Projectyle Atari ST/Amiga: Music!

This is the first in (possibly) a sequence of posts covering video game music that I created in the late 80’s and early 90’s. This stuff was typically composed either for a game I was developing at the time, or was done “on the side” as I offered my so-called musical ability to various UK publishers, quite often just to fill a gap where they needed music for a port of an existing game. Most of the stuff on here is original, occasionally I transposed (or created a vague approximation of) some other composer’s ditties (always by ear) and I’ll call out where stuff is not original. The music here is essentially “chip tune” music (albeit PCM chips), in that it was “sequenced” or to use the parlance of the day, “tracked”, rather than being recorded as a single audio stream, as would be typical today. There was an ever present danger of using too much memory (and too much CPU in some cases), and so the music had to work around those constraints.

Projectyle: 1990 Atari ST, Amiga

So, on with the show. The first set of tunes is from a game I’ve mentioned before on this site called Projectyle. I developed this game in the late 80’s for Electronic Arts, and it was published in 1990 on the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. The music was composed using a MIDI keyboard (don’t for the life of me remember which one, but it was a Yamaha) hooked up to an Atari ST running the Quartet software. The ST version of the game used the standard Quartet player (which tricked the AY sound chip in the ST into playing back 4 channel PCM audio by basically setting the volume registers very fast). The Quartet player, by virtue of how it worked, introduced an incredible amount of distortion into the music, and in fact the music was composed with this in mind – it was definitely “balanced high”, meaning that for best results you had to crank the volume in order to hear everything. I’ve always been a fan of a little distortion, so this suited me just fine.

Another thing about Quartet is that you really can only have one sound bank (of 16 samples, shared across all tunes). So, all the tracks share the same 16 instruments. That really shows here and there, but there was simply not enough room to fit more.

As mentioned above, there was also an Amiga version of Projectyle. Because there was no official Quartet player for the Amiga, and, needing to get this music running on the Amiga quickly, I settled down one night with Devpac, disassembled the entire Quartet player from the Atari ST into 68000 assembly language, and made an Amiga player that would accept the same (or similar) data files using the Amiga PCM hardware. After an all-night hacking session the Amiga version of the game was playing all the music by the next morning. There were a couple of problems with this approach, however. First, it turned out that the Amiga, for all of its PCM hardware could not play back the same range of frequencies as the software player on the ST – it could not reach the sample rates needed to get some of the high notes. This meant that some songs had to be edited in order to play back correctly. Second, the Amiga did not distort the sound anything like as much (though I think we were stuck with 8Khz 8bit audio) as the ST, which is actually detrimental to the sound in many cases – there is a certain “density” that is lacking in the Amiga version. This cleaner sound also reveals some tuning problems as the sample rates are pushed to the extremes here and there.

Of course, these songs are not recorded from an Atari ST – in fact they are likely (I don’t know for sure since I did not post the YouTube videos – YouTube user Bryskens takes credit for that) recorded on a PC playing an emulation of the Atari ST sound. So, there’s definitely some generation loss here.

OK, so here are the tracks. There are 8 tracks in the game corresponding to the 8 teams featured in the future sport of Projectyle (or Tribal, as the product instructions insist on calling it). Each track was designed to somehow convey a feel for each particular team. Each track is named for the team.

The Terminators

This track features what was intended to be a thrash metal intro. Not sure it comes off as such. One thing about Quartet is that it did not allow musical triplets, which are basically essential to get a good guitar solo type effect. As such, I had to make do with quadruplets which are of necessity slower and give a clumsier feel. Thus the intro. The main section of the song has a wild beat which was inspired by a couple of things. First, there was a lot of what was being called “house” music coming out, which was usually some distinctive backing beat layered with very simple melodies. Also, there was some scratch mixing happening, along with sampling of other tunes. So, I have the “oh yeah” (which others used in several hits @ the time), and then the section with the really fast hi-hat (which was actually inspired by a Sigue Sigue Sputnik concert I attended where they played a track too fast, somehow). Yes, I mentioned Sigue Sigue Sputnik.

I think the intro is kinda weak, but the rest of it, while repetitive, I think is interesting sonically. For some reason I always picture slaves rowing in the galley when I hear this one.

The main “melody” is basically riffing on the MIDI keyboard, and underneath it all is the metal guitar and orchestral stabs. You can blame ZZ-Top, Def Leppard, Bon Jovi and all the others for that. šŸ™‚

The Eldritch Cats

[Music Track is MIA! I need to dig it out, though honestly its omissions is not a great tragedy]
This track is a tribute to the monotony that was Stock, Aitken & Waterman. It has that “disco” backbeat, and just repeats on and on. That’s about all there is to say about the track, except that the Amiga version has an extra little flourish that the ST version did not. So there.

