After spending the 1990s and the early 2000s becoming boring black boxes that either played back samples or prosaically emulated classic sounds from the 1970s, synthesizers have become exciting again. You can now buy genuine recreations of those old 1970s synths, built from new versions of old chips. Every week new synths are released that push the boundaries of audio design and performance, but in the decades since the Minimoog, one thing hasn't changed for synth players and noodlers – synths never have enough controls. Whether they've got five sliders or 50 knobs, there's always some aspect of the sound engine that you want to control but can't.

Breathe new life into your old MIDI synthesizer with an open source software panel to access its many secret parameters.

Third-party software editors have been around since synths started to talk MIDI in the early 1980s. These would often let you access these secret parameters, as well as store and manage your sounds, but you needed a different editor for every synth, and many would be left without updates, never making it further than 1987 and the Atari ST. The 21st century offers something different, however, and that's Ctrlr. More than a simple editor for a single device, it's an open source design platform for creating synth editors and sound managers that can be used on Mac OS, Windows, and Linux, either standalone or within your favorite audio environment. By removing the complexity of building an audio or MIDI application, removing the requirement to come up with your own graphical toolkit and a way of parsing the messages that need to be sent and received, as well as creating an editor to make all this accessible to everyone, Ctrlr has made MIDI editing cool again.

Ctrlr can be used in several ways. The standard way is to launch the application and then load a "panel." These panels are the software interfaces to your hardware synthesizers, and there are dozens for popular and unpopular synths alike. They look and feel just like you're controlling a software synthesizer, with sliders for parameters, X/Y pads to control pairs of values, knobs, and value output fields. You can snapshot the current setting to save a patch and save batches of patches to use later. As you change the parameters within the panel, Ctrlr sends the control or SysEx messages via MIDI to your synth, and it will equally receive parameters, too, if feedback is involved. If your synth has just a couple of knobs, this is a huge upgrade, but it also helps to integrate your external hardware with your internal software processes.

Behind all this is an editor that lets you create your own panels, and this is way easier to achieve in Ctrlr than in other applications. You need only your synth's reference MIDI specification or a synth that transmits the values you want to automate, and you can design any kind of interface you wish. You can also edit any panel you have access to, tweaking its design or adding elements that are missing, so a panel won't hopefully become abandonware when the original designer moves on to something new. Because Ctrlr is so good at manipulating and managing MIDI data, you can use it to create performance GUIs that control many synths together, or none, in any way you choose, making it brilliant for avant-garde performance, too.

Project Website

Since Ctrlr can send and receive any MIDI data, it doesn't have to be just for synths. You can also use it to create weird and wonderful performance interfaces.

Dune 2 game engine


If you're of a certain age, the memory of the game Dune 2 likely still burns with deep nostalgia. It was first released in 1992 and was popular on both the burgeoning PC platform and the then fading Amiga. What made it different from the average game/movie/book tie-in was that the game only borrowed the characters, the circumstances, and situation from the Dune books. Everything else, including the gameplay and your goals as a player, was entirely created by the game engine itself, and ultimately, Westwood Studios. This is important because the game engine was one of the first to implement real-time strategy, where you mine for resources, invest in infrastructure, and explore the terrain, eventually trying to outwit your neighbors in a race to dominate the terrain – in this case, the entire planet of Dune. Westwood would eventually transplant this entire engine into its hugely successful Command & Conquer franchise, a game series that started out almost exactly like a rethemed Dune 2.

There are numerous ways to play Dune 2 today. DOSBox is a great option for playing the original PC files, for instance, but there's also OpenDUNE – an open source implementation of that original game engine. You do still need the game data files, and you need to create a configuration file to help the binary find everything – and Linux sound isn't working – but the game does work. Seeing Dune 2 running on modern hardware is definitely worth it. It also ensures Dune 2 can continue to run long into the future, even on different architectures and platforms. That's why these creations are so important. It reportedly even works on an Atari ST running with a 68030 processor, which takes it all back to the beginning.

Project Website

Despite its name, OpenDUNE is a recreation of the Dune 2 engine, rather than the earlier Dune (1).

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