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Adventures in Hi-Fi

As I blogged ear­li­er I am writ­ing a game (and yes, it's pret­ty much playable al­ready).

One thing I did­n't men­tion is that I nev­er wrote a game be­fore. Yeah, I know ev­ery­one does it as one of his first pro­ject­s, but I nev­er did.

So, there are some things I re­al­ly have no clue about [1], like sound and mov­ing graph­ics around.

For the graph­ics stuff, QCan­vas is just fine and dandy, but to make things bloop and war­ble and squeak when the time is right, I found Qt's sound sup­port some­what de­press­ing.

Come on, NAS? Who us­es that? And what about mu­sic? I had no idea.

So, I start­ed try­ing to fol­low one of my lead­ing prin­ci­ples of de­vel­op­men­t: find a way to make it Some­one Else's Prob­lem (T­M).

The usu­al way to do that is find­ing a li­brary that han­dles the prob­lem, write min­i­mal glue, stick it to the side of the pro­gram, tell the pro­gram that's his new ar­m, and for­get about it quick­ly.

Here's what I found.

Mi Dios!

I thought I should start by adding one of those an­noy­ing lit­tle tunes ev­ery game has. It's just a game tune, I don't want to have to in­clude a 3MB OGG file for it, so I want­ed an in­stru­men­t-based for­mat.

I re­mem­bered MI­DI tunes. You may know them as ring­tones nowa­days, but they used to be just cheesy tunes gen­er­at­ed by your SBPro's FM gen­er­a­tor, not your phone.

In fac­t, I re­mem­ber hav­ing a lit­tle prog­gie called playmidi, that would do that in Lin­ux.

Well, it seems that in the past few years, ei­ther sound cards have for­got­ten how to play them, they fell out of fash­ion, or some­thing, be­cause the on­ly things I found that could play MI­DI are mon­strosi­ties that re­quire a 9MB dig­i­tal in­stru­ment set. And how was I to in­clude that along with my 25KB game???

So, what's nex­t? I had a C64, so...

MOD me up!

MOD files are like MI­DI files, on­ly the MOD in­cludes it's own in­stru­ment set, called sam­ples, and in­struc­tions on how to re­peat and al­ter those sam­ples to make a tune.

Good news: there are nice-­sound­ing, fun­ny MOD files that are about 30KB in size.

Bet­ter news: There is a pop­u­lar li­brary to play them! It's called Mik­mod, and your dis­tro has it (and it's a de­pen­den­cy for KDE's mul­ti­me­dia pack­ages too).

Even bet­ter news: It has sup­port for play­ing sim­ple sounds (sam­ples in mod lin­go) by call­ing a cou­ple of func­tion­s.

Awe­some news: It in­cludes a soft­ware mix­er so you can just tell it to play this, then play that, then that, and a tune in the back­ground, and ev­ery­thing sounds at the same time.

So, we have a win­ner. This ba­by can han­dle ev­ery­thing I need for the game!

But... is that a snake in your pock­et?

I can't find a Python bind­ing for it. I am sure as soon as I post this ar­ti­cle some­one is go­ing to come up and tell me, here they are, mo­ron! But I just can't find any.

So, I de­cid­ed to do some­thing I want­ed to do al­ready and learn to use Pyrex. Pyrex is a tool to write python ex­ten­sion­s, with al­most-free ac­cess to C li­braries, in an al­most-python lan­guage (on­ly mi­nor syn­tax dif­fer­ences).

That way, I could write a Python mod­ule to use Mik­mod.

You know what? It was al­most scar­i­ly sim­ple [2]. I did­n't wrap all of Mik­mod [3] be­cause I don't need it, but now I can do stuff for games and apps al­most triv­ial­ly.

Even more: Pyrex has awe­some dis­tu­tils sup­port, so build­ing the ex­ten­sion­s, usu­al­ly a pain in the rear, is triv­ial (most­ly you just copy and delete stuff, with some search and re­place).

One thing I found I did nice­ly is this: Mik­mod re­quires you to call Mik­mod­_Up­date ev­ery once in a while so it fills the sound­card's buf­fer with stuff to play. If you don't, it skip­s.

So, I just start­ed a thread that loops and takes care of it. You don't even have to know about it to use the ex­ten­sion. Oh, sure, if your Mik­mod is not thread­safe, it break­s. Well, get a de­cent Mik­mod pack­age, then.

How does it look?

Here's a whole noisy prog­gie

#Load the modules
import mikmod, time
#Init the library
#40 voices, 20 for music, 20 for random sounds (overkill)
#Enable sound, starts the thread that pushes sound, too

#Create a module, that is, a music track

#Load two samples, just a couple of noises

#Start playing the song

#For the duration of the song, each second, make some noise


#Close the mikmod library, stop the thread, etc.

ac / 2006-04-03 12:10:

Look at pygames or livewire. They do sprites, sound/midi and everything.

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-03 12:10:

Oh, the sprites stuff is done. QCanvas is more than good enough for this game.

The sound stuff seems to be a wrapper over SDL_Mixer.

The MIDI support requires a patchset (the usual 9MB monstrosity).

For MODs, SDL_mixer wraps mikmod anyway (according to the rpm -qi stuff, I haven't really looked).

So, I don't see much to gain here :-P

David Boddie / 2006-04-03 12:11:

Pygame is extremely powerful for this sort of thing, and it can be patched fairly easily to allow its windows to be embedded into PyKDE's QXEmbed widget on X11. For normal games, that's not too interesting, but SDL has pretty good multimedia support, so it makes a useful "enhanced" canvas. Its event system doesn't interfere with Qt's event loop much, either.

I've yet to compose music for my pygame. Somehow, drawing retro-style sprites is so much easier than composing retro-style music, but I can't wait to try your mikmod module! :-)

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-03 12:12:

David, i you want a copy, just email me.

My game won´t be released for quite a while yet because there´s a lot of artwork needed, and I want to do it all myself (the game is a gift :-)

David Boddie / 2006-04-03 12:12:

I might just do that. Are there any decent MOD file editors available on Linux?

Roberto Alsina / 2006-04-03 12:13:

Well, my musical talent is null, so I have never even looked ;-)

Dave Fancella / 2006-04-03 19:49:

The real question, do you have a python script or know of one that'll *write* mod files? :) Will mikmod?

I want to work up a python script that'll convert Hydrogen's xml format to mod format, hopefully with samples, so I can write drum lines with Hydrogen and then add additional instruments in a mod editor like Cheesetracker.

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