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A List of DOS Games with 16-Bit Sound

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First post, by Cloudschatze

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Cloudschatze wrote:

Perhaps it's time to document the titles that include 16-bit samples and/or leverage...16-bit mixing/playback routines. The resulting list will likely be larger than most people realize.

Here's an initial work-in-progress listing, based on my own limited testing and verification, and specifically concerning SB16/AWE-compatible playback. I feel like it still barely scratches the surface, but my interests don't extend to several genres that require looking into. Any and all help with further testing and additions is certainly welcome, and very-much appreciated.

(Click on the spreadsheet excerpt to access the full, editable version.)

16bit.PNG

Note that the "PCM output format" heading does not necessarily correspond to individual sample bit-depths and rates. This is especially true of several of the later, sound-heavy FPS-types, where the 16-bit mixing and effect engines are commonly fed 8-bit mono, 11kHz samples.

Furthermore, an observation about the mixing/output rate: Where it's user-definable, 44.1kHz isn't always desirable. Lesser-quality samples tend to become very noticeable as such. I find 32kHz to be a better compromise in several cases, including the two Crusader titles.

Here are a few output comparison captures (DOSBox) for illustration.

Jane's AH-64D Longbow (base theme)
8-bit stereo @ 11kHz (SBPro)
16-bit stereo @ 22kHz (SB16)

Crusader: No Regret - "Ninth Symphony"
8-bit mono @ 44.1kHz (SBPro)
16-bit stereo @ 44.1kHz (SB16)

Here is a short example from Quake, comparing the higher mixing/output rate with the default. Quake's "techinfo" document suggests that the higher rates provide, "no actual benefit," but this was purportedly written by a person whose sound engine also clips horrifically when the internal volume level is set above 25%, so decide for yourself.

Quake
16-bit stereo @ 11kHz (SB16)
16-bit stereo @ 44.1kHz (SB16)

In conclusion, I hope to never read another statement on this forum that a Sound Blaster Pro is all a person should ever need or want for DOS gaming, or that there are no DOS games that provide 16-bit sound. 😉

Last edited by Cloudschatze on 2017-06-30, 03:33. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 3 of 71, by James-F

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Fantastic work, thank you Cloudschatze!
Another great reference for people to consider before buying an ISA sound card for DOS gaming.

You are right about 11kHz 8bit samples sounding horrible with 44kHz 16bit mixing simply because the filtering is at 22kHz (half of 44kHz) and there will be audible aliasing lesser sampling-rate samples.
It would be much better to set the mixer (game) sampling rate to 11kHz 16bit or native sampling rate of the samples, to have the benefit of proper filtering at native sampling rate and 16bit noise floor mixing.
This is of course only true for the hardware SB16 because as we already know the SB16 has a variable "brickwall" filtering at half the mixing sampling rate to remove aliasing at that specific sampling rate just like modern sound cards, but DOSBox has a simple lowpass filter that is always On (like the SBPro), so the DOSBox audio clips you provided Cloudschatze are not good reference to how the actual hardware 16bit SB16 sounds at lower sampling rates.

I can add and say that the benefit of 8bit samples with 16bit mixing is dynamic range.
Games that require quiet sounds like in 3D shooters where you can judge by the volume of the monster growl how far it is from you, 16bit mixing will indeed be useful even with 8bit samples.

To clearly hear the lack of 8bit mixing you can test it in Doom. Enter the game and set the SFX Volume 'one click' above zero in the options and turn your speakers volume up.
You should hear quiet sounds 'cutting off' because Doom sound engine (mixing) is only 8bit even with the SB16.
Most other games that do not require large dynamic range for quiet sounds, have no benefit from 16bit mixing.

In conclusion, I hope to never read another statement on this forum that a Sound Blaster Pro is all a person should ever need or want for DOS gaming, or that there are no DOS games that provide 16-bit sound. 😉

This is obviously directed straight at me. And my answer would be alright... just alright. 😉


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Reply 4 of 71, by PhilsComputerLab

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Thank you for doing this, very useful.

Cloudschatze wrote:

Noted. Thank-you for a disappointing first response to several days' worth of effort.

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Reply 5 of 71, by mrau

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quite frankly your recordings are of much much better quality than anything that ever came out of my vibra16; maybe that was the reason why i did not really hear the quality improvement when turning up sound settings in games; but i did back then have sometimes the impression that the sound got washed out when increasing frequency;
is there a way to know what sized samples the game shoves into the hardware?

Reply 6 of 71, by Cloudschatze

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James-F wrote:

It would be much better to set the mixer (game) sampling rate to 11kHz 16bit or native sampling rate of the samples, to have the benefit of proper filtering at native sampling rate and 16bit noise floor mixing.

