So let’s talk about the Portal 2 Level Editor.

There’s too much JK Simmons in my life right now. (Stolen from http://thepageofhopes.tumblr.com/)

The Portal 2 DLC “Perpetual Testing Initiative” came out about a week ago, featuring – and sometimes it’s easy to forget just how expansive this DLC is, so let’s go in order – seamless integration with Steam Workshop that lets players distribute, download and play custom-designed maps and stories *directly in-game* without having to install any executable packages separately – a simple yet comprehensive tool that allows even the least-experienced of players to create custom chambers easily (albeit obviously a good deal simpler than their custom-designed-in-blender counterparts), and almost an hour’s worth of new dialogue from JK Simmons as Aperture CEO Cave Johnson. That all would have been fine by itself if they had decided to simply make it all fun and non-canon, but rather than just do that, they decided to go the extra mile and make it as simple as possible by giving the DLC in-universe justification – ie, we technically got new plot/story as well (though not exactly comprehensive).

What makes this DLC *so* cool is that, rather than abandoning the already-existing Portal 2 mapping community, Valve has made it possible for custom chambers built in Hammer (or whatever) to be uploaded to the Workshop’s collection as well. They could have just as easily made the entire system just based off of the new level designer Valve built – ie, all chambers are made from it and downloaded, etc – which is what I *thought* was going to happen. It seemed clear that the system they put together seemed to revolve around the new map builder (with it being most relevant to the Cave dialogue, etc) but no, instead they took that extra step and included everybody.

It doesn’t even really break from the story of the DLC – your character, a hapless tester – seems to be jumping from universe to universe. It can be justified that occasionally you jump into a universe where Aperture is in disrepair, or GLaDOS is in charge rather than Cave, etc.

It’s really the “not knowing what to expect next” aspect of this (plus the ridiculous dialogue) that makes the DLC so enjoyable, which almost makes me wish they had included a system whereby it generates a random testing track by downloading a series of random chambers from the workshop, putting it in your queue and setting you off. (And according to Reddit, I am not alone in this desire.) Obviously, being able to pick and choose chambers or sets of chambers is nice, but that ability would really make it feel like a “perpetual testing initiative -” you go home and say “let me try another testing track” and then you just go ahead, always getting something new.

But going back to before, where we talked about the map-builder maps vs. maps built in hammer, I gotta say there is a certain level of disconnect. The map-builder is great, but it’s clear that there are a number of limitations that are preventing it from being as great as it *could* be. Namely, I think the goal should be to, over time of course, narrow that gap between the two kinds of chambers until it is less noticeable. Now I’m not complaining at all, mind – note as I’ve already said that this DLC is awesome and way more than I was expecting from Valve – but I imagine it would be in their best interest to improve the builder over time. Valve has always been one to tweak. If they do, I hope they keep the following things in mind.

Continue reading

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Home again

IMG_1614Just got back from a one-week tour through Europe with the lovely Vassar College Choir. I’ve got one more week before I go back to school, so I may post some stuff here that I’ve been sitting on for a while.

And no, I don’t mean my butt.

Anyway, I’ve got some lovely photos from the trip, so, if you’re a friend of mine on Facebook, do feel free to peruse. Here’s one of my favorites from Paris.

 

 

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An Sléibhte na hÉireann

So I went to Ireland over the summer. It was a really great experience and one I’ll remember fondly for a long time.

While I was travelling on a bus tour through the mountains, this simple melody came to my mind, so I spent a while working on it. I mulled it over for several months, though, because no matter what I tried to do with it, it just didn’t sound right. I simply don’t have MIDI soundfonts that are good enough to capture the sound I was going for. It’s also compositionally lacking, but I gotta tell you, I got nothin’.

So I’m just gonna release it as-is, and if I figure out a way of updating it later on I’ll let you know. It’s called “An Sléibhte na hÉireann” which literally means “the mountains of Ireland.”

Fun fact, though, those of you that listened to “Searching for Sight” will recognize the main motif. I quoted it in “Searching” as one of the related “themes” I was mashing together. (I wrote this before Searching for Sight.)

I have some other big news I’d like to talk about with you guys, and a few pieces I worked on for an electronic music class I think you might dig, but now’s not the time. Stay tuned for updates.

