DirectMusic For The Masses

The Future
By Tom Hays
November 6, 1998
Vol. 2: Issue 44

Published in Game Developer Magazine, September 1998

Game Developer Magazine
DirectMusic For The Masses


DirectMusic's Innards

Segments, Tracks and Tools


The DMS Loader

Output API

Basic Playback


Composing With Producer

How Deep Do You Want To Go Today?

The Future

A common thought about DirectMusic is that it should merge with DirectSound, combining the APIs' strengths and addressing their weaknesses. According to Kevin Bachus, DirectMusic's product manager, "DirectSound and DirectMusic are really siblings in the same audio organization. Seamless integration of DirectSound and DirectMusic is very important. Expect to see more and more convergence in future versions of DirectX."

DirectMusic's DLS output can benefit from DirectSound-specific features such as spatial positioning (a.k.a. 3D sound). In turn, DLS offers control over sound effects from within authoring tools, letting sound designers take some of the sound effects implementation out of the hands of programmers. It can also offer features of which DirectSound has no inkling - such as envelopes and midsample looping - which can be completely set up by a sound designer and triggered using standard MIDI commands.

As I mentioned, this is a big package. It attempts a great many things, and based on the alpha version, it seems to do many of them well. It doesn't include some things that many developers wanted, especially a track-based, scriptable system for controlling adaptive music playback. However, what it offers is closer to solving some of the same problems than might seem evident at first glance.

So, what is DirectMusic good for? Who is it good for? For those game developers who continue to use MIDI as their games' music output, the basic architectural improvements are long overdue. For those who can realize their music well using custom DLS1 sound sets and can afford some CPU hit on unaccelerated user machines, DLS will be a relief from being stuck with inconsistent playback and General MIDI's limited palette of sounds. If you have plenty of disc space, don't need run-time access to the CD drive, want dirt-simple programming, and don't care about adaptivity in your music, Red Book remains the way to go, even though DLS can do full CD quality (44KHz 16-bit stereo).

If you want to do adaptive music, first analyze what you want to happen. Perhaps videotape some game play and score music to this using traditional techniques. Once you've figured out how music should ideally operate in your game, look at both the controls your code needs to spit out and what the music engine needs to do in response. Once you've defined the task to this degree, you may or may not find your solution within DirectMusic. Take a look at third-party APIs such as Miles or DiamondWare; you're likely to find the codebase you need without writing it all yourself.

If you want an adaptive digital audio streaming engine, try doing this with large samples under DLS. With the software Microsoft has supplied as of this writing, I can't judge whether this will work well or not.

Will DirectMusic make MIDI relevant again for you? What am I, your mother? Set aside a day and check it out. If nothing else, it's brain candy. Enjoy.

For Further Info

Microsoft DirectX Documentation

To get information and offer feedback about DirectMusic, e-mail [email protected]

General Reference

Kientzle, Tim. A Programmer's Guide to Sound. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley Developers Press, 1998.

Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IA-SIG)

MIDI Manufacturers' Association

Tom Hays serves as audio director for a mid-sized suburban game company. He loves his kids and likes his beer. For more scintillating details, write [email protected].
The author would like to thank Microsoft's Todor Fay and Dan Teven of Teven Consulting for their assistance with this article.

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