Using a Vocoder in Orion

A vocoder brings together two signals, a  carrier signal and a modulator signal, and combines them into an output signal. If the modulator signal is a vocal recording, and the carrier signal is a synthesiser sound, then the result is a robotic effect, a bit like Cylons in the old Battlestar Galactica (according to Wikipedia, they used an EMS Vocoder 2000). Here’s how to do something similar using a vocal recording and a synth of your choice in Synapse’s Orion…

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Mess about with the workings of an RPG!

Back in 2008 Microsoft released a the code for a small Japanese-style RPG to help folks get started with coding their own indie games. If you have a little experience with coding/compiling and want to mess about with it, here’s how to get hold of the latest version and poke about with it yourself.

Download and install Visual C# 2010 Express

Microsoft released a free (as in beer), trimmed-down version of Visual Studio specifically for coding C# .NET programs and apps. If you already have Visual Studio 2010, then skip this step.

You also have the option of downloading the whole suite of ‘Express’ packages, including Visual Basic and the Web Developer package.

Download and install Microsoft XNA 4.0

Microsoft built the XNA code library specifically for coding games on Windows and the XBox. It contains routines for 3D graphics, sound, handling game saves, sprites and so forth.

Once run, you can use the XNA 4.0 code libraries in Visual C# 2010 Express, and you will also be able to make use of game templates and compilation options that will enable you to export your code to an XBox 360.

Download the Role-Playing-Game Starter Kit

The starter kit comes in the form of a project that can be opened in Visual C# 2010 Express. All you have to do is download it and unpack the files to the correct place.

  1. Go to
  2. Download the file ‘
  3. Unpack the zip file and copy the folder into your visual studio2010projects folder. You should be able to find this in your ‘My Documents’ folder. If not, just extract them to somewhere sensible where you will be able to find them later

Get started!

Everything should be in place now for you to get nosing around the code, debug it, and generally hack it about to your heart’s content

  • Start Visual C# 2010 Express
  • Go to File -> Open project
  • Navigate to where you unpacked the RPG Starter Kit
  • Open ‘RoleplayingGameWindows.sln
  • Visual C# will load in the files
  • Click the green ‘debug‘ arrow at the top to compile and run the game

All being well, the game should start. Hit ‘Escape’ to get back to Visual C# 2010 Express.

This is as far as I’ve got with it so far, and I’ll be spending some time inspecting the code and classes used. I’m particularly interested in the methods used for rendering the environment, and also handling character interaction. I suspect though that my first job will involve rebinding the keyboard controls…

I make no secret of the fact that I like a lot of what Microsoft has done in the past, but occasionally they drive me nuts. I like the .NET framework, I like the free stuff, I like Windows 7, I like the old MS Flight Simulator and their keyboards and mouses seem to work well enough.

Whereas I fully support any iniative to get young people coding their own games, I do sometimes wonder if C# is really the right place to start, and whether or not kids would be better off with something similar but based around, say, Python. Maybe I just hark after the old days, where one would switch on an 8-bit machine like a BBC Micro or a Spectrum, and immediately have access to the BASIC programming language. I believe something like that would do wonders for computing literacy

Using an electric guitar with Orion Virtual Studio

I’ve been using Synapse’s wonderful Orion for a few years now, and it’s my main staple for my secondary hobby of making electronic music. Simply put, it’s the most easy to use and versatile thing out there. Recently (Christmas day, actually) I found out how to connect my old Yamaha RGX110 guitar to my PC, and record it in Orion complete with effects.

  1. Plug your guitar into one of the first two inputs on your breakout box. No pre-amp should be required.
  2. Open Orion
  3. Go to Options -> Audio Input Settings…
  4. Set Audio Input settings to be the Same As Output Device
  5. Tick the following boxes:
    • ‘enable audio input’
    • ‘monitor input’
    • ‘mono’ (because the guitar produces a mono signal)

    This will allow you to hear what’s going on!

  6. Click OK
  7. Go to Insert -> Audio Track -> Stereo Input 1/2 to add an audio track using inputs 1/2. You can rename the resulting ‘Audio Track #1’ track to something more sensible like ‘Guitar’ by right-clicking on the label in the Playlist window.

Orion is now ready to accept your input. What I’ve got into the habit of doing at this point is adding a simple drum line to play over. You may already have a load of synths, drums and samples already.

  1. In the playlist, you’ll notice that the track has MSR buttons. Hit the ‘R’ button to queue it up for recording. The Record button light, up at the top of the screen, will light up red
  2. When you’re ready to record your section, hit the Play button. Orion will count you in
  3. When you’re done, hit the Stop button

It’s worth noting the following:

  • You can rename each section, or ‘chunk’, that you record
  • If you record over a section, the original is still there and intact, you just have to slide it about a bit
  • Don’t leave two audio tracks with the same audio input, or they’ll double up and make a terrible din!
  • You can chop bits up and clone them using the song editing tools
  • Right click a section to edit it in your chosen sample editing software
  • You may well need to experiment with a compressor/limiter a bit to get the signal at a reasonable level.

