Windows NT does multimedia, too!

Okay, don't lie. You play games on your office computer, whether your boss likes it or not. In fact, you probably set up your Windows NT system to dual-boot with DOS so that you could play Wing Commander or Hexen. Even though your computer is a serious piece of hardware, you can still have fun with it.

For the most part, multimedia games started out as DOS-based programs that sucked up every bit of memory and processor power on your machine to deliver reasonable graphics at reasonable speeds. When Windows came along, a number of games developers made the jump to the Windows environment, which lured them with the promise of standardized graphics and multimedia interfaces. But then Windows NT arrived, and suddenly many of the games you relied on to relieve the stress of your job wouldn't work because they make direct calls to hardware adapters--a violation of NT's C2 security--or they use DOS memory in a way that conflicts with how NT maps memory for Virtual DOS Machines (VDMs). You may feel that your game-playing prospects are dwindling rapidly.

Well, stop worrying! The Windows NT Magazine Lab staff slaved and toiled to find you games, music, and other interactive titles that run properly on Windows NT Workstation 3.51.

Testing
Originally, Microsoft required any 32-bit product that sought Windows 95 logo-certification to also run on NT. This was a great policy from the perspective of the Windows NT market because it opened the door for everything that had been designed for the consumer Windows 95 market. Unfortunately, Microsoft has relaxed that requirement: This was undoubtedly a marketing decision, but it is easier to program only for Windows 95.

Because of this change in policy, software products released for Windows 95--even if they are implemented as 32-bit applications--won't necessarily work under NT, although some companies still follow the original requirements. To make matters even more interesting, some Windows 95 programs work on NT, even though they weren't specifically developed for it.

The following guide provides a sampling of the multimedia titles available for Windows 95. I tried them out on an Intel-based Windows NT system configured with a 90-MHz Pentium, 32MB of RAM, a SoundBlaster AWE32 adapter, and SVGA graphics.

Interactive CDs
If you look at the history of computer programming during the last 15 years, you'll see that the computer game industry wouldn't have gotten where it is today if you or people like you hadn't been playing Adventure, Maze, and Hack on dumb terminals. I know that you still use your computer for entertainment--even at work. Your secret is out, exposed by the success of titles such as network Doom. Times have certainly changed, and the games have become much more sophisticated.

Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time
As the title implies, this product is a complete waste of time (see screen 1)--but that's a good thing, so be careful when you're using it! If you're a Monty Python fan, you'll be sucked into their deranged sense of humor faster than you can say "spam."

Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time
This title from 7th Level is more than 650MB worth of audio, video clips, screen savers, and odd games that can provide hours upon hours of distraction. It is fully NT-compatible, provided you have a double-speed (or better) CD-ROM drive and a SoundBlaster-compatible card that supports the Windows Sound System standard. 7th Level is one of the few games developers that adheres to the NT-operability for Windows 95 titles.

The Python CD is an excellent adaptation of the original Monty Python's Flying Circus television program from England, and I have nothing but the highest compliments for it. This product is a must-have for any diehard Monty Python fan who has a Windows NT Workstation!

Al Unser, Jr. Arcade Racing
Even if it isn't exactly the same as strapping yourself into the driver's seat of an Indy race car, this program will leave tread marks on your desktop. Al Unser. Jr. Arcade Racing seems to be the only product in Mindscape's current crop of titles that is NT-compatible. The others are DOS-based, and as such, they are not NT-aware.

To run the program, all you need is a CD-ROM drive and a compatible sound card--although it works fine without the sound card if you just want to drive and don't care about the audio. The program installs from CD but runs from your hard drive. There is an additional audio track on the CD for music during game play if you want to leave the CD in the drive while you play.

Al Unser, Jr. Arcade Racing is a good game: It features a number of different tracks and cars and has options for keyboard or joystick input and sound setup. The graphics, although not quite on the level you could expect from a Sony PlayStation or other similarly accelerated videogame systems, are adequate and include plenty of texture mapping for added realism. A big plus to this game is that it runs just as well on a 75-MHz 486 portable as it does on a 90-MHz Pentium desktop.

Look for titles in the future from Mindscape that use advanced graphics techniques that greatly enhance realism during game play. (Mindscape demonstrated a new driving game at Comdex that was quite impressive). Future titles that the company develops for Windows 95 should, like Al Unser, run under NT.

