The Tetris Effect

First, an apology in advance for the title of this post. It’s not about the actual “Tetris Effect”, where people find themselves subconsciously fitting things from daily life into order as one does with Tetriminos. Nor is it about the game Tetris Effect, though that game is what inspired me to write this post. Well, it is about the game a little bit, I suppose.

I’ve been playing video games for a long time. Longer than many of the PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox One generation has even been on this planet. Tetris was the first video game I ever owned, when I got my Nintendo GameBoy, and I quickly took to it and enjoyed the challenge of fitting those blocks together, and I got pretty decent at it. I never became a Tetris “expert”, but I certainly wasn’t a rookie anymore, either. That simple game led to a lifelong video game hobby, which continues to this day.

Fast forward thirty years or so. Out of nowhere, the puzzle game bug bit me again, and I realized that I didn’t have any puzzle games for my PS4, which has been my system of choice lately. So, I recently discovered the game Tetris Effect and promptly added it to my collection. All of those Tetris memories came flooding back, and I took to the game again as if the many years since I’ve last played it with any regularity hadn’t passed at all. The game itself is a fantastic new iteration worthy of the Tetris name. The gameplay remains virtually the same as the original version, outside of a few new features. After all, it’s hard to improve upon perfection. Tetris Effect is a sensory immersion of music and color, synchronized to your actual gameplay. The word ‘synesthesia’ is often used in reviews of the game, and it’s easy to see why. The presentation is mesmerizing and hypnotic, and it seems odd for a puzzle game, but you actually go through emotional shifts while playing because of it. It sounds crazy, but that’s how the game is. Tetris with the feels. Who knew?

Not your 8-bit Tetris

And somehow, all of that preface is still not the point of my rambling here. As I mentioned, I am no Tetris rookie. As much as I love the game Tetris Effect, it has one strike against it: the difficulty is too high. Tetris Effect has what’s called a “Journey” mode, which is basically several multi-phase stages of increasing difficulty. No big deal, and something to be expected of a video game based on player skill. The problem is that the difficulty of the “Beginner” level of Journey mode is set too high. Now, I don’t expect to be able to just walk through a game even at its lowest difficulty setting, and I do want a challenge, but a few stages in the Beginner level are enough to make me and my moderate Tetris skill want to rage quit. This includes the final stage needed to clear the Journey mode of the game. Of course I expect a challenge, but the difficulty is unforgiving for a beginner. I’m sure the idea is to give a sense of accomplishment once the level is completed, but in my case it’s just a sense of wanting to get past it so I never have to deal with it again. I haven’t completed the final stage on Beginner level yet, but who knows… if I keep at it in other modes for a while to brush up my skills a bit more, maybe I’ll be able to. Thankfully, Tetris Effect also has “Classic” modes recreating the original Tetris gameplay experience, which lets me enjoy the game as I did back in the early 1990s.

Better still is the “Quick Play” option, offered as one of the “Relaxing” play modes. Here I can choose any of the stages I unlocked on the Journey, which for me is all but the final one (plus one of the secret ones I discovered how to unlock), set a constant falling speed as fast – or as slow – as I want, and decide how many lines I need to clear the stage. All without a game over. If the field fills up, it just clears and I keep going until I meet the line goal. Truly relaxing Tetris, and the perfect mode for me. It makes up for nearly all of the frustrations I have with Journey mode.

And that is what dawned on me as I was working my way through the Beginner level of Journey in Tetris Effect. My reason for playing video games has changed since the early 1990s when I took my GameBoy out of the box and plugged Tetris in for the first time. I now play video games as a form of escape. I don’t want extreme difficulty. I want something fun to play for a while, with enough challenge to make me think about what I’m playing. I want to play interactive stories with interesting characters and puzzles to solve, but I don’t want to have to worry about a “Game Over” waiting for me the instant I make a tiny mistake. I want to enjoy being in a different world for an hour or two when I sit down to play a video game. That may be one reason I’ve started gravitating towards puzzle platformers – the descendants of games like ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, both of which I still have yet to complete! They tend not to be difficult in the traditional sense, instead relying on problem solving skills to progress through the game. It also helps that most of them are based around a certain style and theme, and are presented almost more as works of art than games.

There is a fair stack of third-person adventure video games waiting for me in my collection, and a couple of “Metroidvanias”, too. If normal difficulty proves to be too frustrating early on whenever I finally start them, I have a feeling I’ll be switching to the easiest difficulty setting and restarting them, if it’s an option. If I can change the difficulty setting mid-game without having to restart, even better. I want to enjoy the stories, rather than be risking a Game Over at every turn. The same would apply for games of other genres too, I expect. The exception being (J)RPGs, probably. Usually I can crack the code for those and figure out how to exploit their leveling systems to my advantage.

My enjoyment of video games hasn’t gone anywhere, but Tetris Effect somehow made me realize that what I want from them has changed. That’s something I definitely wasn’t expecting.

