The making of the Ecco PC: Fixed & Enhanced version!

This is a terrific post wrote by one of the Ecco PC: Fixed & Enhanced version authors Klaimen in our forum, in occasion of their updated release, version 1.1! Since one of the main updates in this revision is the use of our high quality soundtrack, he decided to delight us with a “Making of”, taking us along the course of all the work they’ve been through.
We, at the 16-bit Audiophile Project, welcome his initiative and wish him and all the staff of his project all the best in the future.

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Yesterday I released the Ecco PC Fixed and Enhanced Edition v1.1 on Caverns of Hope (http://web8.orcaserver.de/ecco/)! As you probably know already, the update features the 16bit Audiophile release of Ecco the Dolphin as a soundtrack option, as well the corresponding sound effects! I wanted to take this chance to talk a bit about the release, its production, how it enhances the game, and how to activate it ingame :)

First things first: For those who don’t know, Ecco PC is a port from console to Windows 95 performed by SEGA/Novotrade in 1995. It was released on CD-ROM and combined the best of all previous Ecco 1 releases: the MegaCD/SegaCD soundtrack and exclusive levels, and CG-rendered videos. On top of that, the graphics got a huge update with everything being redrawn in higher resolution. With the game becoming incompatible with more recent Windows versions, COH team member Korama continued to fix the game by releasing various patches and install tools.

Our most recent Ecco PC release supports audio file playback from your hard drive, using the Bass audio library (www.un4seen.com/). Our previous Ecco PC fixed and enhanced release contained emulator rips of the MegaDrive/Genesis soundtrack, in relatively low quality. When I found the 16bit Audiophile Project, I got really excited, as a high quality recording of the MegaDrive/Genesis soundtrack would suit the Ecco PC release perfectly! Thus I supported the request for recording the soundtrack. Another nice enhancement of our Ecco PC release is that the full range of sound effects is played from WAV files. So I took the chance and asked if the 16-bit team could also record the sound effects for us, as they’d definitely improve their quality as well.

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Fast forward to the release of the 16-bit Audiophile release of Ecco the Dolphin, I was really excited to finally implement both the soundtrack, and the sound effects to Ecco PC! The task was to create properly looping versions of the music tracks, and to split and reassign the sound effect track.

I created seamlessly looping versions of the music tracks using Audacity. The method is relatively easy, but requires good ears and eyes. You have to find out where about the looping part of a track starts and ends, and then mark their positions. Best positions are transitions from silence to unique waveforms. Some tracks were easier to handle than others, as you may suspect. Once you got the positions of the loop points for a track, you can erase the data beyond the loop end, and export to a format that supports loopable areas. I went with OGG Vorbis, because frankly, I don’t know of any other format that does this, and bass.dll supports it nicely. The execution of the looping part is performed by two OGG Vorbis tags called LOOPSTART and LOOPLENGTH and their corresponding sample values. The result: Ecco PC now plays the original MegaDrive/Genesis tracks properly looped! :)

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The sound effects were kind of a burden on me – I think donluca had a similar feeling when he had to rip them. I mean, there are 65 sound effects in Ecco the Dolphin, and while recording was probably already a pain, splitting them up and properly assigning them seemed like a really tedious task. Right before we started splitting the sound effects by hand (I actually asked KC from RadioSEGA for help with that), Korama came with a tool that rescued us! SoX (http://sox.sourceforge.net/) is a command line tool for processing audio. We used options to split the track at areas of silence, and after tweaking the input values, the program did the worst part of the work automatically. The remaining work was reordering the sound effects to the sequence Ecco PC uses. The result: Perfectly crisp sound effects as if played on the MegaDrive/Genesis now accompany the game, no matter which soundtrack you listen to!

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Of course, nothing works perfectly immediately. A couple sound effects were missing in the original track – which comes naturally when you have to record 65 effects. We’re really grateful that donluca actually returned to recording a couple sound effects that were missing in his original track, as well as the storm/tornado track that cannot be played from the debug menu for some reason. Korama edited two of the sound effects, as Ecco PC does not play them properly. One of them is the sound effect for the time machine that echoes sonar back and forth, the other one is for the Vortex machine that plays endlessly in sound test for whatever reason. Korama faded that one out after a couple seconds. After we got everything together, the test sessions went rather well. We only had to amplify the sound effects, so they play a bit louder, but the rest worked like a charm.

If you want to try out the 16bit Audiophile Ecco release in Ecco PC, there’s a couple things you have to do in advance:

– Download the Ecco PC Fixed and Enhanced Edition v1.1: http://web8.orcaserver.de/ecco/downloads/games/index.php

– Extract the ZIP file and run the Ecco PC Launcher.exe from the ECCOPC folder

– Click the Edit Settings button

– Make sure Enable Sound Effects Patch and Enable Music Patch are enabled

– Change the Music Folder to MegaDrive Genesis Soundtrack by browsing to it inside the ECCOPC folder.

– Change Track assignment to “Custom…”

– Now you’re ready to Launch and play the game (check the manual for more info on how to play Ecco)

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So, to sum it up: Ecco PC now plays sound and music exactly as you’d expect on the original MegaDrive/Genesis hardware! I don’t think any other port of Ecco the Dolphin has achieved this amount of quality. There are ports to many consoles actually: GBA, Wii, Xbox, PS2, PS3. The ones I tried all have terrible audio processing. Especially the PS2 and PS3 versions have a screeching sonar sound effect, and some music tracks have hickups. Obviously these have been recorded and badly processed. The Steam release of Ecco the Dolphin is basically a Gens version, which is rather worse emulation with lower audio quality than Kega Fusion for example. So there you have it, The 16bit Audiophile Project made the best sounding Ecco release possible, ever since the original MegaDrive/Genesis version! :D

– Klaimen