Writing music in .mod format has been a part of my artistic expression since long time; while not musically trained in the canonical way -beside some of the typical flute lessons and the basics of note reading in middle school; when in 1983 i bought my first computer, a ZX Spectrum, the sound was driven by a beeper built-in inside and was able to do just a note at the time of pitch and length decided by a BASIC instruction; so not too much field for tune making there, at least until the first advanced music routines appeared, and were published on RUN, an italian cassette driven magazine; that made me experiment with some pieces (tried to redo the hang-on theme) but that was it. Then in 1988 i bought my Amiga 500 and finally got my hands in some music software: at first Sonix, where i did learn the ropes on basic music making, then in 1989 a mostly unknown tracker from LinEL, called SoundFX, where instead i did learn the basics of tracking.
Around the same time was introduced ot music rippers, but since did not knew about mod files, i mainly used those programs to get sound samples and then re-use it in SoundFX after converting them in 8SVX format; little later got introduced to Noisetracker, a soundtracker free clone – but able to work with non-original ST disks, as the original Ultimate Soundtracker, if i remember correctly, used a ST-XX volume name system for sample disks that prevented to read from other sample disks; Noisetracker worked that around by just the need to use a ST-00 volume, not even always the same disk, just same name.
As for finally getting in “the field”, as i said in the Powder Diaries, got in touch with Thomas and Filippo in doing graphics and music for Quazar, and then also for Nicola under the Nike name; those were simple songs, with most of the instruments coming from the ripped mods or from “RAM scanning” after a reset with Audiomaster.
The involvement with Quazar and the Powder game made me deal with the problems of providing a good audio experience with little memory space; the songs in Powder, excluded the main theme, had a set limit of 75k, that luckilly reached rarely; other projects, such as the ARZENAL utility disk, were having a much smaller footprint (guess not even 2k) and so complex instruments were not an option; however in 1989 i stumbled on a intro that was using what i used to call “micro instruments”; that was the easiest way some people found to do chiptunes using soundtracker: using very little chunks of samples is possible to obtain pretty pure waveforms and small size drums; did some experiments with it but none of those were published.
This music uses microsamples to obtain chiptune effect.
Had also occasion, together with Marco Maltese, to do soundtracks for its CGI animations, including a local TV program opening, three local TV advertisings and three animations ptrsented at Bit.Movie and Pixel Art Expo; plus other unfinished ones. Doing music for those is a different deal from doing it for video games and demos; since there are no big memory constraints samples can and must be the best possible, and sound need to be richer to mask the limited capabilities of Amiga hardware.
An example of music for a (unfinished) animation of Marco Maltese.
In the demoscene culture,and in particular on the tracking scene, is – or was – considered a lamer he who rip mod files ,harvest samples and reuse it in its own compositions. I was almost the only amiga user for a while in my town and for sure the only mod composer in my area: up to the half of nineties could not afford a sound sampler not to mention a CD player so all instruments I had forcefully got it through ripping; so according to your point of view and seen literally might I be considered a lamer?
Ripping modules has been, as said, both a way to replenish a starving sample bank but, also, a way to learn to use the tool: when i used see an intro or a demo or play a game and hear some nice sound effect or transition i wondered: how did they do it? Vibrato? Arpeggio? playing with pitch?
And then you find yourself in front of the file and you can see the magic going on: for a while that has been my only documentation on how to use the tracker: songs themselves; and so i did learn to use the basic effects: the arpeggio, the pitch up/down, speed, jump and the volume; following i also learn portamento and other effects; but to learn the Protracker stuff had to wait the online documentation built in, was simply too much.
I am pretty convinced that most musically oriented people can take advantage of Paula and its four voices at the most of its capacities but, being honest, the BEST way to use paula channels is not the MOST clear; whoever analyzed mod files knows that some of the most impressive use several samples for several instrument states or play styles, and at least two or more chords (multiple note samples).
Coming from a linear music composing program like Sonix, the idea of composing music using samples of music to insert was, at least in the end of eighties, antithetic to the approach that instead Sonix was proposing, like using instrument to create melody and rythm; and having a self-learner approach to music making did not help concerning chords, that are still a bit a black beast of mine beside the usual min (C-E-G#)and max(C-E-G). the concept of using sampled pieces of base drum or a bassline or a piece of sampled melody seemed like cheating; of course with the growing in popularity of House Music and Hip-Hop things started to get a different approach but, at least for the first three-four years, there was this idea that to do music i had to try hard using instruments and effects; however, the more ran into other people mod files and try to understand their secrets, the more i got the clue that to get the best sound impressions, a mix of instruments and samples were required.