The Uzteks


This track is essentially as many layers of guitar as you can fit with only 4 channels, leaving a bit for bass and drums, with a slight concession to melody here and there. It sounded awesome played on the ST and cranked up load. As it stands, it is not one of my favorites. As are most of these tracks, it is quite repetitive. I have to remind myself that most of my time was spent designing and developing the actual game; it is quite a miracle that I churned out that 8 tracks, and I often wonder why I thought doing one track per team instead of (say) a “main menu” track, and win/lose tracks made any sense at all!

Sledge Hammers

The name of the team, if not the musical inspiration, came from the TV detective spoof of the same name. This track has a 6/8 beat (blame Status Quo), which of all things meant that I could actually pull off a triplet effect, which I labor into the ground in the middle. The Quartet player tuning rears its ugly head, especially on the bass section. This was actually the first piece of music I composed for the game, and exists in a couple of other forms. I really like the main riff, but I am not sure I really pulled it all together here. Certainly, this one is less repetitive, and I quite like some of the bass and drum detail here and there.

Manic Moose


This is one of the more melodic pieces, and seems to be one that people like. The main melody is just a riff around the various chords of the key of C major, and I think there’s a nod to Orchestral Maneuvers In The Dark going on (unintentionally, I am sure). One of the voicings that I really like out of the set of 16 is the infinite sustain guitar that is used both as a rhythm and solo instrument. I don’t recall off-hand if that is a standard Quartet sound, or if I sampled my guitar (which I certainly did for other games), but it ranges from sweet here (the second run through the melody refrain) to raucous elsewhere. There’s a switch in the middle of this that is somewhat reminiscent of the Electric Light Orchestra, and once again the quads-rather-than-triplets rear their heads (I don’t like the effect).

Vectors

This one has a punchy enough beat, a nod to Star Wars somewhere in there, and Steve On The Keyboard [tm] jamming not quite randomly. There’s a interesting “play orchestral stabs with keyboard vs guitar stab” section in there. That’s about all I can say about this, except that there was a much, much better version of this that I’d previously done with Soundtracker for a local Liverpool memory expansion company, the so called MES Demo part 1. That version was resplendent with samples, snippets of TV show themes (Neighbors, Eastenders) and more. Unfortunately I don’t have a copy of that version any more. šŸ™

Jovian Jello Juggernauts


I think this one is utterly horrible, and I am only putting it up here by way of penance. šŸ™‚

Devils


This one has more of a standard song arrangement to it, and that is probably because the track originates in a song I wrote in my garage band days. I hate to say it, but that song was a bit inspired by Twisted Sister. The “solo” bit which is where you might expect a chorus to be is a bit wild, with some possibly questionable musical tonality. Not my least favorite.

Posted by Steve Wetherill

18 comments

Hello ! That article was really great to read. Born in 1981, I have 3 big brothers and I grew up surrounded by computers (atari 800xl then an atari st, then an amiga, a pc engine console…). I remember very well the music from Projectyle (I don’t even remember playing the game that much, but the music had a strong impact on me then). Listening to it now brings back so much memories and nostalgia… It’s funny that you mention that the music on YT “of course” comes from an emulator… well, my brothers at the time were so fond of video games music that they had recorded many soundtracks on cassette… including the music from Projectyle !

The other funny thing is that I’m now a musician / sound engineer, and one of the reason for that is that I began playing around with Quartet when I was a kid. Didn’t know anything about sound, music or programming of course. But I kept playing around, first on the atari, then on the amiga with various soundtrackers for years, then on the pc… then I bought a keyboard and started learning to play, and years later I was attending keyboard class in a private “modern” music school (= jazz, rock, metal) and majored in harmony. I don’t think I would be where I am now if not for quartet, my big brothers pushing me to try soundtracking, and of course all the computer music from that era that fascinated me. And the music of Projectyle, how simple it may sound now to my educated ears, is a big part of it. So.. thank you !

Hi Flavien! Thanks for the comments, nice to know that somebody out there liked the music in Projectyle.

So, now I need to check out the music of Benighted Soul. If (as it appears) the music is anything like Epica/Nightwish it’ll be right down my street. šŸ™‚

Haha yes it is… although with a more progressive twist. I always thought many good music soundtracks from the 8-16 bit era definitely had something in common with prog rock šŸ˜‰ We have a nice music video if you feel in the mood to check out : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r17oYvp7fTM (yes i’m the keyboard dude with long hair šŸ˜‰ )

I had a talk with one of my brothers yesterday on the phone, and I mentioned that I stumbled upon your blog. He immediately said how cool Projectyle music sounded, notably because of the quartet player compared to other atari st music haha šŸ˜€

I purchased Start from Scratch. Good stuff, listening to it on my commute. šŸ™‚

Wow thanks ! That’s very much appreciated šŸ˜€
I had a strong nostalgia fix listening to the music of Projectyle again, now I want to make some covers for the fun of it šŸ˜‰
It’s cool to see that you’re still working in video games, although you’re more of a developer apparently !

