Dolby Developers: Next-Gen Audio Will Use MIDI

In a Game Developers Conference session here Thursday, Dolby representatives Jason Page and Michael Kelly shocked the audience by saying that more and more developers will be using MIDI-based technology to power in-game tunes, as it's the future of audio technology in next-generation console gaming. Yes, that's right. MIDI -- the relic from the bygone era of the IBM Compatible PC, situated in gaming audio history between origins of voice sampling technology and the clicks and beeps of tiny PC speakers. MIDI was once the music development tool of choice. After the advent of newer, more realistic sound formats, developers made a mass exodus toward prerecorded background music.

But MIDI has improved, the Dolby representatives said. Due to the power of next-generation consoles, MIDI samples can attain a fidelity comparable -- or even better -- than those performed on dedicated synthesizers. Plus, file sizes would be smaller and load times would be quicker. Developers are also beginning to complain about the lack of interactivity associated with prerecorded music, with Japanese composer Koji Kondo stating that if music isn't interactive or rhythmically in-tune with a game, it "might as well be piped from a source outside of the room". MIDI would be able to provide the interactivity Kondo seeks, Page and Kelly said, in addition to providing a sound similar to an orchestrated score.

News source: PC World

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People, like it was pointed out here before, don't confuse MIDI with FM synthesis! MIDI is essentially a communication protocol and FM synthesis is method by which all those crappy sounds we all remember were generated. You can use MIDI together with FM synthesis or with any other method (like sampling).

So MIDI isn't and never has been responsible for how a particular piece of music sounded. It just delivers performance information for the synthesiser to render. It all depends on AFTER MIDI has done it's job.

MIDI has absolutely nothing to do with sound quality. I could send a MIDI trigger that plays a 2 hour long prerecorded Bach sonata.

It just means that the triggering and real-time creation of music in response to the action will be that much better and more synchronized.

Nothing surprising here. It's the next logical step.

Computer graphics have made the same progression; graphics cards can generate 3d objects based on instructions and coordinates, just like synthesized music is generated based on instructions. I suppose you could probably say pre-recorded music is analogous to pre-rendered backgrounds.

I've always thought the "next generation" of sound cards would be the ones that take this route.


By the way, another very good example of the whole game music thing in the post above is Banjo-Kazooie.

lack of interactivity associated with prerecorded music

True. Maro 64 and Mystical Ninja for Nintendo 64 are good examples. In Mario 64 the Jolly Roger Bay music had three versions that would blend depending on your location, on the beach, in the water, and in the underground cave. Mystical Ninja (Best N64 music ever) did the same thing for each base/dungeon.

Creatives SoundFont is a good use of MIDI because it uses pre-recorded instruments.

Huh? The author apparently doesn't know much about MIDI.

I think you're confusing MIDI with FM Synthesis - which is what was used to play .MIDI files in the old days. MIDI isn't a relic, and is used every single day by musicians everywhere to interface musical instruments with PCs.

MIDI files are basically a list of notes and details about how to play them (which instrument, when and how long, etc). Back in the FM synthesis days it sounded horrible - but modern playback hardware/software uses actual prerecorded samples of the instruments (for example, a prerecorded sample of every key on a keyboard).

Think of it as the difference between an image of a scanned document (.Wav) and a text file (.MIDI) - if you have the right fonts installed the scanned document and text file could look identical.

Modern MIDI playback sounds identical to prerecorded music in many cases. Voice is obviously an exception.

in fidelity? i doubt it'll be comparable to pre-recorded samples.

but if they got to use some pre-recorded samples with midi together to make an interactive soundtrack that'd change mood according to the situation in the game it'd be awesome! imagine dedicating one core to "composing" (of course that wouldn't need an entire core... i'm just being happy about the prospect)

Menge said,
but if they got to use some pre-recorded samples with midi together to make an interactive soundtrack that'd change mood according to the situation in the game it'd be awesome!

That's exactly what they're talking about. The tech capabilities have evolved to the point where this is now possible. It wasn't possible in the past due to processing and mainly memory storage limitations, so pre-recorded tunes were used.

Using individual samples of live recorded instruments (sometimes every single note is sampled, in numerous different timbres) you can very accurately reproduce an entire orchestra in real time and in high fidelity all using MIDI as the backbone. The future will be seeing this used interactively and eventually even having procedurally generated soundtracks.

While I understand your point, I have been an electonic drummer for 20+ years (ah, the old HARD plastic Simmons kit.. I miss you so... ouch) anywho.. MIDI is only as good as the synth it connects to. If the sound card/chip is good then MIDI can make fantastic sounds. My last two drum brains have been digital samples of actual acoustic drums and percussions. So the sounds produced were as good as any "real" drum.

b0m8er said,
I would never believe that midi can be superior to prerecorded samples until I actually hear it...

Go out and listen to some samples at any high quality midi sample store. They're massive but there are a lot of sets that sound amazing.

Danrarbc said,

Go out and listen to some samples at any high quality midi sample store. They're massive but there are a lot of sets that sound amazing.
MIDI can be amazing, and I bet that many games audio is actually recorded using MIDI synths rather than (an expensive) full orchestra.