Sunday, June 28, 2009

A final thought on the King of Pop.

Oddly enough, when the news broke about the cardiac arrest of Michael Jackson, I was out walking down Sawtelle in Santa Monica, very close (about a mile!) to where the UCLA Medical Center is. I got a text from a friend on my way back to my friend's apartment, saying that he was in the hospital.

When I got home and logged into Facebook, everyone was already shitting a brick, saying he was dead. Very soon after that, I could hear a hornet's nest of news helicopters buzzing overhead.

Now, my own history with Michael Jackson goes WAY the hell back. I can remember being eight years old and returning to Tucson after I had returned from Guam with my mother and sister. We stayed with my grandparents, one aunt and two uncles in a pretty big house. My 20-something aunt had cable in her room, and of course she was an MTV addict. When the TV wasn't on blasting the videos for either 'Beat It' or 'Billie Jean', she'd rock either Off The Wall or Thriller on her turntable. I remember thinking these songs were awesome, even though I was much more into rock (the likes of Def Leppard and Quiet Riot were my faves). Later I can remember renting videocassettes with my uncles and usually begging to bring home The Empire Strikes Back (of course) and Thriller. Even though I thought the zombies were scary, I thought it was a really cool video.

Of course, I got older. Hip-hop, the likes of Run-DMC, NWA, Public Enemy, and the like took hold, and Thriller wasn't exactly on the top of my playlist anymore. But every time I heard one of those old gems on the radio, like Rock With You or Don't Stop 'Till You Get Enough, I would stop and listen, enjoying a ridiculously talented blast of pop genius.

As for the dark side of Michael, I don't think anyone has a monopoly on the truth regarding all the accusations. Michael had demons thanks to a terribly abusive childhood, and as a good friend of mine said, probably led an unbelievably lonely life that led him to some bad decisions. That doesn't excuse what he may have done, but I really don't think that the outpouring of remembrance of him now in the wake of his death has a lot to do with the man and his own failures.

So many people have memories just like mine. MJ's music cut a swath through American culture that really did unite everyone, regardless of race or what genre of music they usually listened to. He was the first black artist to seriously rock MTV's playlist, and probably had a lot to do with the eventual crossover of hip-hop. He paved the way in so many countless ways it's really staggering to behold. More than anything though...the music itself stands. Timeless. Songs that can be played in any club on Earth and still cause those in attendance to hurry back to the dance floor to shake their asses even if they were on their way out.

Has anyone been able to dance like that since? Fuck no.

Given the splintered nature of music consumption thanks to the Internet, we just may never see another undisputed global superstar like him ever again.

Remember the music, and blast that shit as loud as you can.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Devastation recap, California dreamin'.

Man, I've been bouncing around the Southwest United States like a cannonball the last 96 hours, most of which were spent at the massive Devastation event in Phoenix. The event itself was a bit chaotic, with somewhat underwhelming attendance and kind of a mess for those who simply wanted to watch the action. The competition itself was quite tough though, as the overwhelming majority of California fighting game pros and some other notables (Justin Wong, Mad Dog Jin) were there to make an impact.

I myself played in the Super Street Fighter II Turbo HD Remix tournament. For those who don't know, Super Turbo was the last variation of the original Street Fighter II, and is still an immensely popular tournament game worldwide. My first match wasn't too difficult, and then I found myself matched up with a well-known California pro. His name was Ricky Ortiz. I actually didn't know precisely who he was when the match began, but I had a feeling he would be good because I saw him with some folks whom I had heard of.

The weird thing about these matches is that sometimes, something that happens really early can dictate the entire course of the bout. I picked Chun-Li, my favorite character since 1991. He picked Ryu, who is a very solid choice in that game. I decided to test him very early, pushing him back with a fireball and then attempting to jump in on the top of it. Now, Ryu should be able to easily uppercut Chun out of her flying forward kick, but Ortiz whiffed it, and I noticed him slap at the buttons on his stick angrily after missing what for him should have been a very easy counter. I got bold. I felt like I could run my pressure game with Chun-Li and keep him corner trapped. I beat him 2-0 (best out of 3) and felt really good. Unfortunately, that was short-lived, as I ended up playing another guy who executed very well and knocked me out with M. Bison. I got a win in the loser's bracket.

My buddy Sebastian, who earned the nickname The One-Handed Terror of Tucson by becoming perhaps the highest-profile Street Fighter player to ever come out of the Old Pueblo, came to play Street Fighter IV. However, he also played in my tournament and in fact was the one to end my run in the loser's bracket. Believe me, if I have to lose, there's no one on Earth I would rather fall to. He also did well in SFIV, finishing somewhere between 13-17th after getting knocked out by a very tough Dhalsim.

