FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Discussion about old sound cards, MIDI devices and sound related accessories.

FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-18 @ 13:50

Hello, as some of you may know I've put in a great deal of time this summer working on my own DOS game engine from the ground up (which has reached a state I'm quite proud of). but -- I have not gotten into SOUND yet! I have a few questions, from which I'm hoping you guys can point me in the proper direction. I love buying old books so if there are any good books documenting the topics, please mention them.

1. MUSIC COMPOSITION - We have a monstrous array of devices in the DOS era between adlib, sound blaster (opl2, opl3), general midi, mt-32, etc. I'm wondering which format was generally used for composition, and how the files are then converted for each specific device (i.e. how can a Midi file be converted/translated for OPL3 FM playback?). I know many composers used MT-32 as the baseline, but really no idea where to start -- I intend to get an MT-32 ASAP, but they are quite costly, so emulation may be required. Please guide me to a good starting point to get me educated on this topic, also I need to know what software I should be looking for to do the tracking. I would prefer to be using DOS or win9x based software.

Also, I have a much more modern Roland SH-201 keyboard I use to control my modern PC which I prefer to use, I'm assuming when I get a proper midi interface for my old PC that I shouldn't have any trouble using this keyboard?

2. Effects / Digitized sound - pretty much same as above but I need to be able to use a microphone line on my sound card to record audio and tweak them for sound effects. Not quite sure where to start here, but I know sound effects are different from music files for sound blasters.

3. PROGRAMMING - I've dabbled with the Sound Blaster code I've come across in the books I have, but haven't been able to get a peep of sound out of my CT1600 or CT3600 yet (strangely). Any books or web pages out there that provide thorough discussion on the necessary code to properly read and load in driver versions and play / stop files into my project? This includes both music and digitized sound effects. I also need to learn how to load in and play general midi files, and any others that are typical of DOS era games. Also, I can't seem to find much information on programming the PC speaker outside of a generic beep in my 80x86 asm book, so if you know about that please point me in the proper direction.

edit: my engine is written in C and asm (286 mode), if that helps.

I've ordered a book called "Sound Blaster The Official Book" on a whim, but not sure if that will contain discussion on programming.

Thanks for any help guys!

Edit 1: I've just found out about Voyetra "Sequencer Plus Gold", seeing what I can learn about that to start.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BloodyCactus » 2017-9-18 @ 15:30

Ive programmed the FM stuff, easiest for me was looking at the vibrants fm player code from edlib / d00 files.
I had my own d00 player for intros and cracktros.

https://hornet.org/cgi-bin/scene-search ... h=Vibrants

for non fm, I've not dont midi but I did write a mod player for awe32 and a basic mod player for plain old soundblaster dma. its been a long time tho lol, i just migrated to libs to do it for me. lots of music libs around for dos/286 stuff.

look up old x2ftp archives; http://ftp.lanet.lv/ftp/mirror/x2ftp/msdos/programming/
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby gerwin » 2017-9-18 @ 16:03

In the 90's most commercial game developers used middleware API+Drivers for their DOS games, as offered by "Miles" or "HMI" among others. I know the Miles Sound System a little and it has these advantages:
- General Midi to FM translation if desired. An FM translation bank is used for this. Sometimes a game shipped with simplified versions of midi files, to use when dealing with an OPL3 or OPL2. Early version Miles Sound System could even throw Midi to the PC speaker.
- Support for multiple soundcards, with auto-detection and optional manual resource configuration. Volume control for each card.
- Was actually tested on the hardware, revised if necessary. Has tweaks where necessary, like special handling of SB16 Digi in combination with SB16 MPU Midi.
- The different drivers are binary files of their own and you can manually replace them with the latest version.

That said it is still fun to try and make your own sound driver code. For digi it needs an interrupt handler to sync the DMA buffer updates. To do it properly there also needs to be a mixer routine with continuous mixing and DMA transfer to the card. If you go all the way: a driver interface that allows different Sound and Music drivers. Allegro for DOS has all that (open source, DJGPP protected mode).

