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.

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Amiga Music: Block Off! Music Post-mortem [2018]

The Block Off! Story is simple; i took notice of the work of Colin Vella in the AMOS developers facebook group and asked to cooperate.

The game is pretty simple: the player need do destroy all colored blocks putting blocks of the same color side-to-side within the allotted time, and each level might present a different challenge: different layout, ice blocks, arrows, dynamite+detonator blocks, unmovable blocks and so on.

There is not a single source of inspiration for the musical work; in a way all is inspired by different games, musics and situations that happen to give me ideas.

The main music in example uses a sample that is well known to be used by Tim Follin in the Qix High Scores (and that i did stumble in a demoscene .mod file); gives a pretty distinctive tone and a mood between the happy and space euphoria. Being a title tune i did use all four channels plus my usual bank of microsamples, that comes handy when the memory footprint is needed to be small – since the game need to fit in one 880k disk the leaner the better.

Same instruments bank is used for the High scores tune, and a slower pace compared to the title tune, more relaxing.

In-game tune A (that for some circumstances become the third in appearance during the game) is instead inspired by the tunes often heard on the Dizzy games and try to keep a playful mood.

And In-game B is instead a simple reggatta tune in part fueled by dubstep and in part by other pop songs that happen to come up in the radio.

In-tune C instead has a bit of mixed feeling between horror and misterious. No particular inspiration beside some meddling with keyboard while looking for inspiration and then start to build layers on it.

Then have a couple of short jingles: the Game Over tune (one track in style of the high score music) and an harp blend at the end of a successful level.

From the technical side, all songs are typical protracker .mod files, with sizes ranging from 12k (level done, just one pattern) to 60k (title song) and have been composed using Milkytracker on Windows XP.

The in-game songs uses just three of the four available channels, keeping channel 0 free for sound effects, while the title song, high scores song, game over song and level complete song use all four channels.

The game can be downloaded from the links appearing in the EAB thread here, while the soundtrack is available here.

Amiga Music: Tanks Furry Music Post-mortem [2015]

Its been fortunate for me to work with Krzysiek “Koyot1222” Matys and with Pawel “Juen” Nowak in the making of Tanks Furry; they were receptive to my approach to music and i was receptive to their vision of creating a quality arcade game for ECS Amiga; the trend of finally develop new stuff is not new, and has been around in a faint way for the last three/four years; however 2015 has seen a resurgence of activity.
I actually went to know about Tanks furry by accident: i proposed to help Aszu and Sordan with the title music of Crazy Priest, an AMOS game that was proposed on the RetroKomp-LoadError competition in Danzig, Poland in October 2015; in the same contest Tanks Furry was shown and a video of the test version was uploaded on Youtube.

I thought that game was nice, a clone of the Arcade and NES game Battle City that i loved to play in the arcades, and i also thought that some music might have helped to set the game mood, so i sent a message in the page proposing to do songs for the game; Krzysztof responded that would like something for the main title.

I did follow my feelings watching the video: atmosphere should have been military-oriented but not too serious; could not avoid to have the soundtrack of Wings of Honneamise in my head, especially the part where Shiro start the training, a messed-up military march that, with the clunkiness of the instruments, both marks the strong ambitions and poor means of operation.

I did kinda follow the base structure for the main song but did left the clunkiness behind, i however alternated a solemn military march to a cartoony feeling in the use of the instruments. Final song did weight 124k.

I also created a Menu song: it follows the same base pattern of the main song but shorter. Uses only three channels (in expectance of sound effects in the menu) and microinstruments, therefore the weight of the file is lighter at 56k. Unlike my placement, it ended up on the end sequence.

The tools i used were Milkytracker and Audacity.
On the meanwhile that was composing this, i did start my work on two other soundtracks for the same team: one is Bridge Strike and the other is Project R3D the Game, that deserves a more detailed description.

If you want to support Team R3D on developing new Amiga games you can consider doing a pledge – even minimal – in their Patreon page.

HOMM2 music diaries – June-July 2014

So last may i posted on EAB forum proposing myself as MOD musician. Got two gigs: one from the gut who create downfall for its dizzy-like game and little later was asked by Philippe “Meynaf” Guichardon to port the music of Heroes of Might and Magic II in MOD files for its Amiga Port of the game.

