Archive for the ‘tech’ Category

The Truth Behind E.T + Something a Lot More Disturbing

May 2, 2014

In case you missed it – for the past week the internetz has been going bananas about Microsoft digging out tons of Atari cartridges in a desert in USA. Microsoft? Yeah, they are sponsoring a documentary about the “urban myth” that Atari’s game E.T was so bad that they buried it in a desert in USA in 1983. And now they’ve dug it out, and revealed the truth! Well…

1. It’s not news. It’s always been known that they buried cartridges (New York Times from 1983). Wikipedia even claims that kids looted the site to find not only E.T-carts but also Raiders of the Lost Ark, Defender, and Bezerk.

2. The E.T game was an experiment made in a few weeks. Whether the game is crap or not is up for debate, but it was a bold move in a flood of boring.

3. Atari made bad business choices and market predictions. They over-produced and over-priced their games, under pressure from their owner Warner. This was one of the factors of the North American video game crisis. It wasn’t about one single bad game. It was a bubble that burst. And it took years before it would inflate again, when Nintendo stepped up to show it’s done…

4. We now know for sure that it wasn’t only E.T in there, but several other games. In total more than 700,000 cartridges.

It’s going to be interesting to see the documentary, I guess. But the reporting of BREAKING! single game actually buried in the ground wow! is just wrong. The true story is more like a tech-bubble leading to tons of crap in the desert, which pissed off the locals living there. And that is actually not so far from how it works today. Only a lot more toxic, on a much larger scale, and completely normalized.

Planned obsolescence and “e-trash” commerce makes sure that tons of toxic tech-stuff  is shipped to e.g Africa and China to kill the kids who work with it. It’s a tech bubble – since both the production and disposal of consumer tech is ecologically and socially unsustainable – only this bubble is out of sight, and way more serious. Hey, maybe that could be topic of your next documentary on Xbox, Microsoft?


Toxics e-waste documentation (China : 2005)


C64 Graphics – Data or Light?

July 21, 2010

There is a very geeky discussion about C64-graphics over at CSDb, which is strangely annoying and fascinating at the same time. It is essentially an argument about what a C64-image ‘is’, or perhaps more correctly, how it should be represented at CSDb. Is it the raw pixel data, or is it the way the image looks on an old CRT TV-screen?

From a data-materialist perspective, the image is archived most correctly as pixel data. Nobody in the thread disagrees with this. The discussion concerns the screen shot, and whether it should be modified to look like it does on a CRT-screen (by re-constructing a ‘correct’ palette and using a TV-emulation). It is a question of what is the most ‘accurate’ representation of the image.

By STE’86

STE, a commercial pixel artist from the 80s who was active in the demoscene-ish universe Compunet, wants CSDb to “let me display my work in the manner and spirit it WAS created in. and let ME be the judge of that being as how i actually did it 25 years ago and may indeed have some recollection of what it looked like”. His idea of the image is a construction of e.g. two things: memories and screens. The way he remembers the image is not necessarily what was actually on the screen. Even if it was, his CRT-screen was different from those of others. Furthermore, his PC/Mac-screen might show graphics a bit different compared to your screen. Nevertheless, his point is that an archive such as CSDb should not modify the images in anyway, because for one it’ll be a huge problem to update it as the emulator improves.

The problem is that some images need some kind of filter/emulation, because they rely on the blending that PAL-artefacts create. In short, C64-graphics looks different on modern ultra-sharp screens. Bogost describes the inaccuracies of emulators in terms of texture, afterimage, color bleed & noise. These can be vital aspects for  pixel artists who work with CRT-screens, of course.

By Joe

What’s funny is how the technical discussions runs into a little halt half-way through the thread. It’s discussed if we can actually tell the difference between palette-issues and TV-emulation. In fact, the cause of the whole thread is revealed to have been an anti-alias issue in Firefox that was interpreted as a case of TV-emulation. For me, this is a little reminder to not get too stuck in technical details that, when it really comes down to it, is not something we are aware of anyway. In another way, it’s a reminder of what makes demoscene forums great!?<

Two Obscure Soundchips

August 13, 2009

After Yonx’s suggestion, I decided to complete the list of soundchips in the timeline. Since the purpose of the timeline is to make a selection rather than a complete listing, I once again faced questions of which soundchips are relevant, and what actually constitutes a soundchip.

