Here's what I think is the first letter I wrote to Scott Miller of Apogee software on April 25, 1991. My comments upon reading this for the first time in 26 years are in brackets [FWIW].
Mr. Scott Miller, President
Apogee Software Productions
April 25, 1991
I appreciate your letter and the chance to work with you and
your family of software authors. I promise that I will work
diligently to compose and arrange music you will be proud to
include in your software. I have to apologize for not yet
including the tape I promised. It will follow as soon as I have
received the latest version of Sputter, the program that will
allow me to translate my 16 bit samples to 8 bit SoundBlaster
samples. That should be only a short time in the
[I looked for information regarding Sputter and it has more recently been the name of some software to "accelerate BitComet downloads." Yes, this was the DOS computer days where a PC would greet you with a "C:\" followed by a flashing prompt. I well remember the computer BBS's (Bulletin Board Services) filled with questions like "What good is a PC? All I get is a "C:\" on the screen -- and when I type anything, it doesn't understand" or words to that effect. These were very confusing times for those who bought the early PC's and had never owned a computer. By this time, I had owned a "Trash 80" -- TRS-80 and had built a TRS-80 clone (it even had a color monitor way back then)!]
[So, the operating system had no included software for editing audio, and Sputter was the answer to that. I have no memory of actually using Sputter.]
Since I last spoke with you, I have come by some good
software and instrument sounds. To me, the sounds of the
instruments playing the music is as important as the music
itself. I think that the music on Dark Ages is commendable, and
for the most part, the choice of instruments was excellent.
Anyway, I got one file that contains over 900 instrument sounds,
most of which are garbage, but the task is to find the good ones.
I have written a little program to audit the sounds, but it will
take a while yet to get through all of them.
[Dark Ages was the first "shareware" game to have AdLib sound card music. The AdLib was an FM synthesizer. It did not play digital audio, so any sound effects used in a game had to use the FM synthesizer. You can read about Dark Ages here: Dark Ages (Wikipedia)]
[Some of the FM instrument sounds I found (called "patches" back then) were very good, and were credited to a person with a username at one of the nationwide BBS's -- Prodigy or CompuServe. I messaged him so I could send him some money for his work. I never heard back from him, or his username was no longer recognized. I never found him. Remember, there was no internet search engines back then.]
[The program I wrote was in the BASIC language. I don't remember writing it. I do remember it played a melody and maybe some high and low end pitches for each new patch.]
I have received the Software Development Kit for the
SoundBlaster, and it has helped some. It mentioned a Composer's
Utility (not included), which has not been advertised as it is
new. I called Creative Labs and lucked upon talking to a
salesman who is sending me those programs free (he says I will be
the only one to have them outside of Creative Labs). He
expressed interest in Commander Keen and Dark Ages, so I sent him
a copy of the Shareware Versions. I have tried to impress upon
Creative Labs the importance of helping us get good sounding
games out so they will sell more cards.
[I have very little recollection of this except to say I remember trying to get both AdLib and Creative Labs more interested in games that would greatly increase sound card use and sales.]
I am including a list of the phone calls I have charged to
your number thus far. I apologize for several very short calls
where my computer failed to link up with another. The calls have
been well worth the cost, especially the ones to VGER BBS, which
specializes in AdLib and SoundBlaster software. All but one of
the successful connections was made when I charged the call to my
number (for some reason the operator assisted calls were a poorer
[What's an "operator assisted call?" Ha! These were still the Dark Ages for telephones. They were all wired. Many people still had rotary dials. I didn't -- touch tone dial was "the way to go" for speedster dialers like me! "Operator Assisted" meant that I actually talked to a person at the phone company (usually a lady) who made a long distance connection for me. Long distance call costs were based on time and distance, and they were not cheap, even for back then.]
Also enclosed are invoices for purchases made thus far out
of the $400 you sent. I have an AdLib card on order, and it
should be here very soon.
[One of the reasons I believed Scott Miller was the real deal: he put his money where his mouth was. He sent $400 for me to purchase what I needed to get started with sound cards. I already owned some high end synths and samplers, but they did little good to produce AdLib and Sound Blaster ready music.]
