Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Soul Calibur on Dreamcast

Still the best Sega Dreamcast game ever made, and still very, very impressive.  We're now up to Soul Calibur 4 on Playstation 3 and XBox 360, and, surprise, I'd rather play the Dreamcast original.

Dreamcast was never expected to be taken seriously.  It was supposed to be a simple stopgap to keep gamers happy until Playstation 2 arrived and demolished everything (Sony was at their peak in 1999).  Even the Japanese launch in late 1998 was uninspired.  But something happened on the way to America.  Game developers got interested, a number of terrific arcade games found their way home, and Namco dropped this bombshell.  Overnight, Sega was back in force with their strongest lineup since the glory days of the Genesis.

This is still a spectacular fighting game, one of the very best.  I can't say the same for the sequels, but that's usually how these things evolve.  You have to complicate things, add features, pile on more characters, and always try to do more, more, more.  Sooner or later, the formula just runs out of steam.

Whenever the topic of video games comes up - Marcee really wants to get a Nintendo Wii - I always give the same reply: I'd rather have a Sega Dreamcast.  Dreamcast was always more fun.  Soul Calibur is my #1 reason.

A Few More Thoughts on the 2009 Beatles Remasters

These 2009 remasters are a quantum leap for CD, and dramatically close the gap between the old compact discs and analog vinyl. There's no question on that. It's now at the point where someone without an expensive turntable and cartridge (to say nothing of the high-priced UK records) can be perfectly happy that they're hearing The Beatles' albums as their creators intended.

Naturally, there will always be differences of opinion. To my ears, the 2009 remasters are spectacular and damn near perfect. I think it's as good as compact discs can possibly sound, and when the new digital masters are released on LP, it will sound even better. My first Beatles records were the "1987 digital" versions, and they were a revelation over the crummy CDs.

Do the vintage analog LPs sound better than the 2009 remastered CDs? I think the Parlephones are still the best, but that gap is far closer than it was before. As for the US Capitol pressings...I think the the new CDs beat the Capitols. I have an early press US Abbey Road that is beautiful, and side one of Magical Mystery Tour sounds really great, but that's about it. Capitol LPs are always so dense and muddy. Even the crown jewel of my collection - the mono Sgt Pepper's on Capitol - is needlessly heavy and dark.

The problem, as I've mentioned before, is that the UK records - especially the mono albums - are very expensive. You can purchase the mono or stereo box sets for much less money overall.

I see this as a win-win for everyone. The audiophiles and collectors will continue to seek out the best UK records and have the best sounding Beatles songs anywhere. But now the rest of us have something that is tantalizingly close. To most people on the street, The Beatles have never sounded better.

My plan right now is to save up for the Mono Box, and then hunt down the LPs one by one. I'm crossing my fingers in hopes that the upcoming vinyl LPs really won't be delayed until next Spring. Yes, they are digital, but they will be higher resolution and without the CD compression. They will sound better.

This is the best digital-analog matchup I've ever seen. I only wish all CDs were created with such care.

Hydro Thunder on Dreamcast

Games like Hydro Thunder are what made Sega Dreamcast great.  Now this is how you make a racing game - blistering speed, endless chills and spills, skillful track design, and touches of violence.  There's no effort at "realism," whatever that means.  These are what "arcade games" used to be like.

Midway branched the formula into other avenues - Arctic Thunder, 4 Wheel Thunder - which showed a genuine sense of creativity and willingness to roll the dice on different kinds of racers.  But the original was always the best, and I'm a bit curious why sequels were never created.  The Dreamcast surely could use at least one more, perhaps with 4-player racing.  Ah, well, I'm being greedy.  It's hard to find any faults with such a terrific game like Hydro Thunder.  And if I need my multiplayer fix, there's San Francisco Rush 2049, which is one of Dreamcast's spectacular standouts.

Enjoy the videos, kids.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Beatles Mono Box Set

Woooowwwww.   The Beatles are absolutely spectacular in their original mono.  It's not even close.  It's such a rush to hear all the instruments all in one place, instead of being panned off to one speaker or another.  I've never really liked that '60s stereo sound; more gimmick than anything.  Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin were the true stereo rock pioneers, I believe.  The Beatles, however, focused on monaural for nearly their entire career, right up to The While Album in 1968.

