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Lights and Music: The Virtual Light Machine (VLM)


Sabertooth

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When the Atari Jaguar CD came out in the fall of 1995, I was a first day buyer. A die hard Jaguar fan from the start, I had eagerly awaited the arrival of the peripheral since first seeing it pictured on the back of the Jaguar's box. Getting home, I went through each of the pack-ins in short order: Blue Lightning, Vid-Grid and a demo of Myst. There was some fun to be had but nothing earth shattering. At least that's what I thought until I decided to try out the Virtual Light Machine (VLM) with the included Tempest 2000 soundtrack. Two words:

 

MIND BLOWN.

 

The VLM is a built-in music visualization feature of the Jaguar CD add-on. It produces absolutely fantastic graphics effects when an audio CD is played on the Jaguar CD. The VLM isn't the first music visualizer - that honor belongs to Atari's Video Music (1976) - but it does represent a pioneering implementation of music visualization in a game console. Music visualizers are standard applications now but in 1995 there was nothing quite like the VLM available anywhere else. While nearly all CD-based consoles of the mid-1990s could play audio CDs there was little reason to do so if you already had a CD player. The VLM changed that, allowing Jaguar CD owners to interact with their music in a fun and unique way.

 

Designed and programmed by Jeff Minter (Tempest 2000, Defender 2000) with Ian Bennett, the VLM converts a CD's audio data into wonderfully psychedelic video displays which dance, bounce and explode in time with the music. The images vary widely from kaleidoscope-like melt-o-vision, to rainbow clouds, to dancing disco starlight, to moving pixel waves. Unlike other music visualizers of the time, the VLM is highly interactive. By keying the number pad on the Jaguar controller, users can access 81 unique effects on the fly. Tapping on the "B" button causes the screen image to flash in a strobe-light effect. This element of control allows users to create a real time light show of pixels and polygons.

 

With an estimated 20,000 Jaguar CDs sold, relatively few people have experienced the VLM firsthand. Even so, the VLM inspired several similar visualizers for computers, game consoles and other consumer devices in the years that followed. Sony would implement the Sound Scope visualization feature in Playstation models beginning in 1997. Jeff Minter himself went on to design VLM 2 in the ill-fated NUON player before finally getting his concept to the masses in the stunning "neon" visualizer for the Xbox 360. While modern music visualizers have higher resolution graphics, dizzying lighting effects and many more features, the VLM still impresses today. If you have a Jaguar CD, I highly recommend trying it out with some of your favorite tunes.

 

Do you have a Jaguar CD? If so, what do you think of the VLM?

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I too was a first day buyer of the Jaguar CD and remember calling the local EB (I bevieve it was at the time) almost daily to see if they had taken stock of the Jaguar CDs - I just remember there either being a slight delay or a slight bump in actual price but either way, I got it and did basically the same thing as you outlined above :) It was technically a birthday gift from my parents but was a little early because the unit actually came out just weeks before my actual birthday. They didn't mind and neither did I :D and I remember not sleeping well the night prior to knowing they would be in stock the next day.

 

Little sleep and an hour long hour drive to the one and only location that even carried the Jaguar CD near us, I ended up actually getting sick on the drive back. I think it was a combination of sleep, drive and just overall excitement, as ridiculous as that may seem.

 

I actually (for the most part) prefer the pixelated visuals over most modern visualizers. If I had a choice, I would definitely go with the VLM on the Jag CD over Neon on the 360. I was always hoping that Jeff would have released DLC or add-on packs for Neon that would have some pixelated goodness and other variety packs but that never happened unfortunately. I'm still waiting for them to release Neon on the PC but that's been a long wait and at this point have just given up that they'll actually ever release a visulizer for the PC, unforunately. The XBLA camera version was very much downgraded over what the PC version could obviously do and melting my face off to visuals in real time always seemed like just the thing I wanted to do haha :D

2600 - 7800 - 800XL - 130XE - Lynx - Jaguar

cerka.weebly.com

 

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the camera stuff they released was actually nothing to do with the actual Neon lightsynth: despite the fact that they originally intended to release a Neon enhanced version with camera support (and that version was actually made) they decided in the end to just overlay their own pretty weak camera stuff.

 

You can see something of what it would have been like here https://sites.google.com/site/psychedelia/neonpcimagesgallery

 

We'll release the PC version one day.

