A user in the Nectarine Discord brought an interesting question recently: they had some Youtube videos of cracktros from Playstation games, and wanted to know if anyone could identify their soundtracks. For those unaware, a “cracktro” is a combination of a “crack” (piracy) and an “intro” (demoscene) – it’s a little movie or menu that plays at the start of a hacked / pirated game, usually with credits and simple visual effects. It’s a calling card from the group who helped pirate the game, often with “greetz” to the supplier of the disc image, the coder who cracked it, the BBS or site who re-hosted the result, etc.
Cracktro soundtracks are usually an oldschool chiptune or lo-fi soundtrack in “module” format. Originally created on the Amiga computer, .mod audio files are very small, similar to a MIDI with bundled sound samples. They are well-suited to cramming into a tiny executable, which must fit on the CD along with the pirated game. Sometimes the musician gets credited, but other times it’s a mystery. MOD files don’t have a place to write the artist or other info, only the title and instrument names. Because of the unknown provenance of the files, ripped from games or BBS posts or musicdisks full of sounds, sometimes the original credits are lost or incorrect.
Back to the Playstation games. There was a short list of videos that needed help to track them down, but eventually we got them all figured out. Every one of these was from the group “Paradox”, a console cracking and piracy group who released a number of titles in the early 2000s. Here’s how we figured them all out:
I’ve been working sporadically on this tiny MIDI controller. It targets the smallest PIC microcontroller available with onboard A/D converter – the PIC10F220.
Currently it reads two potentiometers and a button input using three of the GPIO pins, and it bitbangs the remaining output pin to produce MIDI-Out at 31250hz using cycle-counted delays. Since practically everything is already on-chip, this thing could just be epoxied straight to the enclosure. There are only two or three more components – no PCB required!
This microcontroller sports a whopping 256 instructions and 16 bytes of RAM. Even so, the MIDI controller code consumes less than half the available resources after a modest amount of optimization for size. One might see this as my response to using a certain 32k ROM / 2k RAM microcontroller to blink some lights, but I won’t admit to being that petty.
What to do with the remaining space? An easter egg isn’t a bad idea… Hold the button down on boot, and the controller will dump “HTTP://WWW.HACKADAY.COM” as a series of MIDI note-on messages.
Unfortunately I haven’t built the thing yet, but I did simulate it. Here’s the logic analyzer input, showing MIDI messages being sent (delays removed):
When I was in late high school / early college, I wanted to make electronic music. I didn’t have gear or experience. My knowledge of music theory was patchy: I am a classically trained violinist, but knew almost nothing about chords. What I did find and manage to use was Buzz Machines. Sort of a tracker on steroids, it’s a very customizable software DAW with “machines” as plugins to be synthesizers, samplers, effects (reverb, EQ, volume, …) Through the process of trial and error I managed to bang together a handful of trance-styled tracks that never got released. Eventually other demands on my time crowded out my efforts and I haven’t tried to write anything in many years.
Well I’m combing through my hard drive and now I’ve found some MP3s that I had recorded “way back when”. Most of these were composed while trying to find my way around all the features of Buzz Machines… hence the album title “Test Patterns”, since that’s essentially what they were. When a pattern grew into something more closely resembling a song, I’d cut a WAV file and then encode it to MP3. Those exact recordings are what I’m packing up and finally releasing now, 7-9 years after they were originally composed. Five minutes in GIMP to create a CD cover, a little iTunes ID3 editing (the original files were named after things lying on my desk: “pocketknife”, “checkbook”, “two monitors”) and a ZIP file later… I’m a self-published recording artist.
There’s more raw material in another folder but installing Buzz Machines and tracking down years old VSTs is beyond my time or desire. Will there be more releases, this time with new material? Certainly I have no plans to write anything right now. If I do decide to try that route again in the future, I want to take a different approach: one that is grounded more solidly in theory, keyboard practice, live recording, and careful song structure. The work involved in polishing those basic skills would require far more time than I have now. And if I do end up releasing something, it’s not going to be under the Hornpipe2 alias. That’s a holdover from my first email address back in 1995, and I think it’s time to ditch it. I’ve changed a lot since then.
So Merry Christmas, readers. Enjoy the one (and only) album release.