I don't know much about MT-32 drivers. I don't know in which ways it differs from General Midi handling. Later Miles drivers dropped MT-32 support. Allegro never supported MT-32.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-19 @ 00:00

Thanks Bloody, will go through those tomorrow and see what I can dig up.

@gerwin I vaguely recall Miles Sound System, seems like something that requires licensing which is a bit beyond what I'm aiming for. I suppose to start I should get the sound blaster .voc and .snd working with a few SB cards before I overwhelm myself with all of the possibilities. I did find the source code for some old versions of Allegro, I recall playing with that ages ago. I'm assuming whatever I need is going to be in there.

It's strange how little information there seems to be for what I'm looking to do here, I can't turn up a single guided tutorial on the net to even simply load in and play a .voc file (I'm not too good with search engines I guess).. There must be something out there "noob" oriented. I had no trouble at all getting pixels plotted and turning that into parallax scrolling with my imagination, but right now it seems like sound is going to be a big task!
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby gerwin » 2017-9-19 @ 00:43

The Sound Blaster Mixer/DSP I/O access is relatively simple, but the DMA and IRQ programming is more advanced.

Some links I found:
Various programming examples: http://www.dcee.net/Files/Programm/Sound/
SB16 Tutorial in asm: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/413 ... ter-device
Link to SB programming guide: http://www.phatcode.net/articles.php?id=243

The last link has the "Sound Blaster Series Hardware Programming Guide". This is a good read, but you can ignore the Creative drivers and their API.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby M-HT » 2017-9-19 @ 10:10

I don't know if it'll help you, but Miles Sound System Version 2 (or Audio Interface Library as it was called) was released as open source by the author on his page (look for AIL Version 2 at the bottom)
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-19 @ 10:37

Thank you guys very much for the treasure trove, I've saved and bookmarked it all. I'm going to start with the sound blaster series hardware programming guide and the manual to voyetra sequencer plus to get started slowly. It's a little hard for me to look through the source code just yet because I remember very little about sound blaster cards as it is between the file formats, drivers, and how they handle buffering so I need to gain a little background understanding before I get started.

As an aside, I want to use my Roland SH-201 to control the Voyetra software, I vaguely remember doing this years ago with a midi cable connecting to the joy port on my sound blaster, can somebody link me to the item I'll need. I'm assuming a modern midi keyboard should have no issue with this old software?

Audio equipment is not my forte, unfortunately :blush:
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby zerker » 2017-9-19 @ 21:14

Just search for Gameport Midi cable, it should be easy to find. Here's one that still lets you use a joystick at the same time, which is always a plus. However, if you've been using an MT32, don't you already have a way to hook it up? The keyboard just goes the other way around.

As for recording, just take a look at the MT32 manual (pdfs can be easily found) for hookup instructions, and just connect your midi keyboard to it and connect the pair to your computer with some midi sequencer software on it. You should be able to select the correct instrument set, record playback on a channel, and repeat for each channel to record. Then save as a standard midi file. I'm not entirely sure how the extra instrument/sample selection stuff works via sysex messages, but with the combination of software documentation and MT32 manual, you should be able to figure it out.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby xjas » 2017-9-20 @ 02:18

A lot of game composers from back in the day (Bobby Prince & Lee Jackson notably) used Voyetra Sequencer, which was a full MIDI sequencer that also has an FM driver. So you can compose GM on e.g. a Roland Sound Canvas and then play it back using a preset FM bank to see how it sounds. I think you can tweak the built-in FM preset banks if you want. Results won't be as good as using a dedicated OPLx editor (Edlib, RAD Tracker, Adlib Tracker II) but are usually pretty serviceable if you're careful and you get the bonus of not having to convert MIDI. I've messed around with it a bit, it's a little clunky but not too bad once you get used to it.

The last, best V.S. Plus Gold version was released freeware a while ago. Some good info on ChrisNova777's site here.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-20 @ 11:04

zerker wrote:Just search for Gameport Midi cable, it should be easy to find. Here's one that still lets you use a joystick at the same time, which is always a plus. However, if you've been using an MT32, don't you already have a way to hook it up? The keyboard just goes the other way around.

