Game Review: Make Music With Mistertronic (Commodore 64, Mastertronic)

Make Music With Mistertronic, Commodore 64, Mastertronic - IMC0061
  • 1/10
    Score - 1/10
1/10

Summary

Whilst attempting to have a budget educational series designed for younger children, it was perhaps a sensible idea to use the power of the Commodore 64’s SID chip to create some music.  However, Make Music With Mistertronic falls well short of the mark of even the most basic music editors – the lack of ability to edit. If you want to change anything, there is so much to undo, and even after some practice and getting your notes right, the results do not sound anything at all inspiring.  You would be far better picking up a better utility at the time, such as the Music Maker with its overlay keyboard, or even Electrosound.

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Mastertronic attempted to use the Mistertronic character, clearly a robot but with a human face, to make their educational range more accessible to younger children, who would be supervised by adults with their computers to start using technology and be creative at the same time.  The idea was at least thought of in the right direction, and for the Commodore 64, it made absolute sense to use the excellent SID sound chip, which was already being used for some excellent game themes even back in 1985, as the basis for a music program where you could write and create your own songs, even saving them for future play and wowing your brothers and sisters, or parents.

Of course, with any such utility, the key thing is accessibility and usability, but also how easy it is to edit – after all, if you are being creative, part of the fun is changing things around to make your creation just that bit better.  With several music editor programs already on the market at that time, and some using musical notation for the basis of entering your notes in, it was clear that having something designed with an ease of use could be a gap in the market.  And as the utility loads with its bright loading screen, hopes are promising.

Going For a Song

To make life easier, side two of the cassette has three example tunes, called TUNE 1, TUNE 2 and TUNE 3, which you can load from the cassette.  And here lies the first problem: unless you knew what the files on Side B were called, you would not know what file name to give to load the tunes in.  That should have been made clear in the instructions so that you could at least load them in easier and be able to play them back.   Everything takes place on one screen, with the pages of notes being displayed one page at a time.

You Can’t Get the Staff

At the top, you have five instruments to select from by pressing the I key, then moving the cursor or joystick to the instrument you want.  Based on the experience of the sample tunes, the recorder and the trombone’s note tables are badly out of tune, which is not very good.  The instruments that represent trumpet, piano and guitar sound familiar, almost the same instruments as those found on the Games Creator created games, in fact.

In the middle portion of the screen, you have the various notes and rests that you can select from, ranging from quavers and crochets to breves – effectively the further right you go here, the longer the note.  In this utility this equates to lengths of 1, 2, 3, 4 etc on the sheet, which is based on the G clef (aka the treble clef) where the G note is.  Well, that is where it should be, but I found it was a half line below, which did take some getting used to initially but once I had my starting note, I could work from there to work the way up the scale as needed.

Once you select a note with the cursor or joystick, then press space or fire, this note appears on your scale and you can position it to reflect the note you wish to play.  I was soon able to put together the first few bars of The First Noel, relatively easy to pick up because of its sliding scale up and down.  If you make a mistake, you can select the delete icon and delete the previous note or notes as you see fit.

Turn the Page

Once you have entered enough notes, the page then switches to the second page of notes, and this is where one major flaw in the program comes in.  If you wanted to go back to the previous page, you cannot do that.  Even if you delete enough notes that should take you back to the previous page, you cannot do that either, and basically are stuck with whatever notes you have entered on page one.  This is an immensely frustrating experience: the lack of being able to edit properly, or at least switch the page back and then delete, is amateur in its execution and shows some poor programming.

Play It Again, Sam

If you move the arrow to the far right to select play tune, the tune will play in its entirety from the first page.  No trace play is available, so you cannot see how the tune progresses across each page, which would have been a useful touch to witness your creations.  Also, because the tune plays in real time, you must wait for the tune to finish before selecting another option – you cannot just stop and start as you wish.  If you hold down some keys, the tune will also slow down too, which shows up what it is – mostly written in BASIC language with some machine code added for some of the routines.

You can also select to print out your tune as sheet music which is a nice idea – only if you try this out without a printer connected, the program will crash to BASIC, where you cannot restart either and thus must load the program in again.  That also shows some poor testing too – what if you pressed the P key by accident thinking that was a key to switch pages and then crashed it out?  That does not bode well, and certainly the urge would be there as a parent or a child not to bother reloading the program after that, and understandably so.

Final Thoughts

As someone who has used a fair number of Commodore 64 music editors in my time, I was hoping that Make Music With Mistertronic could have appealed to the younger age groups.  However, the experience as an adult, never mind a child, is one of frustration at not being able to have enough editing creativity to make your tune sound better, and with two instruments also sounding badly out of tune, you will stick to those.  I was able to create something resembling a tune after a while, but this took much longer than it should have done, and that lack of ability to go back a page once you had gone to the second page of a possible seven in all, then it just really is not good enough to be usable.  Without doubt it is a case of a nice idea but with abysmally poor execution.

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