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Incline Sceptic's guide to getting the best sound in adventure games

Sceptic

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By popular demand (ie one person asked for this), I've compiled a table of the best sound mode or device to use in each adventure game that I could think of. This is an eternal WIP; I'll keep adding games as I remember them and check them, and of course if you find anything in here you think might be wrong, please post in the thread and tell me why, and I'll fix it.

The table should be very easy to read. A - sign means the game supports this sound move/device. A + means this is the best way to experience the game. "Best" here isn't subjective; in almost every case, I can confirm this was the device the game sound was composed on, and the device meant for playback. Your own personal preference may lead to select the non-optimal device, and that's fine of course, but do be aware that in some cases this will lead to either missing sounds, or the wrong sound playing.

If a game has a + on two devices, this usually means that, in the original game, the 2 modes are mutually exclusive, and that choosing either will make sounds that use the other not play. The easiest workaround is to use ScummVM, which let you play a "dual-mode" using the best of both devices for the full, otherwise unattainable experience. All the Sierra games also have unofficial patches that provide the same dual-mode, if for some reason you prefer DOSBox to ScummVM. Of course, if the game itself provides a dual mode (usually "Roland and Sound Blaster", or letting you select digital effects and music separately; all post-93 Sierra games have this option) there's no reason not to pick it.

It might be tempting to think that the devices always go from worse to better from left to right, but this isn't the case. You'll notice several Sierra games support GM/GS, but the optimal device is the CM-32L instead. In these cases the game was composed for the CM-32L then hastily converted to GM/GS because that was becoming the new standard, but the conversion is poor and you miss out on the custom patches specifically created for the CM-32L.

Before I post the table itself, let me explain what each device is.

PC Speaker: the standard Beep-bop. This sounds horrible and should be avoided whenever possible (which, if you read the table, is possible in every game so far, thankfully).

Tandy: this is the 3-way speaker chip that Tandy developed. It sounds so much better than the standard PC speaker it's not even funny. You'll notice it's the preferred mode in every Sierra game made with the AGI engine. There are 2 steps to activate it: edit dosbox.conf and change tandy=auto to tandy=on. Then, when starting the game, do so by typing "sierra.com -t". For non-AGI games, the option can be set up in the game's config installer. There are a number of devices that can appear in the installer: Covox Sound Master, Disney Sound Source, PS1 Audio... All of them use a Tandy chip and will sound the same. If you choose something other than Tandy though, be sure to change the appropriate setting in dosbox.conf.

OPL: this is for the Yamaha FM synthesis chip found on Adlib and Sound Blaster. I've also used it for games that would otherwise sound best on an MT-32, but use digitized sounds that require a Sound Blaster. The Sound Blaster Pro had a very interesting design, using two OPL2 chip to create stereo FM synthesis; all subsequent SB cards used a single OPL3 chip and cannot do that. Since none of the games I listed are optimal with an SB Pro though I haven't included this option.

MT-32: This option isn't for all MT-32 compatible devices. It is specifically for the MT-32 rev0, which uses the original revision of the device. The firmware was bugged, but many Sierra and Dynamix games specifically used those bugs. On future devices, the lack of bugs create sound distortions when playing these games. Unfortunately there is no way to get these games to sound exactly right without using an actual, rev0 MT-32.

CM-32L: this is a later derivative of the MT-32, which does 2 things: it uses the updated firmware (see above), and it adds instruments that aren't present in the original MT-32. If a game uses these instruments and is played on an original MT-32, you won't hear them. Munt, and the version included in the DOSBox CVS, emulates the CM-32L firmware, provided you have the CM-32L control ROM files (they're all over the internet). Many games on the list (such as all Legend games) sound identical on the MT-32 and the CM-32L, but I included them under CM-32L because this is the one most people are likely to have or emulate, and the CM-32L can play more sounds at once than the MT-32, so unless a game uses the rev0 bugs the CM-32L (or Munt+CM-32L ROMs) is a better choice, even if the extra sounds are unused.

