Michael Jackson Presents - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles by SmartOne at 2:48 AM EDT on June 10, 2017

Michael Jackson Presents - Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles

...and also some other people such as Howard Drossin, Brad Buxer, a bunch of Japanese people whose names you won't remember, and the MIDI slaves.

Try to remember THAT title in your alphabetically sorted album list!

That's right, Mike. Roll over in your grave. Like it, Michael. LIKE IT.

(Context Clues):

"B&W: Can you clarify the rumor that Michael had in 1993 composed the music for Sonic 3 video game, for which you havel been credited?

Buxer: I've never played the game so I do not know what tracks on which Michael and I have worked the developers have kept, but we did compose music for the game. Michael called me at the time for help on this project, and that's what I did. And if he is not credited for composing the music, it's because he was not happy with the result sound coming out of the console. At the time, game consoles did not allow an optimal sound reproduction, and Michael found it frustrating. He did not want to be associated with a product that devalued his music...

B&W: One of the surprising things in this soundtrack is that you can hear the chords from Stranger in Moscow, which is supposed to have been composed later...

Buxer: Yes, Michael and I had composed those chords for the game, and it has been used as base for Stranger in Moscow. [...]"

How 'bout you go ahead and define "optimal" as in "optimal sound reproduction," eh there, Buxmaster? You know, in your professional, artistic opinion.

Sonic & Knuckles Collection was released for Windows 95 in 1997. The music playback system is MIDI, and the game includes two sets of MIDIs from which to choose. Those sets are entitled "FM Synthesizer" and "General MIDI," despite neither of them having anything to do with real Frequency Modulation synthesis; they are simply different MIDI arrangements. The game relies on the sound card or Windows' built-in DownLoadable Sounds ("gm.dls") for a sound font.

The "General MIDI" set generally (lol) sounds more "primitive" or "retro," which could be considered counterintuitive. Given any song, a version from one set tends to have a richer instrumentation and/or more accurate rhythm and/or unique embellishments than the other set (for embellishment example: the end of "Final Boss"). It's possible that two MIDI arrangers interleaved work on both sets, given the clear difference in sequence quality. For some reason, multiple tracks were replaced with new compositions. In many cases, the new compositions are preferable to the originals. Theories explaining the reason for the song replacements:

1. Michael Jackson's grunts/compositions were just too darn copyrighted
2. Drum and voice samples were too hard to fake using MIDI

Songs replaced:
1. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Knuckles' Theme
2. Carnival Night Act 1
3. Carnival Night Act 2
4. Icecap Act 1
5. Icecap Act 2
6. Launch Base Act 1
7. Launch Base Act 2
8. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Credits
9. Competition Menu

Songs simply omitted because they were lazy/negligent:
1. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Boss Act 1 (also known as, "Let's just pretend Sonic & Knuckles is always locked on, even in Sonic 3 mode. We already have a Boss Act 1; no one will care!" Utterly deprived)

Songs that went unused because extra Credits music is great. Apology for the above omission:
1. Unused

In the spirit of GNU Make's wonderful, bottom-up (read: scatterbrained) documentation, I now give you the high-level summary of what this is: This is all of the songs from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles, interleaved with the "best" MIDI versions for each song in Sonic & Knuckles Collection. Even though Window's official Roland sound font could be considered the accurate baseline for the true Sonic & Knuckles Collection experience, the instrument samples' rates are only 22.05 Hz. That's basically half of CD quality. More is good, yesh? I used "WeedsGM3.sf2" instead because of its high quality. Pretend it's from a sound card that didn't exist in 1997: http://www.simpilot.net/~richnagel/#soundfonts

Rendered MIDIs with the foobar2000 plugin "foo_midi" with reverb and chorus processing turned OFF. Cheese reverb is cheese. I chose the "better" of each MIDI pair, so you don't have to! I fixed Sonic & Knuckles - Knuckles' Theme (A) by replacing the "Gunshot" instrument with "Chinese Cymbal." Low-note cannonfire isn't quite the same as Asian.

Rendered Sega Genesis with SMPSPlay 2.11. Problem: Playback clips, and there's no way to adjust the volume. I ended up using Cheat Engine to hack the output scale factor down by a bit shift. Searched for the YM2612 sample rate 53267 and modified surrounding bytes based on the structure in the source code. Similar procedure for the PSG. No more clipping! By the way, SMPSPlay 2.11 is the best way to render SMPS music driver games, because it doesn't clobber the DAC samples like on the Sega Genesis. Enjoy that percussion and Michael's sexy voice.

All ReplayGain-ed (with prevent clipping according to peak) for your optimal listening pleasure. Right Brad?