To my ears, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album sound excellent in stereo.  There's a greater attempt to work within the stereo domain, instead of simply shuffling instruments to one channel and vocals to the other.  That was the great crime against the earlier Beatles albums, and they sound soooooo much better in mono.  I'm listening to Revolver and Rubber Soul, and for the very first time, I'm digging The Beatles as a rock band.  Not a musically diverse pop group, but rock in the full, modern sense.  Those albums knock your socks off the way The Rolling Stones and The Who knock you around.

Mono LPs enable stronger bass and drums, thanks to the grooves.  This is one serious weakness of stereo, as any sound engineer will gladly tell you.  You simply can't crank the bass volume too high, or that turntable needle will pop out.  For this reason, mono records very often have more bite and growl in the low end.  And you can hear that on the mono Beatles albums.

It's also a marvel to contemplate the skill and genius required to create layer after layer sound, and have it all come out of one sound channel.  It's stunning to realize that 2- and 4-track technology was cutting edge in the 1960s.  Just listen to Revolver or Magical Mystery Tour in mono, and just be amazed.  George Martin and the EMI engineers were bloody brilliant.

Oh, and mono Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the greatest album ever created.  But you should already know that.

Do whatever you can to get these 2009 mono remasters.  They are absolutely spectacular.

Chu Chu Rocket on Dreamcast

Take Chu Chu Rocket on Sega Dreamcast, add a few pitchers of good beer, then add four friends without any prior criminal records.  Mix up your little molotov cocktail, sit back, and watch the fireworks.

There are the multiplayer video games that are aimed to bring people together and then there are the games that tear them apart.  Three guesses which category Chu Chu Rocket fits into.  Let me clue you in - you really don't want to bring this game to diplomatic functions.  Wars have been started for lesser things.

Chu Chu Rocket is one of the multiplayer videogame classics, and another reason why Dreamcast was a living legend in its own time.

Test Drive Le Mans on Sega Dreamcast

Unlike the Saturn, Sega's Dreamcast had a wealth of outstanding racing games.  Test Drive Le Mans is arguably the best; it certainly has the best gameplay, the most cars on the racetracks, and the ability to play a 24-hour race in realtime.  Yeah, that means literally racing for 24 hours.  I can't imagine that anyone actually did that, but at least it was there.

Ferrari 355 had the killer graphics, San Francisco Rush 2049 had the multiplayer deathmatches, and Le Mans had the gameplay.  It also allowed for 4-player games, like all the best Dreamcast games, further cementing the console's reputation as the greatest party console around. Frankly, I'd still rather play a Dreamcast than any of the current consoles.  No doubt nostalgia plays a large part in my thinking, since I'm clearly too old to keep playing videogames - the yawning grave looms and my time grows shorter and shorter.

Ah, well, whatever.  Let's have some beers and some 4-player Le Mans racing.  It'll be great.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Videogame Classics - Sega Rally Championship

Sega Rally Championship
AM3 for Sega Saturn

The Sega Saturn had its best holiday season in 1995, with the spectacular 1-2-3 punch of Vitrua Fighter 2, Sega Rally Championship, and Virtua Cop.  The console was almost immediately written off in favor of Sony's Playstation, and that first months as a Saturn owner was rough.  These three games were just about the best to ever grace the console, and immediately renewed our faith.  For a short while, Saturn had the best fighter, the best racer, and the best shoot-em-up.  And to be perfectly honest, I don't Playstation ever beat these three.

Ah, well, PS-X won out with practically everything else.  But there was still a spirit of competition in 1995.  We were hoping for a repeat of the classic console war between Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo.  Sadly, it was not to be, but that had more to do with the evolution of videogames into 3D and the rising dominance of polygon graphics.  PS-X was the future, while Saturn had one foot planted in the 2D past.

Saturn's reputation is far better today, especially when you can download all those excellent import games that were never allowed to be seen in the US.  Probably wouldn't have made much of a difference, anyway, but perhaps Saturn could have build a solid and profitable niche.  Who knows?

