Amiga Soundtrack Post-Mortem: Bomb Jack Beer Edition [2018]

When i did self-candidate to help Graeme Cowie [a.k.a. mcgeezer] on the sound part of Bomb Jack Beer Edition i thought this was a straightforward process. I already did help Alessandro di Gaia in another Tekhan/Tecmo game port – Rygar – now on hold, but i did develop my own technique on how to set up interactions and handle sound effects AND music together.
The main difference between the two projects was that initially Graeme was targeting unexpanded Amigas, and that meant i could use a limited amount of RAM, therefore micro-samples use were the best choice. Additionally Bomb Jack arcade was old enough to rely on simple waveform generation, so to have a similar sound would have been straightforward.

Development notes of the game can be found in this thread on EAB and also this other thread on EAB; in this article will instead talk about how the music and Sound effects were planned and made.

The complete game can be downloaded from this link.

Get Your Material Right

Having Been an arcade junkie in my teen years, i did knew the Bomb Jack arcade good enough to be disappointed by the Elite Amiga port and i wanted to help to do the best job.

In case your memory decided to wipe the pain away, let me show it in all its infamy.

To have a good arcade feeling i wanted to use two channels only for music and the remaining two for sound effects. I did that for Rygar and other projects and did seem to bring good results.

In order to recreate the arcade songs correctly i did use my google-fu skills. A thorough YouTube search did point me to several sources but i think this playlist was the more appropriate to follow.

For each level i did insert the main tune and then all the interactions (P running, bonus time, fire bombs, game over, the two high scores,etc.) at fixed pattern numbers. That was done in order to reduce loading times: if a player run out of lives in a stage there will no need to load further songs, just to point to the current mod pattern number.

A finished tune usually will end up having the following interactions inside.

This movie has been made with a mod file that i modified so that all sub-song interactions will run in a continuous seamless play. Normally sub songs will either jump back to the main song loop or stop execution (in Game Over and Stage Complete).

And Expand on it

I decided to try to recreate the sound effects rather than grab some arcade samples, also to train myself on create sound effects on my own. To give it an arcade feeling i used my trusted microsamples collection and started create the effects using milkytracker.

Each resulting pattern has been converted in .wav using the save to Wav function of milkytracker; furthermore, resulting samples have been converted to 8-bit mono with Audacity and lastly further downsampled to 8363mhz and saved in IFF 8SVX with Awave studio.

I also wanted to look around what other ports did: Bomb Jack Beer Edition is not the only player in the field, there have been several non-commercial ports.
Main reference have been Bomb Jack DX for the Commodore 64, still under progress, and Bomb Jake for the Atari XL.

From Bomb Jack DX i got the idea – as cameo for the 64 version – to use Magnetic Fields II by Jean Michael Jarre in the in-game music.

Instead from Bomb Jake i took the idea to use also Orient Express, another Jarre song, in the in-game. This provides a full five song loop that gives to all rounds a distinctive song/graphic identity, unlike the arcade that was having three songs repeating and mixing with the five stages.

Finally for the title song i remember wanted to troll a bit my fellow Amiga Users and i made a nice mix of the ugly Bomb Jack theme by Elite and the arcade Jingle, all joint together with micro-sample drums and colorful chords.
It’s a pity that Graeme at the end decided to keep Magnetic Fields II as title song, but that’s its game, at the end of the story.

Beer Stages

The core feature of Bomb Jack Beer Edition, together with a near arcade perfect port, are the Beer Stages.
Those custom made stages will appear if the player is able to collect an adequate amount of bonus points by trying to get as much fire bombs and multipliers as possible.

If the minimum quota is met, according to the amount of bonus points every fifth stage in sequence will be replaced by one of the following Beer stages (ranked from lowest to highest bonus points required):

– Pensham Monument
– Edinburgh Castle
– Chichen Itza
– London Parliament

Graeme wanted more dynamic songs compared to the usual ones in the arcade levels since those stage have an higher level of difficulty. I did create at least two original songs (Chichen Itza and Edinburgh Castle) and adapted some more or less mainstream song, following the borrowing music tradition of the Bomb Jack ports.

The musics that i have adapted to the game, using my microsamples sound bank were:

– Penshaw Monument Beer Stage [song supposedly from the Initial-D soundtrack, i ignore the original title]
– London Big Ben Stage [Corona – Rhythm of the night cover]
– Panjabi MC – Mundian To Bach Ke [unused, at the end]

Since all musics are qite short (no more than two minute each), i created a medley video where i play all those together. The unused title is also included at the beginning.

Unexpected (by me) Negative Feedback

Around end of February 2018 the coding of the game was mostly complete and Graeme was working on ironing out bugs and implementing beer stages. The game music was still using just two channels and a public beta was released.

People started to complain that the music did not play good with only two channels. I decided to cave in and created a new version of all songs using three channels thinking things will subside, but was not enough. The criticism spawn from at least two separate dissenting groups: from one side the “purists”, that were expecting an exact replica of the arcade songs and, from the opposite side, a group that wanted the songs to use full samples and sound “worthy of Amiga capabilities” practically questioning all the work and research i made on the music so far. Both groups were pretty vocal and unwilling to compromise, and were showing a level of entitlement that, if we assume the project is an hobby project made in spare time by two guys with no purpose of money making, did sound excessive.

Me and Graeme tried to address criticism in a positive way but at the end the storm did not subside, so we did agree to disagree,we did leave the group and continued the work on our own.

Beside what happened above, it seems that this is an ongoing problem that can easily kill any motivation in other homebrew developers, as stated in several points in this EAB thread.

We also received positive comments praising the way we did treat the sound and was considering a nice addition to have the arcade game spirit reproduced.

Final Thoughts

Despite the last hour problem and trolling, working on the project was an enjoyable experience and will surely cooperate with other arcade ports in the best of my capacity, with the hidden agenda of giving finally birth to the arcade ports that a machine like Amiga can do and deserve.

The final game experience is summarized in this Hipoonios longplay.