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Author Topic: Why does most PC-FX audio sound so lame? (Or should I ask why CCK doesn't?)  (Read 3520 times)

McKnight

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So, I've only played a total of two games for the PC-FX (Makeruna! Makendou Z and Chip-chan Kick!), and am only superficially familiar with other games for it (most notably, Kishin Douji Zenki: Vajura Fight).

Right now, I've just checked out YouTube footage of various other games for the same system, but while Chip-chan Kick!'s audio could compete with most games for the Playstation or Sega Saturn (seriously, listen to it!), that in the Zenki game and the games I just checked out right now (including Angelique Special, Deep Blue Fleet, Sparkling Feather, Classmates 2, Team Innocent: The Point of No Return, and Power DoLLS FX) sounds like SNES material.  (Ditto with the TurboGrafx-16 CD, really.)

Should I ask why the PC-FX had such inferior audio for the most part to the Playstation or Saturn despite using the same audio format (Redbook), or should I ask why Chip-chan Kick! in particular sounds so much more vibrant than those other games (if not most of the system's entire library)?

For greater context, here's where this whole thing really stems from:

http://dmxrated.livejournal.com/597858.html

(And yes, I do know about the fates of three other fangames for different franchises, and my brother and I have agreed on a workaround should any legal issues come up.)

AWJ

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So, I've only played a total of two games for the PC-FX (Makeruna! Makendou Z and Chip-chan Kick!), and am only superficially familiar with other games for it (most notably, Kishin Douji Zenki: Vajura Fight).

Right now, I've just checked out YouTube footage of various other games for the same system, but while Chip-chan Kick!'s audio could compete with most games for the Playstation or Sega Saturn (seriously, listen to it!), that in the Zenki game and the games I just checked out right now (including Angelique Special, Deep Blue Fleet, Sparkling Feather, Classmates 2, Team Innocent: The Point of No Return, and Power DoLLS FX) sounds like SNES material.  (Ditto with the TurboGrafx-16 CD, really.)

Should I ask why the PC-FX had such inferior audio for the most part to the Playstation or Saturn despite using the same audio format (Redbook), or should I ask why Chip-chan Kick! in particular sounds so much more vibrant than those other games (if not most of the system's entire library)?

For greater context, here's where this whole thing really stems from:

http://dmxrated.livejournal.com/597858.html

(And yes, I do know about the fates of three other fangames for different franchises, and my brother and I have agreed on a workaround should any legal issues come up.)

The idea that all CD-based systems effectively have equal audio capabilities because they can all play Redbook audio is a misconception.

Not all games on CD-based systems even use Redbook audio. Many of them, especially large and complex games, play chip synthesized music just like cartridge games. The existence of PSF rips should put to lie the idea that all or even most PSX music is Redbook. Redbook audio takes tons of disc space, can't be seamlessly looped (it has to fade out and start again), and you can't read any other data off the disc at the same time it's playing. Redbook audio is really only feasible in games that are divided into discrete levels that each fit entirely into RAM (so again, arcade-style games, but not RPGs, dating simulators, etc.)

And in any case Redbook only handles music; sound effects always have to be synthesized. The PSX and Saturn have very powerful sound chips, whereas the PC-FX sound hardware (like its graphics hardware) is firmly in the 16-bit generation. Even in that Chip-chan Kick game you can hear how grungy the character voices are compared to voices in PSX and Saturn games.

Chip-chan Kick being a simple arcade-style game, it probably is using Redbook audio, whereas the RPGs and dating sims on the system have to use synthesized music for the abovementioned reasons.

McKnight

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Thanks.  That answers pretty much everything for me right now.

In case you or anyone else read that blog entry I linked to, I did write a follow-up each both yesterday (before you came along and answered me) and today:

http://dmxrated.livejournal.com/2016/02/12/

http://dmxrated.livejournal.com/2016/02/13/

elmer

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The PC-FX has the same sound chip and the PC Engine, but with the addition of 2 channels of ADPCM, and the Redbook audio.

So definitely less powerful than the PSX or the Saturn, but powerful-enough for some good results.

As AWJ said, you're definitely not going to play Redbook audio while you're streaming data from the CD ... but you can certainly play (and stream) ADPCM while you're reading data, if you want to design your game to do that.

And you can do high-quality voice samples on the PC-FX ... just watch any of the PC-FX FMV sequences (which use the ADPCM).

Personally, I think that the problem with the PC-FX is less about the machine's hardware, which is actually pretty nice, but more about its market failure.

Nobody was spending money buying PC-FX games, so developers didn't spend any money on making good titles for the PC-FX, and the machine ended up with a bunch of cheaply-produced games that just used the familiar 4th-generation PC Engine hardware inside the machine, and didn't exploit the machine's strengths.

Even the higher-quality titles like Zeroigar didn't exactly push the machine very hard.

