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Will Harvey's Music Construction Set (PC Booter)

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MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.2
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Krellan (11)
Written on  :  Sep 13, 2003
Platform  :  PC Booter
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Summary

The first drag-and-drop interface! Unfortunately limited by PC speaker. Try Apple ][ version with Mockingboard!

The Good

This program is ahead of its time: it has possibly the first-ever use of a drag-and-drop interface! You use the joystick (the mouse was not yet common enough in everyday computers) to pick up notes and drop them onto a staff at the top of the screen. Do this enough, and you make music. The staff can be scrolled left and right, to create longer songs, depending on how much memory you had (subject to the limits of mid-1980's computers, of course).

People accuse this game of sounding bad, as if it's the game's fault. At this time, the AdLib had not been invented, much less the SoundBlaster. Getting anything more than a single beep out of the PC speaker was next to impossible, and this program tried as hard as it could.

The Apple ][ version of this game had a similar limitation, as its speaker worked in pretty much exactly the same way as the PC speaker. However, there was an expansion card available for the Apple ][, called the Mockingboard! Using a Mockingboard with this program, after getting used to just the built-in Apple ][ speaker sound, was an epiphany. Suddenly, clear 6-voice stereo sound boomed from the external speakers! The CPU, freed from the burden of attempting to produce sound from the internal speaker, now was able to smoothly scroll the music staff from right to left, lining each note up vertically as it was played! This was, to say the least, amazing.

It is a shame that a similar sound card did not exist for the PC at this time, or other people's reviews of Music Construction Set might be singing a different tune....

The Bad

As above, the built-in PC speaker sound quality is terrible. Try the Apple ][ version instead, with Mockingboard support, if you can find it.

Functionally, this program is complete, with essentially no bugs. The only nitpick is the printer support. On the Apple ][ version, it only supported parallel printers! This might have been fine on the PC, but in the Apple ][ world, most printers were serial, including the most common type of printer owned, Apple ImageWriter. In addition, the number of supported printers were extremely limited. WordPerfect this is not!

So, most people couldn't print their music. Of those that could, they were disappointed by the extremely poor quality of the printed music. The music, instead of being printed in horizontal rows, instead ran vertically down the page as one continuous strip. The paper had to be cut into sections and then taped back together! This was probably done due to memory limitations at the time. Still, this program is great for music editing and playing, but not printing.

The Bottom Line

This is not really a game, but a tool for learning about music, composing music, and playing music. It is historically important for having the first drag-and-drop interface, complete with icons, and for being a breakthrough in computer music creation.

One of the best things to do with this program is to enter music that you have been assigned to play, perhaps for piano lessons (something that 1980's parents often foisted upon their children). By entering music and using this program to play it back, you can hear how the music is supposed to sound! This will help you practice the piece and learn to play it yourself.

There are many good songs included with this program, that really show off what it can do.

BTW, want to hear really good music coming from an ordinary PC speaker? Try playing the original version of Pinball Fantasies, with no sound card. The game runs at full speed, and somehow, it plays full digital music through the PC speaker! By the early 1990's, CPU power had grown to the point where it was possible to compute exact sound waves and send them through the PC speaker (via oversampling, and by programming the PC timer to an extremely high interrupt rate), while continuing to play the game without slowdown, something that was not possible in the time of Music Construction Set.