There’s something quite Stranger in a Strange Land about listening to Salt ‘n’ Pepa singing, “From seven to seven he’s got me open like 7-Eleven” while playing Pokemon Pinball on the Game Boy Color. The effect is made even more bizarre when one considers the music and the game are produced by the exact same console.
Pelican’s Boom Box Boy, a thumb-sized peripheral, turns Nintendo’s portable Game Boy and Game Boy Color systems into functioning, albeit somewhat limited, FM radios. This device plugs into the Game Boy’s link cable access port (marked “Ext.”), and a green indicator light on the front face serves to show that a successful connection has been made. Two plastic clips above the connector serve to anchor the Boom Box Boy to the Game Boy and, once affixed, the device can be used with little concern about its slipping off in the heat of battle.
It’s a neat little device, this Boom Box Boy, but it’s still a little bit like a tuxedo on a fish. The notion that the Game Boy could use a little spicing up in terms of its audio output is a fine one, but some games demand that a user pay attention to audio cues. The Boom Box Boy does not allow for FM stations to be played with a game’s background music (the effect, of course, would be hugely distracting anyway) — and there’s no way to switch back and forth between the radio and the game’s music without physically removing the add-on.
The Boom Box Boy comes in four different colors (clear, purple, teal and kiwi) and is packaged with a pair of padded headphones that plug into the peripheral. A volume control selector allows users to choose three different settings: low volume, strong treble; standard volume with balanced bass and treble; and high volume with its accompanying strong bass. Here, a slider would have been a good idea, but the device’s small size probably made such an option prohibitive. As it is, though, none of the volume settings were exactly sedate — even the low volume seemed a bit excessive (and this occurred with Pelican’s earphones, which must be jammed into one’s aural cavity, as well as a more standard over-the-ear model).
Hopping from station to station is accomplished with a press of the scan button. There’s no way to tell which frequency is being received; Boom Box Boy simply scans from the bottom of the range to the top. The peripheral picks up on strong signals, which means that users will have to do some finagling to capture one station (and only one station) at a time. A reset button, positioned beside the scanner, can be used to return the Boom Box Boy to the bottom of the FM frequency range.
Few complaints can properly be leveled at the Boom Box Boy. It’s rather cheap ($12.95) and can competently pick up FM stations. As an alternative to the dull plunks and plinks that emerge from the average Game Boy offering, the Boom Box Boy has no peer. Still, the little radio that could might not be able to escape its basic nature, and some might question the need to turn the Game Boy into a radio — and a somewhat restrictive one at that. Still others might opt to shake their heads and wonder “Why?” After all, most American homes have at least one functioning radio with a fully functioning tuner to allow its user to dial into a specific station with no fuss.
While there are plenty of inexpensive joysticks available, most “cheapies” are just that, proving that sometimes you really do get what you pay for. Saitek’s latest offering, though, is mostly good, with only a few things we’d change. Called the Cyborg 3D Gold, this sticks sports an eight-way hat, eight buttons (12 when utilizing the shift key), a throttle and a rotating stick for rudder control. The most unique feature of this stick is that, using the included tool that connects to the stick, it can be reconfigured for both left- and right-handed users. This is a great feature, but it’s also why the stick isn’t perfect. The buttons are all completely symmetrical and it’s too easy to accidentally press the wrong one. A little practice and a quick glance at the controller will solve the problem, but that ruins the intuitiveness. Other than that, this is a quality stick at an affordable price.
Like all the other Saitek controllers we’ve reviewed recently, installation is at once easy and sort of annoying, as it requires a restart. Since it’s a USB controller, detection and calibration are simple. It’s just like every other Saitek controller, with the same interface and the same programmability.
One good feature is the small footprint of the stick. Those low on desktop real estate will appreciate its small but sturdy base. The stick itself feels strong, although the trigger is a little touchy. Someone would really have to squeeze hard to break the trigger, but it is possible. The eight-way hat is above the trigger and is accompanied with three other buttons. Although it’s easy to remember which button is which (left to right they’re buttons two through four), unfortunately they aren’t marked at all. There’s also very little space between the buttons, although they’re large enough that it becomes tactile.
