March 16th, 2005


Please enjoy past-shape future with tradicompo!

For a while now I've been dreaming of a past-shaped future in which traditional crafts and computer technology are fused. I think these visions may have started when I visited Japan for the first time in 1992, and felt I was simultaneously in the renaissance and the 21st century. Soon my ideal image of the future was the sixteenth century... with robots! Shakespeare's London... with Playstations! Floating world Japan... with video games! Since 1999, this vision has rung through my music, which has mixed medieval sounds with electronics. For Kahimi Karie's Journey to the Centre of Me record I went to the newly-reconstructed Globe theatre and asked to be introduced to the musicians who make the music for the Shakespeare plays there. They put me in touch with Bill Lyons and the Dufay Collective. I mixed their sounds with electronics. In the US I put two promising young musicians together and forced them, at musket-point, to make 8 bit madrigals. The result was Shakestation by The Super Madrigal Brothers.

So I was very excited to discover, in the follow-up discussion to yesterday's entry about the paper metaphor in computer games, that Masaya Matsuura, creator of Parappa the Rapper, went on to make a retro-futuristic trad Japanese-themed game featuring a calligrapher-rapper called Mojibri. Mojib Ribon was released in late 2003. I've never played it, but you can see a short movie here. The music sounds great!

Gamespot describes the gameplay like this:

"Like Vib-Ribon, you have a cute little guy running along a line and you're asked to tap out a rhythm based on the line's content -- but instead of music, you're tapping out, or writing down, Japanese kana characters. The game's got a bunch of built-in Japanese passages and tiny stories (written by writer/comedian Seiko Ito), and you choose one before writing... In Mojib-Ribon, you play as the main character Mojibri, who keeps walking on a ring of clouds that continually loop from the right to left. The objective of the game is for you to control Mojibri and write rap lyrics on the clouds by using a large, Asian-style calligraphy pen that's depicted onscreen. Each stage consists of a number of cloud rings, upon which Mojibri can jump from one to the next when all the lyrics are written. The clouds keep on looping, so you can always come back to a lyric if you miss it on the first pass. Once you successfully write down the lyrics, Mojibri will sing along (through a synthetic-synthesized voice)."

It doesn't sound unlike Lute Score, "the video game where you hit the high score by composing lute scores..."! The synthesised voice GameSpot mentions is generated by a program called Hypervoice, developed by NTT-IT for use in PS2 games. Game Science explains: "The software can convert inputted text into spoken words with accents, pronunciation, as well as having both male and female voices. The Linux-based sofware is designed so that developers can quickly and efficiently create spoken output. The program files, sound dictionary and Japanese dictionary (including 200,000 words) occupy 50 megabytes of disc space, with the voices being sampled at 22kHz. The package sells for 300,000 yen."

It's thanks to this software that Mojibri can rap the texts that you enter with your calligraphy brush. (The program is also used in Kumauta, a very popular PS2 game in which you have to teach a polar bear to sing Enka songs. It's apparently screamingly funny, because you can make the bear sing absolutely anything, then watch him in a TV talent show getting rated and reacting accordingly.)

You don't need a Playstation to enjoy tradicompo, though. Hokusai Manga Construction Kit is a Flash-based drawing game based on the wood-block prints of ukiyo-e artist Hokusai (1760-1849). You can place pre-drawn elements -- popular actors from the Floating World, courtesans, houses, bridges, mountains, letters -- and make your own mangas. Just click the red letters at the lower left to begin, then switch palettes by clicking on the black letters top left. Place the elements by dragging them to the picture area, then use the pop-up menu to colour them red or black, flip them over, increase or decrease their size, or erase them. Please enjoy past-shape future with tradicompo!