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dmantione
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Some ideas about remastering original music
« on: February 13, 2006, 10:23:33 pm »

Hi,

Congratulations for this very well done revival of this superb game.

I read in the other thread that the maximum has been done to improve playback of the mod-files. First I would correct something, that is that Dos games did sound bad. I had a GUS available, and while I don't know wether SC2 supported it, I can assure you that many Dos games did sound better than many modern games.

The goal should be to match the playback quality of the GUS synthesizer. There exist several good software synthesis engines that can match it, Mikmod is unfortunately not one of them. However, wether Mikmod is a bad choice is another matter, there exist few open source engines, to my knowledge: MikMod, Cheesetronic, XMP and Open Cubic Player. OCP is one of the best engines available, but propably also one of the hardest to use Sad For the rest, I doubt if the trouble would be worth it, but it could be investigated.

That is for the player engine. Regarding the MOD files, there are several things that can be done to improve them. They should be converted to a more advanced format like .IT, which allows for several enhancements:
* Take advantage of the note-off features. With Mahoney & Kactus .MOD, the previous note stops when the next starts. For playback of several instruments this is undesired, think of a piano for example. By inserting appropiate note-off information the listening experience can be significantly enhanced.
* Rethink the stereo positioning. M&K .MOD has two channels left and two right, just like the Amiga. Especially with a headphone this sounds bad. This can be done much better in modern formats.
* Samples can be volume normalized; modern module formats allow a fully controlable vlume envelope. This would allow to get rid of tricks volume slides that are used in .MOD files to emulate the envelope in natural instruments. This would be quite hard IMHO.

Just my 2 cents....
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #1 on: February 14, 2006, 06:49:21 am »

You are right, the .it format is way superior to the .mod one, and a conversion would almost certainly greatly benefit the music. The downside, of course, is that someone has to do it in detail. You can't just load the mod-file in Impulse Tracker, save it as .it and be done with it. Every sample (well, instrument, actually) has to be fine-tuned in respect to panning, cutoff and other details. And there's a lot of samples.

Advantages to this method:
- No creative changes are required; i.e. the music stays as it is.
- Better sound reproduction. The sound quality in itself will not be altered, as the original samples are still being used.
- As the original samples are used, the file sizes will stay roughly the same as before.

Disadvantages:
- Requires alterations in the music engine to allow .it playback.
- Tedious work. Believe me, I've spent thousands and thousands of hours with Impulse Tracker.


I'm actually not too sure how much the music would benefit from this change, though. How about you give us an example, dmantione, since you suggested it? Cheesy
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2006, 07:41:30 am »

In my opinion, the benefit would be extremely small, and wouldn't be worth the effort involved. Someone might as well go all the way and make full-fledged remixes of the Star Control 2 music... oh wait!
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2006, 10:17:51 am »

I read in the other thread that the maximum has been done to improve playback of the mod-files. First I would correct something, that is that Dos games did sound bad. I had a GUS available, and while I don't know wether SC2 supported it, I can assure you that many Dos games did sound better than many modern games.
"Sounding better" is somewhat subjective. However, I do agree that the music of many DOS games has been underrated due to limitations of the popular Sound Blaster series. For MOD-style music, the Gravis Ultrasound was way ahead of its time; it's greatest problem, in my opinion, was the lack of proper support for it (and the limited sample memory size combined with no proper support for sample compression). For MIDI-style music, the Roland MT-32 and Sound Canvas showed the way. The Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold, in my opinion, was the top DOS-era sound card, with a synthesis abilities superior in most ways to the GUS, good General MIDI playback, full SB16 compatibility and enough sample memory for any tune. Unfortunately, most games used it as a Sound Blaster with General MIDI support instead of making full use of its wavetable synth. Nowadays, with MP3 and Vorbis compression, hardly anyone even bothers with synthesised music.

As a GUS owner, I can confirm that SC2 supports the GUS, but the GUS code is a bit buggy. Depending on the exact IRQ and DMA settings used, samples may be corrupted on load (which sounds awful). I think the problem is that IRQs over 7 don't work properly, but I haven't tested this in detail.

