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Mega Drive games that can't handle simultaneous speech and music

#1 User is offline ICEknight 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 08:53 AM

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Ever since I got Altered Beast and Golden Axe for my Mega Drive I've been wondering what was up with the voices stopping the background music whenever they were played. It felt like a flaw in the Mega Drive hardware that was usually avoided by not using real drums in the music... but then again, Moonwalker or After Burner II didn't have this problem even though they were early games, and OutRun did have them, being a later game.


Is there a known technical reason why the sound engine in those games didn't allow for simultaneous speech and music? If so, would it be possible to "fix" them by replacing that engine with a newer version that allowed for such a thing?


If you know of any other games like these, please post them here!



Known games with this problem:
  • Altered Beast
  • Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (?)
  • Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf (?)
  • Dragon's Fury / Devil Crush MD
  • Golden Axe
  • OutRun
  • Space Harrier II
  • Thunder Force II
  • Thunder Force III
  • Thunder Force IV / Lightening Force
  • World Cup Italia '90
  • Zoom

This post has been edited by ICEknight: 26 August 2011 - 02:50 PM

#2 User is offline True Dude 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 09:01 AM

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Contra: Hard Corps didn't have to stop the music for voices, and neither did any of the Treasure games. I know there was at least one game were I had this problem you didn't list, but I don't remember which it was.

#3 User is offline Andlabs 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 09:08 AM

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It was up to the person designing the sound driver. Most, if not all, of the time, the Z80-only sound drivers are the ones that have to stop to play speech samples Sega did a really shitty job at making the PCM channel comfortable to use, but by 1991 most developers had figured out how to get it to sound decent (at most), but they probably thought the speech still sounded bad? Look at Gleylancer...

Altered Beast and Golden Axe both use a sound driver we only know as "pre-SMPS Z80", so :/

There's probably a bette rway to word this post but in short it's "it's the programmer's decision"

#4 User is offline Sik 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 09:15 AM

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Yeah, basically having the Z80 do any proper PCM playback while doing other stuff is a bitch, so some programmers decided to outright stop all other processing while playing PCM. This also means you'll never find this issue with 68000+Z80 sound engines (as the 68000 will take care of non-PCM stuff), only with Z80-only engines.

#5 User is offline Shadow Hog 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 09:25 AM

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Y'know, I think Goofy's Hysterical History Tour also did this. I never really thought about it until just now, but there you go... Sound effects still played; just not the music.

Maybe Shanghai II: Dragon's Eye as well, for the tile animations when you found a match (it's Mahjong Solitaire, if you weren't already aware), but I'm not 100% on that one.
This post has been edited by Shadow Hog: 26 August 2011 - 09:27 AM

#6 User is offline ICEknight 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 02:37 PM

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Just checked Goofy and he can actually talk while the music play, if you leave him still for some seconds.


But I've remembered that the Thunder Force games (and Dragon's Fury, for that matter) had this flaw as well. It was a damn shame because the music was amazing in IV.



...So I'm guessing there's no easy way around this bug, right?
This post has been edited by ICEknight: 26 August 2011 - 02:53 PM

#7 User is offline Meat Miracle 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 02:50 PM

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Beavis & Butthead can play multiple pcm samples for sure.

#8 User is offline ICEknight 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 02:55 PM

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Well... Every game can except for those in the first post (that I know of, but would like to be proven wrong).

#9 User is offline Sik 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 03:31 PM

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View PostICEknight, on 26 August 2011 - 02:37 PM, said:

...So I'm guessing there's no easy way around this bug, right?
It isn't a bug, it's shitty hardware design, period. You really won't get anything good out of it unless the 68000 does all non-PCM work or you're a Z80 god or something like that.

Panorama Cotton is an oddball here. The game can play PCM along with music (in fact, it uses PCM drums), but by default Cotton's voice will cut all BGM playback. It's a setting in the options menu and I have no idea why it's enabled by default. It should be disabled by default in my opinion =/

#10 User is offline Andlabs 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 03:44 PM

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Puyo Puyo Tsu also lets you choose, by selecting between Voice Modes in its Options screen. Type B (the default) stops the music; Type A doesn't.

Really the per-game issue is who writes the sound drivers, how, and in some cases, when.
This post has been edited by Andlabs: 26 August 2011 - 04:05 PM

#11 User is offline Meat Miracle 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 09:33 PM

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Some games avoid using PCM samples in music for similar reasons. The music in the Dragon Ball game only uses PCM drum hits in the intro and ending tunes, all in-game tracks lack PCM. Presumably because every single in-game effect is PCM sound, and you can only pile so many of those ontop of each other before something goes wonky.

Upon re-reading the topic though - you mean that some games stop music entirely when playing DAC samples, I rarely noticed that. I do seem to recall it happen now that it has been pointed out, but I always thought of it as a design element, to make certain sound effects stand out more (doesn't Eternal Champions do this for the taunts?). Previously I though you were only talking about games that only allow one DAC sample to be played at the same time, while others, like Beavis & Butthead, allow multiple samples to be played at the same time. Software driven multi-channel PCM samples if you will. Even if it gave samples a distinct "crack/pop" problem, which in my opinion made the game music sound way better, like if it was a dusty vinyl record.

#12 User is offline Runner 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 10:02 PM

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Rock 'n Roll Racing also has this problem.

#13 User is offline Cooljerk 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 11:27 PM

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View PostAndlabs, on 26 August 2011 - 09:08 AM, said:

It was up to the person designing the sound driver. Most, if not all, of the time, the Z80-only sound drivers are the ones that have to stop to play speech samples Sega did a really shitty job at making the PCM channel comfortable to use, but by 1991 most developers had figured out how to get it to sound decent (at most), but they probably thought the speech still sounded bad? Look at Gleylancer...

Altered Beast and Golden Axe both use a sound driver we only know as "pre-SMPS Z80", so :/

There's probably a bette rway to word this post but in short it's "it's the programmer's decision"


I wonder if the sound driver used in those games are in any way related to the drivers used in many SMS games. SMS games had the same limitation - the entire game had to pause to play a speech sample. Some games, like Great Baseball, managed to hide the effect well, while others, like Shadow Dancer, did an awful job.

#14 User is offline Sik 

Posted 26 August 2011 - 11:57 PM

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The SMS didn't even have proper PCM hardware, and it didn't have a second processor to whom slap all the PCM timing, so there was no option but to keep the Z80 in a busy loop to play the sound, without any room to process anything else.

Though yeah, it is a similar issue in some sense... Z80 stops all processing while it's busy doing PCM playback, basically.

#15 User is offline Flygon 

Posted 27 August 2011 - 08:14 PM

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It's worth noting that Mega Lo Mania / Tyrants: Battle Through Time pauses the music to play voice samples for the Mega Drive and SNES versions while the original Amiga release doesn't. But the Mega Drive version only ever pauses the music during the gameplay, while during the intro and sound tests, it's quite possible to play the voice samples and music at the same time. To add to this, the drums are PCM samples anyway. :v:

So, some quick trivia for you. I guess they just paused the music to prevent it sounding weird when a drum prominent sequence of the music is playing, or to increase clarity of the voices.

The reason for the SNES one pausing (everything) is utterly ridiculous, though, but I won't emphasize here.

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