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Can the STE's PCM sound chip play Amiga modules?

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#1 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Oct 23, 2017 11:53 AM

I read somewhere that the PCM chip used in the Atari STE that aims to give the computer Amiga-style PCM audio is actually limited to two channels rather than four, with no individual or master volume control among other capabilities. So does this mean that the Atari STE has to rely on the AY sound chip as featured in original Atari STs?

 

I have heard a lot of demos on Atari ST that have STE sampled tracks with AY accompaniment, with long samples for the PCM tracks because of the 2-channel limitation limitation (although it sounds good in stereo) whilst the AY chip plays the main tune on top. Unfortunately, the repeating nature of the samples leads to repetitive soundtracks which are quite dull after a while. "Talk Talk 2 - Church of Excellence in Art" by XIA and various DHS demos have this repetitious problem with their mixed soundtracks, although the only STE demo that really stands out to me is DHS's "Sea of Colour" whose entire soundtrack is a huge long sample, streamed from the HDD, and it sounds much more varied. It also looks amazing, too.

 

So what's the story and features of the PCM sound chip in the STE, and am I right in my theory?

 



#2 Christos OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Oct 23, 2017 12:23 PM

The STE has DMA sound capabilities, which means it can play 8-bit  stereo samples of up to 50KHz quality without any cpu overhead. That also means that all mixing is done with the cpu. Now the amiga has 4 hardware channels but it only outputs stereo sound, that means that the channels are mixed using the Paula chip without any cpu overhead.

That is not though the whole story. The STE also features the YM sound chip as well as the LMC1992 that can do lots of interesting effects, such as treble, bass etc.

 

From a practical standpoint, the STE can play MODs but it will have to use the CPU to do the mixing of the channels and that is at many cases costly. You can look at "The player" to hear how well it plays them.

http://dhs.nu/files.php?t=musicplayer

 

I think that the best usage for a game though, would be to use the YM for music and high quality samples for sound effects. The STE game Obsession had some really nice mods. Lots of the early STE demos would play mods for music (IIRC Alive! by Zeal and definitely Techno by NLC). Some newer demos will do too, the We were @ demo by oxygene comes to mind:

 


Edited by Christos, Mon Oct 23, 2017 12:25 PM.


#3 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Oct 23, 2017 12:54 PM

I read somewhere that the PCM chip used in the Atari STE that aims to give the computer Amiga-style PCM audio is actually limited to two channels rather than four, with no individual or master volume control among other capabilities. So does this mean that the Atari STE has to rely on the AY sound chip as featured in original Atari STs?

 

I have heard a lot of demos on Atari ST that have STE sampled tracks with AY accompaniment, with long samples for the PCM tracks because of the 2-channel limitation limitation (although it sounds good in stereo) whilst the AY chip plays the main tune on top. Unfortunately, the repeating nature of the samples leads to repetitive soundtracks which are quite dull after a while. "Talk Talk 2 - Church of Excellence in Art" by XIA and various DHS demos have this repetitious problem with their mixed soundtracks, although the only STE demo that really stands out to me is DHS's "Sea of Colour" whose entire soundtrack is a huge long sample, streamed from the HDD, and it sounds much more varied. It also looks amazing, too.

 

So what's the story and features of the PCM sound chip in the STE, and am I right in my theory?

 

 

I used to play 4-channel mods all the time on my STe.   It did not use the AY chip, because the sound difference between a sample played on the AY and a sample played on the DMA was night and day, the AY having a tinny quality to it.

 

Yes it somehow mixed 4 channels into two,  but it worked.     The STe mod players I had did not work on a vanilla ST, and the one ST modplayer I had that used the AY chip sounded like crud.



#4 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Mon Oct 23, 2017 12:58 PM

 

I used to play 4-channel mods all the time on my STe.   It did not use the AY chip, because the sound difference between a sample played on the AY and a sample played on the DMA was night and day, the AY having a tinny quality to it.

 

Yes it somehow mixed 4 channels into two,  but it worked.     The STe mod players I had did not work on a vanilla ST, and the one ST modplayer I had that used the AY chip sounded like crud.

Seems like a lot of work for the STE, when the Amiga can handle it with practically no effort.



#5 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 12:56 AM

The STE has DMA sound capabilities, which means it can play 8-bit  stereo samples of up to 50KHz quality without any cpu overhead. That also means that all mixing is done with the cpu. Now the amiga has 4 hardware channels but it only outputs stereo sound, that means that the channels are mixed using the Paula chip without any cpu overhead.