And is on the second task that i want to focus on this article and possibly some future ones.

Tough nut to crack! The soundtrack is composed of over 20 tracks, the music is done on pc either via Midi with custom instruments or via CD tracks, in some cases in the “price of destiny” expansion pack there are singed parts (in german) so i know will never be the same as the original PC one, but who am i to defuse an impossible challenge?

Analysis

Looking at the context and some of the music, plus the fact that the porter do not want to mix channels (processor intensive), i realized i can build some of the mods in a way that three channels carry the main melody and the fourth is of support and can be overridden by speech or sound effects.

As reference i took this youtube playlist of the CD tracks, and that is mostly the kind of feeling I want the mod files to have.

As mentioned in other articles, i actually have no real Amiga handy where to compose the score, however my actual favourite weapon, MilkyTracker on Win XP, has been put to the test for writing .mod files and feedback has been positive.

Another thing is that since there are some songs (i.e.combat 1) that have a recurring background, i could sample it and use it on the mod file. the “Combat” scream on combat 1 could be replaced with a generic crowd cheer (whoah) .

June

Before to leave i started to port lurking enemy (the enemy turn song) and had some problems both for its basses and for the motion of the song; i repromised to give it a second look or to rewrite as mixed version.

The day earlier instead i tried to port the grassland theme; so all possible problems with Milky showed up – which from the other side is good so i have an idea of the workflow i could employ; first the four version sound kinda flat (midi can rely on being projected in two channels) plus the lack of faithful instrument brought me to look on my mod bank for similar sounds. Redo a tune is harder than come out with your own: especially in a limited environment as Paula might be, plus memory contraints and the fourth voice as wildcard. But that is what makes it so compelling: being able to reach good results in a limited environment 🙂

 

July

I tried several combinations of instruments for Grassland, mostly coming from digging through instrument free data banks; a decent cello in the background is hard to find and for clavicembalo sounds I resorted taking it from a tune of The Weasel, however the high tune clavicembalo sound kinda weird;

[WIP] H.O.M.M. grassland tune Test G from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

That made me look for better clavicembalo (harpsichord) samples; the ones i found comes from collections around the net: very good this Harpsichord sample bank  from a 1720 Blanchet and this Oboe sound from freeloops.com; those two instruments helped me in give a more realistic sound;

[WIP] H.O.M.M. grassland tune Test I from simone bernacchia on Vimeo.

Result is pretty impressive: might not have all the sounds of the original but has its own depth 🙂

The research for more realistic sounds brought me quite around on the net, looking mostly for .wav files until i started stumble in more professional sites that provided soundfonts; this format is used for most professional tools and usually provide a good instrument quality, however is not directly “consumable” by milky or other trackers: a tool to export in .wav file format is needed.

Looking more around i found an open source .sf2 to wav converter for Windows at this address: http://sanfransys.com/main_downloads.htm; what it does is to split all audio files composing the soundfont and exporting them in .wav file on a folder.

Then the sample is passed through Audacity, where is flattened to Mono and saved in .wav 8-bit (save -> other uncompressed format -> .Wav (microsoft) 8-bit) then loaded in milky and “resampled” to match the protracker range of sound going in the Sample Editor [smp ed.] and choosing ‘advanced->resample’ from the right click menu.

milky_resample

Once in the option requester, setr the “relative tone” and “fine tune” values to 0, select “Precise sinc” on the Interpolation dropdown option and click OK.

milky_resample_params

 

At this point i usually save the instrument in .xi format from the [save] button on the top of the instruments list. Range used by protracker mods is between C-3 to B-5 according to milky scale. If higher or lower octaves are needed i usually load a copy of the instrument in another slot, go in the instrument editor [Ins. Ed.], press octave up or octave down at need then go in the sample editor and again use resample putting to 0 the values to render the sample.

milky_octaves

Plus since, unlike the good old protracker, there is no chord and no merge samples feature, sometimes i need to “render” in .wav using an empty mod the chords and composed samples and do on the rendered track the flat/8-bit/resample loop again.