Quote
The goal should be to match the playback quality of the GUS synthesizer. There exist several good software synthesis engines that can match it, Mikmod is unfortunately not one of them. However, wether Mikmod is a bad choice is another matter, there exist few open source engines, to my knowledge: MikMod, Cheesetronic, XMP and Open Cubic Player. OCP is one of the best engines available, but propably also one of the hardest to use Sad For the rest, I doubt if the trouble would be worth it, but it could be investigated.
MikMod seems to have a speed advantage over the others, but is definitely lacking in advanced features. However, it should be noted that basic MOD playback is well within the capabilities of all these engines. Personally, I've been using the ModPlug engine for most of my MOD-like playback and tracking needs, and it seems to have very accurate playback (especially for ModPlug Tracker songs Wink) and extensive filtering and so on.

I'm not convinced that changing MOD players would be worth the trouble, though.

Quote
* Take advantage of the note-off features. With Mahoney & Kactus .MOD, the previous note stops when the next starts. For playback of several instruments this is undesired, think of a piano for example. By inserting appropiate note-off information the listening experience can be significantly enhanced.
This involves artistic work to ensure that the note-off features are correctly used, and may change the character of the music if carelessly done; sounds like remixing to me.

Quote
* Rethink the stereo positioning. M&K .MOD has two channels left and two right, just like the Amiga. Especially with a headphone this sounds bad. This can be done much better in modern formats.
I see two approaches here: either keep the MOD-style panning, but adjust its intensity to a less annoying level or redo the panning from scratch in a more flexible format.

Quote
* Samples can be volume normalized; modern module formats allow a fully controlable vlume envelope. This would allow to get rid of tricks volume slides that are used in .MOD files to emulate the envelope in natural instruments. This would be quite hard IMHO.
I'm not entirely sure what benefits using volume envelopes over volume slides would have; the end result is pretty similar.

All in all, it seems that what you want is a more "faithful" set of remixes, while I'd suggest sticking to purely technical means to improve the MODs and let the remixers have complete artistic freedom (á la Precursors). Of course, if someone is willing to do remixes as you describe, adding support in UQM for IT files should be reasonably easy as the MikMod player already has IT support.
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2006, 10:59:02 am »

It's not hard to find musical talent on the Internet if we want a more faithful set of remixes. If this is a possibility that we want to pursue, I can help with that.
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dmantione
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #5 on: February 14, 2006, 02:01:48 pm »

I'm actually not too sure how much the music would benefit from this change, though. How about you give us an example, dmantione, since you suggested it? Cheesy

I'm more an audiophile than a composer, but I gave it a try. Even though I'm an amateur, the improvements are  beyond expectations.

http://www.vhl.tudelft.nl/uqm

hyper.mod is the original, hyper.it the edited file. I've also added wav files in case your player engine cannot handle .it files well, both files were prepared using Open Cubic Player, using the floating point synthesizer and AOI filtering.

What has changed:
* All samples converted to instruments.
* Volume envelope added for most instruments.
* Some instruments (i.e. the bells) now continue after next note starts, others (strings) get a note-off instead of sound cut off.
* Note off events manually added at various places to prevent some instruments from continuing inside their sustain forever.
* Stereo modifications. Some instruments have a panning envelope now, so the positioning of the channels is now no longer the only stereo source. The positioning of channels has changed.

Most changes do not really affect the "original feel" and it sounds like the original in better sound quality. One does IMHO and that is that the bells now are no longer interrupted therefore and sound like real bells. It doesn't sound bad at all, but differently from the original, so for optimal nostalgy this change would have to be reverted in some places.
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dmantione
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #6 on: February 14, 2006, 02:23:57 pm »

"Sounding better" is somewhat subjective. However, I do agree that the music of many DOS games has been underrated due to limitations of the popular Sound Blaster series. For MOD-style music, the Gravis Ultrasound was way ahead of its time; it's greatest problem, in my opinion, was the lack of proper support for it (and the limited sample memory size combined with no proper support for sample compression). For MIDI-style music, the Roland MT-32 and Sound Canvas showed the way. The Sound Blaster AWE64 Gold, in my opinion, was the top DOS-era sound card, with a synthesis abilities superior in most ways to the GUS, good General MIDI playback, full SB16 compatibility and enough sample memory for any tune. Unfortunately, most games used it as a Sound Blaster with General MIDI support instead of making full use of its wavetable synth.