That is not though the whole story. The STE also features the YM sound chip as well as the LMC1992 that can do lots of interesting effects, such as treble, bass etc.

 

From a practical standpoint, the STE can play MODs but it will have to use the CPU to do the mixing of the channels and that is at many cases costly. You can look at "The player" to hear how well it plays them.

http://dhs.nu/files.php?t=musicplayer

 

I think that the best usage for a game though, would be to use the YM for music and high quality samples for sound effects. The STE game Obsession had some really nice mods. Lots of the early STE demos would play mods for music (IIRC Alive! by Zeal and definitely Techno by NLC). Some newer demos will do too, the We were @ demo by oxygene comes to mind:

 

 

Um, "We Were @" is NOT playing a mod, it is simply playing back several long samples, one at a time, in various patterns. It sounds repetitive and dull (and annoying with AY accompaniment) and it seems to be a hallmark of STE PCM audio in demos.

 

Frankly, I'm staying away from the ST/E for games and demos as the AY chip causes my ears physical discomfort with its utter basicness and primitiveness, and I realise now the shortcomings of the PCM chip that, to be honest, was far too little, too late. I made the mistake of choosing an STFM as my first computer in many years after an Atari 800XL, I hated it from day one. I must've made a very convincing case to my parents to allow me to get an Amiga 500 instead, and I only wish I'd chosen it in the first place. I don't even recall asking for a demonstration of both in the local computer store, but was still blinkered by my Atari enthusiasm. I had no idea how much both Atari and Commodore had changed in the meantime.


Edited by Foebane, Tue Oct 24, 2017 12:58 AM.


#6 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 8:13 AM

Seems like a lot of work for the STE, when the Amiga can handle it with practically no effort.


Perhaps, but I did have a desk accessory Mod player that could play 4-channel mods in the background while still allowing you to do other tasks. (Remember the ST didn't officially multitask, but desk accessories were a limit form of multitasking). So the STe could play them do it without bogging the CPU down too much.

Even on PC, software mixing won out over sound cards with separate hardware channels.

#7 Fletch OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 10:29 AM

 

Um, "We Were @" is NOT playing a mod, it is simply playing back several long samples, one at a time, in various patterns. It sounds repetitive and dull (and annoying with AY accompaniment) and it seems to be a hallmark of STE PCM audio in demos.

 

Frankly, I'm staying away from the ST/E for games and demos as the AY chip causes my ears physical discomfort with its utter basicness and primitiveness, and I realise now the shortcomings of the PCM chip that, to be honest, was far too little, too late. I made the mistake of choosing an STFM as my first computer in many years after an Atari 800XL, I hated it from day one. I must've made a very convincing case to my parents to allow me to get an Amiga 500 instead, and I only wish I'd chosen it in the first place. I don't even recall asking for a demonstration of both in the local computer store, but was still blinkered by my Atari enthusiasm. I had no idea how much both Atari and Commodore had changed in the meantime.

 

 

These kind of discussions are always bizarre to me.  The ST was designed as a general purpose computer and the Amiga as a multimedia machine.  It is no surprise that the machine designed with graphics and sound as the main focus would be better at graphics and sound than the machine that was not.  

 

If graphics and sound are your focus, then the Amiga is your machine.  Enjoy it.



#8 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 10:48 AM

 

 

These kind of discussions are always bizarre to me.  The ST was designed as a general purpose computer and the Amiga as a multimedia machine.  It is no surprise that the machine designed with graphics and sound as the main focus would be better at graphics and sound than the machine that was not.  

 

If graphics and sound are your focus, then the Amiga is your machine.  Enjoy it.

 

I never thought of it that way before, but thank you.

 

I have had a whole set of ST demos and games until now, which are almost visually identical and sonically inferior (mostly) to the Amiga versions I also have in my collection. I decided to get rid of the ST stuff because, as I said, lately I've found the AY audio to be hard to listen to, and the ST demos have this strange tradition of accessing their multiple parts with platform games, not to mention the PCM reasons explained above. I only had the ST stuff in the first place because I owned a 520STFM for about four months in 1990.

 

Also, I've had problems with the emulation itself: Hatari has never worked properly for me, and Steem SSE has recently dropped in functionality and usefulness in the latest version (it's always been hard to use) and to be honest, I'm not sure I care about using any software made by a developer who is obsessed with action movie stars (SSE means Steven Seagal Edition).

