Tusker Atari ST: Music!

Continuing the music from video games theme, here’s a couple of things from the Atari ST version of Tusker, published by System 3 in 1990. This was a rush job, I think I had to turn it around in a couple of days.

Title Music

This was composed using Quartet, and as with most of my Quartet compositions is best played back loud. 🙂 As I have mentioned before, the Quartet player by necessity introduces an incredible amount of distortion, so the compositions tend to cater to that. The music itself has a jungly sort of a beat and was intended to have a vaguely “African” sound. I’d never seen the Tusker game (though I had been given the original music for the Amiga version of the game as a reference), so I didn’t have much of an idea of the theme of the game itself. I imagined Elephants, with, tusks. It is fairly repetitive, makes use of a few key changes to add some variety (possibly one key change too many), but overall I think has some decent bits here and there.

Ingame Music

This track was composed using Quartet, but I had put together a chip tune playback routine to map the quartet note data to the Atari AY chip beeps and boops. It’s ultra repetitive, being not much more than a jam up and down the keyboard. It was done quickly, what can I say? 🙂

PS To be clear, I had no involvement with the development of the game; I just developed the music for the Atari ST version.

PPS These samples were grabbed using the OSX ST Emulator “Hatari“.

Posted by Steve Wetherill, 0 comments

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. 🙂

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. 🙁

Jovian Jello Juggernauts


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

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 in Amiga, Atari ST, Music, Projectyle, Retro, 18 comments

Projectyle Amiga: Review!

Projectyle is a game that I designed and developed with Marc Wilding through our company Eldritch The Cat in 1989-1990, and which was published by Electronic Arts.

Projectyle is a “game of three halves” – up to three human players (with AI filling in the slots if necessary) duke it out over three sets on an interconnected arena grid of 5 zones. It’s in the “future sports” genre (quite popular at the time), and could loosely be described as “three player Subbuteo meets Air Hockey”.

In some ways it was probably over ambitious because I agreed with publishers EA to create completely different graphics for the “home” arena for each team, a completely distinct visual look for each team, along with a completely new theme tune for each team. The fact that I did all the music and sound effects, and that the budget was so tight that I ended up doing the majority of the arena (and other) graphics, meant that certain things did not get the attention they warranted. There’s a lot in the game, including a league mode which saves to disk, a player training mode which allows you to earn in-game powerups and then “train” your players, in addition to the main gameplay proper.

Anyway, some people liked it. Here’s a YouTube review I came across recently. Maybe I should finally remake this …

Posted by Steve Wetherill in Amiga, Atari ST, Projectyle, Retro, 25 comments

Jet Set Willy: The Final Frontier, the music

A couple of items of trivia about the music in “Jet Set Willy: The Final Frontier” for Amstrad CPC.

Title Screen Music

The title screen music is of course Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. I wrote the music player for the game, and sourced the actual music data from the C64 version of the game (which had a nice 3 channel rendition of the tune). Since I never had any contact with the programmer of the C64 version of the game, I sat down one (long) night (while housemates Stoo and Marc went down the pub) with a hex dump utility, a pre-release copy of the C64 game, and a Casio MT30 keyboard (I loved that keyboard!). I spent hours poring over the hex data looking for a byte sequence that resembled the distinctive triplet that begins the Moonlight Sonata, playing the note offsets on the MT30. Eventually, I found the right sequence of bytes, for all three audio channels (and figured out how note duration was encoded), and dumped the data over to the Amstrad. After hours of monkeying around, I eventually had the whole tune playing (in full three-channel, square wave glory on the Amstrad CPC’s General Instrument AY-3-8912 sound chip)!

It turned out … OK, here’s a rendition courtesy of a dedicated YouTuber:

In-Game Music

The in-game music for the original Spectrum version of Jet Set Willy was “If I Were A Rich Man” from the movie “Fiddler on the Roof”. For whatever reason (word had it that publisher Software Projects ran into rights issues), new music was needed and so I came up with a catchy (if not … repetitive) little ditty, composed 2-finger style (and transposed by hand) on my trusty MT30. This tune (which was the first original music I had written for a game) can be heard here (again courtesy of a dedicated YouTuber):

This (untitled) tune is a 2-channel composition, so that the third sound channel on the Amstrad CPC’s AY sound chip could be used for game sound effects.