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“Searching for Sight” Updated

I’ve updated Searching for Sight with a new version. Since it started out as an experiment with rhythm and such, I hadn’t really designed it with cohesiveness in mind. This new version fixes that, Adding an introductory part, fixing rhythm errors that had driven me insane, and performing general touch-ups here and there to make it sound better. This new version is great. This is definitely one of the most gritty, “aggressive” things I’ve worked on.


Retroactive note: This is actually a slightly newer recording, from Autumn 2012.

Peace out everyone.

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‘Nother redesign

NewWebsiteCoverArtAt least, for the music page.

First of all, the dang url was fixed so now it’s simply “…/p/music.html” instead of the WAY TOO LONG “music-compositions-arrangements.”

I’m also trimming the page down a ton – a lot of those descriptions were just too damn long, and there were some pieces there that honestly didn’t need to be there. I’m also redoing it so that newer stuff is always towards the top – it was too confusing before. I’m also removing the “vocal” section, since hopefully in the future, more of my compositions will actually be vocal as well.

I’m also changing the metadata cover art that comes with the mp3s when you download them – a prototype of the new design can be seen to the left. This change won’t take place immediately, especially since the actual cover art might change a bit, but this is the general idea – the old art just looked too strange.

In other news, expect a whole batch of new music to be uploaded soon – I’m going to do a new thing where whenever I upload a new piece of music, I’ll do a new blog post about it. That way, anyone who’s actually following this blog will be able to be updated about new pieces of music instead of having to wait.

Peace out y’all!

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SITE REDESIGN!!

WebsiteCoverArtHey guys,

You’re looking at the first major site redesign of Maurus’ Lair!
Why, you might ask, did I perform such an update?
Well, unnamed individual, a couple of different reasons:
One – I got Dropbox, which made hosting my music using box.net and its embedded media player now seem silly.
Two – Helping my mother with her final project – she had to create a multimedia-based web report, and based on my experiences with Blogger, I thought it’d be the perfect thing for her – made me realize that my blogspot theme had by this point become very passé. Having gained a year’s worth of HTML practice designing TCT and OTF’s forums, I realized this simply would not do and got to work designing a new appearance for the site.
So I went ahead and gutted everything – the new design is cleaner and more organized.
The biggest changes, of course, have been to the music page, which has been completely redesigned and features loads of new pieces I didn’t post to the site before. You should definitely go check it out.

Peace out everyone!

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Music is Awesome and Stuff

DegreesOfFreedom-BetaCoverHey guys, been a while since my last update (but then again isn’t it always?).
I want to announce some new updates I’ve made to the music section on the blog.

Number one, check out the image above. I may have pointed out before that I’d originally like to organize some of my compositions into a demo CD, called “Degrees of Freedom.” (To answer your question- yes, stats pun intended but somewhat liberally reinterpreted.) I’ve always had an idea about what I would want a cover to such an album to look like, and while ideally I would want to design it all myself through a series of several photoshoots, I decided it was still high time I at least made some sort of mockup, so I ventured on over to google images and made a rough cut of my idea. Do you like it? let me know!

First of all, I’ve posted a brand-new piece, “I’m There.” It sounds kind of crappy just yet- that’s because it’s more of a demo version. It’s been sitting around while I tried to figure out what to do with it- I wanted it to be a vocal work, and given that my mic is broken, plus, finding willing vocalists, rehearsing and recording isn’t easy, PLUS I’m not exactly the world’s greatest lyricist, it kind of ended up being too much of a hassle. That’s why it’s strings. I thought strings were a good stand-in for voices until I was able to get vocal tracks. So yeah, it’s not final. I’ll get around to re-arranging it eventually, but I decided I shouldn’t hold back from posting the bare-bones concept sketch (so to speak) So I’ve posted it.

Secondly, I’ve posted another new song- well, it’s not so much a new song as a new arrangement of an OLD song I wrote called Ver Calidus. Some of you early stalkers of mine whom I perhaps do not know may remember this as a piece for flute, piano and voices- it was the only recording I made of it (barring a few updates to that very recording I had made through time), but some of you with whom I went to high school might remember it as a vocal piece with solo violin.
None of these arrangements ever really worked the way I wanted them to, however, so I decided it was time to start from scratch and try a totally new approach. The concept started off as this: “Hey, my musical style seems to have shifted somewhat towards more band/rock oriented pieces. What if Ver Calidus was arranged for a rock band?” So i set off creating a piece that could be conceivably performed by your standard setup of electric guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. However as I was developing it, I realized I got a much warmer, richer sound if I substituted the electric guitar with an acoustic guitar, and with that change came several others that kind of nullified the whole “band” idea, but regardless, the final result was a version of Ver Calidus that had more warmth, soul, and depth than any of its earlier versions did. I’m exceedingly happy with this arrangement and though I may make changes to it over time, I’m very proud of what I’ve managed to accomplish in this arrangement.