 

I never got into the ST Demoscene back in 1990 (I never even heard of demos properly until shortly after I got my Amiga A500) but I do have fond memories of playing and completing games like Carrier Command and Damocles, and I loved how games like E-Motion and Vaxine looked so close between ST and Amiga. But it was not to last. However, about a year after I got my Amiga, I became friends with a guy at college who DESPISED Amigas (almost irrationally, I thought) and always berated me about my "Crappy Amiga" whenever he could. I wonder what would've happened if I still had the ST when I met him... :)



#9 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 11:06 AM

I never got into the ST Demoscene back in 1990 (I never even heard of demos properly until shortly after I got my Amiga A500) but I do have fond memories of playing and completing games like Carrier Command and Damocles, and I loved how games like E-Motion and Vaxine looked so close between ST and Amiga. But it was not to last. However, about a year after I got my Amiga, I became friends with a guy at college who DESPISED Amigas (almost irrationally, I thought) and always berated me about my "Crappy Amiga" whenever he could. I wonder what would've happened if I still had the ST when I met him... :)


When I went to college with my STe, I found that my roommate had an Amiga. You can probably guess what happened next, right?

yup, we hooked them together via RS232 and played Stunt Car Racer head-to-head! :)

#10 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 11:34 AM

When I went to college with my STe, I found that my roommate had an Amiga. You can probably guess what happened next, right?

yup, we hooked them together via RS232 and played Stunt Car Racer head-to-head! :)

 

Exactly, far more constructive!

 

This friend of mine is on Facebook, he joined a few weeks ago. I wonder if I should friend him on there and ask him his reasons for hating the Amiga, after all these years? :)



#11 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 11:38 AM

Exactly, far more constructive!
 
This friend of mine is on Facebook, he joined a few weeks ago. I wonder if I should friend him on there and ask him his reasons for hating the Amiga, after all these years? :)


Maybe, but I'd guess if he was an Atari user, it was jealousy. If he was a PC or Mac user, it was snobbery. :P

#12 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 24, 2017 2:13 PM

Maybe, but I'd guess if he was an Atari user, it was jealousy. If he was a PC or Mac user, it was snobbery. :P

 

If I remember correctly, he had a ZX Spectrum first, then the Atari ST, and finally his family got a PC for gaming, and this was around 1993. I come round to his house early in 1994 and he shows me Doom, and I am blown away by its awesomeness, and a couple of years later, after Commodore goes bust, I get a PC so I too can play Doom. Then we became equal, in a way. So I'm not really sure I want to bring up something from the past again. As you said, it was probably just jealousy, although I remember him telling me a few things back then, like he and his friends would hang around the local computer shop and "dissuade" potential Amiga buyers, he said that he thought AmigaDOS/Workbench was flawed in some way, and he once tells me flat out that the SID was the best sound chip out there (including Paula). A couple of years later, I admitted to him that it was harder to program for Amiga than it was for ST, and that cheered him up, it seemed.

 

During my school years, I didn't experience all this Spectrum/C64 rivalry because I had an Atari 8-bit, although I made friends with a fellow A8-er and we shared games, much to my Dad's annoyance. But I think the ST/Amiga rivalry was the first time I experienced it first-hand, but to be frank, as I said, we became relatively "equal" with the PC, so all that animosity went away then. I think it's probably left buried in the past, even though I'm madly into Amiga again, recently. I don't even recall the last time I played a modern PC FPS, only Quake 1/2.



#13 Christos OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 7:47 AM

You are right, it's indeed streaming music. This is definitely a mod though.

 

 

as is this:

 

 

However, I am not that big a fan of mods. They of course sound better than the YM music but also somewhat colder. I'd have to say I prefer the SNDH tunes such as this:

 



#14 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 8:56 AM

As you said, it was probably just jealousy, although I remember him telling me a few things back then, like he and his friends would hang around the local computer shop and "dissuade" potential Amiga buyers, he said that he thought AmigaDOS/Workbench was flawed in some way,

 
Heh, well I was an STe owner who was jealous of the Amiga. When I finally got to play around with my roommate's Amiga, I did find Workbench to be annoying to work with. I always thought GEM was too simplistic, but after using Workbench, I started to appreciate GEMs simplicity and minimalism more, (not to mention its ROM residency)

#15 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 3:42 PM

.
 