As for recording, just take a look at the MT32 manual (pdfs can be easily found) for hookup instructions, and just connect your midi keyboard to it and connect the pair to your computer with some midi sequencer software on it. You should be able to select the correct instrument set, record playback on a channel, and repeat for each channel to record. Then save as a standard midi file. I'm not entirely sure how the extra instrument/sample selection stuff works via sysex messages, but with the combination of software documentation and MT32 manual, you should be able to figure it out.


Thanks for the link. I don't own an MT-32 yet, and never have owned one before, so I know very little about them. Up until this summer it's been nearly 20 years since I've even thought about this hardware :lol: . I've been thinking about ordering an MT-32 but they are very expensive. So for now I'm wondering if the SH-201 keyboard will interface with one of my sound blaster cards, according to the manual for Voyetra SPG it should work via the controller port, so I believe the item you linked is what I need.

xjas wrote:A lot of game composers from back in the day (Bobby Prince & Lee Jackson notably) used Voyetra Sequencer, which was a full MIDI sequencer that also has an FM driver. So you can compose GM on e.g. a Roland Sound Canvas and then play it back using a preset FM bank to see how it sounds. I think you can tweak the built-in FM preset banks if you want. Results won't be as good as using a dedicated OPLx editor (Edlib, RAD Tracker, Adlib Tracker II) but are usually pretty serviceable if you're careful and you get the bonus of not having to convert MIDI. I've messed around with it a bit, it's a little clunky but not too bad once you get used to it.

The last, best V.S. Plus Gold version was released freeware a while ago. Some good info on ChrisNova777's site here.


Just learned about this yesterday and started reading the book and playing with it. Seems to have quite the learning curve but I'll get there. I'll try one of the dedicated OPL programs you mention as well to see what I like. I think Sequencer Plus is going to be the package for me though, since I'm also slowly in the process of making a DX port of the engine, I don't want to have to deal with FM emulation down the road when it's simple enough to get midi playback in windows.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby zerker » 2017-9-20 @ 20:50

If you have a Midi Keyboard already, and it has general midi samples included, I would just skip MT32 and target General Midi directly. MT32 is neat because of the non-standard instrument set, but probably not directly supporting in your own game development.

If you enjoy playing games from the 1988-1993 range, however, a number of them will sound really good with it though :)
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-23 @ 11:34

zerker wrote:If you have a Midi Keyboard already, and it has general midi samples included, I would just skip MT32 and target General Midi directly. MT32 is neat because of the non-standard instrument set, but probably not directly supporting in your own game development.

If you enjoy playing games from the 1988-1993 range, however, a number of them will sound really good with it though :)


Well the reason for wanting the hardware is so that I can get a little experience and include it as an option for anybody creating with my engine, as well as for myself to compose. I think Adlib/Sound Blaster + General Midi will be a great start though.

I didn't think of using my roland keyboard as a midi playback device! I've ordered one of the cables you linked before and will see how it sounds through the SH-201. That should be great to start.

By the way, are any of you guys familiar with using Voyetra Sequencer Plus Gold? I've created a short demo project after reading the book that sounds very nice through a Sound Blaster Pro 2 CT1600 when played in the software, but there is no option to export the track into a sound blaster formatted file. I've tried going with type 0 midi and then using some free software to convert it to a .CMF file (not sure which format I should be looking for yet), but as expected it sounds horrible and some instruments don't play at all, and it plays way too fast.. So how did people like Bobby Prince go about finalizing the sound blaster versions of the music after creating it in SPG? I'd hate to have to switch to other software after learning this for SB cards :dead:
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby gerwin » 2017-9-23 @ 16:36

BeginnerGuy wrote: So how did people like Bobby Prince go about finalizing the sound blaster versions of the music after creating it in SPG? I'd hate to have to switch to other software after learning this for SB cards :dead:

Like I wrote earlier; they did not finalize it. They let the game sound system handle it. Only for the older games like Keen and Wolf3D (with no General Midi option) did they make adlib music files, but that is less versatile and it went out of fashion.

gerwin wrote:- General Midi to FM translation if desired. An FM translation bank is used for this. Sometimes a game shipped with simplified versions of midi files, to use when dealing with an OPL3 or OPL2. Early version Miles Sound System could even throw Midi to the PC speaker.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby Gered » 2017-9-23 @ 21:58

BeginnerGuy wrote:I've ordered a book called "Sound Blaster The Official Book" on a whim, but not sure if that will contain discussion on programming.


Did you receive this book yet and have a chance to flip through it at all? I was curious about it a while back but wasn't sure how much actual programming stuff was in it. I did come across an interview with the author where he mentions that he was able to include some "SDK-level" stuff in there, but that's still pretty vague, heh.

I ask because I tend to prefer physical books when possible, and there's basically nothing (that is, physical books) out there that I'm aware of that covers programming Sound Blaster cards directly. The only books I've seen that do have anything on Sound Blaster programming only cover CT-VOICE.DRV. So, I've just been reading online stuff for now.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-23 @ 22:55

BeginnerGuy wrote:
gerwin wrote:
BeginnerGuy wrote: So how did people like Bobby Prince go about finalizing the sound blaster versions of the music after creating it in SPG? I'd hate to have to switch to other software after learning this for SB cards :dead:

Like I wrote earlier; they did not finalize it. They let the game sound system handle it. Only for the older games like Keen and Wolf3D (with no General Midi option) did they make adlib music files, but that is less versatile and it went out of fashion.

gerwin wrote:- General Midi to FM translation if desired. An FM translation bank is used for this. Sometimes a game shipped with simplified versions of midi files, to use when dealing with an OPL3 or OPL2. Early version Miles Sound System could even throw Midi to the PC speaker.




Ah ok sorry I completely misunderstood that part when I initially read it, it's a great deal of information to soak up as I go. "FM translation bank" meant nothing to me two days ago if you know what I mean. I'll try not to pester with too many questions until I get through some more documentation. For now I'm just going to start with ad tracker 2 and getting out OPL2 specific tracks until I have a better understanding.


Gered wrote:
BeginnerGuy wrote:I've ordered a book called "Sound Blaster The Official Book" on a whim, but not sure if that will contain discussion on programming.


Did you receive this book yet and have a chance to flip through it at all? I was curious about it a while back but wasn't sure how much actual programming stuff was in it. I did come across an interview with the author where he mentions that he was able to include some "SDK-level" stuff in there, but that's still pretty vague, heh.

I ask because I tend to prefer physical books when possible, and there's basically nothing (that is, physical books) out there that I'm aware of that covers programming Sound Blaster cards directly. The only books I've seen that do have anything on Sound Blaster programming only cover CT-VOICE.DRV. Not enough to really give me the hardware level understanding I seek. So, I've just been reading online stuff for now.


I have not received it yet, the goodwill book sellers I buy from offer free shipping that can sometimes take as long as 3-4 weeks. I'll let you know what I find when I read it.

I also prefer physical books, I've gone through a few now with a chapter on audio. Mainly just reading the CT-VOICE.DRV header to determine which sb version, loading and playing .voc files (which I've not managed to get working yet even following the books step by step). My DOS era game programming / graphics programming / general programming book collection is going to get out of hand fast :P

BTW the seller I get the books from has one more copy, not sure if they ship to your location. Maybe if we both order it one of us will get lucky and get the disc. I haven't been able to track this one down online. (they always say book and disc but very often the disc is gone.. what can you do it's goodwill).
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Sound-Blaster-T ... SwZ1lWgqxv

Lastly, this pdf Gerwin posted above may be very useful, I haven't had time to read it yet: (Sound Blaster Series Hardware Programming Guide)
http://www.phatcode.net/res/243/files/sbhwpg.pdf
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby gerwin » 2017-9-23 @ 23:42

BeginnerGuy wrote:Ah ok sorry I completely misunderstood that part when I initially read it, it's a great deal of information to soak up as I go. "FM translation bank" meant nothing to me two days ago if you know what I mean. I'll try not to pester with too many questions until I get through some more documentation. For now I'm just going to start with ad tracker 2 and getting out OPL2 specific tracks until I have a better understanding.