GM/GS: GM stands for General MIDI. When you play a MIDI file on your computer, or use soundfonts, and so on, this is what mode you're hearing. GS (General Standard) is Roland's proprietary variant of GM. All games that are listed as optimal for GS were composed on a Roland Sound Canvas and will sound best on an SC-55mkII (though a regular SC-55 should be just fine). Most of these games will not sound right on a GM but not GS-compatible device, either missing sounds or playing the wrong tones. The only perfect SC-55 emulator that I know of is Roland's own Virtual Sound Canvas, which will not work on anything newer than Windows XP. If you can't get VSC to work, a very reasonable alternative is to get a GS soundfont. Personally I recommend buying a real SC-55 or SC-88 (they're usually under $50), once you hear a real Sound Canvas, it's hard to go back. Otherwise, I suggest getting VirtualMIDISyth and this GS soundfont, both of which are free.

And now for the table itself.
Code:
                            PC Speaker   Tandy   OPL   MT-32  CM-32L  GM/GS
Codename Iceman                  -        -      -      -       +
Companions of Xanth              -               -      -       +
Conquests of Camelot             -        -      -      -       +
Conquests of the Longbow         -        -      -      -       +
Day of the Tentacle                                                 
Death Gate                                       -      -       -       +
Eco Quest I                      -        -      -      -       +       -
Eco Quest II                     -        -      -      -       +       +
Eric The Unready                 -               -      -       +
Gateway I                        -               -      -       +
Gateway II                       -               -      -       +
Gabriel Knight I               
Gold Rush                        -        +
Heart of China                   -        -      -      +       -
King's quest I                   -        +
King's quest I SCI               -               +      +       -
King's quest II                  -        +
King's quest III                 -        +
King's quest IV                  -               -      +       -
King's quest V                   -        -      -      +       -
King's quest VI                  -        -      -      -       -       +
King's quest VII                                 -      -       -       +
Laura Bow I                      -               -      +       -
Laura Bow II                     -        -      -      -       +       -
Leisure Suit Larry I             -        +
Leisure Suit Larry I VGA         -               -      -       +
Leisure Suit Larry II            -               -      +       -
Leisure Suit Larry III           -               -      +       -
Leisure Suit Larry V             -        -      -      -       +
Leisure Suit Larry VI            -        -      -      -       -       +
Manhunter I                      -        +                       
Manhunter II                     -        +                        
Monkey Island I                                                       
Monkey Island II                                                 
Police Quest I                   -        +
Police Quest I VGA               -        -      -      -       +       -
Police Quest II                  -        -      -      +       -
Police Quest III                 -        -      -      -       +
Police Quest IV                  -               -      -       -       +
Quest for Glory I                -        -      -      -       +
Quest for Glory I VGA            -        -      -      -       +       -
Quest for Glory II               -        -      -      -       +
Quest for Glory III              -               -      -       -       +
Quest for Glory IV               -               -      -       -       +
Ringworld                                        -      -       +
Ringworld 2                                      -      -       -       +
Rise of the Dragon               -        -      +      +       -
Sam & Max Hit the Road  
Space Quest I                    -        +
Space Quest I VGA                -               -      +       -
Space Quest II                   -        +
Space Quest III                  -               +      +       -
Space Quest IV                   -        -      -      -       +       -
Space Quest V                    -        -      -      -       -       +
Space Quest VI                   -        -      -      -       +
Spellcasting 101                 -               -      -       +  
Spellcasting 201                 -               -      -       +  
Spellcasting 301                 -               -      -       +
Star Trek 25th Anniversary       -               -      -       +
Star Trek Judgment Rites                         -      -       +       -
Timequest                        -               -      -       +
BTW the formatting editor sucks dick.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please post them.

Many thanks to everyone who provided comments and suggestions on how to improve this.
 
