Interview by Jonathan Imberi
Do you remember what it was like to walk into an arcade? No, I mean a real arcade straight out of the 80's? The games, the competition, the friends, seemingly endless supplies of quarters being fed into machines at near light speed, and of course the sounds...
With the advent of MAME™ and the pursuit of loyal hobbyists one can easily replicate a cabinet or two or maybe even half a dozen, but the experience just isn't the same. Sure we can add art, lights, beverages, and even the quarters if we really wanted to. We can invite over our friends for some competition, but still something's missing... Our game rooms just don't seem to have the proper and complete arcade atmosphere until... Now!
Enter Arcade Ambiance.
I had a chance to visit with and interview Andy Hofle, the man behind the Arcade Ambiance project.
For those of us that are not aware of Arcade Ambiance, can you tell us about it?
Andy: Arcade Ambiance is an attempt to reproduce the loud, chaotic background white noise one would hear in a typical arcade back when arcades were popular. When I was younger, it was quite an adrenaline rush walking into a dark, crowded arcade at the mall with a quarter or two and being overwhelmed by the symphony of electronic beeps, explosions, and music. It is intended to be used as background noise for those who have arcade cabinets at home, either as CD audio, or as a background mp3 for emulator front ends.
How did you get started with this project?
Andy: The first time I had the idea of creating a simulated arcade sound was when I purchased the Digital Eclipse Williams emulator pack CD, which contained a few classic Williams arcade games. When you started up the CD, it brought you to a little CGI arcade and once you 'opened' the door, it played a short sound loop of 4 or 5 simulated arcade sounds going together (the emulated games on the CD). It was like being taken back in time hearing that sound. I thought it would be great to make it longer and with more games. That was way back in 1996 I think. The "arcades" of the day were pretty lame in comparison, relatively quiet places with few people and not much of the bustle that I remembered. Anyway, I never really got around to working on it until I was laid off from my job in 2002 and had a few months with nothing to do. I spent a lot of time at home that summer working on little projects I'd been putting off, and finally started working on the Arcade Ambience sounds.
Could you tell us a little about yourself?
Andy: I'm a 35 year old software engineer, married with two kids. I've been into arcade games since I was a little kid. Discovered MAME™ in 1998 or so and have been addicted to classic gaming emulation ever since.
How much work went into each of the Arcade Ambiance tracks?
Andy: Hmmm, it's difficult to remember exactly how many hours I spent on it, but it was probably in the neighborhood of 15-30 hours or so each. Gathering the samples took some time, but I'd say the vast majority of time was spent in the sequencer trying to get everything to sound right. It's one of those tasks that you never quite feel perfect about and you are constantly tinkering with this and adjusting that. You finally have to just tell yourself you're done.
Where do you obtain the sounds you used in each track?
Andy: Most of the game sounds were recorded while playing MAME™. I used a program to record the WAV output of the computer, and ran through the game normally. Some game samples were actually taken from real machines at a local authentic arcade (Asteroids for example, since the samples didn't sound right at the time in MAME™). I also used 4 samples of coin changers and general background noise (people talking, etc.) from the local arcade. In the 1986 track I added a few other sounds like a loud carnival-like bell from a horse racing game they have there. All these sounds were mixed together randomly using a sequencer program.
Which arcade track is your favorite?
Andy: I would have to say 1983. There are some annoyances in the 1981 track (the Space Invaders shot sound is too loud), and the 1986 is good, but I think I may have added a few too many sounds (there's too much going on at times). 1983 I think was a perfect balance, although I regret not adding a Dragon's Lair sample! (I did not find out about the Daphne emulator until later.)
Which track did you find the most difficult to mix?
Andy: Definitely the first 1981 track, simply because I didn't really know what I was doing! Panning the games left and right was easy enough, but getting them at the right volume was very difficult. In addition, I also had to run some of the sounds through filters like high-pass to minimize the treble and give it a more distant, realistic sound. Finally, I had to "randomly" space out the games so there weren't any quiet spots, but at the same time, I had to make sure there weren't places with too much going on.
Were there games that were more difficult to add to the mix than others?
Andy: I didn't have much luck with games like Scramble that have a lot of high pitched explosions or sound effects. They were either too loud, or when I used the filter on them, you couldn't hear them. It was hard to find a happy medium.
Do you accept monetary donations, and how can one go about donating?
Andy: I've tried to offer these retro sounds for free in the same spirit as the developers of these emulators. I mostly just enjoy getting email from people who have enjoyed the tracks.
Are there plans to release other Arcade Ambiance tracks in the future?
Andy: I have been considering a 1990 or 1991 track (my college years!).
Is there anything else you would like to tell our readers about Arcade Ambiance?
Andy: You can learn more and download the sounds at http://arcade.hofle.com
I hope everyone enjoys them!
Thank you for allowing us to interview you!
Andy: My pleasure!
You can download all three tracks from the Arcade Ambiance web site or you can purchase the CD versions from Good Deal Games. Either way be prepared to take a step back in time and into your favorite arcade!