I’m a game developer first (@KIXEYE currently), wannabe musician second, though sadly don’t get to do too much lately.

A Projectyle cover would be fun to hear! Perhaps it could go along with that Projectyle remake I keep meaning to do. šŸ™‚

I’ve done that this afternoon. I needed a break from the colossal wrok I have to do on Benighted Soul’s second album (taking care of the recording, mixing, arrangments, blah blah blah… it’s a huge enterprise). I compressed the master like sh*t to get the same dirtyness as the atari st šŸ˜‰

If you ever do a remake of Projectyle, I’d be more than happy to participate !! In fact, working in video games as a composer is basically what I want to do since I’m 20. But it’s hard to get noticed at all and I’m extremely lousy at communicating what I do !

That’s pretty freaking cool! That’d sound awesome in a remake, if only I could find the time to work on such a thing. Pretty inspiring stuff though. I like the intro to the Sledgehammers tacked onto the end. šŸ™‚

When is the 2nd album coming out?

No problem, I actually do have a lot on my mind these days too šŸ˜‰ The second album should be out mid 2014. Right now we stopped working on it cause we have a gig next week, the first in a year, and we have new songs and a new drummer, so we need a lot of preparation to get everything ready and that means a lot of rehearsals unfortunately..

Anyhow I hate to sound like a fanboy, but if you ever need a musician to participate in anything, I’d be happy šŸ˜‰

(ha yes I ended with sledge hammers riff, I thought of doing a medley originally. Maybe when I have more time šŸ™‚ )

Some days ago I decided to re-listen to my huge Amiga songs collection, and of course, some of them reminds me great moments of my childhood when I played with my brother’s 500+…

Yesterday, didn’t know what to do….
I took projectyle songs and I just mixed them a little with some programs I have, to make them much “punchy” and loud…

So here I am working, and listening to music from a 90’s videogame on my MP3…

I just found your name on ‘HALL OF LIGHT’
And see there is a “Stevewetherill.com”

Just came here to thank you for these songs…
Amiga games stay in memory thanks to this….

(and excuse me for my enlish; I’m french so……)

Thanks for posting Julien. Glad you like the tunes!

Projectyle was literally my favorite game for a while back in the early 90s. Go Devils!!!

Thanks for the music. I haven’t played in more than a decade but every one of those tunes is incredibly familiar to me.

I had the Amiga version btw.

Hi Steve,

First thing’s first, Projectyle was and still is a pretty cool game. Either multiplayer or single player vs AI there was a lot of fun to be had with it :).

Regarding the musics, the SNDH Archive has gone into the trouble of ripping the tunes out. They can be found here: http://sndh.atari.org/sndh/browser/index.php?dir=sndh_lf/Wheterill_Steve/. Also, http://sndh.atari.org/players.php has a list of players that can be used to play the tunes (Jam is just fine for Windows for example).

Again, thanks for the musics and have fun listening them with better quality!

Thanks for posting, and thanks for the kind words about Projectyle!

Sadly, none of the Mac OSX players listed will play the Projectyle.sndh archive (the player just locks up). Also, the Flimbo’s Quest archive seems incomplete. šŸ™

EDIT: Actually, perhaps just the first track is not working, other tracks seem to play OK now. šŸ™‚

Hi Steve,

I’m the maintainer of the SNDH ST archive… can’t believe you dis-assembled Quartet back in the day. Must have been a heavy Easy-Rider session! šŸ™‚

Anyway thanks for this blog, it’s enabled me to modify and fix some credits. eg. Tusker is now down to you rather than the generic “Eldritch the Cat” – one thing you can maybe clear up – did you also do all the music from Vivid’s Time Machine – currently I credit good old Hagar – Wally Beben, but perhaps you did the ST music?

Cheers
Phil

Hi Phil – thanks for the comments!

I’ve listened to the Time Machine music from your archive. I don’t know if it is something I created. Eldritch did various things for Vivid Image and System Three so it is possible I worked on that, but I don’t specifically remember working on it.

Steve

Hello Steve ! I stumbled upon your blog while looking for some Projectyle music (something I find myself doing every other year). I was born in 78, and had an Atari ST(F!). I loved the game for its creative, fun and fast gameplay, and also for the great musical themes. I beat the league mode using every team… It was my favorite sports game. Probably didn’t get enough credit at the time, nor enough nostalgia now.

Thanks for the kind comments! Glad you liked the game and the music (I preferred how the music sounded on the ST – the distortion added a certain “depth” to the sound).

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