Frankenstein--Through the Eyes of the Monster
Cinematic CD games are getting better and better (see screen 2). They are also attracting bigger and bigger stars: Frankenstein features actor Tim Curry as Dr. Frankenstein.

Frankenstein -- Through the Eyes of the Monster
This story, based on the timeless tale by Mary Shelley, is told from an interesting perspective: You are the creature. You awake with only dim memories and no sense of purpose. Your objective is to find out who you are and why you are here. To do this, you navigate Frankenstein's lab and castle, and while you won't have a real idea of your purpose at first (just as the monster doesn't), you will discover it.

Frankenstein--Through the Eyes of the Monster is a well put-together game. It has excellent full-color graphics, smooth animation, and high-quality sound. Curry pops up periodically as an appropriately evil visage of Dr. Frankenstein, and he's joined by several incidental characters.

Battle Beast
It's hard to tell exactly who the audience is for this game. On one hand, Battle Beast features Mortal Kombat-type action. But on the other, the animation is decidedly cartoon-like with cute little fish and lizards who don combat gear for a battle to the death.

Game play is straightforward, although there is an enormous number of key commands. You have multiple beasts and arenas to choose from. Battle Beast also supports game play over a network or modem connection.

The action is smooth and the sound is good, but anyone older than 10 might find the game a little difficult to get used to. You might consider this one for your kids when they visit your office.

Treasure Quest
Soon to be released for Windows 95 and NT (slated for March 22, at 12:14 a.m. in your time zone--note the date and time because it could be a clue!), Treasure Quest stars Terry Farrell (see the sidebar "Computers and Hollywood: An Interview with Terry Farrell" on page 64) of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fame. Farrell is the only actress in the game, and she plays more than 10 characters, including the guide.

Treasure Quest is based on the popular mystery novel Masquerade. The story is about fortune hunters who scour the countryside in search of buried treasure. Play fast and pay attention because there's a $1,000,000 prize for the first person who wins the game. You can play alone or go on-line and team up with others around the country to search for clues.

Music
Music software can be useful to both developers and hobbyists alike. If you plan to include non-sampled music in your business presentations and multimedia programs or if you just play and record your own music on the weekends, Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) is the way to do it.

The MIDI standard, developed by Yamaha and Roland (among others) during the early 1980s, is a serial communications protocol that allows you to record music "events" (such as the timing, duration, and pitch of a note played) in a digital format that you can replay and edit later. MIDI is also used for controlling multiple electronic instruments, effects processors, or other equipment from a master source, such as a MIDI keyboard or computer. Further extensions to this protocol include file transfers and universal formats for sound sample data.

Sound cards that adhere to these standards, such as SoundBlaster AWE32 from Creative Labs, use what is called a "general MIDI" setup to ensure that a standard MIDI file will play with the proper sounds in the right pitches. Sound cards in this category have a standard built-in instrument set, so when you load software (such as games), the music will come across as it should.

Studio4
Studio4 is a new package that can play MIDI files through the built-in sounds on your card, as well as function as a sequencer for external MIDI devices (see screen 3).

Studio4
The Studio4 installer lets you select either the 16-bit or the 32-bit version of the program: This is one of the first music programs specifically aimed at NT multimedia. The user interface features a "mixing board" metaphor with sliders, bar-graph LEDs, knobs, lights, and a scrolling music window that shows exactly where you are in the score. The product worked well for the most part, although I did find a couple of bugs where the mixer or the scrolling music would stop displaying even when the music continued to play.

All MIDI parameters, such as channel and port, are fully configurable, and the package supports notation with lyrics, multiple parts, and real-time scoring from direct input. Although it's not as full-featured and versatile as some other available packages, such as Master Tracks Pro from Passport and Mark of the Unicorn (which are strictly 16-bit), Studio4 is inexpensive and offers you a straightforward music program.

MIDIScan
Version 2.5 of MIDIScan for Windows is actually a 16-bit application (although a true 32-bit NT native version is on the way), but it does run on NT without a problem--well, sort of.

MIDIScan performs optical character recognition (OCR) on scored music and allows you to input sheet-music images (either directly from a scanner or from a stored TIFF file) and output MIDI files. The difficulty in using MIDIScan lies in finding a scanner to use with it. Hewlett-Packard doesn't currently provide support on NT for any of its scanners--from the Scanjet through the 4C. There might be other scanners on the market that work, but I'm not aware of any. You would have to investigate each one separately.

