Tag Archives: sierra on-line

Simon the Sorcerer Review: When Greywolfe Met Pixels

So, I'm going to confess to something right away: I was intensely worried about replaying this game, twenty years along. I was worried about it because I'd played a bit [and got stuck] a couple of years ago.  And I remembered the conversation with the Billy Goats Gruff. Essentially, it turns the fable into a…
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Greywolfe’s Games To Look Forward To In 2016.

Please note:  This article is LITTERED with links.  They will open in a new window and will take you off-site. Now that four-in-February is behind us, I thought I'd take some time to look into games that I'm at least a little curious about for the calendar year of 2016. I have divided my choices…
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Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco And The Time Rippers Review: Roger’s Timey-Wimey Adventure

Please note: some of the links in this review will take you off-site. These have been set up to open in a new window. Where do you go after you've made three games in a universe and have - rather neatly - tied the series up? When confronted with this problem, Al Lowe chose to…
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Four ^H^H^H^H Three out of Four In February Ain’t Bad

I had such high hopes for February, I really did. I sat on Banjo Tooie, because I wanted to experience it, but I didn't want to experience it quite so close to Banjo Kazooie. I was genuinely looking forward to what Plague Knight had in store for me at the end of Shovel Knight. I…
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Sequels Are Hurting The Game Industry.

I don't play as many games as I used to. Part of the reason for this has to do with the fact that I'm just more picky now: often, games only appeal to one of my senses and not all of them. As in, I can be swayed a little by the graphics. Or maybe…
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Opinion: He’s Just Not My [Body] Type

AAA gaming seems to be in a rut of making perfect protagonists. That is: body perfect men in their prime who can shoot guns and wield swords and do all kinds of crazy stuff. Most of these men don't have an inkling of self-doubt. Once they set themselves on a course, they follow through with…
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Opinion: The Mystery Of Music

Long, long ago. Back when computers were new and gaming was just a twinkle in Nintendo's eye, the music that computers actually made was...well, atrocious. It sort of depended on which computer you had, of course, but the IBM PC - my gaming platform of choice - largely went silent in those years, because it was a pretty binary choice. You either enjoyed the sounds of silence or you had to contend with the PC speaker. And oh God. You did not want to contend with the PC speaker. Capable of only outputting one tone - a high pitched bleep - composers would try to wrangle the PC speaker into making music that would make you grit your teeth. Some folks managed semi-interesting sounds: The opening of Xenon 2, Megablast, wasn't terrible on the PC speaker. The same is arguably true of Maniac Mansion, but by and large, most people's reaction to PC speaker music was "TURN IT OFF." So, when sound cards came along, I bought one immediately. And it changed my entire perspective on gaming.

And Sierra Said "Let There Be Music" And Lo, For There Was

The first few sound cards for computers were ridiculously expensive until the Adlib came along. The Adlib didn't sound great, but in comparison with the PC Speaker, well, it was /fantastic./

Ah, the Adlib. FM-Synthesis at it's cheapest.

The first few companies to seriously embrace music on the PC did so at great cost: the only sort of electronic machinery capable of playing the sounds that the original developers wanted to hear were expensive, costing easily into the $500 realm. This, of course, simply wouldn't do. So Sierra helped usher in the era of the cheap FM-Synthesis card in the form of the Adlib. And from there, things took off at a swift pace. Cryo, masters of beautiful, somewhat confusing games, threw their hat in the ring. The Dune soundtrack is - to this day - a marvel of FM Synthesis. However did their composer get that card to make those noises? No one but he [and some professionals who know that hardware very well] knew what he did, but it was magic. It was the first game sound track I fell in love with and it opened my ears to a world I'd - quite frankly - formerly ignored.

But There Were Many Machines And They All Sounded Different

If you switched on a computer or a console during the mid-eighties or the early 90's, you had no real way of knowing what you were in store for music wise. It was quite an interesting time for video game sound.

The Amiga 1000, the NES and the SNES - each sounded very different.

While I'm talking - most specifically - about the IBM PC, because that's what I got to know the best, there were a bunch of other machines out there - and they all sounded a little different, because they all used very different music chips. The Amiga, for example, used the Paula sound chip to great effect, allowing composers to use samples as part of their songs. A game that perfectly showcased this ability and that made a lasting impression on anyone into gaming music was Shadow Of The Beast 2. But then, too, there were the consoles. And each console was created differently - because nobody could settle on standards at that particular time and place - and we were grateful of it, because it allowed us to hear so many different soundscapes. On the NES, for example, there was the awesome, proto-rock of Contra. You couldn't help but bob your head along to the music of the first stage. And while it wasn't quite the same as the sounds coming out of an arcade, it was of a vintage all it's own. Something you soaked up and listened to long after the game was over. As time marched onward and music chips got better and better, so too did the sounds. The 8 bit frontier gave way to the 16 bit land of Utopia and with it came a new plethora of sounds and songs that could get pretty dense if listened to in the right atmosphere. I remember the very first time I heard the slow, pulsating electronica of Stickerbrush Symphony and being absolutely blown away by how complex that piece of music was - how many different layers of sound were bubbling just underneath the surface of such a simple song.

The Most Important Thing: Every Machine's Sound Was Unique

To The Moon had emotional, beautiful music with some haunting lyrics. Shovel Knight just sounded like a lost NES classic from the word go.

To The Moon and Shovel Knight, both aural classics in their own way.

One thing that - I think, anyway - is missing from modern computing and modern gaming is how different each of these sound chips were - what they could do, how they would sound, which musical genuis would learn the ins and outs of this specific hardware. A lot of that mystery has fallen by the wayside as we reached the pinnacle of sound in the form of CD-Quality music. Sure, you can get a symphony to record your soundtrack now, but the problem with that - for me - is that anyone can do that. There's no real mystery in what I'm hearing anymore. No interesting finessing of the hardware to produce something radical and interesting. On the other hand, this has given me some of my favourite more modern soundtracks. While there are only a handful of real "songs" in To The Moon, each song [with vocals - something that was difficult to achieve in that long-ago time of near-silence] is special in it's own particular and beautiful way. And - to be fair - modern composers might find the soundscapes of the NES somewhat stifling - having to only work within very particular constraints to produce very particular tones means that there are limits to what you can do. While - for example - the soundtrack of Shovel Knight was amazing, I imagine that the composers for that game might have been genuinely taken aback at first with what they could and couldn't do, given their desire to slavishly emulate the NES. So, you win some and you lose some. But I am just grateful - in the very long run - that we moved away from the sound of silence. The mystery of music is far better.
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Opinion: #4favouritegames

Words by Greywolfe I know, I know.  I’m meant to be opining on Youtube about how games have made their way to the platform and how that’s a problem because, really, we shouldn’t be watching people play video games. But then, over the weekend, I got tagged in a Twitter game and ever since that fateful…
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