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"Once in a while a product changes how we think about computers. Once in a lifetime a product changes how computers think about us.” Pretty bold words, but I suppose when Sid Meier (who has since been named 'The #1 Most Influential Person in Computer Gaming of All Time’ … more than once I might add) has his name attached to a product, you can’t really fault a bit of boasting. And truthfully, the advert may not be too far off. “It’s thinking” might have been a prominent advertisement of Sega’s Dreamcast, but 3DO was doing it long before good old Sonic went 3D, courtesy of C.P.U Bach.
C.P.U Bach isn’t a game. Rather it's a music generator that churns out original, high quality tunes in the style of Bach. That is probably the easiest explanation. And really the title can be enjoyed just as easily. Pop the disc in your multiplayer and listen as the machine continues to compose piece after piece of classical goodness. But for those who want to do more than just passively listen, the game rewards you with an incredible amount of depth.
You can have as little or as much control as you want with this title, starting with the graphics. Yes C.P.U Bach is a music title, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to enjoy some next gen 32-bit visuals (this was one of the first 32-bit games released in 1993) The title has several different polished graphic options that you can choose from as the music plays.
One is a computer generated 3D Bach, who will play the actual piece you are hearing. This mode also has cool backgrounds as other instruments will play themselves. Piano keys will depress on their own, violin bows draw across the strings by themselves, etc … Depending on the type of piece playing, you may even see a choir singing. There is great detail, and everything is well animated. Graphically it’s all very impressive, especially when you consider the following … it was a launch window title, playing on a brand new company’s hardware, while the cd medium was still new for video games. Impressive indeed!
Another graphical mode is the musical analysis, which includes notations and texts explaining the music that’s being composed. While this is obviously the least impressive from a purely visual standpoint, it might be the most impressive content wise … if you are interested in learning about the music that is. There is a lot to read and digest for those who take the time to do so. By actually showing the notes that are currently being played, I suppose you could even save the piece and learn to play it on your own. I confess that after the initial viewings it wasn’t really for me, but I can certainly appreciate it for what it is. Its inclusion is sure to appeal to some. A nice touch really.
The kaleidoscope is similar to the 3DO’s built in program that plays graphics when an audio cd is being played. But I like it even better in C.P.U. Bach. If you’re the type who plays music on your 3DO just to enjoy the visuals, give this title a shot. While this particular mode lacks the limited interaction found in (the somewhat similar) Digital Dreamware, I still think it’s a nice addition that's fun to look at.
The last individual graphical mode (and my favorite overall) is the slide show. Talk about variety. For all the times I’ve played C.P.U Bach, I’ve rarely seen a duplicate picture. Seriously, there must be a ton of quality shots included! Nature stills are prominent, but famous sites are also included. (the James Bond fan in me got a kick out of seeing the bridge used for the finale in “The Living Daylights”) The pics are full screen, clear, and shot well. Great to sit back and watch when you’re looking to relax or wind down.
Optical Medley is the buffet of graphics, where you get a little bit of this and that. It randomly generates images from all the modes. While I’d just assume pick one and stick with it, this is good for those who can’t decide (or who just want to sample everything the graphics have to offer)
Really, the graphics in any of these modes show the effort that was put into this title. It would have been easy enough I’m sure to get by simply on the music, maybe with just one simple graphic mode. But by going the extra mile and including so many quality choices (not to mention that they can be changed at any time, even mid-song) it really helps to illustrate a level of commitment to excellence that’s not seen nearly enough in this industry. I applaud it!
The music is obviously the main focus (and key selling point) of this title though. And it is a huge success! Beyond the sheer high quality though, it again goes back to the control and choices given to the player. There is deep customization here, to the point that my review can’t do it nearly enough justice. But I will try my best to give a decent overview that hopefully not only gives you an idea about the product, but instills curiosity to try it out on your own.
You can start by selecting the style of a piece from 8 different programs. This leads to even further potential adjustments to the compositions. Terms like concerto, fantasia, sonata, etc… may be only vaguely familiar to you, but through experimentation you’ll surely learn more about them. There really is a lot to take advantage of in this title in terms of educating yourself about music. The deep booklet goes into even more details explaining the highlights of each of these (the booklet really is nice, full color, with a write up on Bach, comments from Sid Meier, etc…) In this sense, CPU Bach could be considered an edutainment title … and an excellent one at that.
After going through those steps, you can continue to tweak to your liking by mixing and matching, determining frequencies, etc… The customizing still isn’t done though, as you can select instruments with the very same options. Piano, flute, violin, trumpet, and more are included. There’s even a chorus and it’s interesting to see how pieces sound acapella.
C.P.U. Bach certainly gives you a vast amount of control for a program like this. Honestly, I've never truly tapped it and taken full advantage of the ways to customize the program. I usually just end up switching a few things, or simply watching the slide show and listening to the randomly generated numbers, which are really quite good. But the potential is there in spades. For those with more imagination and appreciation for music than myself, you can have a field day using this program to the full!
The quality of the music is excellent (again, 3DO can produce some darn good tunes, no doubt!) It switches often enough to ensure plenty of variety and also ensures that you won’t get bored. It keeps things fresh (if you think you’ll want to save a piece though, do it early as it changes regularly) It is great background music for a dinner party, if you are reading, or just looking to chill out. You can even pause mid song and change any parameters at will.
C.P.U. Bach’s load times are noticeable, particularly between the songs. But when you stop and consider just how complex it must be to compose new (and genuinely good!) musical pieces on the fly, the load times really aren’t that bad. I’ve certainly seen worse on 3DO. In any event, this type of program is more relaxing anyway so it’s probably less likely you’ll notice the load times that much. Those who do will probably get used to them quickly. And should they bug you enough, just let the program compose stuff on its own, which is quicker. A small trade off for superb music.
Sid Meier has been developing games for 30+ years. I own a few of his products ('Pirates' rocks!) C.P.U. Bach may not be among the first games you think when you hear his name (indeed there doesn’t seem to be too many reviews of this title) but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. It is great! Chalk it up to being less mainstream, or chalk it up to being a 3DO exclusive, but don’t chalk it up to lack of quality.
If you like classical music, this couldn’t be more of a must have! Even if you’re just a fan of music in general, the content and sheer depth found here is sure to impress. Looking out for an innovative title? CPU Bach definitely deserves your time. A truly wonderful program!
Most wanted - Eye of Typhoon, 3DO Magazines issues #14 & #15, Pro Stadium, Defcon 5
I love these reviews. I knew there would be something to learn... the bridge from “The Living Daylights”?! Fantastic! I generally remove the chorus as it is very synthetic. I love that you mentioned using it for a dinner party as friends of mine have/had dinner parties with classical music playing lightly in the background and I always thought when I buy my own house I will have dinner parties and have this running so there is new, original music playing.
"Wait. You don't have a bag of charcoal in your gaming room???"