Retroactive Note: this is basically an earlier version of “Verdant Spring” on SoundCloud.

Finally, I made a few tweaks to Chao ab Ordo. (Edit: I had posted this tune to my music page earlier) Posting “I’m There” made me realize that the Suite, or at least a barebones version of it, is essentially complete. In reviewing Chao, I realized I hadn’t made some changes I had thought I made earlier. Searching my computer, I sure enough had the workings of an updated version lying around. So, I polished that a bit, and posted this new version. It addresses some issues the piece had before- namely, that the beginning isn’t nearly edgy enough, but also some more minor issues with rhythm and harmony that made it sound less… well, believable before. This new version replaces the old version, because rather than being a new arrangement, it’s really the same piece but with a few tweaks (that I think make it undeniably better). It just sounds very right now, so I doubt I’ll be updating it again any time soon.

Speaking of the Suite- reviewing it made me realize that despite having recently posted an updated version recently, Part I, Ordo Ab Chao… just doesn’t work, somehow. It seems, I suppose, too electronic, and not tangible enough. What’s more is that it still just seems really hard to take seriously, because it still sounds, in my ears, like the work of a young, inexperienced musician who’s just messing around. Some potential remedies for this problem might lie in the fact that though it opens sounding like we’re going to be taken on some epic rock journey, we don’t really hear guitars again. Ever. So, it might help to give it more of a rock edge, reduce some of the weirder electronic stuff to something a bit more traditional, and… more importantly, eliminate some of its undeniable cheesiness.

Retroactive Note: Here’s a remake of “Ordo” I had done earlier that year.

Also, I’ve made a new change to the music page- because I have a very specific order in mind for the page, rather than post updates by date, I’ll mark any piece of music that is new as of the last updating with some kind of indication in red.

So, what might we look forward to in the future? Let me tell you some of the ideas that have been in my head lately, most of which I’ve made a note of on the music page itself. First of all, I think, generally speaking, the rock-inspired re-arrangement of Ver Calidus proved to work very well. And since I’ve wanted to re-arrange Ver Frigidus for, well, longer than I can remember, a similar re-working of Ver Frigidus might be appropriate.
I also have had an idea for a follow-up to Organized Insanity. Basically, let’s pretend Organized Insanity represents the mental state of a young individual whose life seems out of control. (Let me point out that no, that’s not why I wrote the piece and NO, I didn’t write the piece because my life seemed out of control and I wanted to “express myself in music,” even if that sounds cool.) So how would the individual’s mind “sound” after several years have passed, they’ve matured a bit, and have begun to understand their role in the greater society?
I got this idea when I was messing around on a grand piano, playing Organized Insanity, and I realized that if I replaced the main CM-F#M chord sequence with cm-FM, I get something which moves and feels very similar, but sounds much more traditional, and, perhaps, catchy. Catchy enough to be expanded into its own piece, perhaps.
But as of right now that’s still just an idea- but it might be cool to try my hand at writing something with lyrics this time around. So, we’ll see what happens! Stay tuned guys and thanks for following me!

Retroactive Note: Here’s the tune “Organized Insanity” I was referring to, which I’d posted in 2009.

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The absolutely definitive guide to the Zelda Timeline

Seriously. It’s a lot simpler than people think, and yet, people don’t seem to get it.
Let’s start with the basics.
Here are the games we’re dealing with:
LOZ, AOL, ALTTP, LA, OOT, MM, OOA/OOS, FS, WW, FSA, MC, TP, PH, ST.
Excluding SS obviously cuz we don’t know anything about it yet.

So let’s piece together what we do know:

LOZ->AOL
ALTTP->LA
OOT->MM
OOA/OOS
MC->FS->FSA
WW->PH->ST

As we know, OOT is the “originator” of the whole timeline problem due to its split timeline.
As a result, there is the adult timeline, in which Ganondorf has ruined Hyrule but is at this point imprisoned in the Sacred Realm, and the child timeline, in which Link, as a boy, prevents the events of OOT from happening by warning the royal family ahead of time- the royal family is imprisoned by the then-sages, who then send him into the Twilight Realm.

