Monsters and Mahjong

In my last post I mentioned going to the retro gaming swap meet in Portland, Oregon. While I was there I talked to Cody and Kelsey, co-owners of Pink Gorilla and hosts of the Game Blitz Podcast about using the studio at my work to film their show. I would be in charge of set design, lighting, audio, recording, basically everything except for on-air talent. They get higher production value and can focus on content while I get hands-on practice in a live-to-tape production environment; everybody wins. Fast forward a few weeks, and…

All-in-all, it went really well. For those of you who are fans of the show and want some background information on the difficulties I encountered, here ya go.

First, the air conditioning system can’t be turned off (at least, not by us), and the servo that controls the airflow is incredibly loud. Luckily, the building management came through at the eleventh hour (6 o’clock) and disabled all airflow to that room during filming hours. Second, I had the studio setup for two people. I didn’t know Raph was going to be on the show until later in the day, so it was a bit of a scramble to get the extra lavalier and transmitter sourced and setup. With the talent in place I started recording and the show got underway. During the intro I noticed Kelsey was sounding faint and echo-y. Turns out her transmitter’s battery had died, so I had to interrupt the intro to replace the battery pack. If you look at the far-left side of the desk you’ll see her transmitter on the desk. That wasn’t originally there, we just forgot to move it after getting it back online. That was three. Fourth was the saturation on the main camera. It was just too high, giving everyone’s skin an intense orange/red color. Apparently no one noticed, but it’s something I could have easily fixed if I wasn’t so focused on problem number five: bad recordings.

The original plan was to have the podcast recorded on a Mac using Wirecast, saving it to a “YouTube-ready” 1080p MP4, somewhere around 15 mbps. I had done literally hours of testing to make sure there would be no problems, and just before starting the show the settings got erased. I re-entered the settings, saved, and hit record. Unfortunately, I didn’t select the new preset, so it defaulted to a low bitrate 720p setting, which looked… it was fine as a backup, but not the quality I wanted to publish. Fortunately, I had two other hardware encoders running, recording ProRes 4444 copies of the show. I managed to screw up both of those recordings as well. The first encoder, a Blackmagic Hyperdeck Mini, filled the first 128GB card and I didn’t finish formatting the second card in time for the recording to transition to the other card, losing several seconds of show. The second encoder, a Atomos Shogun, records to an SSD that didn’t have the same capacity issues that the Hyperdeck Mini did. I was able to record the entire show in incredible quality, but due to the way the Shogun was used in a previous production (before I started working here), audio channels 1 and 2 were muted, resulting in no audio being recorded. After coming down from a mild panic attack, I realized I could combine the audio from the Mac recording and the video from the Shogun recording, sync them to the thump of placing the monster figurines on the table, and ta-dah! I finished product.

There’s a few other improvements I’m looking to make to the next recording, but I feel like I’m pretty close to having a push-button production where we only need a few minutes of setup.

So, Monster Hunter. I had known about it for a long time, and I had always been interested in the booths for it at PAX, but I never got around to playing it. With all the hype around Monster Hunter World, though, I decided to pull the trigger and give it a shot. Holy crap, what an experience. Even though I’m awful at the game, I couldn’t stop playing. The weekend following the Game Blitz Podcast I played about 20 hours over that Saturday and Sunday. I haven’t had time to pick it up since then. As of right now, I need to hunt Diablos, which is close to the end of the main campaign I think.

I competed in two mahjong tournaments recently; one in Vancouver, B.C., and one in Los Angeles, CA. The last time I went to Vancouver for mahjong I ended up finishing second to last, only beating out a player who didn’t show up on the second day and received a 100,000 point penalty. This year, I managed to finish 9th, getting knocked out of the semi-finals by less than 2,000 points by another Seattle club member. All things considered, I wouldn’t have made it to the finals, and playing the extra hanchan for the chance at winning $5 CAD… I think would rather leave the money on the table and enjoy relaxing for the next couple hours.

The tournament in LA was different, though. Hosted by the LA Pride of Mahjong (LAPOM) club, it was a Saki-style team tournament. Basically, teams of 4 share a common point pool. Points were updated in real-time using a web app, developed by the NorCal-based Pacific Mahjong League. The idea was that you could change your play style based on how well your team was doing. If your team was in the lead by a large margin, maybe it’s best to play with an iron defense. If your team is trailing, maybe it’s time to play risky in an attempt to get a huge hand. The event was a lot of fun, and run very professionally.

On the topic of Mahjong, I need to add more content to the MahjongGameDB. I was making good headway playing through まーじゃべんちゃー (a combination of “Mahjong” and “Adventure”?), but there’s a point where opponents get consistent Tenhou Kokushi, so I’m not sure how to get past that part. The other game I started playing was Mahjong Quest, which is unusually kanji-heavy for a Gameboy/Gameboy Color title. Also, I just ordered Mahjong Fight Club for Playstation 3! I played it during the summer for an hour and it was awesome, so I’m hyped to get my hands on a copy of my own. Should prove a huge contrast to the other mahjong console games I have.

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