2020 Playlist Year in Review

2020 has been a year to forget. It even has drained much of my motivation for coming up with blog posts. Hopefully I can turn that around a bit in 2021. But the music still went on! Did a year like no other change my listening habits at all? Let’s find out…

It’s time once again to check out my yearly totals from last.fm. A large part of my listening is shuffle play as I sit at my computer, but starting in 2016, offline albums are included. About the only things not included in these tallies are streaming internet radio and whatever I listen to in the car. Enough explanation; on to the numbers!

And because I can, I’m expanding to Top 20 this year. Why not?

Top 20 played artists, based on individual song play counts

  1. Genesis (311)
  2. Pet Shop Boys (311)
  3. Anthony Phillips (267)
  4. Porcupine Tree (256)
  5. Steven Wilson (214)
  6. Steve Hackett (153)
  7. Joe Hisaishi (141)
  8. Yes (135)
  9. Pink Floyd (115)
  10. Shinkichi Mitsumune (108)
  11. J.A. Seazer (107)
  12. Peter Gabriel (102)
  13. Yasunori Mitsuda (95)
  14. Nine Inch Nails (90)
  15. Nobuo Uematsu (88)
  16. Renaissance (87)
  17. BABYMETAL (85)
  18. “Weird Al” Yankovic (78)
  19. Takayuki Negishi (78)
  20. TORIENA (78)

Top 20 played-from albums*, based on individual song play counts

  1. Steven Wilson – Hand. Cannot. Erase. (67)
  2. Genesis – The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (42)
  3. Anthony Phillips – Field Day (33)
  4. Kou Otani – Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Operation 1 Soundtrack (32)
  5. Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein – Stranger Things Original Soundtrack (32)
  6. Michiru Oshima – Little Witch Academia Original Sound Track Archive (32)
  7. Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas (31)
  8. Hiromi Mizutani – Non Non Biyori Soundtrack (30)
  9. Joe Hisaishi – Princess Mononoke Soundtrack (28)
  10. Kensuke Ushio – Boogiepop and Others Soundtrack (28)
  11. Roger Waters – The Wall Live 2010-2013 (27)
  12. J.A. Seazer – Revolutionary Girl Utena OST 11: I, Revolution Pharsalia <transformation> (26)
  13. Yasunori Mitsuda – Chrono Cross Original Soundtrack (26)
  14. BABYMETAL – METAL GALAXY (25)
  15. Porcupine Tree – In Absentia (25)
  16. Akira Takemoto – Serial Experiments Lain Bootleg Soundtrack (24)
  17. The Chipmunks with David Seville – Christmas With The Chipmunks (24)
  18. Michiru Yamane – Castlevania: Symphony of the Night Soundtrack (24)
  19. Yasunori Mitsuda – Xenosaga Episode I: Der Wille zur Macht Soundtrack (24)
  20. Masashi Hamauzu – Final Fantasy XIII Soundtrack (24)

*this is not the same as most-played albums! For this list, every time a song plays is a “vote” for the album it is from, whether in shuffle mode of my entire playlist or listening to the album all the way through, with each play of a song counting once. Or to put it another way, it’s easier for an album with fifteen short tracks to climb this chart than one with five long ones, for example.

There is no top songs list because there is too large of a sample size of individual songs for such a list to have any real meaning. My shuffle playlist is designed to avoid overplaying any particular song, so I have many songs with the same number of play counts over any particular time span. If you’re really interested in these numbers though, see my last.fm library.

Also, you can compare this list to 2018 or 2019. Summaries for years prior to that are on my now-closed tumblr, though I have them archived locally for posterity.

It’s (Back)log!

Despite the relative lack of activity on this blog recently, my anime hobby hasn’t gone anywhere. If anything, it’s found a bit of a resurgence these past few months, being stuck at home most of the time now thanks to the global pandemic. With cabin fever eventually came the desire to add a new stack of titles to my already robust backlog.

But how much is there sitting on my anime shelf waiting for me to watch? I finally decided to find out. So here is a list of everything sitting on my anime shelf that I haven’t watched yet. Some I’ve had for literally years, and others I recently ordered and am still waiting for them to arrive. This list does not include my streaming watchlists. Since I don’t “own” those shows, they’re not part of my actual collection. I’m old school and still prefer buying discs whenever possible.

My current anime backlog as of this posting:

  • Beyond the Boundary
  • Beyond the Boundary -I’LL BE HERE- Past
  • Beyond the Boundary -I’LL BE HERE- Future
  • Brave Witches
  • Captain Earth
  • A Certain Scientific Railgun S
  • The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
  • The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan
  • Eureka Seven: Good Night, Sleep Tight, Young Lovers
  • Evangelion 1.11: you are (not) alone.
  • Evangelion 2.22: you can (not) advance.
  • Evangelion 3.33: you can (not) redo.
  • The Familiar of Zero (Seasons 1-4 & OVA)
  • Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight!
  • The Garden of Words
  • Gundam Build Fighters: Battlogue
  • Gundam Build Fighters: GM’s Counterattack
  • Gundam Build Fighters Try: Island Wars
  • Hidamari Sketch x Special
  • Hidamari Sketch x Honeycomb
  • IDOLM@STER Xenoglossia
  • In This Corner of the World
  • InuYasha The Movie 4: Fire on the Mystic Island
  • Kase-san and Morning Glories
  • Lucky Star (TV & OVA)
  • Made in Abyss
  • The Melancholy of Haruhi-chan Suzumiya
  • Metropolis
  • Momo, The Girl God of Death
  • Nobunaga the Fool
  • Nyoron! Churuya-san
  • Paprika
  • Rental Magica
  • Revue Starlight
  • Sailor Moon Crystal
  • A Silent Voice
  • Space Patrol Luluco
  • Steamboy
  • Strike Witches The Movie
  • Strike Witches 501st Joint Fighter Wing Take Off!
  • Tokyo Godfathers