My delimitation is mostly made from a cultural perspective. I do not include soundchips for arcade machines (like the OKI) or extension soundchips such as the SCC. I do however include chips that are not exclusively dedicated to sound (2A03, the Gameboy-series, TIA, Mikey, etc). Also, I have included chips such as Amiga’s Paula that does not generate sounds but only moves data to sound output (as commented by Johan). Essentially, most popular chips between 1977 and 1994, ie from Atari 2600 to Sony Playstation, are there.

I would like to mention two soundchips that are still rather obscure, but could potentially become quite popular due to its sonic characteristics. The uPD1771C was used in the Super Cassette Vision (1981) and was recently explored for the Plogue Chipsound project that aims at one application to emulate them all. David at Plogue found fresh audio examples and bought a SCV to do some BIOS-archeology: transferring 4096 bytes to a chip to a screen to … paper! Research goes on, and the latest audio example is a nice tone-noise here.

The SN76477 soundchip was used in arcade games such as Space Invaders and Stratovox, allegedly the first game with speech synthesis. Also, it was found in the ABC80-computer (1978) which spawned Swedish underground computing. It seems that this chip was a popular DIY-component even around 1980, maybe because it was dirt cheap. There are a number of more current projects based on the 76477, such as the SN-Voice that also includes properly tuned notes, but I have a feeling that this chip can cause some tremendous noise. The only problem is finding the chip…

Interview with SounDemon, the Sound Chip Hacker

July 6, 2009

In November last year I wrote a post about playing music with the graphic (VIC) chip of the C64, aswell as combining 4 channel Amiga MODs with 3 SID-channels. I e-mailed some questions to one of the programmers behind it and I was happy to get a reply from him the other day. : ) SounDemon is what I would call a sound chip hacker, since many of his works are based on exploring undocumented features of the SID-chip and exploit them. These things do not rely on CPU-power to create new sounds, that most music software does. In my opinion this is one of the most hardcore ways of making chip music that is somewhere inbetween hardware and software. For hardcore hardware chip music, I would recommend you to go to Brisbane, Australia right now for EPROM-music. But anyway:

CHIPFLIP > So first just a bit about what you are doing and what you have done in general. Education and stuff.

SOUNDEMON > I’m studying computer science at Abo Akademi in Turku/Finland. At the moment I seem to spend all my time running to choir practices and doing math exercises for school.

CHIPFLIP > How did you get into the SID chip?

SOUNDEMON > I think the first music routine I wrote was for the Dekadence 4kb demo Perkele. BriteLite asked if I could do a tune that was very small, in order to leave room for as many demo effects as possible. The obvious solution to this was to code a custom player. So, I got into writing music routines and by experimenting I somehow managed to invent a few new sound routines.

I must add that I have always liked the idea of programming music. This is the only way to gain full control over the sound. I was inspired by old C64 composers (Galway for example) who had to work this way, before fancy editors were available.

CHIPFLIP > Tell us a bit about your different projects. How did you come up with ‘the new waveform’ in Pico? How did you do it and what does it actually do? Will there be new experiments with the waveform editor?

SOUNDEMON > As with Perkele, we needed a very small tune for Pico (which is also a 4kb demo). I decided to include some metallic drum sounds by using the “testbit trick”. While trying different parameters for the sounds I got some weird pitched sounds. Only after releasing the demo I spent some time analyzing the behaviour of the SID chip to find out how and why the trick works.

The routine works by directing a steady stream of angry bits towards the noise generator of the SID. The result is a confused SID chip playing sounds it’s not supposed to play. For a more technical description see:

It might be possible to create more sophisticated sounds with this method than has been done so far… (hint hint)

CHIPFLIP > I once heard something about a 2 tone filter (“new waveform”) for the Atari Pokey, but can’t seem to find the information back right now. But have you heard about this?