Frankly, I'm staying away from the ST/E for games and demos as the AY chip causes my ears physical discomfort with its utter basicness and primitiveness, and I realise now the shortcomings of the PCM chip that, to be honest, was far too little, too late.

Well then Atari release Falcon with 16bit 50KHz 8 channel sound and Commodore release Amiga 1200 with Paula from 1984.

#16 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 3:52 PM

Well then Atari release Falcon with 16bit 50KHz 8 channel sound and Commodore release Amiga 1200 with Paula from 1984.

 

Yes, the Falcon, which was flawed and crippled from the start and which no-one bought nor remembers, whilst Amiga (Paula) sound still improved with more memory and 14-bit audio and AGA was relatively successful. :lol:



#17 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 4:29 PM

 

Yes, the Falcon, which was flawed and crippled from the start and which no-one bought nor remembers, whilst Amiga (Paula) sound still improved with more memory and 14-bit audio and AGA was relatively successful. :lol:

 

 

For your information Falcon was used in studios around the world. It enable usable harddisc recording long before same feature come to Windows machines (and it took several years to become stable and usable).

Amiga 1200 offer no more than double the clock and double the width of memory path compare to Amiga 1000. On other hand, Falcon bring DSP, chunky graphics, 16bit audio (with digital output so you do not need "14bit" hack) but unfortunate it was to late so software wise, it was never showed what hardware was capable of.

 

Quake II class engine (running original PC Windows files)

 

game from x68000 

 

soft synth ("14bit" audio :D)

 

...



#18 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 4:36 PM

 

 

For your information Falcon was used in studios around the world. It enable usable harddisc recording long before same feature come to Windows machines (and it took several years to become stable and usable).

Amiga 1200 offer no more than double the clock and double the width of memory path compare to Amiga 1000. On other hand, Falcon bring DSP, chunky graphics, 16bit audio (with digital output so you do not need "14bit" hack) but unfortunate it was to late so software wise, it was never showed what hardware was capable of.

 

Quake II class engine (running original PC Windows files)

 

game from x68000 

 

soft synth ("14bit" audio :D)

 

...

 

The key passage here is "but unfortunate it was to late so software wise, it was never showed what hardware was capable of", thus rendering everything before in your post moot. And I was thinking of the high-end A4000 030/040/060 rather than just the A1200, so really, the Falcon lost everything... except maybe audio, which was its only real advantage.



#19 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 4:51 PM

Atari Falcon is far more powerful than Amiga1200. That is key message.

 

As STe (maybe) was not on pair with Amiga 500 (I found Amiga 500 audio output quite dull), in same way Amiga 1200 was not on pair with Atari Falcon. Everything I posted is not possible on Amiga 1200 (and if you plan to mention accelerator, then continue reading... ;))

 

 

 

High end Falcon is faster than any Amiga since 060 in Falcon use SD-RAM. 

 

If you want to see silk smooth Silkcut demo from TBL then better watch it on 060 Falcon ;)



#20 Foebane OFFLINE  

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Posted Wed Oct 25, 2017 10:41 PM

Atari Falcon is far more powerful than Amiga1200. That is key message.

 

As STe (maybe) was not on pair with Amiga 500 (I found Amiga 500 audio output quite dull), in same way Amiga 1200 was not on pair with Atari Falcon. Everything I posted is not possible on Amiga 1200 (and if you plan to mention accelerator, then continue reading... ;))

 

 

 

High end Falcon is faster than any Amiga since 060 in Falcon use SD-RAM. 

 

If you want to see silk smooth Silkcut demo from TBL then better watch it on 060 Falcon ;)

 

I have to admit, like my ST-owning friend was about the Amiga, I was actually jealous at the time I heard of the Falcon030's specs, and even furious about it. But in the end, the Falcon didn't sell as a gaming machine (unlike the A1200) and whilst it had Chunky and Hi-Color and DSP Audio, that really wasn't enough to save Atari's home computer division. Could've been the price, could've been poor marketing, or both, I can't remember.

 

I will admit, since the start, Atari having to settle for a sub-par sound chip BUT then including MIDI sockets as standard helped to secure Atari's place in the music industry, and of course, the Falcon would continue that tradition, with superior audio and still including MIDI as standard. I sense Jack Tramiel's marketing nous behind the decision. :)



#21 zzip OFFLINE  

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Posted Thu Oct 26, 2017 9:39 AM

I have to admit, like my ST-owning friend was about the Amiga, I was actually jealous at the time I heard of the Falcon030's specs, and even furious about it. But in the end, the Falcon didn't sell as a gaming machine (unlike the A1200) and whilst it had Chunky and Hi-Color and DSP Audio, that really wasn't enough to save Atari's home computer division. Could've been the price, could've been poor marketing, or both, I can't remember.


