The ISA-Bus

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Tag Archives: Roland

I’m selling a Roland MT-32 on eBay

Years ago, I bought two Roland MT-32s. Now I’ve finally decided which one to keep and put the other one on eBay. It’s a first generation one, the serial number is 840068.

The metal parts of the case are somewhat scratched, the plastic part around the volume control a bit rubbed. This is not uncommon, these devices were often originally owned by musicians, not gamers, and may have been taken on tour. The rubber feet are missing and should be replaced, since the module now rests on some screws and will scratch any surface it sits on.

I’m selling it without a power supply, since I have only one of these. That shouldn’t be a problem. It seems that power supplies are mostly interchangeable between Roland devices, and are still sold. I found prices around $8 for the USA, £10 for the UK, €18 for continental Europe, all on eBay.

A first generation MT-32 is the best choice for most American games at least up to around 1992. Dune II still sounds better on it. For British games, an LAPC-I or CM-32L is usually the better choice.

I’m selling some other computer stuff as well and will sell more in the next time. You might want to keep an eye on it.

Post-auction update: It went up to €80.

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Two Cards on One Port

Common wisdom has it that you can’t have two devices set to the same port. This may not be true in all cases. At the moment, I have a 286 with a Roland SCC-1 and a Sound Blaster 2.0 (CT1350B). The SCC-1 is set to the default value of 330h, and the MIDI port of the Sound Blaster cannot be configured anyway.

Yet they both work. I can play General MIDI files with the SCC-1, play games with an external module hooked up to the SCC-1, and play MT-32 MIDI files with an external module hooked up to the Sound Blaster’s MIDI port (which both GSPlay and MegaMID support).

The only program that can get confused by this setting is Roland’s CSSCHK utility. Sometimes it works fine, sometimes it reports, not incorrectly, that the port is taken up by another device, and won’t let me set the SCC-1 into MT-32 emulation mode. That’s not really a problem since there are other ways to do this.

Roland in France and Germany

The only French company to consistently support Roland MT-32 was Delphine Software, known mainly for “Another World” and “Flashback”. They did it from 1990, when they started to port their games to the PC, till the end of the DOS era. Cryo Interactive Entertainment did it only for the two titles they developed for Virgin, “Dune” and “KGB”. I guess that Roland had little to no relevance for the domestic French market.

In Germany the situation was a whole lot weirder. Support was very inconsistent and started very late, around 1994, when the Roland era was already over elsewhere. So far the only game I found where Roland is definitely the best choice is the 1995 RPG Albion. This may have something to do with the prices charged for the LAPC-I in Germany. According to one 1991 game guide, an AdLib cost 200 German Marks at the time, a Sound Blaster 350 and an LAPC-I 1,300. Seeing that a German Mark was usually about 50 cents, and the suggested retail price of the LAPC-I in the USA was $425, that’s a bit much.

Roland in Britain

Outside Japan, there are only two countries where Roland hardware was widely supported in games: The USA and the UK. There are several differences between the support in these two countries.

In the USA, support started in 1988. The default device was and remained the first generation MT-32, of which there are large numbers in the USA. You can still get one on eBay for $50. Many games sent messages to the LCD display, not just Sierra games. Very few games used the additional sound effects of the CM-32L and LAPC-I, noteworthy ones are the two Ultima Underworld games and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. That was 1993, when American developers were already moving to General MIDI. Consequently, most (not all) American games that support MT-32 but not GM will run on a 286 or even 8088 with 512kB RAM.

In the UK, support started in 1990 and the default device seems to have been the LAPC-I from the beginning. Many games, starting with Supremacy in 1990, used the additional sound effects, many will not even run correctly with first generation hardware. None that I am aware of sends a message to the LCD display.

MobyGames lists a few 1989 UK games that supposedly support Roland, but at closer look, they all evaporate: Ste Cork’s Chuckie Egg port did not support any sound cards, only speaker, as did the original release of Double Dragon II, though Adlib and Roland support seems to have been added in a 1991 re-release. Bloodwych and Millennium 2.2 are Amiga/ST games where the existence of contemporary PC ports is questionable, while 1991 American releases for PC are well documented.

If British composers and developers discovered Roland later, they also acquired greater mastery. When especially good Roland music is discussed, or games where the Roland score is a lot better than the alternatives, the majority of quoted games is usually British. Some of these games are otherwise quite obscure, like King’s Table: The Legend of Ragnarok.

The end of the LAPC-I era in the UK seems to have come around 1994. The last games I found so far where Roland is the best music choice is Sabre Team. It requires a 386.

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.

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.