Well, I had/have an Interwave based GUS, which combined with 8MB of memory and the very good 4MB patch set kicked ass, both for tracker music and for MIDI music. The AWE64 was indeed a very good card as well, I don't know which one I would perfer: the AWE64 won for better Adlib compatibility and the GUS won for better support.

Nowadays, with MP3 and Vorbis compression, hardly anyone even bothers with synthesised music.
Well, audio quality is nowadays generally okay, but due to space requirements, a lot of CD-ROM games limit the amount of music that comes with the game. Imagine converting the entire SC2 music collection to MP3, I don't think it'll fit into the 30MB or something that most developers want to spend on music. Undecided A lot of games have good music, but it becomes quickly boring. Some developers still resort to 22 KHz .wavs because of patent trouble (Master of Orion 3 to name one). Yuck!

MikMod seems to have a speed advantage over the others, but is definitely lacking in advanced features. However, it should be noted that basic MOD playback is well within the capabilities of all these engines. Personally, I've been using the ModPlug engine for most of my MOD-like playback and tracking needs, and it seems to have very accurate playback (especially for ModPlug Tracker songs Wink) and extensive filtering and so on.

Yes, I used Modplug to edit the file, after discovering that the Linux based trackers (I tried Cheesetracker and Soundtracker) were not able to do the task. Reboot to windows Sad Modplugs player engine is excellent.

I'm not entirely sure what benefits using volume envelopes over volume slides would have; the end result is pretty similar.

A volume slide allows only a linear change in volume. Suppose you have an instrument with an echo. If you need to note-off such an instrument early with a volume slide, you eliminate the echo, With an envelope, a note-off will end the sustain phase, and no matter if the note is long of short, the echo is hearable.
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2006, 03:43:12 pm »

Whoa. That sounds rather nice, indeed! Although it's a bit hard for me to "adapt" to it, since I'm used to the old-styled hyperspace .mod...

Nice one!
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dmantione
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2006, 06:23:40 pm »

There was a permission problem with the wavs, fixed.
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2006, 09:14:23 pm »

Well, I had/have an Interwave based GUS, which combined with 8MB of memory and the very good 4MB patch set kicked ass, both for tracker music and for MIDI music. The AWE64 was indeed a very good card as well, I don't know which one I would perfer: the AWE64 won for better Adlib compatibility and the GUS won for better support.
I forgot about the GUS PnP cards; my GUS Max has 512 kB RAM expandable to 1MB. How compatible with the original GUS was the GUS PnP?

Quote
Well, audio quality is nowadays generally okay, but due to space requirements, a lot of CD-ROM games limit the amount of music that comes with the game. Imagine converting the entire SC2 music collection to MP3, I don't think it'll fit into the 30MB or something that most developers want to spend on music.
Well, the Precursor OGGs are about 250 MB, which is pretty big for a CD game.

Quote
A lot of games have good music, but it becomes quickly boring. Some developers still resort to 22 KHz .wavs because of patent trouble (Master of Orion 3 to name one). Yuck!
This is ridiculous considering that Vorbis is a good codec available with minimal license requirements (you have to include the Xiph.org copyright message and disclaimer in the documentation!).

Quote
Yes, I used Modplug to edit the file, after discovering that the Linux based trackers (I tried Cheesetracker and Soundtracker) were not able to do the task. Reboot to windows Sad Modplugs player engine is excellent.
In that case, you may be interested in the ModPlug XMMS plugin and Schism Tracker.

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A volume slide allows only a linear change in volume. Suppose you have an instrument with an echo. If you need to note-off such an instrument early with a volume slide, you eliminate the echo, With an envelope, a note-off will end the sustain phase, and no matter if the note is long of short, the echo is hearable.

Volume envelopes in Impulse Tracker are essentially sets of linear slides on a value multiplied with the note volume, so you can emulate them quite closely with a lot of volume slides; add volume slides to the pattern rows corresponding to the sections before and after the sustain loop (removing any note off/cut events). Alternatively, set speed to 1 and set the volume manually for each row. Of course, using volume envelopes is a lot easier, but this is how people used to do it before envelopes.
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2006, 10:00:45 pm »

I forgot about the GUS PnP cards; my GUS Max has 512 kB RAM expandable to 1MB. How compatible with the original GUS was the GUS PnP?

