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April 3, 2006

Filed under: gaming»hardware

The Old Ways

Does it make me strange that I like the way the current DS looks? That I'm not really at all tempted by the DS Lite? I'll admit that I wasn't impressed with the first set of products--who has ever liked that cheap-looking silver paint? But the Electric Blue is, I think, very striking, and I like its size and design. I also like its concave buttons and shallow, precise d-pad. The weight has never been a particular problem, luckily. My only issues have been a sticky right trigger I had to clean, and considering that my DS spends a lot of time being jammed into a tote bag with all of my other random gear and grime, that's a pretty good build record.

Much the same way, now that I think about it, that I like my cheap Nokia cell phone. The phone has no features, practically. No camera, basic color screen, no clever buttons, no .mp3 ringtones. But it feels good in the hand. It's just the right size and weight to be substantial when gripped in one hand. Maybe the DS Lite will win me over once I can physically try it out. But I have to say, I'm a little saddened by the idea that the old model will fade away in a few months.

December 28, 2005

Filed under: gaming»hardware»control

Circuit Bent

You are looking at the new remote control for my computer. When I read a while back that the xBox controllers are just USB devices with a funny plug, I knew eventually I'd be buying one, even though I don't own Microsoft's jumbo-sized console (nor do I feel any particular urge to do so). Much to my surprise when I picked up a used wireless Pelican pad, I also discovered that the same programmer who reverse-engineered the xBox controller drivers had created an effective key-mapper for Windows, including mouse control. I've been looking for one of those for years.

I don't play console games on my PC, and I don't really want to. What I can use the Pelican to accomplish (when it works, because apparently it isn't really the most reliable hardware) is to run my .mp3 player, along with my DVD player and occasional light web browsing. That sounds pretty trivial, but the ability to move around my playlist while the computer is locked, or to pause a movie from across the room (my PC is my only DVD player right now) is uncommonly handy. It's cheaper than a "real" wireless computer remote, and all it took was some soldering.

This is probably how hardcore circuit-benders start. Circuit-bending is the repurposing of everyday electronics for new tasks, often musical--Speak N' Spells that act like synths, Furbys that sing as a chorus, and keyboards that don't really key any more. My xBox pad doesn't do anything near as complex, or require anything near as much skill. But now I've started thinking about new applications for it, just with software. There's a program called Rejoice that controls midi instruments with a joystick--with the dual thumbsticks, could I create a virtual theremin? Could I run a drum machine, even down to individual drums (kick on the triggers, snare/toms on one stick, and hat/cymbals on the other, with samples on the buttons)? What about a synth? And perhaps most interesting, because the gamepad has become pretty a widely accessible control mechanism, could I just hand it to an audience member and invite them to join the show?

Ever since I started working on Electroplankton as a musical tool, I've become more and more curious about using games to redefine the relationship of performers, instruments, and audiences. After all, I could probably give someone a 30-second tutorial in the Luminaria or Lumiloop, and then turn them loose for a jam. There used to be a band called Dog Talk that would pass out percussion instruments during its shows, so that everyone could be a part of the music. If my experimentation works out, audience members for the Four String Riot may be able to do the same, but with a circuit bent twist. If you were there, would you join in?

November 16, 2005

Filed under: gaming»hardware»control

DrumPad update

I'm still working, off and on, with getting my gamepad drumkit running. The Pelican has been ditched for an outlandish Spider-man pad ($20 and more reliable) which you can barely see in my last studio shot. It's ugly, but it works, and it matches the new bass.

Here's the point: before I was interrupted by the new job and a host of other priorities, I had built the basic skeleton of the drum machine in Excel using Visual Basic for Applications. I did this for three reasons: Excel has a warm place in my heart as a prototyping framework, VBA is quick and easy, and it's a reasonably portable build without resorting to Java--I'm convinced that Java is a language designed by spiteful CS professors just to annoy me.

However, I'm running into two problems and a possible solution. The first problem is latency, which may be due to the ControlMK application, because I didn't seem to have any problems with it when I just used the keyboard to play the kit. I can handle a slight delay in the controls, but too much and my drummer will sound permanently drunk. Realistic? Perhaps. But too frustrating for the audience member using the pad.

Second, VBA--and possibly Visual Basic, period--doesn't have an easy way to mix non-blocking sounds. The kit plays fine from the keyboard, but only one sound can be heard at a time. I need at least two sounds at once (kick and snare, for instance), and optimally three (both "hands" and a "foot").

Now, the possible solution is that I do have a free copy of Visual Basic.net, ordered through some twisted Microsoft promotion. Once it's installed, and I work out all the kinks with my laptop and the .net VM, I could have a real programming environment instead of just a handy scripting language. But I'm guessing I still need a library that will handle joystick input and sound output to conquer my problems.

Let's make something clear: I really don't want to learn how to open and lock displays, or initialize subsystems, or do my own mixing. I haven't done hardcore programming in a long time (nor do I want to), and when I did it was mainly clever greyscale hacks. Surely there's something out there that can do the heavy lifting for a simple task like triggering .wav files, right? Any suggestions?

Future - Present - Past