MDFourier Project Seeks The Genesis Of SEGA 16-bit Sound

It always sounded a bit crunchy, but crunchy in a good way. SEGA’s 16-bit console, whether you call it the Genesis or Mega Drive, always had a unique sound thanks to it’s Yamaha YM2612 sound chip. The chip’s ability to reproduce shredding guitars and blasting bass drums was a joy to hear when placed in the hands of capable game developers. Games such as Toe Jam & Earl, Streets of Rage 2, and Sonic the Hedgehog 3 provided some of the most incredible game soundtracks of the ’90s; and while the retail shelf life of those games may have passed, their influence on sound design should not. One individual that is seeking to preserve that quintessential SEGA sound is [Artemio] whose MDFourier project seeks to capture it for future generations to hear.

Sega Mega Drive model 1 motherboard. (Bertram, Wikimedia Commons)

MDFourier is a crowd sourced project. Users are asked to use two pieces of software to first generate common audio through a videogame console, and another to analyze the output as to form an audio signature of that machine. Of course SEGA were not always known for their stellar manufacturing record. Throughout the dozen or so board revisions of the Model 1 console there were factory bodge wires, there was also the Model 2 console, Model 3 console, Nomad handheld, Mega Jet, CDX/Multi-Mega, and Wondermega karaoke machine. Each new revision of machine created a slightly new soundscape, and no single piece of emulation software takes them all into account. [Artemio] wants to aggregate all of this data in order to improve SEGA Genesis/Mega Drive emulators, FPGA implementations, or whatever else the future may hold.

Fans of the suite of SEGA consoles, or even fans of great documentation, can take a look at some of initial results as well as the written procedure for contributing to the MDFourier project. For those seeking a more visual step-by-step approach there is this video from YouTube channel RetroRGB below: If you’d like that Sega sound for your MIDI instrument, take a look at this MIDI synth using a Genesis sound chip.

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Counter-Strike At 20: Two Hackers Upend The Gaming Industry

Choices matter. You’ve only got one shot to fulfill the objective. A single coordinated effort is required to defuse the bomb, release the hostages, or outlast the opposition. Fail, and there’s no telling when you’ll get your next shot. This is the world that Counter-Strike presented to PC players in 1999, and the paradigm shift it presented was greater than it’s deceptively simple namesake would suggest.

The reckless push forward mantra of Unreal Tournament coupled with the unrelenting speed of Quake dominated the PC FPS mind-share back then. Deathmatch with a side of CTF (capture the flag) was all anyone really played. With blazing fast respawns and rocket launchers featured as standard kit, there was little thought put towards conservative play tactics. The same sumo clash of combatants over the ever-so inconveniently placed power weapon played out time and again; while frag counts came in mega/ultra/monster-sized stacks. It was all easy come, easy go.

Counter-Strike didn’t follow the quick frag, wipe, repeat model. Counter-Strike wasn’t concerned with creating fantastical weaponry from the future. Counter-Strike was grounded in reality. Military counter terrorist forces seek to undermine an opposing terrorist team. Each side has their own objectives and weapon sets, and the in-game economy can swing the battle wildly at the start of each new round. What began as a fun project for a couple of college kids went on to become one of the most influential multiplayer games ever, and after twenty years it’s still leaving the competition in the de_dust(2).

Even if you’ve never camped with an AWP, the story of Counter-Strike is a story of an open platform that invited creative modifications and community-driven development. Not only is Counter-Strike an amazing game, it’s an amazing story.

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By The Numbers: Which Rapper’s Rhymes Are The Freshest?

Beats and rhymes are life in the world of hip-hop. A rapper’s ability to seamlessly merge the two is the mark of a master wordsmith. Ranking a rapper’s contributions to hip-hop will forever remain subjective, however [Matt] sought to apply a more quantitative approach to the matter. He created an interactive data set containing all the lyrics from over 150 rappers in order to determine which rapper’s vocabulary was the largest. Now everyone can know definitively which rapper’s rhymes truly are “the freshest”.

The study encompasses hip-hop artists from the last thirty years, pitting recent hit-makers like Lil Uzi Vert against veteran artists like KRS-One. To ensure everything is on even playing field [Matt] limited the study to the first 35,000 lyrics of each artist including any material on a mixtape, EP, or full album release. Rappers’ vocabulary was then plotted according to the total number of unique words found in their lyrics (i.e.: “shorty” and the alternative spelling “shawty” were each considered to be unique words). Oddly enough, there were some notable exclusions from the list as artists like Chance the Rapper, Queen Latifah, and The Notorious B.I.G’s discography did not exceed the 35,000 lyrics mark.

When digging into the data, there was a downward trend in the vocabulary used amongst popular artists of the last decade. [Matt] attributed this trend to the fact that many of these artists have modeled their music to reflect the pop/rock music structure that makes use of simple, repetitive choruses. While others may attribute this downward trend to a general lack of talent when it comes to lyricism, however, it should be noted that the economics of music streaming platforms have had an effect on the average song length. Though whatever era of hip-hop you subscribe to, it is always interesting to see where your favorite emcees rank.

 

That Super Mario Bros. C64 Port Was Too Good For This World

It was foolish to think that the adventure of the Mario Bros. would ever exist outside of the castle walls of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Except for that one time it did. The Hudson Soft company was a close collaborator with Nintendo, and parlayed that favor into being tasked with bringing Super Mario Bros. to platforms beyond the NES. The result of that collaboration would be 1986’s Super Mario Special, a port for the NEC PC-88 line of desktop computers. What ended up on that 5.25″ floppy sounded reminiscent of the Famicom original, but with a grand total of four colors (including black) and not a single scrolling screen in sight; Super Mario Special felt decidedly less than spectacular to play. Those eternally flickering sprites mixed with jarring blank screen transitions would never make it outside of Japan, so for a large swath of the world Mario would remain constrained to a gray plastic cartridge for years to come.