I've been wanting to do this project (combined Genesis and PC album) for a long time. Done.

Valleybell: https://github.com/ValleyBell/SMPSPlay - The real work. Sounds great. Also, MIDI rip made possible by: http://info.sonicretro.org/SKC-Midi

edited 1:28 AM EDT June 11, 2017
by Kurausukun at 3:18 PM EDT on June 10, 2017
This is pretty excellent. Small nitpick: Knuckles' theme (S3) is cut prematurely. It sounds like it's the same two measures over and over again, but eventually something different does happen :P Check the sets on http://smd.joshw.info/
by derselbst at 4:12 PM EDT on June 11, 2017
A pretty accurate job indeed! Though I was hoping to find the midis in the file you provided. Could you upload them as well?

edited 4:14 PM EDT June 11, 2017
by Kurausukun at 1:41 AM EDT on June 12, 2017
I neglected to ask this before, but can you go into a bit more detail on how you got the SMPS to sound so good? I really want to get music of that quality for 3D Blast as well, which uses either the same or a very similar sound driver as S3K. I don't know how much work it is to get it to sound like you did, but just in case it's too much work and you wouldn't want to do it for another game, I'd like to be able to try myself.
by SmartOne at 1:37 AM EDT on June 14, 2017
U(g)h, the Jacksonian ghost haunts me from the grave. My wife cried out in excruciating pain due to the aural bliss of the repetition as I listened for that ridiculous loop point in Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Knuckles' Theme (it's the longest 40 seconds you'll ever live). "Uh!"

You see, here's the thing. I stupidly uploaded a ZIP file. That ZIP file is relatively large and completely immutable. My anal-retentive tendencies want to fix this problem. My relative judgement tells me that an astute MJ historian can indulge in the plentiful "Uh!" contained within Icecap Act 1. I grant you (me), similar, but not the same given the context.

Does anyone want to listen to 80 seconds of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 - Knuckles' Theme for two occurrences of that climactic interjection?

Three-hour drive blasting binge sessions of this collection are fun. If you're cool, you'll never tire. Wives and dogs like it, too.

I do have a bunch of mistakes that I want to correct in the readme, but nah.

MIDI's ripped from Sonic & Knuckles Collection:

In terms of making SMPS sound good, here's the forum thread where this made some noise a few years ago:

Download "SMPS_Research_Pack_v4.7z" for the game rips. Follow the pattern of the few rips included in the SMPSPlay release. The key to playing the rips is changing two lines in "config.ini" to point to your game's folder.

Then you might notice that some songs clip. There's no way around that in the current version without hacking. Here's a screenshot of the memory region I modified using Cheat Engine to lower the output amplitude:

Change these two values by the same factor so their relative outputs stay the same (halve them). They are the two bytes to the right of each chip's sample rate:

Sonic 3D Blast, you say? What's with Sega games and multiple soundtracks, anyway?

edited 1:50 AM EDT June 14, 2017
by Kurausukun at 6:19 AM EDT on June 14, 2017
Thanks for the links. I was honestly expecting this to be a lot more work, but thanks to that sexy little research pack, pretty much all of the work was done for me. About the clipping issue--there is indeed clipping, but it's on the order of one or two samples, and is not very audible. However, I am an anal perfectionist, so even that was enough to make me try to fix it.

Rather than use cheat engine, I looked at the GitHub issue you posted (at least I assume it was you--it'd be a hell of a coincidence otherwise), and garnered that the feature was included sometime after the last public release, and you were having problems building it. Well after a bit of trial and error, I figured out how to build the program and the library it required, so I have a version of that which I can upload for you if you want. Alternatively, you can just build the 2.11 tag version and halve the values you mentioned in the source code rather than on-the-fly in cheat manager. If you're interested in the built version, let me know.

Anyhow, thanks a lot for the information--I have everything I need now. HQ logs ahoy!
by SmartOne at 1:19 AM EDT on June 16, 2017
Damn, my cover is blown.

Icecap Act 1 clips a lot. It depends on the song; number of channels, amplitudes, polyphony, obviously.

In case you're connecting the dots for the Makefile bit, I have some recent history with Make, unrelated to SMPSPlay. I could rant about the state of software "engineering," but I'll save that for another time.
by Kurausukun at 1:42 PM EDT on June 16, 2017
I'm not always pleased by how hard Make is to use properly either. My university even has their own little program that generates makefiles for you, appropriately called gmakemake.
by hcs at 12:17 PM EDT on June 17, 2017
nvm, decided against hijacking this thread further

edited 12:19 PM EDT June 17, 2017

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