No problem. Though I am surprised you emphasize the FM. If General Midi does not matter for your plans then sure, forget about the system I mentioned. But in case you want to cover General Midi too, then that is where to start, adding FM backward compatibility to it later. Since it is impractical to expand an FM based system/workflow with General Midi later.

But on the whole, doing a sound and music support library for DOS, from scratch, with limited understanding, in 2017; you will find it opens a whole can of worms. You will have to keep it very basic for it to remain achievable.
Regarding VESA or mode 13h graphics programming I can understand it better, since that is a smaller project, straightforward and fun.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-24 @ 01:00

gerwin wrote:
BeginnerGuy wrote:Ah ok sorry I completely misunderstood that part when I initially read it, it's a great deal of information to soak up as I go. "FM translation bank" meant nothing to me two days ago if you know what I mean. I'll try not to pester with too many questions until I get through some more documentation. For now I'm just going to start with ad tracker 2 and getting out OPL2 specific tracks until I have a better understanding.

No problem. Though I am surprised you emphasize the FM. If General Midi does not matter for your plans then sure, forget about the system I mentioned. But in case you want to cover General Midi too, then that is where to start, adding FM backward compatibility to it later. Since it is impractical to expand an FM based system/workflow with General Midi later.

But on the whole, doing a sound and music support library for DOS, from scratch, with limited understanding, in 2017; you will find it opens a whole can of worms. You will have to keep it very basic for it to remain achievable.
Regarding VESA or mode 13h graphics programming I can understand it better, since that is a smaller project, straightforward and fun.


You make a good point again about going from FM to Midi. In the short term I'm just fiddling with ad tracker just to get something that works on my current system for learning sake (I'm using SPG with a SB Pro II for now). Knowing what little I do know now though, I won't be composing any masterpieces since I would have to start from scratch with Midi. I've already invested quite a few hours into learning Voyetra SPG as it is, so I'll keep midi as my ultimate goal for my actual game projects. I'm still not going to fully comprehend what we're talking about until I spend a week or two reading through the resources that have been linked to me in this thread though. Having free access to Miles Sound System (open sourced - posted by a user above) may be extremely beneficial, maybe I'll use it in it's entirety.

Just keep in mind that I'm not in a rush, and I'm just learning what I can as I go. 99% of my focus on this project is still just in the engine itself for now, not on my own personal game assets. So whichever order playback support happens in isn't a huge deal, hopefully that explains why my thoughts are so disorganized at the moment.

I knew a sound library would be a mountain to climb just like supporting multiple graphics modes. I didn't walk into this looking for a little project though, I'm in no rush and I would like to use my finished product to "ship" multiple games, and ultimately share it, something that requires zero to minimal programming knowledge and a little time in paint shop pro for other folks to pop out some higher end side scrollers that run very well on old machines.

I was told a DOS graphics engine would be a monstrous task too, but I've cobbled it together. Mode 13h as you mentioned is the most beautiful and simple thing I've ever programmed in my entire life in reality. EGA not so much with the planar memory. I suppose interfacing with audio hardware isn't as elegant. Either way this is all just very fun and keeps me busy, it has turned into my hobby!
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby Gered » 2017-9-24 @ 12:31

BeginnerGuy wrote:I have not received it yet, the goodwill book sellers I buy from offer free shipping that can sometimes take as long as 3-4 weeks. I'll let you know what I find when I read it.