Last edited:

tuluse

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OPL: this is for the Yamaha FM synthesis chip found on Adlib and Sound Blaster. I've also used it for games that would otherwise sound best on an MT-32, but use digitized sounds that require a Sound Blaster. The Sound Blaster Pro had a very interesting design, using two OPL2 chip to create stereo FM synthesis; all subsequent SB cards used a single OPL3 chip and cannot do that. Since none of the games I listed are optimal with an SB Pro though I haven't included this option.
Are you aware that ScummVM offers an AdLib/MIDI mixed mode should should support Adlib digital sounds and what ever GM device you want to use for MIDI music?
 

Sceptic

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Are you aware that ScummVM offers an AdLib/MIDI mixed mode should should support Adlib digital sounds and what ever GM device you want to use for MIDI music?
I am, it's one of the workarounds I mentioned earlier: "If a game has a + on two devices, this usually means that the 2 modes are mutually exclusive, and that choosing either will make sounds that use the other not play. DO be aware, however, that there ARE unofficial workarounds for every one of these instances that will let you play a "dual-mode" using the best of both devices." Sierra games have unofficial patches (most made by NewRisingSun, who's an awesome guy for making so many patches) that do the same thing. I prefer using straight DOSBox to ScummVM, as it can be a little buggy with some games (like not keeping track of IQ points in Fate of Atlantis), and also I'm not sure NewRigingSun's non-sound patches (which, for some games such as QFG4, are IMO required) work with ScummVM. For something like Monkey Island 2, it would be the only way to get the best sound though (SE excluded, obviously).

I'll probably edit the OP and mention the various workarounds for each game once I have enough data.

Thanks for pointing it out.
 

SCO

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Sticky worthy.
Scummvm is always patching original game bugs lately (especially SCI).
 

Sceptic

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Is it possible they've patched it since then or are they unaware or intentionally ignoring said bug?
They might've patched it since. I knew ghostdog ran into it when doing his LP, but that was a while ago I think.

Why only adventure games?
Mostly only Sierra, really. I already had all the data in an Excel file, and most of the games at hand to test them (was surprised how many SCI games don't support Tandy actually). I'll probably make another table for RPGs, but I don't think I want all games in the same table anyway, it'll become illegible, not to mention any format readjustments will drive me nuts. The editor is NOT friendly to this kind of endeavor :P

BTW, did you ever investigate that GS soundfont I linked you to?
I had forgotten about it, thanks for reminding me. I couldn't get the soundfont to work, it's an SBK file and none of the softsynths I could get can read those. And obviously I don't have an AWE card at hand to directly test. However, one thing led to another, and eventually I found VirtualMIDISyth and downloaded it. It still won't read SBK, but it has a helpful list of free soundfonts you can download. Once again one thing led to another... they have a link to this GS soundfont. It's not great, but the good news is that it really is GS-compatible! I loaded it into VirtualMIDISynth, tested it in WOX in DOSBox, and the GS-specific tones seem to be playing right (creaking door instead of telephone ring). I like the Sound Canvas sound more, but this may just be the best way to get GS compatibility without buying one. I'll have to look for other GS soundfonts now, if I can find any. I thought Roland went to great effort to make sure nobody spread their proprietary tones, but it looks like they're not as strict about is as they were a few years ago.

Anyway I'll update OP with all this stuff. I might remove the GM/GS columns entirely and just advise people to get either a Sound Canvas or a GS soundfont an ignore the GM-but-not-GS devices entirely.
 