_OOT_
|  |
MM WW
|  |
TP  PH
   |
   ST

Let’s deal with the Four Sword related games right now.
MC, FS and FSA all appear to take place within the same timeline and involve the rise and fall of Vaati. However, with their alternate version of history and incredibly altered origin story and backstory for Ganon, these series of games appear to take place in a separate universe entirely. So we can rest easy and put those three off to the side.

MC _OOT_
|  |  |
FS MM WW
|  |  |
FSA TP  PH
     |
     ST

Now we’re going to get into some of the harder stuff. So let’s take care of something easier first. A lot of the concept art for OOS/OOA and even the backstory of those games as well would appear to suggest that OOS/OOA features the same Link as ALTTP, who, after saving Hyrule, decided to sail the seas and explore other lands. This makes a lot of sense, and my vote is to include those in the timeline for ALTTP.
But even when we string those together, where the heck do they go?
Hear me out, gang, cause this is tricky. OOT was designed as a prequel to ALTTP, so they feature the same origin story- a war in which people attempted to seize control of the Triforce through the sacred realm, which resulted in the Seven Sages sealing Ganon into the Sacred Realm. In ALTTP, Ganon manages to break free of the sacred realm, but luckily, Link is there to stop him just in time.
Now note the backstory for WW- It’s the same up to one point- in WW, the claim is when Ganon broke free from the sacred realm, no hero came to help them, and therefore the gods decided the only way to stop Ganon was to flood Hyrule.
So, lets get this straight- BOTH games take place in the adult timeline. Why? How is that possible? Well, you might argue that the ALTTP series takes place somewhere in-between OOT and WW, but WW makes it pretty clear that once Ganon came back no one was there to stop him. It’s tricky, but it really sounds like the only possibility is that there was somehow a second timeline split at some point after OOT. I wonder if a future game will go into this time-changing event in more detail? That would be really cool! 🙂
To summarize the relationship between ALTTP and WW in a simple, succinct way:
WW takes place in an alternate universe, where the events of ALTTP (namely Link stopping Ganon before he could cause much damage) didn’t happen.

MC _OOT______
|  |  |  |
FS MM WW ALTTP
|  |  |  |
FSA TP  PH  OOS/OOA
     |  |
     ST  LA

Okay, so that’s just about every game. The only ones remaining now are the original games, LOZ (which *I* think should be retconned as “The Legend of Zelda: The Hyrule Fantasy” [which is a reference to its original Japanese name] ) and AOL.
These games were made before a lot of what gives Zelda is rich history was even born, so it’s really hard to place them due to their discontinuity. Crap, you might think, what do we do now?
Aahh ah ah. Fear not, friends. There is some info we can rely on.
What do we know about these two?

1. It must take place in old Hyrule.
A lot of people got excited when ST came out, due to the timeline possibilities that game appeared to open. That concept is unfortunately wrong, though, and I’ll tell you precisely why. Look at the major landmarks in LOZ- they clearly resemble the Old Hyrule we know and love- Death Mountain, Spectacle Rock, The Lost Woods. New Hyrule doesn’t really have any of those- there’s the new Lost Woods but that’s about it. What does it for me is the Hyrule mountain range that appears in almost every game- Death Mountain, and within it, Spectacle Rock, the twin spires that are the home to Ganon’s lair in the original game. So we know it has to take place in Old Hyrule. What else do we know?

2. It must take place in the Adult Timeline.
Wait, what? No, seriously, let me explain why.
In AOL, we see that several towns have, generations later, been named after the Seven Sages that imprisoned Ganon and brought peace to the land. Why is this significant? Because those sages never existed in the Child Timeline.
Remember Twilight Princess- if you were confused as to why the sages were these bright shiny ghost dudes, don’t be. It makes sense. They always existed, and were around even behind-the-scenes in the early parts of OOT. What probably happened was, Ganon, once he became Supreme Ruler Of All Badassery, had the sages all offed as quickly as possible, which is why their places even need to be refilled by the new sages you “awaken” one by one during the course of OOT. Note that since Link got an early chance to rat on Ganon once he was sent back to the Child Timeline, those sages never got offed (except for one of them…) and were in fact responsible for Ganon’s imprisonment in the Twilight Realm as seen in TP, and in fact were still around during the days of TP.
So people in the Child timeline would have never heard of Saria, or Darunia, or any of those folks unless they knew them personally. Becoming the sages that saved the world would of course inspire the towns to be named after them. So it has to take place in the Adult Timeline.

