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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Bringing back the C64; and Magic Voice

by intric8 Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:35 am

I've been so entirely focused on my Amiga 1000 obsession (for good reason IMO) there's only so much time in the day. But as a result one of my best friends has been sitting quietly and patiently.

In preparation for next week's SEA-CCC meet-up (the third so far) I determined to pull the C64 out and get my Magic Voice module working - something I've had but not had a chance to explore.

But first I needed to quickly set up my favorite breadbin I built years ago (keyboard/motherboard from one, case from another).
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Jim Drew WiModem on the left, Gideon's UII cart on the right for starters. I need to pull one of my 1541's out of the closet, too (or the 1541-11).
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Ignition is a-go.

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Magic Voice speech synthesizer - top view with cart inserted.

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GORF cart inserted, front view.

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Step 1: Test the GORF cart (sans voice). Check


After hooking up the Magic Voice (of which I still have a lot to learn) I made a quick video so we could listen to his bad assed voice - like it dropped right out of the arcade!

And I have a Wizard of Wor cart on the way. Man... I hope it arrives before the meet-up next Wednesday! There's a chance.

Either way, I've got some fun experimenting to do between now and then.
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I have the original manual, which has some tips on coding your own speech via BASIC.


The voice synth really rocks. It's a damned shame more companies didn't take advantage of it. To my knowledge, only 3 games ever did.

Gorf, Wizard of Wor and some sort of educational software called A Bee C's. But you can also use a "SAY" command to make the thing say anything you want. Also, there was some sort of add-on (which I don't have) called (I think) a "chirper" which was a microphone that accepted voice commands. I could have that completely wrong and need to research more, but I've never had one and the few I've seen for sale are insanely expensive.

Fun times, though. And I think I should leave my C64 out for a while this time. Damn, I really need more space!
User avatar
intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: Bringing back the C64; and Magic Voice

by intric8 Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:42 am

One thing I noticed last night - beyond being blown away with the Magic Voice's speech synth quality and sound, was that it took over all sounds from GORF.

In other words, the two audio channels coming out of the Magic Voice module could only go into the one single audio port on the back of the monitor. As such, the game's original sound effects disappeared. I think the next step in my experiments will be to hook the Magic Voice up to a separate speaker/stereo, and leave the C64's audio port alone. By doing so I think I might be able to get the game's sound effects out of the monitor, and the voice out of a separate stereo - so we get both at the same time. That right there would be super sweet!

Alternatively, I may be able to use a Y-splitter to accept one MV channel and the C64's audio. It's all mono anyway. In fact I may try that first.
User avatar
intric8
Seattle, WA, USA

Re: Bringing back the C64; and Magic Voice

by intric8 Thu Jul 12, 2018 8:44 am

Very cool review by Compute magazine of the Magic Voice module published back in October, 1984, page 102 :

Magic Voice Speech For The 64

Charles Brannon, Program Editor

Computers have been talking for a long time. When you dial a wrong number, you probably have heard AT&T's computer reciting the incorrect number. However, speech synthesis for microcomputers has only recently become affordable as a consumer item.

You can buy a disk drive quickly load and save program and files. A modem opens up the world of on-line data bases and services. Add a printer to your system and you can process words, list programs, and print computer graphics. You can pick from a bevy of light pens, joysticks, graphics tablets, and other low-cost peripherals. But few peripherals have as dramatic an effect as giving your computer the power of speech.

A Natural Voice

Some synthesizers build words out of phonemes, the basic sounds that are inherent to speech, such as consonants and vowels. Since all the components of speech are available to phoneme-based synthesizers, they can speak any word, but they do sound metallic, in­human, somewhat robotic. No one would mistake it for a natural voice.

Commodore uses a different technique. A limited vocabulary is spoken by a person and recorded on a mainframe computer. The digitized speech is then analyzed, compacted, and reconstructed. Because of the compacting, a minimum amount of memory is used. This enables Commodore to pack a lot of words into a small amount of memory.