Mostly it was because of the PC market. That's were all the economies of scale were by the time the Falcon released. You could get much more power for the same price, plus much larger software library. Atari didn't have much marketing muscle left either.

#22 rdemming OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Oct 27, 2017 6:13 AM

Well then Atari release Falcon with 16bit 50KHz 8 channel sound and Commodore release Amiga 1200 with Paula from 1984.

 

The Falcon has still two digital sound channels (stereo) but because it has a DSP to do the software mixing, the number of channels is flexible. There are even trackers that do 32 channels like Ace Tracker, Digital Home Studio, Graoumf Tracker and Megatracker. And because the DSP does the software mixing, playing music does not impact the main CPU.

 

On ST/STEs, software mixing takes indeed more time than "plain" 4-channel Paula music, but it is also much more flexible. The four Amiga sound channels are strictly divided with 2 left, 2 right and for me the stereo separation is sometimes too much. With software mixing you can pan a sound channel between left and right softening the stereo separation or have effects where a sound moves from one side to the other side. Thus software mixing has its advantages (flexibility) at the cost of CPU time. For the STE there are various MOD players that can play Amiga MOD files at the same or better quality than the Amiga although it indeed cost more CPU time but not so much that it can't done anything else as many demos (and some games like Obsession, StarDust) prove.

It is funny that Amiga programmers used Atari ST techniques (started by Atari ST musician Jochen Hippel with 7-track TFMX player used in for example Turrican and Lethal Xcess) to overcome the limitations of the Amiga sound hardware like more than 4 tracks and stereo panning in OctaMED where the hardware has strict left/right separation. But the 7/8 channel mod players had the same problem as on the STE that it took more CPU time so it was usually only used in title/intro screens and not during game play.

 

@Foebane

You are right that the Amiga is technically superior to the Atari ST/STE in the sense that its graphics and sound hardware makes effects possible with little CPU time that will take on the ST lots of CPU time. The one advantage the ST has is that it has a slightly faster clock speed.

But you have to remember that the ST, in the first few years was far more affordable than the Amiga. The Amiga was technically superior but at a price which made it too expensive as "16-bit family" home computer for most. Only after the Amiga 500 was released about two years later, the price came down to a level that made it compete as family home computer. But until that time the Atari ST was the most sensible choice because it gave you the most value for your buck. But in 1990 things were indeed different and the Amiga 500 gave you most value for your buck.

So for me both are great machines if you put their price/performance in perspective.

 

Robert



#23 Christos OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Oct 27, 2017 10:04 AM

The 8 channels on the falcon are there with an SPDIF interface (iirc), but are not available from the headphone jack.



#24 calimero OFFLINE  

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Posted Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:31 AM

 

The Falcon has still two digital sound channels (stereo) but because it has a DSP to do the software mixing, the number of channels is flexible. There are even trackers that do 32 channels like Ace Tracker, Digital Home Studio, Graoumf Tracker and Megatracker. And because the DSP does the software mixing, playing music does not impact the main CPU.

 

 

You are right. Only two channels are connected to DAC. 

Christos is also right (as I): all four stereo hardware channels are available through DSP port and some audio interface.

 

btw

there are some trackers that allow 128 channels if I remember correctly :D


Edited by calimero, Fri Oct 27, 2017 11:33 AM.


#25 PeBo OFFLINE  

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Posted Tue Oct 31, 2017 4:20 PM

Maybe, but I'd guess if he was an Atari user, it was jealousy. If he was a PC or Mac user, it was snobbery. :P

It wasn't jealousy on my part....I just became sick of all the pointless Commodore/Atari bashing back in the day, and I usually found Amiga and Mac users to be insufferable snobs about their systems. Even to this day reading the comments on Youtube "Let's Compare" videos clearly shows that Atari fans are far less likely to berate the Amiga than the reverse being true. Amiga fans still openly chide the ST 30 years later!

 

I mean c'mon!

 

(and don't forget that we're talking the days of EGA graphics, so it was usually PC users that were jealous! You just had to show them the 16 bit version of Test Drive - a game they used to love to use to showcase DOS gaming!)






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