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Music Games

The Secret of Monkey Island Shows Evolution of PC Audio 348

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the wow-this-is-a-rough-thursday dept.
Normally I don't have much interest in stuff like this, but this history of PC audio is dripping with nostalgia. From the bleeps and bloops of the PC Jr to the Gravis Ultrasound I lusted after while stuck with an Adlib ... it warms the cockles of my old-man heart. Not sure that Monkey Island was the right demo choice, but hey.

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The Secret of Monkey Island Shows Evolution of PC Audio

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  • Ugh..... (Score:3, Informative)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:18PM (#32280828)

    That's pretty much my "nostalgia" when it relates to 1980s and early 90s PC Audio. "Ugh". Or "ick". Or "I'm glad I bought a multimedia computer".

    I remember debating online with IBM PC fans, and how they kept insisting that the PC had better sound (and graphics) than an Atari 800, Commodore 64, or Amiga/ST. Well I guess they were "invested" and had to defend their PCs, but it wasn't even a close race. Check it out for yourself. A lot of these PC sound effects don't sound much better than my old 1977 Atari console:

    Part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cETl8PhUy_E [youtube.com]
    Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_e4uwzNkUVE [youtube.com]

  • Re:Roland MT32 (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:23PM (#32280910)

    I picked up MT-32's expanded cousin CM-32L for 7 euros at the local auction site a few years ago. For the less fortunate (those who don't own the device), there's the Munt MT-32 emulator at http://sourceforge.net/projects/munt/

  • by drewhk (1744562) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:26PM (#32280950)

    I think the MIDI bank is what makes the difference here. If the composer did his work on soundcard X then it may sound badly on card Y -- because the MIDI banks use different sounds.

  • Re:Ugh..... (Score:3, Informative)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:27PM (#32280960)


    The Ataris, Commodores, and Amigas not only had better sound/graphics, but also had the advantage of being much cheaper to buy ($500 or less), and you didn't have the headache of non-functional software drivers. They were as easy to use as consoles - just plug'n'play. They were the computers of choice for 80s/early 90s gamers.

  • Re:I disagree! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:28PM (#32280982) Homepage

    most of the time it was the quality of the samples in the midi instrument table.

    soundcard tech has not changed much from the first days.... the midi audio sample tables on the other hand....

    Honestly, current soundcards utterly suck compared to the better ones from a decade ago.

  • Re:I disagree! (Score:3, Informative)

    by VGPowerlord (621254) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:43PM (#32281216)

    Each and every time the audio was different (though only slightly for the most recent attempt). Its crazy how hardware changes could make such a profound difference, since I assume its all the same audio code just getting executed differently. It's funny, because in '99, I thought I had mixed something up with the audio setup because it didn't sound right. No that was just how it was SUPPOSED to sound on a good audio card.

    Secret of Monkey Island also has 3 different PC versions.
    1. The original version, using MIDI
    2. The 1997 CD re-release using CD tracks for music... but was basically the MIDI version recorded from a Roland device of some sort.
    3. The 2009 remake, using digital audio... but it changes music between a version recorded from the original release on an Adlib card and one recorded by a live band when you switch between modern and classic modes.

    The remake of the second game is coming later this year, most likely mid-June or mid-July.

  • by Sycraft-fu (314770) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:47PM (#32281276)

    The last one is not "CD quality digital audio," other than that is was probably rendered at 48kHz, 16-bit (which would actually be DVD or DAT, not CD). It was just rendered with a soundfont on a SoundBlaster X-Fi, and not a particularly good one. The quality you get out of a sampler is only as good as the samples you put in.

    So it isn't as though this was played by a live orchestra and recorded to CD. It is the same technology as the AWE32/64 stuff, just a larger sample set, but probably not professionally done (there are lots of shitty free soundfonts online).

    What would be interesting to hear is how it would sound if given the full treatment of high quality modern professional samples. You find that you can get very realistic, high quality sample sets these days. I'm talking multiple gigabytes for a single instrument. While it still doesn't sound 100% real, you can get some really good expressiveness and realism from it.

    If I were at home I'd post a quick demo using some of the samples I have but oh well.

    At any rate, it isn't that the MT-32 was the be-all, end-all or anything, it is that the person doing the demo didn't understand what they were doing. Also I suspect the original track was composed for the MT-32. A lot of games in that era were composed for the MT-32, and then arranged for other popular devices like the Adlib.

  • by theaveng (1243528) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @12:57PM (#32281452)

    Xenon 2 Original - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o3n6BRUVAl0 [youtube.com]
    Remix - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFkP6xzzTeI [youtube.com]

    Not bad for a computer from 1985, eh? Notice the near-CD-quality sampling. And here's an overall compilation of Amiga music from the 80s and 90s:

    Part 1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTz5iwmtkrs [youtube.com]
    Part 2 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u5Eoc8VsV_M [youtube.com]
    Part 3 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EuXVy6qXyuI [youtube.com]
    Part 4 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1l6_mS_cnwQ [youtube.com]
    Music Archive - http://www.paula8364.com/ [paula8364.com]

  • Re:Fun (Score:3, Informative)

    by dintech (998802) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @01:01PM (#32281490)

    But of course, the Amiga was where the .mod format was popularised. For those who are too young to remember, it was a happy combination of samples and note sequences to trigger them. This was used for the best and most varied game music at the time as well as a staple of the demo scene.

