GEMS

From Sega Retro

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  • Screenshot (1)
  • Screenshot (2)

GEMS Graphical User Interface.png

GEMS Graphical User Interface (alt).png

GEMS
System(s): Mega Drive, Sega 32X
Developer:

GEMS (Genesis Editor for Music and Sound effects) is a Sega Mega Drive sound driver developed by Recreational Brainware. Commissioned by Sega of America to assist Western developers struggling with the unfamiliar sound hardware, it went on to see use in over 200 released games.

History

Early Sega Genesis hardware documentation was limited in all areas, but especially in audio capabilities. Unlike Japanese composers, who were more familiar with writing sound drivers and working with FM synthesis, their Western counterparts struggled to produce quality sounds. Seeking to address this, Sega of America reached out to developer Recreational Brainware to produce a solution.

The team consisted of Jonathan Miller creating drivers and firmware, Burt Sloane programming, and Chris Grigg and Mark Miller providing the software’s overall design. The result was GEMS, a 16-bit sound driver with a focus on MIDI interactivity. Sega of America was very pleased with GEMS and went on to distribute it to their various developers and publishers. Western composers and musicians now had a more familiar and reliable method for translating their instruments to the Sega Genesis hardware.

While GEMS is a very capable driver in the proper hands, it has also grown to absorb much of the ire modern fans have for the “twangy” sounds of certain Western-produced Sega Mega Drive games. As the driver was both widely distributed to developers of all quality, and largely used by developers unfamiliar with the hardware, much of the system’s shovelware library shares a distinct (and poorly received) sound.

Some developers, such as Novotrade, chose to modify the driver, effectively making their own variants. Individual games such as Wayne's World also have their own modified drivers.

Usage

By setting aside a shared memory space that allows the driver and game to directly communicate, music can be dynamically adjusted to match gameplay and easily integrated with the game’s programming. For example, pitch or tempo can be automatically adjusted per the amount of onscreen enemies or remaining health. Unfortunately, while most sound drivers control playback speed with a single and easy-to-manipulate variable, GEMS requires the alteration of the entire track as stored in ROM to achieve the same effect.

Games that use GEMS

Mega Drive

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32X

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Preservation

On September 24, 2007, drx preserved and released GEMS v2.5.

Download.svg Download GEMS (v2.5)
File: GEMS.zip (324 kB) (info)

References