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Thanks for the links @an_ox. I'm glad there is a VLM emu out there so people without a Jag CD can experience it. Also, those images in the linked Gallery are awesome. I hope to see the PC version of neon at retail. Day one buyer here. :)

 

the camera stuff they released was actually nothing to do with the actual Neon lightsynth: despite the fact that they originally intended to release a Neon enhanced version with camera support (and that version was actually made) they decided in the end to just overlay their own pretty weak camera stuff.

 

You can see something of what it would have been like here https://sites.google.com/site/psychedelia/neonpcimagesgallery

 

We'll release the PC version one day.

 

 

Exactly! I seriously can't wait for this! :D and when you say "one day" you mean this Christmas?! because that's all I want under the tree... =)

2600 - 7800 - 800XL - 130XE - Lynx - Jaguar

cerka.weebly.com

 

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I remember when I bought my first Jag CD unit. It was 1995 and it had just come out. I saw the VLM lightsynth and I was astonished by it. I still think that it is quite innovative to this day (of course, iTunes has a variation of a lightsynth also, but I believe that did not come out until some time after OS X was released for the Macintosh). In fact, I think Atari's lightsynth was one of the first made. Nevertheless, I still enjoy it and I do not worry about it being over twenty-year-old technology. Still quite impressive.  :lol:

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Correction: I didn't read all the posts yet. I didn't see the post about Atari Video Music. Interesting stuff from Atari. They were pretty ahead of their time for a while. It's too bad they don't make video game systems anymore. I would love to see the old Fuji beat the pants out of Sony and Microsoft with a new, next-generation entry. One can dream…

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I was also an early adopter of the Jaguar CD. I don't know that I got it the very day of it's release, but I did keep checking in at my local EB and bought it the first time I went and it was on the shelves. I am pretty sure I got Battlemorph and HoverStrike unconquered lands at the same time, so I was amazed with those and the VLM. I also enjoyed Blue Lightning (never played the Lynx version at the time), but only the rockin' sound track blew me away. I was never much of a fan of VidGrid, but I did play it on the easy difficulty just to get the puzzle solved and watch the videos, ever since I got cheats for it, I only ever pop it in to watch the videos.

 

I used the VLM on a daily basis back then, of course I played the Jag on a daily basis back then too, the VLM was used in between games for a break. I still use my Jaguar CD for the VLM anytime I am home and want to listen to CD's, from Mozart to Motorhead, they all get the VLM treatment. I also had the Panasonic 3DO by late '96 and it has a light show on it, but it pales in comparison to the VLM. I owned a NUON for a while, and tried the VLM2 and I own a Xbox 360 and have tried Minter's light show on it too, but I still use My Jag CD and the VLM 95% of the time with CD's. It's been years (I guess since late '95) since I've listened to a CD at home without a light synthesizer, even if I'm just glancing at it once in a while. I use the VLM a LOT with my HD projector via RGBtoVGA box and it looks even more fantastic in progressive scan VGA and 10 feet tall! 

 

Though I am an audio/videophile and not all my music is listened to on CD. I have CED and Laserdisc concerts, LP's, 8-track, reel-to-reel and cassette still as well. But even though my Pioneer Laserdisc player has a 5-cd changer, I still use my Jag CD and the VLM for CD's. I'd always hoped that a cartridge was made for the Jaguar with audio inputs so I could enjoy all my formats with the VLM. Though since I do have an degree in electronics, I suppose I could get around to making my own some day. So far I've only use my electronics knowledge to keep all my vintage hardware running and some upgrade mods to my 1200XL...I've never even had a job using that degree...well, except electrical jobs I've done with my maintenance company...but then I also have degrees for English and the Fine Arts and have never used them for work either, I am writing a novel though and intend to do my own illustrations for it. I mostly paint and mow lawns for a living, I love being self-employed.

 

Sorry, I tend to get off on tangents...I think I may have AADD...

"Slugs, he created slugs?...Is this not the work of a complete incompetent? I would have started with Lasers, 8 o'clock, day one."-Evil (Time Bandits)

"...burn the land and boil the sea, but you can't take the sky from me..."-theme song (Firefly)

"I try to respect him, I really, really do, but he's just such a Smeg-head."-Lister (about Rimmer, Red Dwarf)

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