I might say that my pro career as musician mostly started with powder and essentially ended with Powder; also because in the end of nineties trying to do tracker music on a power mac was close to impossible: the modplug tracker was far from operational and pretty impractical to use, at least for me. Most of the gigs – if we can call it so – were coming from Marco Maltese work in the video publishing service: i was cheaper than a licensed musician Furthermore, after the split with Maltese, that was my main provider for track requests either for its animations or external works like local TV commercials (two), had no more requests for soundtracks; from the other side, inspiration slowly faded away.
Only recently, thanks to Milkytracker on PC I restarted a bit to do some music but until now is essentially for my own leisure. Wish to compose soundtracks for some of the retro revival games around;
if anybody wants me to just drop me a mail – actually got busy with a pretty (unpaid) big project so hold on it, but you can still contact me for later projects :)
Not enough developed to be a full chapter, here i introduce a better insight on the 1991 demo.
The 1991 demo was called “M1 Prototype” on the title screen. Due to the disk error i mentioned on chapted 2, Maltese decided to redo the title screen at its own liking. The demo is using a homebrew trackloader and is known to not work on machines with os older than 2.0.
I found the disk at home when i went to Italy last may and made a DMS of it; later last week i installed WinUAE in my laptop and tried to make it run, with little hopes being that disk already picky on my old A500 and never worked on my 1200.
Meddling a bit with settings i made it work finally!
The Prototype Demo loading screen
And the spash screen once loaded
So in this demo we have the first half of the later scrapped Sea Level and a first version of the City level. There are some playability differences with the final version such as the fact that is possible to collect energy pods to restore the ship energy (very little) and that the credit system is using thousands of units, like 500 credits for a change.
Sea has a pretty nice palette and shows the skills of Marco Maltese at its finest as much as in Clouds; the enemy placement and strategy is interesting too.
A screenshot from Sea
Even the already known City level is different from the final one: first of all the sea flyby part is longer, then there is traffic roaming the city – as private vehicles and trucks – and some police roadblocks; plus the end of level boss is not a robot like in the final version – rather is another big helicopter. Also there were some kinda funny behaviour, liks some kamikaze Rail-A falling down the rails.
The demo is available as zipped DMS (DiskMasher) file; to use it in Amiga you need to unpack it using the DMS tool to create a physical disk; to use it in WinUAE or other emulators or even Minimig i guess you just transfer the .dms in the card and that’s it – don’t know about further settings.
For WinUAE i found out the settings in the following picture work for me:
I used A600 basic, with the slider compatibility set to Best Compatibility.
Still in Aminet, is also the 1997 demo previewed in Amiga Format; it contains the final version of City and City Boss. This other one can be installed on Hard disk and can instead be downloaded at this link.
It is the fall of 1997 and, for most of us, Amiga and powder are things of the past. Still Nicola and Thomas liked to tweak with the Eneditor in order to make the levels a bit tougher – actually A LOT tougher, and sometimes taking enemies out of the original context – but i did not touch its work files since long time.
Then, all of the sudden, Filippo calls us. Thanks to the city demo We found a publisher, they say; at this point revenue and fame were no more a priority: as long as the game finally could be published everything was good.
And since we wanted to make it come out fast, we had to cut a LOT. No more space level and boss, no more factory boss, no more ruins boss, no more intro pictures – beside the Game Over and the End Game ones.
Since I did sever contact with Maltese sone times earlier , had to provide some of the missing assets like more decorations in the final level and the end graphic. Actually, I had to prepare the package box graphic and had to re-create the logo in vector graphics using freehand. The 3d image in the game package was done by me using lightwave 5 on my 1200 and rendered at 150 dpi, with extra touches in photoshop for the laser ray and little extras; I am mainly a 2d person while Maltese was the one with most experience on 3d, but this one imo came out decent enough. Some extra touch with Photoshop enhanced things better.
At the time of the final rush, however, was providing my services as contractor to an advertising and web agency in Fano, so my exposure time was reduced. For the game testing and enemy placement remember Nicola Filippo and Thomas took the lead: due to that, they started to tweak the game difficulty to match their own skills and in some cases to misplace or change enemies destination -such as, in example, the big Fuel tank in Factory that was supposed to have an engine in front and instead became a fat ship to destroy; that also increased the difficulty level to pretty hard.
The package wrap was put together in Freehand and the only text we had from the company was the payoff in the back of the box. There was also space for any copyrights and disclaimers that i left available for the publishers – that however did not noticed, thats why those two lines with the filler text “all copyrights goes here” in italian language appears in the bottom of the wrap.
The irony was that, during the nineties, i was looking at the game boxes of export Megadrive games with a deep envy for the plastic box and the colorful detailed artwork, while at the end, with time and budget contraints we ended up with a pretty crappy anonymous cardboard box too.
And so in 1998 Powder came out under the Verkosoft brand, Epic Marketing in the UK.