MIDIScan's interface is clean and straightforward, but I was unable to test how accurate the program is because of the scanner problem. If you are a games developer and want to use standard music without entering it note by note, this package is not only your best choice, it's your only choice. You'll just need to do some research to find a viable scanner first.

Sound Cards

SoundBlaster AWE32
Creative Labs is one of the leaders in the sound-card market, which you could guess by the "SoundBlaster Compatible" logo you'll find on other vendors' games, CDs, and sound cards.

The SoundBlaster AWE32, released in August 95, is the latest in Creative Labs' lineup. This version features Windows NT drivers, which are available from the company's bulletin board and the FTP site ftp.creatie.com. There is a catch, however: If you have an older version of the board that's not plug-and-play but does have the jumpers for selecting the base I/O address and interrupt vector, you won't have any problem loading the drivers and running your card. On the other hand, if you have the new board, it won't work because NT doesn't support the plug-and-play interface. You can't configure the new board without support for plug-and-play, and you will most likely have conflicts over the default interrupts and addresses. The only way around this problem is to boot DOS, run Creative Lab's configuration program to set the board values and load the drivers, and warm boot NT. You must do this every time you start your machine; otherwise, NT won't find the card.

That aside, the SoundBlaster AWE32 is still a nice card. It features headphone-, line-, and microphone-level inputs (for sampling at up to 44.1kHz at 16 bits) and outputs, and a game/MIDI port. The SoundBlaster AWE32 uses a new chipset from E-mu Systems, which provides the basic wave table and synthesis technology. You can add up to 28MB of memory to the card for loading new sounds as "Sound Fonts," which can then be used by the card to build new patches for MIDI playback. The card supports 32-note polyphony, is 16-voice multi-timbral, and features 128 general MIDI-compatible instruments (1MB of ROM), 10 drum kits, and hundreds of unique sounds. The package comes with a variety of software, from speech recognition to song playing.

Audiotrix Pro
The Audiotrix Pro, which uses digital signal processor (DSP) chip technology from Yamaha, offers high-end audio capabilities to users of both Intel and RISC-based systems, specifically the Alpha. I was unable to test it on MIPS or PowerPC systems.

The Audiotrix Pro's capabilities include 24-voice polyphony (via wave-table and FM synthesis), 16-bit stereo sound at 48kHz, and 4:1 sound compression. It is fully compatible with all existing sound standards, such as Ad Lib, SoundBlaster, and MPC 2. The card comes with a wealth of software for utilizing its power, and MediaTrix maintains a Web site from which you can download MIDI music files, sound files, and other related software.

One nice feature of the Audiotrix is its upgradability: The upgrades give you sound ROM expansion, a CD-ROM controller, and additional DSP effects. Although the drivers for the add-on cards are not yet ready for NT, they will be released in the near future.

The best feature I found on this card was that I could drop it into an Alpha-based workstation, and by simply loading the Windows Sound System drivers for NT, it powered up and worked fine for playing audio files. The catch is that its MIDI does not work on NT because NT lacks support for plug-and-play devices. As in the case of the SoundBlaster AWE32, you can load drivers and configure the card from DOS and then warm boot NT to get everything to work. Unfortunately, this approach doesn't work on an Alpha workstation (no DOS!). MediaTrix says it's continuing to work on the problems and will have a NT solution ready soon.

System Requirements: 486 or better, Windows NT Workstation 3.51, 16 MB of RAM, sound card, VGA graphics
INTERACTIVE CDS
Monty Python's Complete Waste of Time
Contact: 7th Level * 214-437-4858
Price: $39

Al Unser, Jr. Arcade Racing
Contact: Mindscape * 415-897-9900
Price: $79.95 (MSRP)

Frankenstein--Through the Eyes of the Monster
Contact: Interplay * 714-553-6678
Price: $59

Battle Beast
Contact: 7th Level * 214-437-4858
Price: $49

Treasure Quest
Contact: Sirius Publishing * 602-951-3288
Price: Not yet available
MUSIC
Studio4
Contact: MidiSoft * 206-391-3610
Price: $59

MIDIScan
Contact: MusiTek * 805-646-8051
Price: $499
SOUND CARDS
SoundBlaster AWE32
Contact: Creative Labs * 408-428-6600
Price: $249

Audiotrix Pro
Contact: MediaTrix * 819-829-8749
Price: $295