Orchestral Apples

June 23rd, 2011 11:17 AM
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Filed under Happenings;
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In case you haven't already seen it on A2Central.com, Engadget, TUAW, or Make, I'll do my bit to spread the word: Jason Torchinsky is assembling Los Angeles-based Apple II users into an orchestra, with their beloved retrocomputers as the sole instrument. Their debut concert will be in just two days, at 8 PM on June 25. How much more impressive this performance might be than the works of established chiptune musicians such as 8 Bit Weapon is to be determined, but audience members can judge for themselves by watching a live stream of the proceedings, or the tape-delayed recording of same.

What hasn't been reported elsewhere is that this effort will be reproduced next month in Minnesota, at the Walker Art Center of Minneapolis. If you miss this opportunity to participate in a live concert of Apple II hardware, you'll get another chance soon.

Finally, the image that the Machine Project is using to promote this event? That's from an advertisement for the ALF Music Card. The featured guitarist is Bill Fickas, who found this blog a few months back and emailed me the details behind that photo. Now that's a full-fledged interview waiting to happen!

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

June 10th, 2010 10:43 AM
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Filed under Hacks & mods, Software showcase;
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This week at the WWDC, the iPhone 4.0 was unveiled, and with it, several new apps, including Activision's own Guitar Hero, a music rhythm game that first debuted on the PlayStation 2 and allows players to use a plastic guitar to strum along to on-screen color-coded symbols. Games in the Guitar Hero franchises have sold over 40 million copies, warranting its first appearance on an Apple platform.

It's encouraging that an entire genre has sprung up around a game's audio component. Game soundtracks have often taken the backseat to visuals, which is unfortunate; years after we last play a game, it's the melodies that we remember best, rising unbidden to our whistling lips. Apple IIGS users are especially fortunate to have enjoyed this element of the gaming experience, as the machine's Ensoniq sound chip performed far better than stock IBM clones of the era. I have a Soundmeister sound card in my IIGS, though I don't recall exactly what benefits it bequeathed; all I remember is that, even prior to that upgrade, my DOS-based friends were jealous of my computer's capabilities.

With all that aural processing power, I can't help but wonder why the iPhone has Guitar Hero but the Apple II doesn't? Turns out, we do:

Guitar Hero for the Apple II

Guitar Hero for the Apple II!
Image courtesy Mac-TV.

This advertisement is for a sound card that Steve Weyhrich's Apple II History site describes: "ALF Music Card (ALF Products, Inc.) was strictly a music synthesizer, with some included software to aid in producing the music." This card, released in the early 1980s, was outclassed a few years later by the Apple IIGS. But in theory, both 8- and 16-bit model of Apple II should be capable of a Guitar Hero-like game, sans peripherals. It requires playing music and accepting input simultaneously, but also matching the accuracy of the input with the time of the music. That too shouldn't be difficult: the input routine doesn't need to be aware of the music, so long as it has its own counter by which to judge input. (Five seconds into the game, it looks for the letter 'A'; six seconds in, it'll accept only 'F'. etc.) If the keyboard input and sound output routines were in fact separate, then the former wouldn't even be complicated by the latter using Vince Briel's MP3 peripheral. Even barring that, there are so many chiptune artists who use the Apple II to create original or remix songs that assembling a sweet soundtrack should be trivial. On the visual side, it's already been proven that the Apple II can produce music videos in time with external audio, so such a game could truly be a complete package.

Has anything like this been done before? Since music rhythm did not emerge as its own genre until the 1990s, I can't think of any software titles that predate that label which would nonetheless suit it. Are there Apple II games that rely predominantly on sound to prompt user input? If not, why not?

(Hat tip to dangerman and Mac-TV)