The cuts, the difficulty problems and the age at the end shown its effect, so much that Amiga Format killed it with a 23%; other magazines were more forgiving, however is sure that when Powder came out the Amiga scene was no longer the good shooter starving market that we embraced in 1990, rather the inflaction-ridden mediocre shooter wasteland of 1998.
The Unforgiving review of Powder on Amiga Format
Other magazines were not that hard with it, if i remember clearly, but AF review indeed marked the kiss of death for our beloved project.
In summer 2005, just a couple of months prior of my departure for the States, all former members of five stars met again in a restaurant in Fano,for what we called the “Powder Dinner” – at the end the earnings in the already meager end-of-nineties agonizing Amiga market were so tight that we were barely able to pay a dinner for it. Also was my last time I seen Maltese in person, with its first czech blond wife.
There we are: the Five Stars VG studio in 2005!
From the top left: Simone Bernacchia , Nicola Valentini, Filippo Carletti;
bottom: Thomas Paoloni, Marco Maltese – sorry for the bad quality of the scan.
I met the programmers again this year, in occasion of my trip to Italy; Maltese – now living in Sicily, was not present but was nice to see each other after long time! So they also had occasion to meet my wife and had a pleasant time; the main reason however was to get a leftover copy of Powder from Carletti to deliver at the president of SCCAN here in southern california, that was looking for it after i told him about my experience in doing graphics and music for the game.
In 2009 Amiworx published a donationware CD called “Amiga Meets Piano” where, among the other popular Amiga game tracks the main theme of Powder -to my great surprise -is also featured, albeit incomplete, but this means somebody considered it good enough to be performed, and for me that is a big compliment!
In 2012 the Amiga Longplays channel featured a Powder longplay; found mostly favourable comments, especially about the soundtrack;
also on LemonAmiga the rating of 4.2 is pretty decent; plus the user the user frikilokooo Wrote:
In my opinion one of the three funniest Amiga shmups,its best feature is the addiction and its gameplay is different of the others shmups,highly recommended.The game is very underrated maybe because it came too late to the market.The graphics are unbalanced,some graphics are very good and others graphics are average,maybe by the fact that one of the two graphicians of the game is much better than the other one.The game has the best ingame music of any Amiga shmup(the best outgame music is for ProjectX though).Only a couple of glitches:no autofire,no two players mode and very unbalanced weapon system that ends using homing missiles at the end because the other weapons are worse,becoming very monotonous always the same weapon.
In 2011 I started to meditate on write down my memories on this experience, but lacked the time to do so: it was supposed to be just an episode on my blog (still in ilcannocchiale.it at the time); then a discussion about Amiga vs c64 and games design and working appeared on the forum nonsoloamiga.com, had occasion ot talk about my experience with Powder and the interest generated gave me the spark to start to write about Powder in a more expanded way.
I already started to put my songs in the AMP site and as videos on Vimeo, and the Diaries are giving me the occasion to work harder in showcasing most of my work that in my opinion need some exposure.
I would have also liked to recover the sources and try to make some kind of “director’s cut” or maybe some other game based on the same engine; however, when i tested the work disks in my 1200 most of the floppies were giving me read error; i gave them to a friend of mine that has a catweasel-like device in the hope to recover something.
I asked Maltese about some material to show here, but he said he lost it all, since he moved several times during the last fifteen years; plus stated in a chat that he is not that affectionated to those past events and forgot most of the things happened then; however, if he or the other members of the team decides to add more particulars they can get in touch with me.
Honestly, most of the material i had it with me the whole time, since i tried to show it on some demo CD that i made when looking for work in Italy and abroad after got laid off by my employer in 2003, but so far never received any feedback on it;
At the end the real triggers that pushed me to publish the powder diaries were two: The nonsoloamiga discussion helped me gather in my mind most of the technical data, but the real one is likely more ego-related; having all my tests, work files, animations, unused musics rotting on the floppys in boxes on the basement at home and in some demo CD-ROMs and folders in my laptop here on the states; i treasured this material for years even in cases holding it to show on interviews due to the fact that was a project in progress; then, when the game finally was out, all the material due to technology advancement became outdated, but i always hoped that if i shown all my stuff and attempts probably the consideration of people towards me could have shifted to a different level: at the time, at least until i started to win contests, had the perception that people thought was wasting my time: even a here withheld Five Stars team member thought the same of my animations, then awards proved i was right.
So as this day, i considered Powder history however worthy to be told also as part of my youth dream and work for hopes on a better future, despite its little to no influence in the Amiga market.
At the end, were those diaries just an ego trip? Very likely, but am glad to have done my work on it and don’t regret any minute spent!
Want to get the advantage of the last rows of text to thank all the people I worked with and those who in some ways supported me either logistically or morally or that, with their mere existence, gave me ideas and reasons to go on.