The ISA-Bus

One blog to bind them all.

Category Archives: Music

Circuit’s Edge and the MT-32

Circuit’s Edge will not play its music correctly on Sound Canvas MT-32 emulation. It will, in fact, be horribly off: Instead of Fantasy and Synth the intro will use standard pianos.

The interesting thing is that there is no detectable activity before the music starts. Dune II, in comparison, takes its time to initialize the MT-32.

Advertisements

Chip’s Challenge and the MT-32

I just tried Chip’s Challenge with an MT-32, I wanted to see if it uploads any custom patches. It does not. There is absolutely no activity before the music actually starts.

Now I know from previous experience that Chip’s Challenge will work with a WaveBlaster connector. Unfortunately, there never was a full-featured MT-32 on a daughterboard. There is, however, a complete Sound Canvas on a daughterboard: The Roland SCD-15. And a game that does not upload patches will work well with the MT-32 emulation of the Sound Canvas.

As a footnote, the music isn’t the same as in the original Lynx version. It was written by David Whittaker, probably the most sought-after British game composer of the time. Except for the famous Windows version, all the ports were made by British outfit Images Software, and mostly to platforms popular in the UK. You can play Pipe Mania on a Mac or NES, but not Chip’s Challenge!

Dune II and the Roland MT-32

I have read in various places that Dune II will work only with a first generation MT-32. Not true. I just tried it with an original MT-32, a CM-32L, and even with the MT-32 emulation of the SCC-1. The emulation, of course, gets the sound effects wrong, but might even be a viable alternative if the multiple sound source patch is installed and Sound Blaster used for the sound effects. The first generation MT-32 may sound somewhat better, but all three setups basically work.

Actually I’m not sure if it is even possible to have a game that works only with a first generation synth. The other way round, yes. Ignoring the 40 ms delay between sysex commands may cause buffer overflows, broken sounds and even firmware lockups. But I think the worst that can happen when a game that exploits the first generation bugs is run on later hardware is that it sounds a bit odd in places.

Some Notes on the Roland MT-32

Roland had not, originally, intended the MT-32 to be used with a computer. They had a very specific setup in mind, that is explained in detail in the manual: A PR-100 sequencer and a Roland Piano.

The suggested setup in the MT-32 manual

A PR-100 and an MT-32 were later released as a single device, the MT-100. The Roland Piano was the main instrument, the one connected to the amplifier or headphone. The MT-32, therefore, had no need for a headphone jack. Its audio output was plugged into the piano. So far, I have not been able to track down this “Roland Piano”. The professional Roland synths are documented very well on the web, the low-end home products less so.

Then, in 1988, Roland released something they called the Musi-kun, a set to create and listen to music on a PC. It seems to have been available for NEC PC-98 only. Unfortunately, only tiny images can be found:

Musi-kun-1 Musi-kun-2

I suppose that it was on this occasion that the second generation of MT-32 was launched. One of the changes was the addition of a headphone jack. Now that the MT-32 was the main instrument, it needed one.

A Short Timeline of MIDI and PC Games

1983: MIDI is standardized after two years of discussion.

1984: Roland launches the MIDI processing unit MPU-401, designed to connect MIDI devices with a computer. The MPU-401 is a box with its own power supply that is connected to the computer via a card or cartridge. Interface kits for eight computer systems are available: NEC PC-88, NEC PC-98, Fujitsu FM7, Sharp X1, MSX, Apple II, Commodore 64, and IBM PC.

1987: Roland launches the LA (Linear Arithmetic) family of synthesizers. At the bottom end is the MT-32, designed for hobby musicians and garage bands.

1988: With the fourth game in the King’s Quest series, The Perils of Rosella, Sierra introduces a new game engine, Sierra’s Creative Interpreter (SCI). The new engine supports EGA graphics and three music devices: The AdLib Music Card, Creative Labs’ Game Blaster, and the Roland MT-32. They also sell these three devices. If you buy an MT-32, you get two games for free.

1989: Roland launches the “Computer Music” series of synthesizers. They are designed for use with a computer only and have no LED display and no controls but a volume knob. Of these, the CM-32L is an improved version of the MT-32. It has less noise and some extra sound effects for games. For NEC PC-98, Apple II and IBM PC it is also available together with the MPU on a single card, the LAPC (LAPC-N, LAPC-A, LAPC-I respectively).

1991: The General MIDI (GM) standard is published. Still in the same year, Roland adds the GS extension (expanded variously as General Standard or General Sound) and presents a device that supports both, the SC-55 Sound Canvas. Unlike the MT-32, the Sound Canvas is a wavetable device and not programmable. Other companies soon produce GM devices as well, often as daughterboards for the Soundblaster cards that are getting more and more popular.

1992: Dune II is one of the first, or maybe even the first, game to support the new Sound Canvas.