There are no shortage of ways to play Super Mario Bros. these days. Emulation in all of its various official and unofficial forms has taken care of that. Virtually everything with a processor more capable than the NES’s 6502 can play host to the Mushroom Kingdom, however, machines more contemporary with the NES still lacked access to the iconic title.

Enter the 2019 port of Super Mario Bros. for the Commodore 64 by [ZeroPaige]. A culmination of seven years work to port the game onto one of the most prolific computers of the eighties was a clear feat of brilliance and an amazing bit of programming that would have taken 1986 by storm. No pale imitation, this was Mario on the C64. Despite all of the nuance in recreating the jump-and-run model of the original paired with enveloping all eight sound channels of a dual SID chip setup, Nintendo saw fit to stifle the proliferation of this incredible 170 kB of software because they claim it infringes on their copyright.

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Retrotechtacular: History Of Sony Mini Doc Bursts With 1970s Style

The 1970s, it was a time when cameras needed film, phones had cords, and televisions masqueraded as furniture. A time where hi-fi systems were judged by the volume knob feel, and thanks to YouTube user [nefesh22] we have a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what the era was like from the Sony corporate perspective in this mini documentary of the company’s history below. The film was originally created for internal use at Sony’s US manufacturing facilities in San Diego, however, now it now can be watched by anyone with an internet connection.

Sony CRT Testing Rig 1970s

Sony’s corporate ethos of allowing its engineers to drive business innovation is on full display here. For instance how in 1950 Sony introduced the first magnetic tape recorder, the G-Type, in Japan and followed that up with the first portable television, the TV8-301, a decade later. Throughout the 1970s Sony became an innovator in the video space. In fact, the Sony Trinitron brand of color TVs garnered so much notoriety in the television industry that the company was awarded an Emmy in 1973. Though the most telling feature is the documentary’s focus on the 3/4-inch U-Matic videocassette format, a precursor to VHS and Sony’s own Betamax videotapes. Highlighting the “superiority” of those VTR systems of the day really does date the film as those hulking decks failed to penetrate the market beyond early adopters and media companies.

It’s interesting to see how hands-on quality assurance testing used to be. Whether it’s glancing at NPN transistors under a microscope, dialing in the focus on a Super 8 camera, or a quick wave of the degaussing wand before a tube leaves the line, each of the QA tasks were carried out by individual employees rather than the automated methods of today. On an unrelated note, the brief overview of the Sony’s on-site “fiefdom” for its young workforce is a reminder that some ideas may be better left in the past… Google’s Mountain View campus anyone? If anything is to be gleaned from this retrotechtacular retrospective is that we could all use a little more wood-grain in our electronics these days.

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Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack Shows What Game Boy Could Have Looked Like

It was about time (Mario Time) that Super Mario Land for the original Game Boy was revisited. The game served as the entry point into the world of portable gaming for millions, and it was an early example of the type of adventure players could expect from a handful of AA batteries. The original Game Boy system itself may have only been able to display four shades of grey, however, that never stopped players of Super Mario Land from imagining what the game would have looked like in stunning color. Now thanks to [toruzz] we no longer have to imagine, because their Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack does just that…and then some.

The Super Mario Land DX ROM hack adheres to the Game Boy Color’s 16-bit color palette, so it actually runs on real hardware. No changes to the gameplay were made and it also runs in the native 10:9 aspect ratio for the Game Boy. According to the patch readme file, it is recommended to use a legally sourced dump of the 1.0 version of Super Mario Land and utilize Lunar IPS to apply the patch. Additionally a CRC check sum is provided to ensure everyone is working from the same starting point.

Super Mario Land was a launch title for the Game Boy in 1989, but there was another handheld game system that released that year as well (the Atari Lynx). The Lynx featured a full color backlit LCD display, so it was not as if handheld game systems of the era were restricted to being monochromatic. Granted the Lynx came with a price tag nearly twice that of the Game Boy, but a transformative ROM hack such as the Super Mario Land DX one can serve almost as an alternate history. An alternate history that we all can experience now be it on a desktop or in true portable form.

To see the Super Mario Land DX ROM Hack in motion, there is the gameplay video from YouTube user Vincent Hernandez below:

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NVIDIA’s A.I. Thinks It Knows What Games Are Supposed Look Like

Videogames have always existed in a weird place between high art and cutting-edge technology. Their consumer-facing nature has always forced them to be both eye-catching and affordable, while remaining tasteful enough to sit on retail shelves (both physical and digital). Running in real-time is a necessity, so it’s not as if game creators are able to pre-render the incredibly complex visuals found in feature films. These pieces of software constantly ride the line between exploiting the hardware of the future while supporting the past where their true user base resides. Each pixel formed and every polygon assembled comes at the cost of a finite supply of floating point operations today’s pieces of silicon can deliver. Compromises must be made.

Often one of the first areas in games that fall victim to compromise are environmental model textures. Maintaining a viable framerate is paramount to a game’s playability, and elements of the background can end up getting pushed to “the background”. The resulting look of these environments is somewhat more blurry than what they would have otherwise been if artists were given more time, or more computing resources, to optimize their creations. But what if you could update that ten-year-old game to take advantage of today’s processing capabilities and screen resolutions?

NVIDIA is currently using artificial intelligence to revise textures in many classic videogames to bring them up to spec with today’s monitors. Their neural network is able fundamentally alter how a game looks without any human intervention. Is this a good thing?

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