Posted by Steve Wetherill in Amstrad, CPC 464, Music, Retro, Sinclair, Spectrum, 1 comment

…. and we’re back (with comments on Jet Set Willy 2)

I haven’t been active around here for a bit, but I felt motivated to write after reading Julian Wiseman’s “Jet Set Willy 2” page, and exchanging correspondance with Julian.

I’ve previously provided detailed commentary on the development of the JSW2 game for that site. While I’m not credited in JSW2 for the Sinclair Spectrum, that game does contain code, art and design contributions from me – JSW2 is basically a backport of the Amstrad CPC version of Jet Set Willy developed by Derrick P. Rowson and myself. During development of the game we basically doubled the number of rooms in the game, which was released on the CPC as Jet Set Willy: The Final Frontier (because of the multiple Star Trek references contained in additional sections of the game added by Derrick and myself). I left Software Projects after completing the CPC version, whereupon Derrick did the port back to the Spectrum. In the absence of further post-JSW output from Matthew Smith, relabeling the backport of the Amstrad game must have been financially attractive for Software Projects. From what I can gather from some light Googling, the CPC release was eventually renamed to Jet Set Willy II: The Final Frontier (original release did not have the II designation), and then another version of the game called simply Jet Set Willy was released. That version had all the additional rooms removed. If anyone can confirm or deny the accuracy of this info I’ll update this post to reflect that.

Derrick’s latest notes on Julian’s site add color to, and in some cases differ from, info that I’ve previously given. It has been a long time, and nobody has infallible memory, but I’ve taken the liberty of providing responses here to some of Derrick’s recent comments.

The Sewers. The Sewers were not inspired by Holt Road. Their inspiration was just Victorian sewers. The layout of the screens shows that above the cold store is the swimming pool. I concluded that in order to empty the pool would need a drainage system going to the river. e.g. the sewage system. The first few screen were already drawn by me before Steve saw them. He then mentioned they reminded him of HOLT ROAD and thus the addition of Holt road. Since I had never visited Holt road and was not actually aware of the train station nearby, I can conclusively state that Holt road was not the inspiration.

As to the inspiration for “The Sewers”, there are shades of grey here. Derrick may well have created the initial sewer screens, and the reasoning Derrick provides is logical (in that the room layout makes sense). So, perhaps I was reminded of Holt Road and environs by some initial screens done by Derrick. That said, I clearly remember developing several of the rooms in that area, amongst them the Holt Road screen, which was obviously one of the inspirations for me personally.

Below is an image of Green Lane train station in Birkenhead, where I would catch the train to work each day while working on Jet Set Willy. Green Lane is at the bottom of Holt Road and with its Victorian era red stone arches is reminiscent of screens in The Sewers.

Service to Liverpool, Green Lane Station, Birkenhead (El Pollock) / CC BY-SA 2.0

When I rewrote the various Amstrad versions of the game, I added an additional two letters to the cheat code. Making the OFFICIAL cheat code to be “HIEMMRAIDNAPRRRTT”. This cheat code works on both JSW1 and JSW2 on the Amstrad.

Interesting because I recall the “HI” addition to the cheat code during my time working on the game

Hackers and crackers have destroyed the way the cartography room works on most of the versions I have seen recently. By not understanding what the data for the cartography does, they have allowed this data to be corrupted or even removed. This means on all the Amstrad versions I have played on emulators the cheat code cannot find and draw the proper rooms. (shame)

Ironic indeed.

“ATTRIBUTE CLASH” ?????

I made a passing comment on “attribute clash” on JSW2 for the Spectrum. In JSW1, Willy always takes on the color of either the background (typically), or of moving enemies should he overlap their attribute extents (you would usually, but not always, die when that happens). In JSW2, I notice that moving enemies appear to take on Willy’s white color in those cases. In fact, there seems to be some sort of color fighting happening.

Much of this is nit-picky stuff and I don’t often get motivated to speak up about such things. In this case, the development of the Amstrad CPC ports of Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy was a formative period for me, and so the subject is near and dear to my heart.

Derrick, if you’re out there and you are reading this I would love to hear from you!

Posted by Steve Wetherill in Amstrad, Retro, Sinclair, Spectrum, 0 comments