Infinitron

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BTW, did you ever investigate that GS soundfont I linked you to?
I had forgotten about it, thanks for reminding me. I couldn't get the soundfont to work, it's an SBK file and none of the softsynths I could get can read those. And obviously I don't have an AWE card at hand to directly test. However, one thing led to another, and eventually I found VirtualMIDISyth and downloaded it. It still won't read SBK, but it has a helpful list of free soundfonts you can download. Once again one thing led to another... they have a link to this GS soundfont. It's not great, but the good news is that it really is GS-compatible! I loaded it into VirtualMIDISynth, tested it in WOX in DOSBox, and the GS-specific tones seem to be playing right (creaking door instead of telephone ring). I like the Sound Canvas sound more, but this may just be the best way to get GS compatibility without buying one. I'll have to look for other GS soundfonts now, if I can find any. I thought Roland went to great effort to make sure nobody spread their proprietary tones, but it looks like they're not as strict about is as they were a few years ago.

Anyway I'll update OP with all this stuff. I might remove the GM/GS columns entirely and just advise people to get either a Sound Canvas or a GS soundfont an ignore the GM-but-not-GS devices entirely.

Heh, I was getting creaking doors instead of telephone rings with that SBK soundfont back in the mid-90s. So I don't know if they were ever that strict.
 

Sceptic

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Heh, I was getting creaking doors instead of telephone rings with that SBK soundfont back in the mid-90s. So I don't know if they were ever that strict.
Maybe only for a brief time. I remember they shut down Munt for a while, because it was shipping the MT-32 ROMs, and around the same time there was a lot of talk going on about how to get proper Sound Canvas emulation. I guess they were more lenient early on and let companies like Creative provide the soundfonts, then briefly went must protect our copyrights! and then they just went back to meh whatever. I know they've left Munt alone for years now. Maybe they only got briefly overprotective when they were trying to sell VSC, and they must've eventually realized the only people who care enough are retro gamers, and there wasn't much point going after them as a market.

Anyway I updated the OP with the info tuluse and you provided, thank you to both.
 

Sceptic

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FFS I keep forgetting to say this every time I open this thread:

Jaesun you're the most knowledgeable person that I know when it comes to MIDI, sound in old games, and sound modules. If you have any suspicion at all that anything I wrote is incorrect, please let me know!

This applies to everyone else too: if you have any information about a game that's not on there, do let me know and I'll add it.
 

Jaesun

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You are missing the Hero's Quest games?

They should have the CM-32L. Though to be honest, I don't know for sure if they actually DO use the "extra sounds" on it. I *assume* they do however.
 

Sceptic

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Yeah I am looking at your list and it seems fine now. If I see something I disagree with we can battle it out. :)
COME AT ME BRO

You are missing the Hero's Quest games?
They should have the CM-32L. Though to be honest, I don't know for sure if they actually DO use the "extra sounds" on it. I *assume* they do however.
I had them in my WIP RPG list instead, but you're right they'd make more sense here.
As far as I know, QFG1-2 are CM-32L; QFG1VGA has a GM mode, but it's a conversion that lacks the MT-32 custom patches. I'm not sure if they use the extra sounds, but they don't bug out, and in fact I think they use the faster transfer rate that the rev1 introduced, and that makes the sound skip on the rev0; I'm really not sure about that one though, you'd have to test it on your own MT-32. QFG3-4 are an SC-55 composition, of that I'm certain, and Rudy Helm has confirmed that QFG3 was the first in-house Sierra game to be entirely composed on and for that module.

Anyway I'm gonna add them presently.
 

Jaesun

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*IF* they actually have custom patches sent to the MT-32, then odds are* they wrote it specifically for that system. AND Sierra has always had a LOVE for the Roland MT-32/CM-32L. Because it is AWESOME.

*BUT in the case of say Lands Of lore which sends a custom bank of sounds if you have a MT-32 (of which are terrible BTW, they just send a custom GM bank of sounds to the MT-32 of which the Sound Canvas has much superior sounds on it) that is an exception. Play Lands of Lore with the GM option only. Sadly LoL does NOT use any of the custom GS sounds like Might and Magic IV/V does.
 