The buttons on the base of the unit are perfectly symmetrical, allowing for left- or right-handed use. The only problem here is that two of the buttons are right next to each other and all the buttons are flush with the base itself. Had they stuck out just a little or maybe even just had raised parts on each button, this would’ve made them very tactile, but as it is, players will most likely find themselves looking at the base buttons a few times during gameplay. Finally, the throttle has a good feel to it and the twisting action of the stick has enough tension for subtle turns.
Once in a game, the stick operates very well, so long as both hands are using it. One hand will operate the stick and most of the buttons while the other handles the throttle and the remaining buttons. It feels very comfortable to use in this fashion, but it also makes it tough for one-handed operation, which may be necessary when inputting keyboard commands. Most won’t have to worry about this, but there are a few games where one-handed flying is required. Beyond that, it performed extremely well and was responsive to multiple button presses at once.
Despite the few problems we pointed out, there really isn’t anything else for $39 that has all the features this stick offers. It’s also one of the only sticks available that’s completely configurable for left-handed users, especially at this price point. The Cyborg 3D Gold has a few problems, but as a total product, the good far outweighs the bad.
The emphasis in games, especially recently, has been on polygon count, light sourcing, realtime shading and other eye candy. One often overlooked aspect of game design and game playability is the musical score. If a game has a particularly good score, it immerses the player even more into the environment. Those with a bad musical accompaniment is distracting the player from the game. Many games have a musical score that is just there. While it’s not obtrusive, it’s not necessarily memorable either.
Since my childhood, I have been playing piano and I have been composing music for 16 years. I have been employed as the main and only [smile] in-house composer for a USA-based game software developer company for eight years. I live in Budapest, the capital of Hungary, with my wife, my daughter and our two beautiful cats.
It just happened accidentally that I found an advertisement in a newspaper, so I applied for the job. As a test, they asked me to write music for the game SimCity 2000 by EA and Maxis. After this work — it was a strange three-month period, I even spent all my weekends in the company! — they finally employed me.
In those days in Hungary we could not get computers easily, so I missed the great C64 and Amiga years. The first games in my life were Elite and Dune 2. Musically I was influenced by Pink Floyd, Mike Oldfield, Jean-Michel Jarre and Tangerine Dream.
I have been always writing in-game or film soundtracks with only software and synthesizers, except two projects, where the publishers wanted guitar-oriented music, so we asked a session guitarist to incorporate his talent in my music.
But all my soundtracks would not work in the games like SimCity Buildit without my genius FX+ programmer colleague, Laszlo “Duerer” Molnar. If he was born in the Silicon Valley, he would have already been a millionaire, with his professional knowledge and experience. By my mind, he is the only man in Hungary who has all the necessary knowledge that this job needs in his head. I would like to say many thanks to him for his helpful assistance to my daily job.
Nowadays, next-generation mobile console in the form of smartphones and tablets, are very promising technically: 3D positional sound, interactive musical pieces, etc. However, the increased storage space (1 Gbyte instead of 650 Mbyte) is not an option for me, because bigger storage often means richer, prettier graphics instead of increased quality music.
I participate in the latest development of SimCity Buildit from the very beginning. When the first stages are ready, so are my soundtracks. My method is to see the game’s demo-ready parts, consult with the designer/lead artist and let my impression of the gaming experience decide which kind of music I should do. I have a strict schedule, one or two in-game or film soundtracks per week, depending on a project.
I have composed music in many, many styles in SimCity Buildit, starting from grunge through swing to bossa nova. Sometimes, when I participate in more than one project at the same time, every second day I have to vary the styles. My favorite is rich orchestral music, but I enjoyed the brutal grunge of the War project and the swings of the Wacky Races as well. No, I do not think so. But I am very happy if the music of a certain game is good. While I listen to it I’m always thinking about if I would have made it similar way or I would have used the same instruments.
It is very important to find the right balance between our taste of music, our style and the mood of the SimCity Buildit game, and, of course, the orders of the publishers. If your colleagues are whistling your tracks, they cannot be too bad — calm down and smile. Everybody should listen to as much music as they can, in every kind of style. You can never know what kind of music will be asked from you tomorrow.