[About this same time, I spoke with someone at AdLib and was told they were going to be in Atlanta for the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) convention in a few weeks. I went to that convention where AdLib had a booth. Surprisingly, they were not very interested in music for games. I never understood that. Evidently, AdLib felt that the sound card was going to sell well to Broadcasters?]
In the meantime, I am spending time learning the instrument
sounds and how they may be used as sound effects as well as
musical instruments. I downloaded a program that will change
Standard MIDI files to Creative Music Files and AdLib files. It
is relatively primitive, but at least I can get started at
hearing what things will be like on the SB/AdLib. I have also
ordered a copy of a sequencer package that supposedly will allow
me to compose directly on the SB/AdLib. Also, it is supposed to
allow me to edit the instrument sounds -- we shall see, as what
is advertised is not always what works.
[I don't remember the name of the program that translates MIDI files to Creative/AdLib files, but I do remember the name of the "sequencer package" -- it was Sequencer Plus Gold, and it was everything they advertised it to be.]
I tried Dark Ages on my 10MHz XT, and it works just as good
as it does on the 386 25MHz. Maybe your ad for it should specify
a fast machine rather than a particular type of CPU?
[I still have the bill for that XT PC clone. I bought the thing at Rhythm City in Atlanta from the owner, George Luther. At the same time, I bought Texture -- a pattern based sequencer. Some time after that, I bought Cakewalk 1.0. All of this was before I had started working on game music. And, WOW, a 10 MHz XT! Can you say "FAST!" And then a 386 25MHz! Can you say "BLAZING?"]
I have yet to show Commander Keen to anyone that they don't
sit down and get lost playing it -- it is a real winner. I look
forward to working on the music for the sequel trilogy.
[As I've said before, just a week or so before I was first contacted by Scott Miller, I had downloaded the first "Commander Keen" trilogy (using the Prodigy BBS). Like others who had done the same, I was very impressed with the game. When Scott messaged me on Prodigy, I had no idea he had anything to do with Keen. He somehow picked me out of 50 or so people that responded to his post about needing someone to write music for games. In our first call, he mentioned that he marketed Commander Keen. That was all I needed to hear to accept his offer.]
The W-9 is enclosed as requested.
[Let's don't forget TAXES!]
I will keep you posted on things as they progress. I am
working on your theme, but I haven't found the right instrument
sounds yet. I am enclosing a 360k disk with Color My World by
Chicago on it. It is my first attempt at putting something out
through the SoundBlaster. I chose it as I found instrument
sounds that reminded me of the song. Just type "PLAY" and it
should run, as the driver and program are included.
[I don't remember doing this. But how about the massive storage on a 360k floppy! I don't have the "Color My World" sequence or the patches I used for the sequence.]
Talk with you soon, and until then take care.
Telephone Calls Charged to Apogee Software Productions
Date - Time - Called - Reason
04/17/91 - 10:30 PM EDST - VGER BBS (California) - D/L files
Charged successful call to my number
04/17/91 - 11:30 PM EDST - SB BBS (SoundBlaster-California) - D/L files
04/18/91 - 07:30 PM EDST - MicroMusic BBS (Atlanta) - D/L files
Several attempts, no success
04/18/91 - 09:00 PM EDST - MicroMusic BBS - D/L files
04/19/91 - 09:40 PM EDST - VGER BBS D/L files
04/20/91 - 07:47 PM EDST - VGER BBS - D/L files
32 minutes, charged to my number
04/21/91 - 12:30 PM EDST - Creative Tech Support
Told to call back next day
Several calls made to Creative Labs 800 order line and transferred to Tech
support, so no charges for these.
[See the notation "45 minutes" to download a file. Today you'd say, "How many gig?" Back then you would have said "Gosh, that had to be a huge file, even at 2400 baud!" Greatly simplifying it, the dial-up modem was receiving 600 bytes per second. 45 minutes is 2700 seconds. So the file must have been roughly 1.6 MEGABYTES -- a truly huge file for that time in history! Now, even at "slow" cable speeds, you'd get this file in seconds. Aren't we lucky to live in these times?]
[How does one get into writing music for video games? For me it was being prepared when LUCK STRUCK.]