Orion 8 has three insert effects, four sends and if that’s not enough you can use a MultiFX plugin which can hold four effects. This means you can experiment around with various arrangements of compressors, flangers, echoes, distortion units, EQs to your heart’s content… The only limit appears to be the spec of the PC.

[Fetches pipe and slippers] Hehe, kids these days have it easy. Back in my day I had one flanger and couldn’t afford a delay pedal or a four-track recorder. Nowadays all you need as £500 worth of PC plus £160-odd for Orion (which is less than an analogue Fostex cassette-tape-based four-track recorder cost back then) and you have as many blimmin’ digital effects as you like, plus multi-track recording, drum machine, some awesome synths (Toxic III, Wasp, Screamer, WaveFusion etc.) and the ability to upload your stuff to MySpace. Damn I wish I had had this stuff back in 1995…

Web development on the Android Desire S

Well bugger me, it never, ever occurred to me that I may be able to do this on a phone! I’ve accidentally discovered I can make web pages on my phone and FTP them to a remote server.

This basic little demo page was coded as a result of the following experimental process. I used the following three apps:

I had already downloaded the excellent ES File Explorer, which allows me to move files around on my phone, rename them and so on. This got me wondering about coding my own apps and things, and also wondering if there was a way to create a local (‘permanently-on-phone’) web app (‘thingy that gets info off the web’), or perhaps scripting for the phone (automating a few functions).

920 Text Editor

I started looking for a text editor in which to bash out some HTML. I found 920 Text Editor and installed it. I set it to highlight HTML tags (Menu-> Highlight -> HTML), though it will also highlight PHP, ASP and so on.

Tapping in code is made easier by the row of icons at the top of the screen which contain shortcuts for curly brackets, angle brackets, the ubiquitous semicolon and so forth.

A quick and dirty HTML page later, and I wanted to find a way to check it on my phone.

I saved it to my SD card in the ‘My Documents‘ folder

Opera Mobile

Selecting the little ‘page with globe’ icon on the tool bar gave me the option of opening the file in different browsers. I like Opera the best on mobile devices so I chose that.

You can of course set the browser to file://localhost/mnt/sdcard/My%20Documents/test.htm, to use my example. I’ve bookmarked file://localhost/mnt/sdcard in my browser for convenience.

Wow, it worked. Now how do I get it onto my server?

FTPing to Website

This was the bit that made me happy. Hell, it’s all made me happy so far, but this was the best bit.

ES File Explorer has FTP functionality. It can move files from the phone to a website on the internet.

  • Go to Menu -> Show Tabs and 
  • touch the FTP tab. 
  • You’ll find an empty screen with the helpful message ‘Add FTP by Menu->New->FTP’.
  • Do so, and enter the details of your FTP location and details and you’re away.

It’s a very minimal setup, and building a large website on it would be very fiddly, but it could be useful for correcting typos and so on on the fly.

A couple of caveats though:

File size limitations

Firstly, I’m not sure what the largest file I can use on my phone in 920 is. I have an 8GB SD card which I may backup and replace with a 32GB at some point. I’m concerned that I may unwitingly end up with a atruncated file!

Use WiFi

There’s always a possibility I may end up crapping all over my data-limit if I use my mobile provider’s network instead of WiFI by accident. Note to self: ensure WiFi is on, and Mobile data is off.

Anyway, pretty pleased with this so far.

Using Chessbase files with Android and Scidonthego

Chessbase is the company behind Fritz, one of the chess programs I use. As well as making chess engines that Kasparov uses for training, they also compile whacking great databases of played games that can be analysed by pro chess players, huge great tutorial DVDs with databases of annotated games and video tuition, and they run an online server thing so you can play against people around the world.

I use Fritz and make use of the odd tutorial DVD, but not so much the huge databases or the ‘play against real people online’ thing. Their database system has however become the de facto standard for most chess players, and so there are a large number of Chessbase-format databases with tutorials and annotated games floating about. Everymanchess, for example, has released a whole raft of Chessbase-format eBooks on different topics.

Sadly Chessbase haven’t yet ported their stuff to Android or iOS, and so if you want to rake through a stack of historical chess games and commentary on your mobile device you’ll probably have to stick with the archaic .pgn text format. So, what to do if you only have Chessbase format?

These directions show you how to use Fritz to convert a Chessbase database to a .pgn file, and load it into a free bit of software called Scid On The Go.

  1. Open Fritz
  2. Open the database managing screen (F12)
  3. Open your chosen database
  4. Select All games in the database (ctrl-A)
  5. Go to Menu -> Selection to text file
  6. In the popup window, select ‘pgn‘ in the radio buttons
  7. Click ‘OK‘ and find somewhere suitable to save it

Right, assuming you have Scid on the Go installed on your Android device, you’ll need to get your .pgn file into the /scid/ directory. I just connected my phone to the USB of my laptop and dragged it across.

Once done:

  1. Open Scid on the Go
  2. Go to Menu -> More -> Import .pgn file
  3. Select your .pgn file from the list (it will list whatever’s in /scid/)
  4. Wunderbar, it automagically turns it into a Scid database that you can browse at your leisure…

This is great because it means I now have ‘Starting out: 1.e4’ on my mobile phone!