  • Re:Star Control 2 (Score:2, Informative)

    by WeatherServo9 (1393327) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @01:07PM (#32281596)
    The idea of digitized sound through the PC Speaker was around long before Star Control 2 (1992); the earliest game I know of to do this is Czorian Siege [mobygames.com] in 1983. Of course, it was just a few short clips and was far more limited than what SC2 accomplished but it's an impressive trick and would have been surprising to hear at the time! Access Software used the trick extensively in the late 80's; I think most if not all of their later games supported this. What was interesting about SC2 though was that it took the idea a little further; instead of just playing back a sound clip it actually mixed samples together on the fly to create the music/sounds much like on the GUS version or an Amiga.
  • Re:Ugh..... (Score:4, Informative)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @01:13PM (#32281698)

    I agree completely, but for some reason I've yet to fully understand, the teeming masses all bought DOS machines... and now here we are.

    According to Ars Technica, the top-selling computers purchased by "the masses" were the TRS-80, Commodore 64, and Amiga 500. The reason IBM PC/DOS/Windows came to dominate is because (1) Radio Shack and Commodore failed to innovate and upgrade the hardware, (2) cheap cloning of the IBM PC put them literally everywhere, and (3) businesses bought nothing but PCs.

    1994-95 was the watershed year. Atari went bankrupt, Commodore went bankrupt, and Apple almost went bankrupt as well. Apple was saved by its dominance in the schools (first Apple IIs, then Macs), otherwise it too would probably be history.

  • DIY was king... (Score:2, Informative)

    by AcidTag (528338) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @01:21PM (#32281852)
    When the game-blaster was $500 or so we made our own thank you. :)
    I used to get reels of matching resistors and make soundcards for everyone I knew with a PC.
    Originally released by Covox, it was simple to make your own, and way cheaper than everything on the market.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covox_Speech_Thing [wikipedia.org]
  • Re:Roland MT32 (Score:3, Informative)

    by theaveng (1243528) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @01:30PM (#32282018)

    And here's the SID chip (released 1982). Not bad eh? Certainly beats anything IBM PC or Apple could do in 1982:

    Here's Monkey Island on the Paula sound chip (released 1985). Again..... beats anything IBM PC or Apple could do in 1985 or even 1990:

    SID - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXizZ7kx_VE [youtube.com]
    Paula - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8DL6HYGwEwM [youtube.com]

  • Re:Star Control 2 (Score:3, Informative)

    by The Finn (1547) <agrier@poofygoof.com> on Thursday May 20, 2010 @01:58PM (#32282452) Homepage
    starcon 2 used 4-channel amiga-style mods.
  • Re:I disagree! (Score:3, Informative)

    by Jeremy Erwin (2054) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @02:05PM (#32282560) Journal

    For a while, the purpose of a sound card was to "accelerate" Direct Sound3D-- and the better the sound card, the more voices could be mixed in real time, and the more precise the placement in 3D space. A good sound card could really take the pressure off the CPU [firingsquad.com]. CPUs have improved since then, and Microsoft changed DirectX, so perhaps they're pointless now.

  • by bored (40072) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @02:10PM (#32282640)

    The problem usually was the GUS's SB emulation. The best bet was simply to disable it, use the GUS in GUS mode for things that support it and use the SB for everything else. I had both cards too, I don't remember anything particularly problematic about getting them both to work.

  • Re:Fun (Score:3, Informative)

    by Spatial (1235392) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @02:10PM (#32282642)
    Was? Tracked music is still alive and well. [modarchive.org]

    I only started making it myself a few years ago.
  • Re:Fun (Score:3, Informative)

    by TheSpoom (715771) <{slashdot} {at} {uberm00.net}> on Thursday May 20, 2010 @02:52PM (#32283232) Homepage Journal

    Sure, but there was a time where it was technically possible to do full digitized audio while developers continued to use synthesized audio. I'm not saying that fully digitized cards were always around, but about halfway through that video the CD quality sound starts to become possible but not done because of limitations in storage at the time.

  • by danieltdp (1287734) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @03:02PM (#32283362)

    Clearly you don't understand how women mind works... Women are crazy. You never know for sure how they will react. This case seems obvious because the guy told you the story, but you will never guess her reaction before hand.