The Interwave chip has a configuration register where it can be switched between GF1compatibility and native Interwave mode. In GF1 mode it behaves exactly like a GF1, with the only difference being that the synthesizer renders at 44100Hz regardless of the amount of voices. In Interwave mode the stereo positioning registers increase from 6 to 8 bit, the memory registers change to allow an address space of 16MB, and several new registers for hardware accelerated effects become available. The GUS PnP could use a 512KB patch set from ROM and was shipped without RAM, To be GUS compatible you did to add some SIMMS. If you did, the compatibility was 100%. Or perhaps, the PnP allowed more IRQ choices than the original GUS, which could give problems with some games if you used an IRQ that such a game did not have in its list.

Also nice was that IWSBOS emulated a Roland Sound Canvas both on the SoundBlaster Midi port as on the Roland Midi port, and also emulated the ULTRAMID driver. The result of this was that games using Midi either through Roland or through ULTRAMID could take advantage of the excellent 4MB patch set. For some games, like Warcraft II and Little Big Adventure II, you couldn't believe your ears so beautiful it was Roll Eyes

Bad as always was the Adlib emulation, I had a SB2.0 in my computer for those games.

The GUS PnP was criticised for noise on the output (which the GF1 was reported not to have), and indeed, when setting you speakers loudly you could indeed hear a soft noise.

This is ridiculous considering that Vorbis is a good codec available with minimal license requirements (you have to include the Xiph.org copyright message and disclaimer in the documentation!).

I don't understand it either; propably it all has to do with awareness, most game developers live in a propietary world and aren't necessarily aware of open source alternatives. But I still don't understand it. Shocked

In that case, you may be interested in the ModPlug XMMS plugin and Schism Tracker.

Thanks,I'll check it out. Cheesy

Volume envelopes in Impulse Tracker are essentially sets of linear slides on a value multiplied with the note volume, so you can emulate them quite closely with a lot of volume slides; add volume slides to the pattern rows corresponding to the sections before and after the sustain loop (removing any note off/cut events). Alternatively, set speed to 1 and set the volume manually for each row. Of course, using volume envelopes is a lot easier, but this is how people used to do it before envelopes.

You would need to combine it with using multiple channels and round robining between them (which some composers did/do) , but indeed, then you could do something like that.
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #11 on: February 14, 2006, 10:32:06 pm »

The Interwave chip has a configuration register where it can be switched between GF1compatibility and native Interwave mode. [...]
Nice. Maybe I should have bought one of those instead.

Quote
Also nice was that IWSBOS emulated a Roland Sound Canvas both on the SoundBlaster Midi port as on the Roland Midi port, and also emulated the ULTRAMID driver. The result of this was that games using Midi either through Roland or through ULTRAMID could take advantage of the excellent 4MB patch set. For some games, like Warcraft II and Little Big Adventure II, you couldn't believe your ears so beautiful it was Roll Eyes

Bad as always was the Adlib emulation, I had a SB2.0 in my computer for those games.
Hmm... A GUS PnP with 8 MB RAM and a SB16 for compatibility sounds like it could have been a killer combination.

Quote
The GUS PnP was criticised for noise on the output (which the GF1 was reported not to have), and indeed, when setting you speakers loudly you could indeed hear a soft noise.
I heard that a later chip revision fixed this problem.

Quote
You would need to combine it with using multiple channels and round robining between them (which some composers did/do) , but indeed, then you could do something like that.
If you want new note actions, too, just use whatever channel happens to be free at the time for every new note (moving channel state information over as needed). If you don't have one free, things get complicated.

We aren't getting too far off topic here, are we? Grin
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Re: Some ideas about remastering original music
« Reply #12 on: February 15, 2006, 05:38:47 pm »


Well done, dmantione!

My humble opinion

1) The stereo image is most improved.
2) The strings now "lag" and sound like they were drenched in reverb. I don't enjoy the panning effect either. The flashiest part of this work is actually a non-improvement.
3) Bells sound a bit nicer.

a) Going over the songs in IT or Schism Tracker is a considerable amount of work..
b) ..for a smallish gain..
c) ..but there have been requests for a more conservative remastering work. However..
d) ..sample quality will still be low..
e) ..but it wouldn't bother me. Smiley
f) The originals don't either!


--Eino
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