In any case, Sega Rally is one of Saturn's finest hours.  It's easily the best racer on the system, which became very frustrating to fans like me.  I have no idea why the graphics engine wasn't ported around and used in a dozen other games.  Sega kept to a rigorous pattern of repeating 1995 every Christmas - fighting game, racing game, lightgun game.  The fighting games improved, even if they leaned too heavily on the Virtua Fighter brand.  And Virtua Cop 2 was simply spectacular - the rail car shootout remains unsurpassed for thrills and spills.  But the racing games were far and few between, and they were duds.

Sega Rally is intelligent, brilliant, requires a lot of planning and heavy thinking, and definitely many replays.  It's a very short game, like most racers of the 32-bit era, but you always wanted one more try.  Rally racing was new, and the thrill of leaping across mud, dirt, water, and pavement was new, exciting.  These four courses were densely packed with details, and required different enough skills to always keep you on your toes.

Desert was the easiest, and probably the most fun because of all the mud.  There's a series of leaps that land you in puddles that is thrilling, especially when you're fighting against your opponent's car.  This is especially fun in two-player mode.  It's also greatly improved in "reverse" mode, which was an easy method to squeeze more mileage out of the same racetracks.

Forest stage had all those magnificent trees, a sharp turn in a tunnel, and a rough hard right hairpin.  These are all harder to navigate, and all the more satisfying.  It's less a battle against the other driver than the elements.  This is an excellent example of racetrack design during the 32-bit era.  Graphics were not advanced enough to render long horizons without the dreaded "pop-up" effect, where large chunks of the backgrounds would suddenly pop into view.  Daytona USA became the whipping boy for this effect.  Designers got around this problem by creating winding, churning courses, one that required new thrills every other second.  It's a hallmark of Sega Rally, and it's also a hallmark to Psygnosis' Wipeout, which was probably the other truly great racing game of the era.

Mountain stage was the hardest, no question about that.  It looked spectacular, with the crowded city streets, the cobblestone bricks, and the towering mountains.  There's another nasty hairpin turn that can leave you in the bushes, gasping for air.  The streets are also very narrow, which leads to some great jostling among cars.  This is a great course for knocking your opponent around, and I can only imagine what it would be like to have more players racing.  Four or eight racers would be spectacular.  In fact, Sega would be wise to reissue the original Sega Rally with more players.  But the franchise has moved on to a few more sequels, none of which ever seem to have the impact of the original.  Funny, that.

Finally, there is the Lakeside stage, the bonus track awarded for winning the rally race.  It's not as overly punishing as the mountain stage, just endless sharp turns on narrow dirt roads, with hard banks on both sides.  Smacking your car into the sides is frustrating, but with enough practice, you can master your timing and sail through without a hitch.  If you can make it to the finish in one piece, you've earned some primo bragging rights.

I also love the wonderful autumnal setting, with the leaves turning colors, and the ducks flying about the lake.  Sega Rally always looks so spectacular.  Every single detail stands out, boldly, confidently.  Sega clearly needed to get past Saturn's shaky start; the early games were plagued with glitchy graphics, and the reputation of a difficult console with half-assembled parts was crippling.  Sega worked themselves to the bone to demonstrate Saturn's strengths in 3D.  Sega Rally is one of the finest examples.

Sega Rally Championship is a hallmark of the classic arcade game.  These are the real videogames, purely focused on the immediate moment, concerned only about delivering the thrills and spills.  Today's games are obsessed with copying bad Hollywood movies; even the racing games are saddled with cheesy plots and ham-fisted dialog.  I just don't see the point in all of this.  I'm not playing Sega Rally because I want to reenact the experience of watching bad Vin Diesel movies.  I'm playing Sega Rally because I want the excitement of racing a small car across the desert and through city streets.  I just want to get my kicks and I want them now.

I've long believed that Sega Rally was the best racing title of the 32-bit era, and while there's some excellent competition - the Wipeout series, Mario Kart 64, F-Zero X, Daytona USA - this one has always been my favorite.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Making of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band

Since I'm spending my weekend listening to four different versions of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - UK stereo LP, US mono LP, and the new 2009 stereo/mono remasters, I wanted to share this terrific video documentary from 1992.  George Martin and the surviving Beatles discuss the making of the greatest album of all time.  Very interesting and very fun.