Zeroigar just uses 2 16-color layers from the PC Engine's VDC chips for most of its graphics, and only rarely uses even a single extra layer from the PC-FX's own custom background chip (which could happily do 256-color, or 32768-color layers).

BTW ... you really should check out Zeroigar.

Especially since it's one of only 2 games on the system that's been translated, and the story is really very well done (I have no idea how the developers could have justified spending the money for 16-minutes of custom TV-quality anime for a PC-FX title).

The music on it sounds good, too.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2016, 09:08:41 am by elmer »

McKnight

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Elmer, you say that 2nd- and 3rd-party developers were afraid to invest in games for the system because few people were buying it, right?  But, isn't it also safe to assume that no one wanted that thing because it was underpowered to begin with, or were there different reasons for that (such as NEC's lack of focus on 3D games as those were finally taking off)?

So, I'm guessing what NEC had there was some sort of catch-22, right?

In any case, if the game ever does go through, I might actually consider making a homebrew out of it for emulators, just to see if it would in fact have been possible.

Then again, the game itself might be too big even for the Playstation or Saturn.  But, that's a bridge to cross if the game ever even gets completed for Windows or OS X.

As for your suggestion of Zeroigar, I know someone else who tried that out, and will probably try it myself.  Just checked some footage out on YouTube, and its audio sounds just as modest as other games to apply to an SNES game, but I never deemed any of the games themselves as actually bad (save for Makeruna! Makendou Z).

Anyway, I'll be sure to let people know, both here and elsewhere, when I have actual material to showcase.  In the meantime, here's the fic (Starbound, of Lucky Star) which I intend for to eventually become it.  (Not a crossover, but it will help if anyone here is familiar with the Earthbound trilogy as well.  A lot of things are based on that.)

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/8895129/1/Starbound

And, a one-shot spinoff fic located in the crossover archive w/ Mon Colle Knights (since that's about one of its transplanted characters from that show):

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/10131844/1/Starbound-Birthday-of-Destiny

elmer

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I think that it's pretty safe to say that NEC didn't know what-the-heck they were doing, and never really understood, or had that much interest in, the videogame business.

Sony surprised the heck out of everyone with the PlayStation.

The Saturn was going to be a super-2D machine, with specs not-too-different to the PC-FX ... until Sega found out about Sony's plans and scrambled to throw more hardware into it, resulting in the crazy-but-fascinating abomination that is the Saturn-as-shipped.

NEC didn't have the ability to move as fast, and so, "yes", they ended up recycling Hudson's old-and-cancelled Iron Man technology, and then delivering a machine that gambled on FMV-playback as it's selling point while they struggled to finish their own 3D chip (which ended up shipping on the PC-FXGA board, but never being released as an add-on for the PC-FX console).

Because NEC was an electronics company and not a videogame company, they seemed to be unwilling to lose/break-even on the PC-FX hardware, and so ended up overpricing it compared to the PSX and Saturn (whose companies subsidized the costs of early machines in order to make money off game licensing fees).

Underpowered-on-launch-day + no-compelling-launch-titles + overpriced-compared-to-the-competition = Dead-On-Arrival.

Zeroigar's music sounds to me like a fully-orchestrated-and-effected CD soundtrack that's been put through 31KHz ADPCM compression ... just like the PSX and the Saturn when they're playing back ADPCM rather than using the realtime-synth (except that they can go up to 44KHz).

At the end-of-the-day, that's definitely not as good as Redbook audio ... but that's the price that you pay for having to fit all of that FMV on the CD.

Perhaps you just prefer the sound of the sample-based realtime-synths, or the realtime-reverb that seemed to get used a lot on the PSX ... and I can certainly understand some/most people having that preference.

I certainly can't disagree that both Sony and Sega provided a much more capable realtime-synth on their machines than NEC did on the PC-FX.

OTOH, from my programmer's POV, I find the PC-FX much more interesting than the PlayStation, and much less frustrating than the Saturn.

McKnight

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Admittedly, I only watched footage of Zeroigar's gameplay (as opposed to its FMVs), but...

Perhaps you just prefer the sound of the sample-based realtime-synths, or the realtime-reverb that seemed to get used a lot on the PSX ... and I can certainly understand some/most people having that preference.

I certainly can't disagree that both Sony and Sega provided a much more capable realtime-synth on their machines than NEC did on the PC-FX.

Exactly what it was, this whole time ever since I discovered the Playstation's Rockman Complete Works series.

tvtoon

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I have heard many audio tracks from PC-FX, and I can tell that they sound awful because they are straight "remixes" from chiptunes. It is cheap and bad work, just to get that music done fast. PlayStation music, on other hand, are mostly developed trough its DSP.

Quote
The PSX and Saturn have very powerful sound chips, whereas the PC-FX sound hardware (like its graphics hardware) is firmly in the 16-bit generation.

