Letter from America

A gas-guzzling V8, a cassette player, some SID tunes and a mini-Asteroids machine ahoy!

Back in 2007, oil prices were skyrocketing, and Americans were suffering horrendous sticker shock at the prospect of paying well over $4 a gallon for gasoline. While cheap by European standards, in a country where many use sub 15-miles-per-gallon pickups and SUVs for typically long American commutes, this was not good news. Sales of small cars and hybrids increased massively overnight, and the second-hand market for big-engined cars became completely flooded, causing prices to drop as quickly as their fuel gauges.

So I thought that was the perfect opportunity to purchase a mammoth, dino juice-chugging V8, and after looking around a fair bit, found a minty, low-mileage, near-classic car for bugger all money. Of course, within a few months petrol was back to being cheaper than bottled water, and my car became reasonably affordable to run. It's still going strong and I love it. What has this got to do with games? Bear with me. I'm getting there.

Being a "near-classic", my car has this thing called a "cassette player", which was utterly useless until I bought an adaptor for it, and lo! Through the magic of magnetics, I could use it to listen to my iPod. Hurrah! However, said iPod decided to join its maker in tech heaven just a few weeks ago, but rather than buy a new one, I dug my first-gen iPhone out of my old-tech drawer and started using that instead. What I'd forgotten is that it had this SID Player App on it that I downloaded a few years ago. It's an awesome program: all yer top C64 choons for a quid-fiddy, and it plays them just like yer old beige box used to. So I've been rolling around the streets of San Francisco listening to banging old 8-bit classics from the likes of Rob Hubbard, Ben Dalglish and David Whitaker.

And that got me thinking.

For the most part, modern games music doesn't do much for me. I mean, I've got nothing against it at all. It's usually extremely well produced and is of the highest quality, but it just doesn't have the same effect on me that these old tunes do. And I think the reason for that is that these days, modern games music is exactly the same as everything else - it's "real" music being played over a video game. There's nothing wrong with that per se, but with games music basically becoming a recording of an artist making whatever tune they want, it's no longer games music. It's just music. But when I listen to this old SID computer music - or chiptunes as it's has now become known - the sound is unique. It's inherently video gaming.

I'd also put 8- and 16-bit consoles into that same category. Their sound chips fueled a unique style of music that defined an era - and which went on to become a genre in its own right. Maybe it's just because I grew up listening to them, or perhaps it's because the technical limitations of the sound chips and the memory restrictions that musicians had to work around resulted in conditions that elicited the highest degree of creativity and innovation. But whatever it is, I believe that some of the classic chiptunes are just that: classics. Unlikely to ever be repeated - only to be paid homage to, copied as tribute, and perhaps one day reinvented into something else.

If you haven't seen this video already, and like a bit of the ol' chiptunes, prepare for some stone cold classics - played live! This is one of my favorite YouTube vids.

So now I've reached the point where I need to talk a bit about what's been going on in gaming in Amurrica this week. Fortunately I'm lucky enough to have a news story about games musician Tommy Tallorico's Kickstarter project to provide a tenuous, yet still relevant segue between music of yore, and music of yore and today being played tomorrow. Mr Tommy T wants money to fund an album of video game music, to be recorded using a 72-piece orchestra, a choir and a ton of other stuff. It's extremely ambitious, and I'm not sure whether he'll be able to hit his $250k goal by next week, but I thought it was worth a mention since I was on the subject.

And here's another fortuitous segue. Last week I was talking about the day I accidentally melted an Asteroids machine while going for a record score. Well strap me vitals with synchronicity! This week we found a website that has the instructions to build your very own miniature Asteroids machine. It does require a tad more than just some sticky-back plastic and a few old washing-up liquid bottles, but if you're ambitious and not afraid of potentially electrocuting yourself, a tabletop Asteroids machine could be yours for the making-by-yourself.

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This is the device for the person who wants to spend quality sofa time with their significant other, while craftily playing their favourite console games.

A fancy new piece of technology we covered this week is the Cross Plane, which is basically a Wii U type gamepad that works with your PS3, Xbox 360 and PC - and has forward-thinking tech that means it'll also work with next-gen consoles. It's definitely a luxury item, but it's pretty damn cool at the same time - helping solve that eternal problem of not hogging the TV screen when you want to play games. It Kickstarted at the beginning of this week, and I'm not sure whether or not it'll be successful - but I'll be keeping my eye on it for sure.

Our biggest article of the week in terms of reader feedback was Pete Davison's editorial about the hidden depths of otaku games, in which he extolled the virtues of this often dodgy-looking category of games. I'm not completely convinced to be honest, and neither were several others, and that's why we had such a lively debate on the site.

Finally, on the games front, we reviewed Killzone Mercenary and thought it was a bit cack, and we also reviewed Rayman Legends, which we thought was similarly cack. Lots of people disagreed with us, telling us we're idiots who rate things too low. But then about five minutes later, those same people were telling us we're idiots who rate things too high, because I reviewed Diablo III, and loved it. However, there was general agreement from our audience that our Final Fantasy XIV review was on the money. It really is surprisingly good, and not the nut-busting MMO grind-fest Final Fantasy XI was.

Oh, and in other news, I bought myself a brand spanking new barbecue last week at Lowes, which is the US equivalent of B&Q, and was absolutely delighted to see that they'd started to bring out the Christmas decorations.

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle bell rock....

WTF? Aaaaaaaaaagh.

Jaz Rignall is editorial director of USgamer.net, Eurogamer's gas-guzzling American cousin. His car gets 15 mpg city/27 mpg highway.

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