    Its part of the burden men has to carry in order to have a significant other of the opposite sex

  • But they sucked. (Score:3, Informative)

    by antdude (79039) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @03:35PM (#32283848) Homepage Journal

    But most of those MIDI sucked unless you had high quality. I remember using Yamaha SoftSynthesizer that made a big difference in MIDI! Do those high quality MIDI softwares exist today? I still have some OLD *.mid files I would like to listen under XP, 64-bit Windows 7, Linux/Debian, and Mac OS X. :(

  • by Anaerin (905998) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @08:07PM (#32287524)

    And it had proper occlusion and reflection. So if there was something outside the room you were in, you could hear the echo of it as it bounced off the wall outside.

    Yes, it did require you to give the sound driver a very rough model of the 3d scene, but as you already had a model laying around that you were rendering, it wasn't too difficult to add, provided you were willing to put the work in at an engine level. 3rd party developers who didn't own the game engine they were using relied on the engine provider to add the functionality (Example: Half-Life had it, as Valve had access to the engine and could code it in).

    From Wiki[Citation Needed]pedia: [wikipedia.org]

    A3D uses a subset of the actual in-game 3D world data to accurately model the location of both direct (A3Dspace) and reflected (A3Dverb) sound streams (A3D 2.0 can perform up to 60 first-order reflections). EAX 1.0, the competing technology at the time promoted by Creative Labs, simulated the environment with an adjustable reverb -- it didn't calculate any actual reflections off the 3D surfaces.

    Creative Labs sued Aureal for patent infringement in March 1998, and Aureal countersued for patent infringement and deceptive trade practices. Aureal won the lawsuit brought by Creative in December 1999. However, the cost of the legal battle caused Aureal's investors to cease funding operations, forcing Aureal into bankruptcy. Creative then acquired Aureal's assets in September 2000 through the bankruptcy court with the specific provision that Creative Labs would be released from all claims of past infringement by Creative Labs upon Aureal's A3D technology. While Creative Labs has not chosen to support the A3D API, the underlying advanced features of A3D technology is making its way into Creative Labs' newer EAX incarnations.[citation needed]

    That last sentence is rather telling, as I've yet to see the features that A3D had being advertised in a Creative product.

  • Re:Roland MT32 (Score:3, Informative)

    by Trixter (9555) on Thursday May 20, 2010 @08:49PM (#32287862) Homepage

    This is wholly inaccurate. The only reason the Mac didn't have decent sound was because Burrell only put a single-voice DAC into the Mac and Burrell and Hertzfeld didn't have a lot of time to write a decent mixing routine. More details here: http://www.folklore.org/StoryView.py?project=Macintosh&story=Sound_By_Monday.txt [folklore.org]

    Jam Session and Studio Session by Bogas were able to mix up to six voices realtime, so decent sound was possible through software.

  • by macinnisrr (1103805) on Friday May 21, 2010 @01:09PM (#32295238)
    Anyone who has ever dealt with a major label knows that all recording/production costs are recouped by the label before the artist makes any money. Plus the record label only pay out a dollar or two per album (I had heard a few years back that Metallica was making $4 per album, but even that figure is ludicrously high). Plus retail also takes a cut (even on itunes). Plus manufacturing costs money if you're making CDs and 15% (this is standard) of these CDs are given away as promotional. So consider the fact that if one spends $50,000 on the recording and production of an album (a modest figure in a major studio), one must sell about 30,000 copies of the album just to break even on the cost of making the album. Music acts make money playing live, and don't recieve a wage during recording (unless they get an advance, which is also recouped, adding to the number of albums which must be sold to break even).

    The alternative now is that I can buy the $100 computer (a p4 with 3gb ram will do great), and a $200 soundcard (an m-audio delta 1010lt). I should have been more clear earlier, but the other $700 would easily rent a nice set of drum microphones (if you're even using real drums, and even then, it's usually easier to get a good sound with triggers - ala Nirvana's Nevermind, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magic, and just about every other mainstream record you've ever heard), a good vocal mic, and any instruments you may also need (although if you're a recording musician you probably already have that stuff, major label deal or not). To be absolutely realistic, the costs of the rentals you'll need for tracking (and the old carpet you need for the walls) is probably more in the region of about $200, but I tend to err on the side of caution when I make such broad statements. So you could make an album yourself, and after you recoup the $1000 it took to make it, you start earning money on all the hard work you have done in writing and recording your music. Alternatively, you could make an album with a major label, go into the hole with them for $50,000, and start making money for the same amount of work after 30,000 albums are sold. And when you want to make a new album again, the label won't let you unless you've made money on the last. If you had done it yourself, you could not only start creating again in a couple of months, but your costs for album 2 are 30% less because you already have the computer and soundcard you used the first time

    Where do I come up with this stuff? I've done it. Several times. Check out dickmacinnis.com to listen to my debut solo album, which I've already made almost $20,000 on to date. The album took about two months to write/record/produce/master, and I'll be able to continue selling it until the day I die. I'm currently working on the follow up.


You should never bet against anything in science at odds of more than about 10^12 to 1. -- Ernest Rutherford