I don't think it is a matter of "generations", PlayStation synthesizer is just some minor upgrade over the SNES one. The plot here is plain crappy work.

AWJ

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As AWJ said, you're definitely not going to play Redbook audio while you're streaming data from the CD ... but you can certainly play (and stream) ADPCM while you're reading data, if you want to design your game to do that.

Can the PSX (or other CD-generation consoles) stream ADPCM off the disc while reading other arbitrary data at the same time? I didn't think CD drives had fast enough seek times to do that.

Or did you mean data that's been deliberately interleaved with the ADPCM so that both can be streamed together (e.g. FMV with an audio track, or speech with subtitles and lip-movement cues)?

I don't think it is a matter of "generations", PlayStation synthesizer is just some minor upgrade over the SNES one. The plot here is plain crappy work.

The PSX APU is clearly based on the SNES APU, but it has four times as many channels and an order of magnitude more RAM for samples. I wouldn't call that a "minor upgrade", I'd call it a generational upgrade like NES PPU to SNES PPU or Master System VDP to Megadrive VDP.
« Last Edit: February 13, 2016, 04:01:57 pm by AWJ »

McKnight

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And, here's another blog update about this thread and my overall issues, in case anyone's been following along with that:

http://dmxrated.livejournal.com/2016/02/14/

elmer

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Re: Why does most PC-FX audio sound so lame? (Or should I ask why CCK doesn't?)
« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2016, 11:13:31 am »
Can the PSX (or other CD-generation consoles) stream ADPCM off the disc while reading other arbitrary data at the same time? I didn't think CD drives had fast enough seek times to do that.

Or did you mean data that's been deliberately interleaved with the ADPCM so that both can be streamed together (e.g. FMV with an audio track, or speech with subtitles and lip-movement cues)?

You can use the CD buffer and RAM buffering to help cover the seeking ... but really, "no" you're absolutely right, it's not a good idea and will kill your actual transfer bandwidth.

Interleaved data/audio is definitely possible if you're designing your game for streaming ... but the toolchain and asset management for that is such a PITA that it's just not worth the effort for most folks. Realtime streaming just data can be enough of a PITA that it didn't get used too much ... it's so much easier to design for small pauses when loading.


And, here's another blog update about this thread and my overall issues, in case anyone's been following along with that:

I wouldn't recommend that you consider developing anything for the PC-FX just yet. The toolchain and knowledge of the system just isn't in place at-this-time.

I'd like to change that, because it really is a nice machine to develop on, and I feel that it deserves a bit better than just the cheap shovelware that it mostly got during it's short lifetime ... but its "underdog" nature is always going to mean that it is only going to appeal to a very small niche of modern homebrew developers.

If you really make to make something that runs on an old console, I'd probably recommend targeting the PlayStation 1 or the Xbox 1 ... they're both very simple and "clean" machines that modern "C" programmers will feel right-at-home on.

McKnight

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Re: Why does most PC-FX audio sound so lame? (Or should I ask why CCK doesn't?)
« Reply #11 on: February 16, 2016, 05:36:32 pm »
I'd like to change that, because it really is a nice machine to develop on, and I feel that it deserves a bit better than just the cheap shovelware that it mostly got during it's short lifetime ... but its "underdog" nature is always going to mean that it is only going to appeal to a very small niche of modern homebrew developers.

If you really make to make something that runs on an old console, I'd probably recommend targeting the PlayStation 1 or the Xbox 1 ... they're both very simple and "clean" machines that modern "C" programmers will feel right-at-home on.

Not sure whether to interpret that to mean that you plan on attempting to change it (even if it's on the back burner for right now) or that you wish it was practical enough or possible to do so.  Mind telling me which?

And, yes, I probably would aim for the Playstation and/or Saturn as well, if I even look into it at all after completing the planned PC version(s).  This particular song, along with certain resulting nostalgia of a friend of mine who used to own a Playstation, is what inspired me to aim for a 32-bit aesthetic after originally considering hacking into Earthbound, so, there we go.

elmer

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Re: Why does most PC-FX audio sound so lame? (Or should I ask why CCK doesn't?)
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2016, 09:21:19 pm »
Not sure whether to interpret that to mean that you plan on attempting to change it (even if it's on the back burner for right now) or that you wish it was practical enough or possible to do so.  Mind telling me which?

I've already gone some way to changing it ... I've got a modern V810 GCC build to replace the old 2001 Japanese GCC 2.95, and I've given it at-least-some testing by doing the Zeroigar translation.

I've got Alex Marshall's liberis compiled and working with it, and I've got a customized build of Mednafen that's nicer to debug with (although I still need to add GDB support in there).

I'm probably also one of the few folks around that actually has a working PC-FXGA setup.

There (slow) progress ... but it doesn't normally get talked about here because this isn't really a PC-FX community, and because I have plenty of other "projects" on my plate.