Oh, and just to hype the product one more time, the 2009 remasters are absolutely spectacular.  If compact discs always sounded this good, there would be no need of a vinyl revival.  As such, my Parlaphone stereo LP sounds the best, but good luck finding a copy without spending a fortune.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Global Warming - Start Here

Do you need a quick education on the sciene behind global warming?  RealClimate has an excellent bibliography right here.  Give it a read.  Then start begging forgiveness for your grandchildren.  Time is short.

Pearl Jam - Backspacer - An Essay That Reveals Absolutely Nothing About the New Album or Why it's Spectacular

Pearl Jam's newest album, Backspacer, has been released this week.  I waited until today to get the vinyl LP version, where the cover design truly shines.  Tom Tomorrow's surreal pop collage design perfectly evokes the spirit of Vitalogy and No Code, and that's where the heart of the music lies.

Back in 1991, I owned only two CDs - Van Halen's live album, Right Here, Right Now, and Pearl Jam's Ten.  I've been a devoted fan ever since the beginning, and Pearl Jam has always been the great rock band of my generation.  Yes, even more than Saint Cobain, but had he lived, everything would have been different.  You see, it's really Cobain's fault that Eddie Vedder hurled his band into the wilderness for a decade.  Had April 8, 1994 passed by without incident, the incindiary and masterful Vitalogy - Pearl Jam's true masterpiece - would never have happened.  It certainly would have been a very different beast, and maybe Vedder and crew would have continued their uneasy alliance with rock stardom.  It's impossible to say, really.  That direction points to a different universe.

Saint Cobain took one last fix, pulled the trigger, and we have all felt the shock waves ever since.  And Pearl Jam rebelled with shock and horror, then escaped into the wilderness.  Oh, I still remember how truly shocking No Code sounded in 1996.  It took me several years to finally accept it on its own terms.  A masterful collection of songs, true.  There's brilliance in its confusion, brilliance, and sense of discovery.  The kings renounced the throne and entered exile - now what do we do?!  That question haunted the next three albums, Yield, Binaural, Riot Act.  All three are uneven, confused, and occasionally great.

Maybe this is one of those things you have to wait out.  Wait for middle age to settle in.  Wait for the musical tides to roll everything away once or twice.  Of course, the 2006 album had to be simply called Pearl Jam.  Like that other great mid-career eponymous album - Metallica - the Great Rock Band of My Generation renewed itself, rediscovered itself.  Pearl Jam finally came back home.  When you reach a certain age, you truly love and appreciate the miraculous power in these comebacks.  Most of your youthful idols have withered away, grown fat and lazy, drifted away into "respectable work," or died.  When you're old enough to say you've outlived your best friends, everything changes.

That's why Pearl Jam's "Blue Avacado" album is a masterpiece.  That, and the fact that it totally kicks.  It's a spectacular rock album by any stretch, and it's the kind that seasoned veterans must conjure to prove to the kids who's really in charge.  Have I mentioned how much this album kicks?  Hoo boy, three years later and Pearl Jam Blue has never sounded better.  It's intense, angry, emotive, and fiercely passionate.  It's such a rush to hear Eddie Vedder sing with his mouth open again, no longer hiding within the shadows of his early greatness.

On my best days, I'll argue that Pearl Jam Blue is the band's greatest album, or certainly deserving to sit alongside the first three, which were deified into a Grunge Era Holy Trinity long, long ago.  That first album is simply untouchable, and there simply won't ever be another rock album that topples it from the minds of Generation Xers.  That's just the way these things roll.  But I always thought Vitalogy was better, and I think Blue is, too.

Which brings us to the end of this lost decade, a decade when the American Republic was gang raped by criminal vampires who now howl about that black man who stole their thrones.  This was the decade when the music business as we once knew it died, smashed by their own greed and a computer revolution quietly instigated by '60s acidheads.  This was the decade when turntables became fashionable again.  Remember when Pearl Jam released Vitalogy on vinyl two weeks before the CD?  That was an act of anarchic rebellion, wasn't it?  What the heck happened to this decade?

I'm rambling.  So what does any of this have to do with the brand-new Pearl Jam album, Backspacer?