3. ALTTP was originally intended to be a prequel to LOZ.
Hence the title.’Nuff said, really.

So the safest bet is probably that the original two games take place in the distant future of the ALTTP games, and while there’s not that much official info in the games to justify this, it makes a lot of sense. The only other explanation would be a third split timeline, at which point is just retarded.
So let’s see how this looks:

MC _OOT______
|  |  |  |
FS MM WW ALTTP
|  |  |  |
FSA TP  PH  OOS/OOA
     |  |
     ST  LA
         |
        LOZ
         |
        AOL

Perfect! Anyone who wants to challenge me on this is free to do so, but, I think the evidence is pretty undeniable. The only thing I *know* is iffy about this is the placement of LA, OOS and OOA, since those three are pretty much interchangeable. The order of OOS and OOA doesn’t appear to matter, and all we know is that ONE comes after the OTHER, and LA could come either before or AFTER the Oracle games. But that’s not really a huge deal, the important thing is that we understand the timeline.

Bye all!

RETROACTIVE EDIT: So, the official timeline was revealed in Hyrule Historia December 2011. It ended up actually being very close to my prediction! The historia revealed that there was indeed a second timeline split after OOT, as I had predicted – the split is caused by Link failing in his final confrontation with Ganon, forcing the sages to handle the sealing of the triforce themselves. The only thing I got wrong was MC -> FS -> FSA, which is worked into various points across the official timeline. How cool!

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The blog is back!

That’s right guys, I’ve finally managed to move the ol’ blog. After my MobileMe account got deactivated, I long considered getting a new one, but never really got around to it. Once I realized how convenient Blogger was, though, I  went ahead and copied all my old posts and their relevant dates into this new blog.

I didn’t bother changing anything- no, I’m not entirely proud of some of the older posts I’ve made, but since this is a continuation of that blog, I don’t feel it’s right to change what’s already been written.

I still plan on putting my music back up- I’m not sure how I’m going to accomplish that, however- my old website was essentially two separate feeds, one for my rambling and another for my music.

Once I figure it all out, however, I’ll post everything back up to the best of my ability- I even have some new stuff for you guys to hear.

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Hey party people in the place to be.

MikeFarahnBillyHuh. Does that mean I can’t use that as a title anymore?

Anyways, for those of you who may be reading this on Facebook, this is actually my personal blog on my website (link on my profile) which I’ve synced up with FB so that every time I post a new blog entry it is brought up as a note. It’s a cool feature.
Anyways, hi.

For a while I thought I was actually just basically doing this site to amuse myself, but I recently received a few comments from people I know about it, so I figure maybe I do have an audience after all.

Anyway, I’ve been working on a newer piece of music for a while now. It’s actually been about a year in the making to be honest- and it’s gone through many many different changes as I kept retooling it over the years. My aim is to ultimately make something that anyone can listen to and appreciate that still explores interesting musical realms. I was inspired mostly by Prog Rock but I think Red by Crimson was specifically the song that kinda pushed me over the edge into the realm the song currently resides. It was kinda dopey at first but as I’ve continued to retool it, I think I’ve finally started actually really liking it. It’s an area I like a lot and I think you will too, but I need to finish it first.
One thing I think is funny is that as I kept working on it I became less dependent on using stock drumbeats- I actually started synthesizing my own using Garageband’s toolkit of individual drum sounds. It’s kind of liberating. Once you know what you’re doing, you have a lot more control over how you want your piece of music to sound.
Anyway, I started playing Halo recently and it’s a lot of fun. It’s actually got a very interesting story, and being myself a bit of a Doctor Who and Star Trek fan, it was a fun story to sink your teeth into. The music is absolutely mind-blowing, though. While listening to Martin O’Donnell’s main theme for Halo, try to count the amount of influences you can hear. There’s a LOT, and he blends them seamlessly, which is REALLY cool. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say the music he did for Halo is WAY better than the music Michael Giacchino wrote for the newest Star Trek movie. Also: I typically think rock songs showing up in video games can be annoying a lot of times, especially “guest” pieces, but O’Donnell actually handles the mixing for the songs in Halo 2 very well in my opinion. Whereas the originals themsevles would have been painful to hear in-game, the mixes he produced to use in the game are actually really good, and appropriate.
Do you know he was also the casting director? What a renaissance man.

Anyway. Peace out you guys. Reccomend good movies for me to watch this summer. (Like not new movies, but movies that are good.)

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