The Evolution of MIDI for PC Games

Posted by Michael Pinto on May 25, 2010 in Videogames |

This wonderful fan video takes the soundtrack from Secret of Monkey Island and plays it on several PC audio systems that date from 1981 until 1994. It’s amazing to see how in less than 15 years you can see MIDI audio go from a series of beeps to something that sounds like a CD.

Postscript: Resident digital music expert Nick Kent added the following notes:

Most of those cards and built in sound hardware were not using MIDI (which didn’t exist until 1983 for what it’s worth). I’m not 100% sure but I think that Roland card from 1988 might be the first one there. MIDI of course had no specific sound or hardware connected to it. It could be a $100K Fairlight or some cheap knockoff soundcard but in either case no specific sound that was recallable from model to model, just the notes being played went out on MIDI.

Roland proposed an industry standard, General MIDI, where for example program 7 would always be a slap bass (or something like that) and you’s always have your snare drum when you played note 36 on channel 10, etc. The goal was to fix a general generic sound to a program number so you’d get roughly approximately the same synthesized instruments with different hardware.

Quicktime and Microsoft still have built in software sound engines for General MIDI. Though the intent expressly was to not have the sound change too much so you are still hearing the circa 1990 sounds today for consistency. Yamaha tried to improve things with MIDI XG or something, but that only went over in Japan.

Video found via Jeff Atwood.

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