Installation

The Magic Voice cartridge plugs into the Commodore 64 cartridge port. If you are using a TV, the Magic Voice module also has a plug that goes into the audio/video socket on your computer. The SID chip mixes its own sound with the voice, then drives it through the TV speaker. If you use a monitor or stereo for sound, you plug the audio out from the audio/video socket into the Magic Voice module. An output from the module is then attached to your monitor or stereo. In theory, this should work fine. But these two wires are usually molded together so it's difficult to plug the audio jack into Magic Voice and the video into your monitor. It's impossible if you use the rear connections on a Commodore monitor. The cable isn't long enough. Fortunately, you can buy an RCA phono extension cord to get the extra length.

Magic Voice knows 235 words. The vocabulary covers a wide variety of common words and a list of computer-specific terms such as cursor and disk. The cartridge automatically adds commands to BASIC without using any of the BASIC memory space. Machine language programmers, however, will have to live without the memory at $C000-$C3FF, which is used by Magic Voice.

To program speech, you use the command SAY. SAY "HI" will do just that. The female voice is remarkably pure and natural. In fact, you can actually mistake the voice for that of a real person. You can also use variables, such as SPEAK A$. One limitation of SAY is that you must use a separate statement for each word. You cannot SAY "YOU ARE CORRECT", but must SAY "YOU" : SAY "ARE" : SAY "CORRECT".

When a voice is playing, the 64 does not wait for it to finish. This lets your program run quickly, since the speech doesn't slow it down. The computer will wait for the word to be finished if you send another word while it is speaking. A system variable called RDY is added to BASIC to let you detect when the box is through talking.

No Chipmunks

You can speed up or slow down the rate of speech, but not dramatically. The RATE command accepts a number from one to ten. Rate #4 is the normal, default setting. Rate #1 speaks 0.65 times slower than normal, and rate #10 is 1.4 times faster. Changing the rate doesn't change the pitch. You won't get a chipmunk sound. The remaining command, VOC, is only used when you've loaded additional words into memory (more on that later).

These new BASIC commands make programming speech easy. You can also refer to words by their number in the dictionary. For example, SAY 157 will utter "YES." This is the most memory-efficient technique, but it makes your program hard to read.

The biggest problem is trying to find the words you need to communicate. Since there are only 235 words, you cannot say everything that comes to mind. The manual includes two vocabulary listings, one of them in alphabetical order to help you quickly find the available words. There are no basic phonemes, so there is no way to construct words not in the vocabulary.

This problem can be alleviated by adding additional speech cartridges that expand the vocabulary. Commodore has promised variations on the voice such as male and child voices. There are also two Commodore games that can use Magic Voice—Gorf and Wizard of Wor. When your ship is destroyed, Gorf laughs, "HA-HA-HA SPACE CADET." Psychological warfare, with the computer challenging and taunting you, adds an extra dimension to game play. Curiously, this voice is computery and hard to understand, following the example set by the arcade versions of the games.

The manual gives an adequate explanation on how to us the module, and has many example BASIC programs that us speech, such as a program that can say any number up to 999,999,999 by stringing together words like "two - million one - hundred - thousand - four hundred - thirty-two." There is also good documentation for using Magic Voice Kernal routines in machine language programs. There is no documentation on how you can digitize and create new words. That would require expensive equipment in any case.

Applications

What can you do with Magic Voice? Games that speak set up a better computer-human rapport. Talking prompts and instructions allow youngsters who cannot yet read to more easily interact with the computer. This is ideal for educational applications. Word processing programs can use spoken messages when a displayed prompt might be overlooked. And for the handicapped, the Magic Voice can read for the blind and talk for the speech-impaired. As you type, each letter can be pronounced, which can also help teach touch typing. Also, Commodore has announced plans to support Magic Voice in future software offerings.

Commodore Business Machines, Inc.
1200 Wilson Drive
West Chester, PA 19380
Price not yet announced.
Expected to be around $50.

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