In the cases where it can be specified, I don't know that I'd recommend any particular fixed setting, given psychoacoustic interpretation. For instance, per the Quake example, one of the benefits to the higher mixing/output rate that I perceive is more natural sounding reverberation.

This is of course only true for the hardware SB16 because as we already know the SB16 has a variable "brickwall" filtering at half the mixing sampling rate to remove aliasing at that specific sampling rate just like modern sound cards, but DOSBox has a simple lowpass filter that is always On (like the SBPro), so the DOSBox audio clips you provided Cloudschatze are not good reference to how the actual hardware 16bit SB16 sounds at lower sampling rates.

This is good information - thank-you. I'd supposed the DOSBox captures to be ideal, as they remove the analog output stage from the equation, but I wasn't aware of DOSBox' filter behavior. I think the current examples are probably still effective/valid in a simple comparison aspect, but I may yet go back and do some actual hardware recordings. Dagnabbit. 🤣

In conclusion, I hope to never read another statement on this forum that a Sound Blaster Pro is all a person should ever need or want for DOS gaming, or that there are no DOS games that provide 16-bit sound. 😉

This is obviously directed straight at me. And my answer would be alright... just alright. 😉

Not really. The question about 16-bit support has been around for a long time, and has just never been addressed adequately.

mrau wrote:

is there a way to know what sized samples the game shoves into the hardware?

The information I'd provided is essentially the "post-processing" output the game sends to the hardware. This was mostly obtained through DOSBox logging, and includes both cinematics and gameplay, where the two sometimes differ.

Where you seem to be asking about the "raw" sample formats though, I don't know that there's a generally-accepted means of determining those, beyond simply trying to look into individual game resources. For the Sierra titles, there are a number of third-party tools that can be used for this purpose. Other games, such as Crusader: No Regret, include a tool that will extract the game's sound resources. Another option that seems to work in some cases is to load a raw sound data file into something like Audacity, using different import settings to determine the sample rates. Using this method, for example, I'd determined that Theme Hospital uses a combination of both 16-bit mono @ 22kHz and 8-bit mono @ 22kHz samples, while the mixing/output rate is the 16-bit stereo @ 22kHz.

Last edited by Cloudschatze on 2017-06-27, 16:34. Edited 1 time in total.

Reply 7 of 71, by firage

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Thanks for a good start to a thread/project on this topic. That Longbow song rocks and it shows a pretty decent improvement.

The thing that's usually pointed out most is that the audio data (sample format) is nearly always 8 bit before mixing. I think the big surprise is if the 16-bit subset here is larger than a couple titles.

I checked Command & Conquer, it being one of the big media heavy productions. 16 bit/22 kHz/mono music and sound effects, sure enough.
Red Alert is the same, 16 bit/22 kHz/mono.
Rise of the Triad sound effects are also confirmed 16 bit/11 kHz/mono.
Wing Commander IV is a diverse frigging bouquet. Music 8 bit/22 kHz/mono, radio dialogue and most sound effects 11 kHz. Sound effects aboard the capital ship 16 bit/22 kHz/mono, FMV stereo.

Last edited by firage on 2017-06-27, 18:28. Edited 3 times in total.

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Reply 8 of 71, by James-F

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There's always the possibility the game uses 8bit software mixing and sends it as 16bit high DMA to the SB16 card, for backwards compatibility with the older SBPro.
Any game that has internal volume controls that do not change the SB Mixer but rather its software sound engine mixer, like Doom, can be tested whether they are doing the mixing in 8bit or 16bit.

Its easy to test in DOSBox with the following line: sbmixer=false
Also, sbtype=sb16 or sbtype=sbpro2
Then lower the SFX volume in game on click before silence, and raise your speakers volume.
In Quake and Red Alert I can clearly hear the difference between sb16 and sbpro2 mixing.
8bit mixing is 'cutting off' with quiet sounds and has a lot of noise when the sound decays.

So yes, 16bit mixing has its benefits BUT! did any game actually use the larger dynamic range for much quieter sounds??
From what I hear most DOS games have zero dynamic range including 3D shooters, they are full blast or nothing, to be backwards compatible with older 8bit SB cards.
In other words, most DOS game samples (audio effects) are so loud and compressed just to be as far from the 8bit noise floor as possible.

Last edited by James-F on 2017-06-27, 15:29. Edited 1 time in total.


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Reply 10 of 71, by gerwin

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Wonder what to think of the Theme Hospital entry. Since this games uses the protected mode Miles Sound System. A huge amount of games use this sound system. Does that mean that when using a SB16 it always result in 16-bit mixing in these games, or is it an optional setting in the Miles Sound System?