…yeah, that’s a lot of anime. I don’t think I missed anything, except maybe a spinoff or two that might be included as an extra, but I tried to count all those, too. I think I’ll have plenty of new things to watch for the next few years.

By the way, if you feel compelled to chime in on any of these titles waiting for me, I welcome your thoughts, but please… absolutely no spoilers!

New Albums in my collection: April – June 2020

>> BAND-MAID: Conqueror
They may dress as maids and address their fans as “master” or “mistress”, but don’t let that fool you. These girls can put down hard rock riffs with the best of them. This is their third full-length album.

>> Vanessa Carlton: Love is an Art
All these years after “A Thousand Miles”, Vanessa Carlton’s writing and playing has matured over time with her own unique style and sound.

>> Momoiro Clover Z: 5TH DIMENSION
Japanese “Limited Edition A” 2CD version of their second album from 2013. The first disc is the album, and the second is half of a concert from 2012, featuring performances of solo songs by each of the members of the group. It also has alternate cover art and comes in a clear slipcase with the pentagon logo. Finding a limited edition version of any idol group CD is a good get for my collection, since usually they are so expensive to import and they go out of print quickly. I found this on clearance from a domestic CD shop who already had imported copies in stock which they must have been sitting on for years. Lucky hidden treasure for me!

>> Hans Zimmer & Benjamin Wallfisch: Blade Runner 2049
Finally a physical copy of the soundtrack for my collection. The wall of ambient synthesizer drones sounded great in the film, and listening to it on a big stereo system is the only way to immerse yourself in the music. The soundtrack also includes the Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley songs heard in the film.

Bonjour Suzuki and Others

“Whiteout” performed by Riko Azuna

I’ve left this blog idle for far too long, so it’s time to get things going again, and what better way than with one of my new favorite songs?

“Whiteout” is the ending theme to the Boogiepop and Others anime series from 2018. It’s written by Bonjour Suzuki, who I know from her theme song for Yurikuma Arashi. Suzuki does not perform “Whiteout”, however. The singer is Riko Azuna, who I did not know about until this song. Between Suzuki’s melodies and Azuna’s voice, to me this sounds like it could have been a Kate Bush song! Azuna sings in a register very similar to Bush, and her inflections are even similar, despite being in another language.

It’s a great piece of music, and one of my newest favorite songs. And as a bonus, the music video has a long take in it… one of my favorite cinematographic techniques!

New Albums in my collection: March 2020

>> Mandy Moore: Silver Landings
An album of introspective and mostly acoustic singer-songwriter material which would sound right at home on the playlist at your favorite college town café (…well, once they reopen someday).

>> Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts V: Together
>> Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts VI: Locusts

These are digital only. A surprise release of two new Ghosts albums, for free! Two different moods are covered in this continuation of the instrumental experiments project. Together is calm and reflective, while Locusts is a bit more ominous. They were created as opposing yet complementary reactions to the uncertain times we’re living in right now.

>> Porcupine Tree: In Absentia
The newly released box set, containing the 2017 album remaster with dynamic range compression and volume limiting removed, available on CD for the first time. Also included are two bonus discs of audio: one with the extra tracks recorded during the sessions but not included on the album, and one with demos. A fourth disc is a blu-ray with a hi-res version of the stereo remaster (with accompanying Lasse Hoile slide show of nightmare fuel from the album’s artwork), as well as the 2003 surround mix from the original DVD-A release, and a feature length documentary chronicling the creation of the album. All housed in a great oversized hardcover book of essays and photos.

>> Renaissance: Turn of the Cards
The latest in the series of Renaissance reissues is one of their landmark albums. A four disc set including the original album remastered (with bonus tracks), and two bonus discs comprising a complete live show from 1974 with a 24-piece orchestra. Also included is a DVD with a new 5.1 mix of the album.

>> Grace VanderWaal: Perfectly Imperfect
>> Grace VanderWaal: Just The Beginning

Here is an example of an artist I liked from what I had heard of them, though I had no idea who they were. Grace VanderWaal did songs for the animated films Next Gen and Wonder Park. I liked both of them, not even realizing they were by the same person. After a little digging, I discovered it was Grace VanderWaal. A singer-songwriter who plays the ukelele and has a big, distinctive voice which belies her age. This is her debut EP and album, recorded when she was twelve and thirteen years old respectively. (She is currently sixteen.) Don’t let her age fool you; this is not Kidz Bop. These are real songs which can appeal to listeners of any age, yet lyrically are relatable to her peers. I had no idea the songs I liked from those films were sung by someone so young.