Non-games have a place too

Owen Sound Sun Times (On)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Nintendo’s DS seemed like a ridiculous idea when it was first revealed; why would anyone need two screens and want to play games with a touch screen?
It turns out millions of people do, and not just games.
In Japan you can improve your calligraphy skills, learn English from zombies, paint by numbers, learn new recipes, practise for any number of tests, improve your skills and almost any major language, and even make and share music all on Nintendo’s DS.
Gaming is looked upon differently in Japan than other markets. Everyone plays video games in Japan, young and old. Since such a varied demographic exists, non-games are quite successful.
Non-games have been trickling over to North America for a few years. The most successful so far has been Brain Age, a non-game devised by a Japanese neuroscientist to help keep your mind healthy. It was interesting, but I just found it made me feel like I wasn’t very smart.
The DS in particular has excelled at non-gaming for the very reason it looked silly at first, the touch screen. The touch screen can recognize writing, can be used as an onscreen keyboard and is just more natural than buttons for non-gaming.
The Japanese market is flooded with non-games and I’ve picked up a few, either to help me learn Japanese, or just for fun.
The non-games that fascinate me are the ones for making music, and the coolest one so far, the Korg DS-10, just came out in Japan and will be coming to North America in October.
The DS-10 is a full-fledged synthesizer/ sequencer for the DS. It’s a recreation of the Korg MS-10, released in 1978. It was a fairly straight forward consumer level synthesizer that was about $700. Now it’s about $50 and it’s on DS. I’ve been playing around with the Japanese version (available from it’s very, very cool, and, conveniently, entirely in English.
While it may sound strange to release a DS version of a vintage synthesizer it actually makes a lot of sense. Synthesizers have been gaining popularity ever since the mid 1990’s. Many popular electronic acts since then have prominently used synths and the practice has spread to mainstream rock, indie rock and metal bands. Now everybody with a DS can try their hand at it.
In University I took an intro to electronic music course where I learned the basics of synthesized music. It helps to understand the DS-10; it can be intimidating. It’s not a game and it won’t teach you how to use it, but if you mess around with it long enough you can figure stuff out, plus any documentation about synthesizers will help.
Here’s how it works:
You choose a file to work on and it gives you 16 different one-bar loops, so 16 different counts of 1, 2, 3, 4 that repeat. Each one of those lets you program 2 separate synthesizer tones with drums. After you’ve set up your different loops they are set up in a grid and you tap one to play it. It’s essentially how all electronic music is made, and it’s all on your DS.
Everything can be customized. You pick the individual sounds of each drum and how the synths sound. Then you program a drum beat and one or two different melodies.
After that’s done you can oscillate the sound through patch editing. It lets you modulate the volume and other parameters to vary your sample a bit. You can then add effects like flange and chorus and even use a touch interface to change how your sample sounds as it plays back, modulating it up and down a variety of scales and modes in real time.
When playing your actual samples you can tap them out and record in real time or you can program them as they constantly loop, showing you your changes. You can even swing the loops so it sounds kind of jazzy.
After you’ve set up a sample you can use the onscreen keyboard to play along with your programmed drums and synths in real-time.
The Interface is very easy to use if you are familiar with either synthesizers or recording equipment, but would probably be intimidating otherwise.
That being said, if you have a DS and you want to get into synthesizers this is a pretty cheap way to do it and it feels more natural than using a computer mouse and keyboard to play a synthesizer.
I’ve finally gotten around to playing The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.
I didn’t have a Nintendo 64, so I missed out when it was new. Well, it’s amazing. I’d started playing it numerous times, but I’ve gotten quite far this time.
At first it feels very confusing and different from 2D Zelda games, but after a couple of Dungeons it all starts to click. It plays just like a 2D Zelda, but in 3D.
I recommend it to anyone who likes Zelda games or action/adventure games. It’s available on Gamecube (though hard to find) and on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
The graphics are showing their age a bit, but everything else about the game still feels fresh. The story is great and the gameplay is fun.
The lock-on targeting system works very well and was a revelation when the game first came out.
I must say though, some of the bosses are very frustrating. I’m in fact stuck on one right now so I’ve been jumping back to Mass Effect.
It’s a big game, but I’ve also been playing it very slowly. I’m still enthralled by it. I love the mix of RPG and shooter elements and the story, animation and voice acting are all remarkable.
Calen Henry is a graduate of Japanese Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.

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