Nothing whatsoever.  Other than this is a smashing fantastic album by the Great Rock Band of My Generation.  Eddie Vedder once feared that he'd meet the same end as Saint Cobain.*  Now he's lived long enough to bury all the Nirvanawannabees, all the poseurs, all the fakers.  He's lived long enough to bury the music industry itself.  Buy the black t-shirt at your nearby Target and download to your iPod.  Or pick up the vinyl LP and really mess with your parents' heads.

Just get Backspacer, already.  Get with the program.

*If you don't understand why I always refer to Kurt Cobain as "Saint Cobain," you should probably find some older person to tell you horror stories about '80s Hair Metal.  Go watch an hour's worth of Stryper videos on Youtube.  Then throw on Nevermind and see what that does for you.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sgt. Pepper's Wild Trip

I'm searching the Goole today, finding essays and insights into Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, as I'm listening to the fantastic new CD, and I discovered this excellent piece from 2007 in rememberence of its 40th anniversary.  I find myself agreeing with it from start to finish.  There are many reasons why Sgt. Pepper's is still the greatest album ever made, but one quality I adore is its English-ness.  The entire album is a journey into the surreal, psychedelic memories of a lost, working-class Britain.  It's grounded in the joys and frustrations of daily life.

Here's the Sgt. Pepper article.  Give it a read.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Greatest CDs Ever Made

I made mention of the new Beatles CD remasters in the comments today, so I thought I might as well make a formal post here on the blog.  A bit off-topic?  Ehh, whatever.  The Beatles are my absolute favorites, and these new CDs are spectacular.  Absolutely spectacular.  I haven't been this excited over digital music since the '90s, and that means a lot when coming from a turntable junkie.  These are the greatest CDs ever made.  Period.

Now you may be surprised, but it's pretty difficult to find good Beatles records on vinyl.  The biggest problem is that the American Capitol pressings are almost uniformly bad.  Perhaps "bad" is a bit harsh, but they are all too often flat, muddy, and somewhat dull.  The "Apple labels" are the best, and I have an early-press of Abbey Road that I adore, so there are exceptions to the rule.  But I would personally rank the Capitol versions of Rubber Soul, Revolver, and The White Album poorly.

The UK Parlephone albums are spectacular, the Gold Standard (especially the "yellow and black" label pressings from the 1960s).  You've never heard The Beatles until you've heard them on the UK records, and I think it's worth the investment of a solid turntable, phono cartridge, and stereo receiver just for these albums.  The Japanese reissue pressings are also fantastic (I've been lucky enough to score a Japan White!), and they have the added benefit of being more affordable.

However, for the average person on the street, you're not going to hear your favorite Beatles albums on those records.  New Beatles vinyl LP's are scheduled for release, but the expectation is that they will be pressed from the new digital masters, sadly.  The UK and Japanese analog masterpieces will forever remain a holy grail for collectors and die-hard fans.  If that describes your situation, these new CDs are the perfect substitute.

Oh, and Capitol chopped up The Beatles' albums with shamefully padded out records like Something New, Beatles VI, Beatles '65, and Yesterday and Today.  I actually enjoy their version of Rubber Soul, which swaps in a pair of folk songs at the start of each side - "I've Just Seen a Face" and "It's Only Love," respectively.  But Revolver had its heart and soul ripped out for no good reason.  Yuck!

Hmm...I only meant to write a few words on this subject, so I'll be wise to stop now before this turns into a 1,000-word manifesto.  Feel free to talk about these albums on this thread all you want.  We'll be back to our regularly-scheduled Ghibli blogging when the sun rises.  I'm off to sleep.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sega Dreamcast - 10 Years Ago Today!

Today marks a special anniversary. No, it's not just the long-awaited arrival of the Beatles CD remasters. Today is the tenth anniversary of the American launch of the Sega Dreamcast.

Maybe it's just a function of age, but Dreamcast was the last great videogame console in my eyes. It was the last time that games were being made - fast, exciting, competitive, original games. Not reenactments of Hollywood blockbusters, not cynical ploys for computer geeks to break into the movie business, but video games. There are so precious few examples of classic games today.