I also prefer physical books, I've gone through a few now with a chapter on audio. Mainly just reading the CT-VOICE.DRV header to determine which sb version, loading and playing .voc files (which I've not managed to get working yet even following the books step by step). My DOS era game programming / graphics programming / general programming book collection is going to get out of hand fast :P

BTW the seller I get the books from has one more copy, not sure if they ship to your location. Maybe if we both order it one of us will get lucky and get the disc. I haven't been able to track this one down online. (they always say book and disc but very often the disc is gone.. what can you do it's goodwill).
http://www.ebay.com/itm/Sound-Blaster-T ... SwZ1lWgqxv

Lastly, this pdf Gerwin posted above may be very useful, I haven't had time to read it yet: (Sound Blaster Series Hardware Programming Guide)
http://www.phatcode.net/res/243/files/sbhwpg.pdf


Yeah my DOS-era book collection is growing too. :) The only thing that sucks about it now is 99% of the time you end up getting books missing the disks/CDs. For this book, I was only looking at "brand new" condition ones as I figured I would really want the disk here (I've yet to buy a used condition book that comes with the disk!). My first attempt at buying one failed as the seller later emailed me to say they actually didn't have any in new condition, but they could ship me a used one for X% off .... decided not to take advantage of that offer.

At any rate, I'm somewhat optimistic that this book may have some good programming content in it. Here's the interview with the author that I mentioned. You'll see below in the comments section there's a big one from some guy who at the end mentions that this book is still on his shelf as a reference for SB DSP Midi stuff... sounds encouraging to me at least, heh. Otherwise, that PDF you linked is also good stuff, just very light on examples. ;)

Oh well, I guess this is also part of the fun in the end... and reminiscent of what it was actually like back then for developers as good documentation on SB cards was also hard to come by at the time!
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby BeginnerGuy » 2017-9-24 @ 14:27

Gered wrote:
Yeah my DOS-era book collection is growing too. :) The only thing that sucks about it now is 99% of the time you end up getting books missing the disks/CDs. For this book, I was only looking at "brand new" condition ones as I figured I would really want the disk here (I've yet to buy a used condition book that comes with the disk!). My first attempt at buying one failed as the seller later emailed me to say they actually didn't have any in new condition, but they could ship me a used one for X% off .... decided not to take advantage of that offer.

At any rate, I'm somewhat optimistic that this book may have some good programming content in it. Here's the interview with the author that I mentioned. You'll see below in the comments section there's a big one from some guy who at the end mentions that this book is still on his shelf as a reference for SB DSP Midi stuff... sounds encouraging to me at least, heh. Otherwise, that PDF you linked is also good stuff, just very light on examples. ;)

Oh well, I guess this is also part of the fun in the end... and reminiscent of what it was actually like back then for developers as good documentation on SB cards was also hard to come by at the time!


It's luck of the draw with the thrift sellers. Usually I'm able to find the discs online, or in the case of a certain author I've come across who actually still sends source files and discusses the contents of the book with you.

I bookmarked the interview, will check it out in a bit, thanks. Well if you're willing to wait (likely a couple of weeks) I can let you know if I was lucky enough to get the CD with the book, I would say it's about 50/50. If I do I can copy it for you and then you can get a cheap thrifts copy of it for yourself, unless you like to collect the cds too. If I don't get the CD, I'll just have to hope the book is detailed enough, usually they are if you're willing to key in source code yourself as you go.

This is how it was in the early 90s for sure. There was no shortage of books about writing little games in BASIC but once you wanted to jump over to ASM or C or play with any graphics mode besides 13h it was usually jumping on a BBS and downloading horrendous text files everybody used to collect :lol:. Not to mention good books were usually $50 a pop.
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Re: FM / Midi Composition & programming help

Postby Gered » 2017-9-24 @ 14:36

This topic got me thinking about it again, so I tracked down another seller with a copy of the book in new condition. Sent him a question asking if it has the disk or not and will definitely buy it if it does (cost is quite a bit more then it would be from a thrift store though, so that sucks). I do like collecting these things too, but in a lot of cases I've had to settle for ISOs of the CDs that I end up not getting. Hopefully one of us gets lucky and is able to get the disk. :) If not, you're right that most of these books tend to put a lot of the code directly in the book itself too.
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