Aenra

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Thank youuuuuu!!!
Much obliged :D

edit: and then some, must have taken you quite the time to do this../bow
 
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Sceptic

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*BUT in the case of say Lands Of lore which sends a custom bank of sounds if you have a MT-32 (of which are terrible BTW, they just send a custom GM bank of sounds to the MT-32 of which the Sound Canvas has much superior sounds on it) that is an exception. Play Lands of Lore with the GM option only.
Sierra did the same thing as LoL for many of their 92-93 games. If you look at the table you'll see KQ6, LSL6, PQ4 and SQ5 are listed as ideal for GM but they also have the MT-32/CM-32L option. With Sierra games you can actually easily tell if the MT-32 option is the one that was composed, or if it's a conversion from GM. All the conversions from GM use the same GM Sysex patch bank, I forgot the name of the file now but if you dig through the packed resources you can find the file in all the games I listed above. Now if you compare this to the sound bank files in the games I listed as being made for the CM-32L - take PQ1VGA, Laura Bow 2, SQ4, and so on - you can immediately notice the difference; each of these games has a patch bank that not only differs from the GM bank, but also from each other, and each one of them has a lot of custom instruments - if you dig through PQ1VGA you have 'Slosh Hat', 'Hefty Bass', 'Rap Snare' and a few others that I can't remember off the top of my head. Laura Bow 2 has even more, including 'BanjoLB2' - when you see something like this it is patently obvious that the soundtrack was specifically composed for the MT/CM, and that custom instruments were created not just specifically for that module, but for that game as well. I don't think BanjoLB2 is reused in any of the other games, and it's obviously not a GM or GS instrument. Now compare this to the GM sound bank for the MT-32; the so-called "custom instruments" are simply the Sound Canvas instruments that don't appear on CM-32L, programmed so that you will hear something. LoL and WOX also use a similar kind of conversion patch. Actually the one for WOX is really not bad at all, I was always impressed how much work NWC put into making the game sound decent on the CM-32L, considering how extensively it uses the GS-specific tones.

As far as I can tell the one big exception is Eco Quest 2. I cannot for the life of me figure out what module this is supposed to be played on. It uses a lot of GS-specific tones (ones that don't appear in standard GM; you need a Sound Canvas or a GS soundfont like the one I linked to hear them), but it also uses some of the CM-32L additional tones that don't appear on the MT-32. As far as I know it's the only Sierra game that is so polarized. Even Laura Bow 2, which has a really good GM score, you can tell is in fact CM-32L when you look at the custom instruments. It's why I listed Eco Quest 2 with a + on both CM-32L and GS. There's simply no way to get it to sound "perfect". ScummVM can do Roland + SB/OPL in SQ3, Monkey Island 2 and so on, but I don't think it can handle a dual-mode with both CM-32L and GS. The very nature of the MPU-401 interface (which DOSBox, ScummVM and so on all have to emulate, I think it's the only way DOS games know how to communicate with a MIDI device) prevents using both modules at once, I think. It *might* be possible to fix this with a custom patch like the ones NewRisingSun created, but AFAIK nobody's done it yet.

Anyway sorry for the rambling, this stuff still fascinates me.
 

Bagstivert

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PC Speaker Tandy OPL MT-32 CM-32L GM/GS

Day of the Tentacle
Gabriel Knight I
Monkey Island I
Monkey Island II
Sam & Max Hit the Road
...
Sorry for bumping this old thread - I really appreciate the list, but wonder why these LucasArts games (and 1 from Sierra) are in the list, but without any sound preferences?

(I am revisiting my old adventure games and messing with sound card emulators, and this list is just pure gold)
:)
 

Rincewind

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Sorry for bumping this old thread - I really appreciate the list, but wonder why these LucasArts games (and 1 from Sierra) are in the list, but without any sound preferences?
AFAIK, all LucasArts adventures that support MIDI sound best with the Roland CM-32L. Many of their games support the additional 32 sound effects of the CM-32L. See details here:
 

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