Dreamcast was just about the best game system for multiplayer games. A decade ago, I was working as a waiter at one of the sports bars at the University of Minnesota campus, and every Friday and Saturday night, after closing time, we'd pull out the DC, hook it up to the tv sets, and play until dawn. NFL2K1 was the undisputed champion - ah, another lost classic! - as were endless drunken rounds of Soul Calibur, Crazy Taxi, Chu Chu Rocket, Virtua Tennis, and San Francisco Rush 2049.

Ah, great times. You can score a DC and a large pile of great games for next to nothing these days. I'd still rank it higher than what's available now. Add in the console's ability to play emulators (4-player M.U.L.E.!) and you really have something of value.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Bob Dylan - Subterranean Homesick Blues

Here's a little Bob Dylan to keep us happy.  Go get yourselves a good turntable and the Sundazed mono reissues of Dylan's 1960s albums.  They're fantastic.

Hotter Than July

I understand we've been having a colder-than-usual summer here in Minnesota and much of the United States, and that has become fuel for the global warming deniers.  But if you bother to notice this strange and mystical place called, "the rest of the world," you'll discover that June and July were the second hottest on record.

Here is the NOAA report, and here is the NASA report.

The NOAA also smacks down the deniers (aren't these the real "baby killers, when ya get down to it?) on the reliability of US surface temperatures.  It's always an endless game of Wack-A-Mole with the right, and they'll just move along to the next bullshit claim.  But it's important to keep hittin' them.

Oh, and did everybody catch this piece of good news back in July?  Civilization is headed for collapse.  Oh, well, no big deal, la la la la laaah....

I really do wish human beings were intelligent.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Get Up, Stand Up

Bill Moyers' terrific sermon from this Friday.  I fully understand that we're tilting at windmills with all our crazy dreams of peace and prosperity and a future for the human race.  It's all complete bullshit; we're finished and we know it.  But what else is there to do?  You have to fight.  You have to fight for yourselves and a better future.  The alternative is to lie down in your grave and pass the time until you die.

I was watching Chuck D host a show on PBS called, "Get Up, Stand Up," which chronicled the history of political and social activism in 20th Century music.  It seems so naive to believe that some Pete Seeger folk songs could change the world, that James Brown and Sly Stone and Jimi Hendrix could inspire young people to embrace the troubles of the world.  It seems so far away.  It seems like another world.

I don't believe that this nation and this species has a future.  Human beings are far too suicidal, and this cruel empire is being eaten away by its corruption and its cruelty.  What sort of a nation believes its President wants to set up "death panels" and kill Grandma?  What sort of a nation would embrace, celebrate, worship torture?  Taking an electric drill to another man's face is now an American Virtue.  Universal health care is now The Second Coming of Stalin.  And the cattle is perfectly fine with that; either they don't pay attention and don't care, or they're fervently yelling and cheering it along.

But what else is there to do?  We might as well fight.  Perhaps the only successful revolution is the one you can wage yourself.  If you can liberate your own heart mind, perhaps that is good enough.  It is a crucial start.

On that happy note, Happy Labor Day!

Friday, September 04, 2009

Arctic Temps Highest in 2,000 Years

More good news from the global warming front.  You can read about it from the BBC and Daily Kos Dairies.  The cruel irony is that the Earth has been in a cooling phase for the past two thousand years; the normal temperature change is projected to be -0.5 in the 20th Century.  Instead, we're warming, warming, warming.

The warming during the 20th century (and first decade of the 21st century) contrasts sharply with the millennial-scale cooling, with the last half-century being the warmest of the past two millennia. Our synthesis, together with the instrumental record, suggests that the most recent 10-year interval (1999–2008) was the warmest of the past 200 decades. Temperatures were about 1.4°C higher than the projected value based on the linear cooling trend and were even more anomalous than previously documented.

And this civilization is still betting all the chips on denying reality?  Oh, that's going to be great. Just great.  You should probably start apologizing to your grandchildren now.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

World's Coral Reefs Face Extinction From Global Warming

Gee, it's a good thing global warming is a hoax, right? Otherwise this sort of thing would freak me out.

On the other hand, it's commonly known that coral reefs are gay.  I mean, look at all those colors!  Hellooo!  So that means they're probably getting what they deserve.  If Jesus hates anything, it's gay coral reefs.

Read more about the coral reefs here, here, and especially here.