After this, we hit the road for California. When we arrived at his place, which is about a mile from the beach, I was blown away. The high was 70 degrees and I could smell the ocean on the breeze. Flat-out amazing after being cooped up for three days in the sweltering concrete basin of mediocrity that is Phoenix. I got up early this morning, got a fantastic breakfast burrito at a local taqueria and headed for the water and sand.

More later.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Devastation Week: The Pre-Ramble

This is a very big week for Arcade-In-A-Box, the company I work for by building custom-made arcade-style controllers for the XBox 360/PlayStation 3. We will be heading up to Phoenix for the very large Devastation event, which is basically three days of tournaments, the four largest of which will offer the victor a $2,000 grand prize, plus the players' cash pot.

Now, those are the bare facts. For most of you who may read this, a lot of that didn't make a whole lot of sense. I will attempt to boil down the nearly twenty years of the US arcade fighting game scene into a few spare paragraphs just to try and communicate the intense nature of what this is all about.

The time was March of 1991. The video arcade scene, remembered by most laypeople symbolically through such games as Space Invaders and Pac-Man, was on the way down. Profits had shrunk, arcades were closing, lots of me-too clone games lined the arcades, and players had become somewhat disinterested. The Nintendo Entertainment System, which had come out in 1985, had taken a chunk out of the business and a lot of gamers were content to simply play Super Mario Bros. at home.

Into this malaise came a revolutionary video game, Street Fighter II by Capcom. The game had a more complex control scheme than any other arcade game that preceded it. A joystick and six buttons, three for punches, three for kicks, each movement having a different property of speed and strength. The movements on the joystick would be mirrored by the character's positioning, one would pull the stick away from the opponent to block, up to jump, forward to walk towards the opponent. It was as close to a virtual martial art has had ever been devised, and the game went on to smash every known arcade sales record ever kept. SFII machines not only appeared in arcades, but in grocery stores, convenience stores, laundromats....EVERYWHERE.

Of course, a legion of Street Fighter clones would emerge as Capcom's industry rivals sought to cash in on the craze. They took their share, but the competitive scene around SFII still survived. Street Fighter II had five updates, and the hardcore who loved the game kept honing their skills, finding new avenues to meet up and play for prizes. By the end of the 1990s, the power of the home video game consoles spelled the end of arcades in the United States, but this simply meant that the tournament scene would end up using the home machines to play on at big gatherings as the first decade of the 21st century rolled on.

Of course, the controllers for the home video game consoles are quite different than the controls used on a vintage Street Fighter II machine or any of its numerous sequels. A joypad such as the one that ships with a PlayStation has a radically different feel than a real joystick and six buttons. As the competitive scene gravitated towards the PlayStation 2 and the Xbox, an underground cottage industry was spawned that sought to build arcade panel-like controllers that would duplicate the real arcade feel.

This, of course, is where my boss Ed and Arcade-In-A-Box stepped in. We make controllers that are made of the exact same parts found in all of those dusty arcade cabinets of old. We're getting ready for this big tournament and bringing a load of really sweet sticks for these crazy players to get their filthy paws on.

This week I will be posting a lot of photos and insight from this big gathering. I hope to capture the passion, the fun, the occasional assholish outburst, all of it. It has an energy and chaos all of its own and I hope I can give my readers just a little bit of an inkling into this strange scene.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Living in the moment.

I've been trying to discern what it is that motivates me. As in, a core theme. As I look back on my transient childhood, having moved around a great deal (San Diego, Guam, and back!), there is one thing that I yearn for.


Don't get me wrong, I am NOT someone who looks on his childhood and wishes for pity. I had amazing times as a kid. I had three teenage/young adult uncles who were/are some of the funniest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting. My grandfather is still my absolute benchmark for what it means to be a man in this world. Even though my father wasn't present in my life until I was a pre-teen, as I have grown older, I can now see that I got the better deal because of it. I was raised by a village of excellent, compassionate, loving people. But even in the middle of that huge family, there was chaos. At the center of it, a grandmother who loved us dearly but ultimately fell victim to her own toxic cacophony of alcoholism, emotional turmoil and chronic back pain. My own father's journey through substance abuse. Nine spouses between the two of my parents. Lots of love, but almost equal amounts of upheaval. It sowed within me a near-permanent unease. As much as I love those around me, I have always been someone who waited for the other shoe to drop. Waiting for some kind of dark event to come along and tear up whatever good thing was happening.

It's a hell of a way to live, and one thing that I am desperate to kick. I simply want to be able to feel the moment, relish it, and never look back or around the corner. Bad things in one's life are inevitable. Living in permanent worry offers power to things that haven't even happened.

So if I can make one change this year, it's abandoning this state of worry and simply going about my day with reckless, happy abandon, and simply dealing with the tough stuff when it goes down.