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Reply 11 of 71, by James-F

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gerwin wrote:

Does that mean that when using a SB16 it always result in 16-bit mixing in these games, or is it an optional setting in the Miles Sound System?

This is exactly my point.
I should test a few games with miles driver.

EDIT:
Warcraft 1 & 2 which uses proprietary Miles driver always mix in 8bit no matter what you choose in the setup.exe.
Mortal Kombat 3 which uses the 'blue screen' Miles driver actually mixes in 16bit, so +1 for stand alone miles driver.
Descent 1 always mixes in 8bit.
Descent 2 mixes in 16bit or 8bit.

Again, any game that has in game SFX volume control (later 90s mostly) can be easily tested.


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Reply 12 of 71, by James-F

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firage wrote:

Rise of the Triad sound effects are also confirmed 16 bit/11 kHz/mono.

Sound effects samples of mixing?
What's your method of checking?


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Reply 14 of 71, by Scali

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James-F wrote:

There's always the possibility the game uses 8bit software mixing and sends it as 16bit high DMA to the SB16 card, for backwards compatibility with the older SBPro.

It's easier to do it the other way around, I suppose (16-bit software mixing, and then backward compatibility to 8-bit).
The problem with mixing is that you are adding multiple samples. When you are adding N samples of M bits, then you need M+(N-1) bits to store the result.
There are two ways around this:
1) The quick-and-dirty way: Reduce all samples to M-(N-1) bits first, so that when you're adding them up, the result does not exceed M bits (we use this hack in 8088 MPH's endtune for example).
Obvious downside is loss of dynamic range in the source samples.
2) The 'quality' way: Use an intermediate result with at least M+(N-1) bits, then scale the result back down to M bits.

Now, if you have 8-bit source samples, and you use method 2, then you could simply mix with 16-bit intermediate precision, and implement two different 'downsample' methods, one for 16-bit (which may actually be 'upscaling' unless you are mixing more than 257 channels), and one for 8-bit.
You could even combine them somehow, since converting a sample from 16-bit to 8-bit could be done as simply as just taking the MSB of the 16-bit result (unless your 16-bit samples have a different format than your 8-bit samples, eg 2s complement vs excess-127, in which case you also need to XOR the highest bit).

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Reply 15 of 71, by Cloudschatze

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To prevent duplicate efforts (unless desired), here are several additional titles that do not natively provide 16-bit output, per my testing:

  • Advanced Tactical Fighters, Electronic Arts
  • Dark Forces, Lucasarts
  • Death Gate, Legend Entertainment
  • Dragon Lore, Cryo
  • Full Throttle, Lucasarts
  • Magic Carpet, Bullfrog
  • Magic Carpet 2, Bullfrog
  • Shannara, Legend Entertainment
  • System Shock (CD), Origin Systems
  • TekWar, Capstone Software
  • Terra Nova: Strike Force Centauri, Origin Systems
  • Tie Fighter (CD), Lucasarts
  • Wing Commander III, Origin Systems
  • Wing Commander: Armada, Origin Systems
  • Wing Commander: Privateer, Origin Systems

Reply 16 of 71, by firage

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It seems at least Wing Commander III's FMV assets are 16 bit/22 kHz/mono.

Edit: Found some confirmation that is the spec for WC3's FMV format (MVE) audio: https://multimedia.cx/wc3movie.txt

Last edited by firage on 2017-06-27, 22:10. Edited 2 times in total.

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Reply 17 of 71, by Cloudschatze

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firage wrote:

It seems at least Wing Commander III's FMV assets are 16 bit/22 kHz/mono.

Hmm. Sounds like WC3 might merit some re-testing. Another title that could probably do with some further investigation is the CD version of System Shock. I was a bit surprised to only see 8-bit stereo @ 22kHz playback out of it.

Reply 18 of 71, by DracoNihil

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My ears could be deceiving me and I don't know if this counts or not but I think Wolfenstein 3D (the very late versions of it) support 16-bit mixing but because only 1 sound is mixed at a time you don't really notice the dynamic range unless you hear a door closing at maximum range.

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Reply 19 of 71, by Cloudschatze

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Cloudschatze wrote:
firage wrote:

It seems at least Wing Commander III's FMV assets are 16 bit/22 kHz/mono.

Hmm. Sounds like WC3 might merit some re-testing.

Wing Commander III does indeed play the cinematics in their native 16-bit mono @ 22kHz audio format, where the actual gameplay mixing/output is 8-bit stereo @ 11kHz. Thank-you for the heads-up!