrella of Sony.  007: Everything Or Nothing, was an impressive, big budget game featuring the voicework and likenesses of Pierce Brosnan, Judi Dench, John Cleese, Willem Dafoe, Shannon Elizabeth and Heidi Klum.  An HD remake would be something to truly behold, but it will likely never happen because of the legal gymnastics required to bring it back to market.

It's a complication that seems to be rather unique to the video game industry and one that will require more attention as we move forward on to new consoles.  It will be especially interesting to watch the PS2-era games (referred to as the sixth generation) age.  These games have been the most frequent recipients of the hd remake treatment, but plenty of deserving games are getting left behind.

There is no ready-answer or easy solution, and it's likely that unless we keep those old boxes lying around, some of those old games will not be playable any other way.  With the next offering of consoles on the horizon, however, I hope some attention is turned to longevity and giving video games a permanent digital shelf space so that they can be enjoyed perpetually long after we've moved on to the next-next Playstations and Xboxes.

9.15.2012

8 Things You Need To Know About Backup and Restore on PS3

I am religious about backing up my data.  If a device lives under my roof and it has a hard drive it gets backed up once a week, with an offsite backup at least once a month.

I've been a Playstation 3 owner since 2008 and shortly after I bought my shiny new toy a friend of mine suffered a hardware failure on his own PS3.  This served as a cautionary tale and I began to faithfully make backups every week.

The PS3 backup utility is buried in the system menu on the PS3 Xross Media Bar and it is about as bare-bones as a backup utility can get.  It simply copies everything from the PS3's internal hard drive to an external hard drive of your choosing.  Or at least that's what I thought.

A couple weeks ago, after four long years of hard work and arduous service, my PS3 finally gave out.  It is a form of death informally known as the Yellow Light of Death, much akin to the Xbox 360's similar Red Ring of Death.

For most users this would have been a moment of extreme panic and lament.  For myself, however, it was simply an annoyance.  I had a very recent backup so when I contacted Sony and set up my "repair" I knew that aside from the $100 fee the only inconvenience would be waiting for my new unit to arrive and then waiting for my backup data to be restored.

I'd never done a full restore of a backup before and I knew anecdotally that certain items wouldn't restore properly (content purchased from the Playstaiton Store, like games would have to be redownloaded), which made sense.  But here are a few things that I didn't expect:

1. Swapping hard drives will require firmware on a thumb drive
To compound my problems, not only was I restoring a new PS3, but I also needed to swap back in my 500GB hard drive.  The drive was in good shape with no bad sectors but I kept getting an error message when I turned on the PS3.  I had forgotten that if you want to swap hard drives, a USB device loaded with up-to-date firmware is necessary.  There are plenty of guides for this process, but the one thing they all seemed to omit is if you're having problems getting the ball rolling (aka an annoyingly vague error message) you'll need to initiate recovery mode by holding the power button down when you turn on the PS3 until you hear a second beep to see a list of new options.
2. Media purchased from the 'Video' side of the Playstation Store is gone forever.
I'm still not 100% sure about this one, as I have yet to contact Sony customer support, but from what I have read around the Internet any movies and TV shows purchased from the Playstation Store are gone forever.  Apparently buried deep in the Terms of Service it says somewhere that you only get to download these items once.  Once you've downloaded them they are locked to that box and if you switch boxes you're out of luck.  It's pretty bogus.  I didn't own too much stuff, but I had an entire season of Futurama and some other random episodes of shows that apparently I can't get back without re-purchasing.
3. Locked saves are gone too.
It's not too common for developers to use locked saves for their games, but a few of my games used them and those saves did not get backed up.  How can you tell if any of your game saves are locked?  You can't... at least not easily.  The only way I've ever been able to determine it is to highlight a save and hit triangle.  If the 'Copy' option is grayed out you've probably got a locked save.  Like I said, not too many games use locked saves these days, but all the work I put into unlocking songs and extras in DJ Hero 1 & 2 went down the drain.
4. Your game data is gone.
I knew I'd have to redownload all the games I'd purchased, but what I didn't expect was that none of my game data would make the trip over to the new hard drive.  Your game data is separate from your game saves.  Game data is all of the "other" stuff that gets saved to your PS3's hard drive.  Game installs from disc-based games and downloadable games have to be re-installed.  I'd forgotten what a joy it was to load Gran Turismo 5 with it's 40-minute mandatory install.
5. You've redownloaded your games, but don't forget to patch them.
Something else that came as a surprise was that even though I had to download fresh copies of my games, the games weren't patched!  Redownloading patches for my disc-based games makes sense after loosing all of my game data, but when I download a fresh copy of a full game I expect it to come fully patched.  It took a while to download Burnout paradise, but it took even longer to download all the patches that have come out since its' 2008 release.
6. Your metadata is gone.
This was one of the bigger bummers for me.  While I was disappointed to have lost the video content I purchased from the Playstation Store, it wasn't a huge deal to me because I had far more video that I had ripped and copied to the Playstation myself.  This was all backed up and restored intact except for one small annoyance that turned out to be a big hassle to fix.  I had organized all my videos, games and music into folders.  These folders are created and applied on the PS3 and evidently that information is not encoded into the PS3's copy of the file because after the restore my folders were all gone.  This may not sound like a big deal, but when you've got 200GB of content heaped into a pile with no way to make sense of it, the only thing you can do is sift through it file by file and place each item into a new folder one at a time.  The songs I had on the drive had all been shaken loose of their playlists, TV shows jumbled and all the file names reverted to what they were when I originally copied them over to the PS3.
7. Your trophies are OK
On the plus side, even if your game saves were locked and they didn't get transferred over, your trophies should remain intact.  So long as you made a point to go through with that mind-numbing 'sync trophy data with server' every once in a while.
8. Re-registering your device may result in happy bonuses.
It's not all gloom and doom.  If you're restoring to a new PS3 or replacement unit re-registering your unit with some services like VUDU or Amazon Instant video may garner you a complimentary credit with the service.  VUDU gave me a $5.99 credit (enough for a free HDX rental) and Amazon gave me $5.

8.22.2012

A Short 'Psy' Primer

Allow me to bring you up to speed.  

This is Psy:

Psy is a Korean pop star.  On July 15th, Psy released a song called Gangnam Style.  Gangnam is the name of a fashionable/trendsetting district in Seoul.  Psy is hilarious.  The Gangnam Style video is also hilarious.  It currently has almost 50 million views on YouTube.  



Here is the English translation of the song lyrics:
A girl who is warm and humanly(?) during the day


A classy girl who know how to enjoy the freedom of a cup of coffee

A girl whose heart gets hotter when night comes

A girl with that kind of twist 
I’m a guy
A guy who is as warm as you during the day

A guy who one-shots his coffee before it even cools down

A guy whose heart bursts when night comes

That kind of guy 
Beautiful, loveable


Yes you, hey, yes you, hey

Beautiful, loveable

Yes you, hey, yes you, hey

Now let’s go until the end 
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style

Oppa is Gangnam style

Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style

Eh- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh 
A girl who looks quiet but plays when she plays


A girl who puts her hair down when the right time comes

A girl who covers herself but is more sexy than a girl who bares it all

A sensable girl like that 
I’m a guy
A guy who seems calm but plays when he plays

A guy who goes completely crazy when the right time comes

A guy who has bulging ideas rather than muscles

That kind of guy 
Beautiful, loveable


Yes you, hey, yes you, hey

Beautiful, loveable

Yes you, hey, yes you, hey

Now let’s go until the end 
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style
Oppa is Gangnam style, Gangnam style

Oppa is Gangnam style

Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style

Eh- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh 
On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby


I’m a man who knows a thing or two

On top of the running man is the flying man, baby baby

I’m a man who knows a thing or two

You know what I’m saying 
Oppa is Gangnam style
Eh- Sexy Lady, Oppa is Gangnam style

Eh- Sexy Lady oh oh oh oh
Here is a parody video called Hongdae Style.  Hongdae is short for Hongik Daehakgyo which is another part of Seoul.



Here is a short spoof using characters from the popular Valve game Team Fortress 2.



Here is a heavy metal remix.



And of course, the obligatory Dubstep remix.



For some real insight into Psy, check out this opinion piece from The Korea Times.  And to travel further down the rabbit hole of weird, related videos, head over to Know Your Meme.