Who came first? The game coder or the sound guy?
It sounds like a bad joke laden with innuendo, but it’s not. Well it is, but it isn’t. Today I’m making my own 2D platform game called ‘Turbo the Tortoise’ which will be launched on PlayStation 4 at the end of 2017. How on earth this links to my main bread and butter – sound and lighting hire, you’re probably struggling to get your head around, but it’s much more straight forward than you think. ‘Turbo the Tortoise’ was originally an 8-bit game released around the time as ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ for 8-bit computers. It was the closest we were going to get to a high speed platform game like Sonic at the time – and it failed miserably. But I always saw potential in the concept. So in 2016 I reached out to the original creators of ‘Turbo’ who gave me their blessing to ‘reboot’ their game! They wished me luck and off I went!
How I got into sound and lighting hire, and more specifically into sound engineering – is because I was passionate about making games as a teenager. Making games was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the technical challenges that came with it, and the satisfaction of seeing my skills produce whatever appeared on the screen. My first attempts at coding were on an Amstrad CPC 464! A tape based 8-bit computer that really didn’t offer much in the way of processing power or graphic ability! Certainly not much in the music department, which was like putting together music for a Gameboy or something like that! I used my first music tracker probably at the age of 12, with three channels of bloops, blips and noise envelopes to imitate drums. It was simple and didn’t leave much scope for variety.
By the time I had my first Amiga 1200 computer I was bursting with enthusiasm to use OctaMED and the thought of having four channels of sampled instruments pretty much blew my mind. So with some samples I’d borrowed from other tunes from disks on computer magazines, I was making my own music that didn’t sound half bad. It was limiting, but meant being creative. Slipping in an off beat bass note in the drum track, or whatever I could come up with. Using the same note but at a lower volume further along the track to create a delay or echo effect! It was a good effect – not as convincing as a proper delay or reverb unit, but effective all the same. I even had a Technosound Turbo sampler that allowed me to import samples from CD’s and other sources.
But what was really quite amazing to me was some coding software called AMOS. It was designed to allow you to code and make your own games from scratch. It was really quite something, and my first attempt at a full game was called ‘Pink Pigs Can’t Fly’. It was basically a 2D maze game, where the main protagonist of the game – a pig… ran around the screen avoiding enemies and collecting diamonds. I had spent a lot of time in Deluxe Paint making up all the sprites, and I’d even created a level designer. This way I could give a 3.5″ floppy disk to my friends, they could create a level, and return it to me. So it was a collaborative effort. I did the coding and the graphics – my friends did the level design. And there were hundreds of levels. Had I created this game a decade earlier it would probably have been a hit… but by the time I was onto something good the Amiga was a dying platform.
The Amiga Daze
However, the game needed music, and it was the easiest thing in the world to import your OctaMED tracks into AMOS. So I spent a considerable amount of time making music for the game, and most of it wasn’t bad. I only have a few memories of what the in game music sounded like. We are talking over twenty years ago now, but it wasn’t the worst. It wasn’t the best either, but you’ve got to start somewhere!
But as a teenager I had some positive feedback from friends about the music I was making. For some it was a passing curiosity, for others they were very enthusiastic about what I’d produced. I made cassettes with my music on it and some were very receptive. It was loud, it was fast, it was probably very basic melodies – but nobody else I knew of was doing what I was doing at the time. By the time I was 18 I had also bought two old Amiga 600 computers for £120. A few cables from PC World and I had all three Amiga computers sending MIDI data to each other via the serial ports and pow! I had 12 channels of audio all jacked into an 8 channel Yamaha mixing desk with an Alesis Nanoverb for effects! (Every Amiga channel came out in pairs – two on the left, two on the right). Being able to control the EQ on every channel was brand new for me, and being able to bring extra bass into drum tracks, or a wee bit of extra treble into leads or strings was a bit of a game changer for me.
And that Yamaha desk ignited a new passion in me. Sound engineering. If you’ve got an eight channel desk, and a few speakers… before you know it you’re providing sound systems for house parties… you’re providing sound for bands in pubs and clubs, and before long I’m investing in other new bits of equipment like mixers, reverb units, graphic EQ’s… and everything just took off and made EatAudio what it is today. It was basically spawned by my love of computers and coding – and that enthusiasm for game making never went away. But I never returned to it.
Turbo the Tortoise on PlayStation 4
That was until October 1st 2015. I had ample free time on my hands and looked into giving some coding a bash. YoYo Games in Dundee made some excellent software called GameMaker, and it truly is a marvel. Sure, it only runs on a single core of your PC which is my biggest gripe about it, but you can export your game to pretty much any platform. PC, XBox 360, XBox One, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, iPhone, iPad, Android, Linux – you name it… and after about two weeks of messing around I had the bulk of my game engine for ‘Turbo the Tortoise’ up and running. Modern coding on a PC had changed significantly since the days when I was a teenager. Object oriented coding, intelligent use of graphics layers and integrating depth, pixel perfect collision detection, and syntax and language designed to make everything considerably easier. Some how I’d managed to retain a lot of the knowledge of implementing trigonometry into coding. I was terrible at maths at school, but 2D trig was never really a stretch for me on a computer. So I just got on with it.
Today, ‘Turbo the Tortoise’ is 60% complete. Progress is a lot slower than it had been throughout the early part of 2016. I’m grateful for the extra work I’ve got but it certainly hampers my efforts to get the game finished. The graphics in the game are at a mock up stage, and I’m pleased it looks the way it does with my best efforts in Photoshop and Spriter! However, I’ve had some fantastic input from a professional games artist company called Desix Designs who will be overhauling all the graphics. They’ll be providing hand painted backdrops and vector based characters and foreground images so it takes on a look a lot like ‘Rayman Origins’.
Atomic Salt Shaker
And once again the game needed music. I have always had a music project of some kind on the go and it’s always involved various genres of music from house, to trance, to drum and bass, to various kinds of breakbeat. In 2007 I was fortunate enough to have one of my unsigned tracks get a little bit of attention from Radio 1 DJ Dave Pearce who had played ‘One Good Reason’ on his show. It was a very surreal moment as I’d never had that much exposure before and a lot of people were going out of their way to find out where to get the track. And that’s when I decided to release my music formally under the guise of ‘Atomic Salt Shaker’, and I’ll be writing more about that in future blog posts. My first (and so far only release) came out in February 2013. You might be lucky enough to find a CD somewhere, but the album ‘Don’t Look Down’ is available on Amazon and iTunes. Do a quick search! A good chunk of new and old music I’ve made will be featuring in ‘Turbo the Tortoise’
If you’re interested in finding out more get in touch, or simply keep an eye on www.eataudio.com over the course of 2017.