SOUNDEMON > I’m not sure what this is. I believe most 8 bit sound chips (including the SID) use a shift register based approach for generating noise. This explains why it might be possible to get the same kind of sounds on other machines as well.

CHIPFLIP > Could u tell us a bit about your sample shocks from x2008? How is it possible to play 4 channels of 8-bit samples? And ofcourse, how about the Vic audio?

SOUNDEMON > I must first clarify one thing. In our x2008 demo there’s two new
major routines: A “MOD” player capable of mixing four digi channels AND the 8 bit sample playback routine. These are NOT the same routine, but they can of course be combined as we did.

The MOD player was written by The Human Code Machine. MOD players have been written for C64 before. The one by THCM is special because it actually sounds good and allows the screen to be turned on. (How fun is it to have MODs playing if you can’t display anything on the screen?) It’s based on straightforward code that uses cleverly precalculated tables to do the hard work. Somehow THCM managed to fit these tables and a MOD into 64kb of memory. I still suspect he cheated by hiding a memory expansion
unit inside my C64! (I haven’t found it yet)

The 8 bit sample player was written by me. 8 (and even 12 bit) sample playback has been done on C64 before, but this is the first routine that sounds clear and doesn’t use all raster time.

The VIC audio is just a fun trick. It’s absolutely nothing special codewise. It’s a bit like the 9 sprites on the same raster line trick by xbow where the idea is the achievement, not the actual code. That is why I gave the credit for inventing this technique to AMJ. He came up with the idea and after that the code was done in about 10 minutes.

CHIPFLIP > Do you always use your own software when you make C64 music?

SOUNDEMON > I don’t even have my own software. When using my own routines I just use Turbo Assembler to edit the player source and music data. I seldom reuse a player because they are typically coded for a specific tune. This is of course very time consuming so I do it only when it’s necessary. Usually because of tight size or raster time constraints.

CHIPFLIP > Are there other soundchip hackers that you know of?

SOUNDEMON > What exactly is a sound chip hacker? I like the sound of it, though…

CHIPFLIP > What will be your next shock? :)

SOUNDEMON > I will continue coding on network routines for C64… Something
interesting might result.

CHIPFLIP > Could you give us a few examples of 8-bit code, music, and graphics that you think are special?

SOUNDEMON > I liked Royal Arte by Booze Design a lot. I always liked the flow in
Extremes and Follow The Sign 3 by Byterapers. The 6 sprites over FLI routine by Ninja must be the most insane piece of code ever written.

CHIPFLIP > Do you have anything else you would like to add?

SOUNDEMON > I find it funny how this 8 bit sample routine became such a success.
I have always considered samples on C64 quite boring! Writing a sample player didn’t seem so interesting… But once I got an idea on how to implement the routine I wanted to try it. I guess the result was a bit more exciting than I would have expected…

Finally I must add that the 8 bit samples in Vicious SID wouldn’t have been the same without Mixer. He did an excellent job utilizing the routine! He also spent LOTS of time experimenting with the routine.

All Possible Digital Music By Definition

February 13, 2009

Discovered in 1927 by David Champernowne and Alan Turing, the CC is known to contain all possible digital data and is obviously prior art to all possible digital sounds. Which means, no new digital sound was ever invented nor recorded nor ever will be. […] I think most people would agree that this demonstration does not play any good music in this video, but nonetheless it is a matter of fact that the process in progress does generate all possible digital music by definition.” (video)

I am guessing there is a typo somewhere up there, but I hope not. That statement is great. So, VironCybernet just uploaded loads of new videos with interesting generative works, technesthetics, fractal music, digital hardware audio stuff (aka software), speechsynthesis, and so on. I don’t know much about what technology he uses (much of it seems to involve the Propeller microcontroller), but the looks and sound go straight into my telnet heart!