Saturday, April 27, 2013

My Gaming Audio History: Barnstorming (1982)

A game my mother really enjoyed playing was Activision's Barnstorming.  Created by Steve Cartwright, this game was his first.  I didn't ever think about Barnstorming as a live activity with a history outside of this game.  But, of course, that's one of the coolest things about this project-- my study of video game music reaches out in many branches.  It is, in some ways, a study of American history.

Who created the audio experience?  All these Atari games hail from an era where the game designer was responsible for creating basically all of the aspects of the game, so Steve Cartwright would have created the audio here.



What's the audio experience?  There's the sound of the plane running.  This seems to be a typical theme with these Atari games so far: a "game on drone" has been a part of all the Atari games I've investigated so far.  There's also the sound of hitting a bar/windmill, bumping into a bird, the sound of flying over the windmills, and the reduction of sound when you go through a barn.  There's no victory sound or really any kind of marker that you've finished a course, instead the sound just fades out and the next level begins.  Compared against the other Atari games I played, I think this game has the least "musical" aspect to its audio.

How does the audio experience draw the player into the game?  The Doppler effect of the plane going over windmills gives a sense of plane motion.  Also, the plane drone audio diminishes when the player is flying through the barn-- almost as if the barn partially obstructs the engine sound from the player.  A nice detail!

I've also been reading about the Atari 2600 audio specifications.  As you know from the blog, I'm a Karen Collins fan, and she has an excellent article, Fine Tuning the Terrible Twos, that explains more how the audio process worked for the Atari 2600, the TIA chip, and a bit about the programming process, explaining why the VCS sounds out of tune.  Of most interest to me is that the Atari had two channels (voices) of sound that could be produced at a time, 4 bit volume control (16 volume possibilities) and 4 bit waveform control (16 sound possibilities, although several sounded very similar to each other).  She lists basically four useful melodic voices and then some noise possibilities for percussion/effects.  Other info I've seen seems to concur, only about eight or so of the sound possibilities were really useful and unique.

A fan of the Atari Video Computing System?  You can hear more of its sounds here on this quiz I've been playing with via splotchy.com.  I love stuff like this!  It gives me the idea to have a listening test in my game music class!  In all honesty, with these old games, I either have immediate, strong recognition, or none at all.  I can only recognize Combat, MegaMania, Pitfall, Ms. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and though I didn't play it, of course, I can tell Star Wars by the John Williams theme.  If you listen to all of these sounds, you'll start to hear the similarities between sounds that Collins is talking about from game to game.  Some of that may be that games had the same designers, and others could just be that those were sounds that worked well, gamers/designers used and played with.  It's fascinating.  The sounds to SuperMan sound kind of like dialing up to the internet or a series of digital glitches.  Wow!