TO BE ON TOP by Richard Karsmakers
Since I started dedicating individual articles to several people
other than the fabulous Greek waitress Agapi (to which this issue
as a whole is dedicated), I think it might be highly appropriate
to dedicate this article to the best sound programmer on the ST
"Good morning. This is the news service bulletin of seven
o'clock. Early today, it turned out that the plane that recently
crashed on the Scottish town of Lockerbie, killing almost three
hundred people, was most probably sabotaged by Li...."
The music programmer turned off his clock radio, vaguely
attempting to open his eyes after a good night's sleep. It seemed
ages since he had slept well - more hours and hours seemed to
have been spent programming music rather than sleeping, and it
turned out to be killing him.
He slowly dressed himself and put on his spectacles after having
washed himself. As he noticed some fluffy long hairs being
present under his chin he made a mental note to ask his parents
to buy him an electric razor for Christmas.
He went down and ate some cold pizza that was left of last
weekend's programming orgy at Erik's place. He didn't really
taste it at all, because there was a tune present in his grey
cells that needed to be worked out. The sooner the better, as a
matter of fact. So he took a piece of paper from his pocket and
scribbled something on it. When he had done so, he nodded
approvingly. He put it back in the pocket where it had come from.
He noticed a cold wind blowing as he cycled to school. His long
hair made waveforms in the air behind him. Had he had eyes in the
back of his head, he would have seen the waveform that would
create the perfect "Knuckle Buster" sound. But he hadn't, so he
couldn't. However, the wind made certain noises in his ear that
he remembered to write down some time. Might be a nice tune in
He arrived at school a bit too late, as usual, humming a tune
that was nagging him. He sat down in his bench and put some
chemistry school stuff on the desk. His mind wandered off in the
mists of music programming the very next second, however, so that
he didn't even notice that the old moron that used to teach maths
last week had retired and that his new math teacher was a
gorgeous young blonde piece with curvaceous breasts, a very,
very, small mini-skirt, stunningly high heels and a figure that
most men only dare to dream about.
He scribbled something down on the piece of paper that he
retrieved from his pocket. Due to a miraculous reason, a piece of
cold Pepperoni Pizza appeared to be stuck to it.
The whole day in school was boring, but the music programmer
didn't have time even to notice such a thing. He was busy
thinking, working out a piece of program code. At irregular
intervals he would get a small piece of paper from his pocket and
scribble something on it.
Even if the whole school's staff would have been replaced by the
most lustful females, he would not have noticed any such thing.
Deep in thought, he even bumped into his new maths teacher later
that day. The only thing that she triggered in him was the
terrible urge to write down something on his paper about a
revolutionary new waveform that looked most like two large round
objects with a valley in between them.
When he cycled back home, he suddenly got a weird look in his
eyes. He suffered sudden muscular spasms and his pupils opened
wide. He knew what was happening to him. It always happened
around the time that he drove back home from school, and he knew
that if he wasn't getting off his bike soon he would fall off.
He got off. Just in the nick of time.
"Aaaarrggghh!!" our poor music programmer yelled, "No! No! No
Richard! Aaaarrrgghh! I cannot put all those damn Rob Hubbard
tunes on the ST at once! No! And especially not that damned
'Knuckle Buster' tune! Please leave me alone! AAAAARRGGHHH!! Get
off my back!"
The poor music programmer rolled over the ground in something
that his close friends knew to be the 'B.I.G. Demo' trauma
syndrome. These fits of mental unstableness bothered him about
twice a week, and were there since the time he got this weird
request to start making a truly BIG demo program on the ST with
all Rob Hubbard tunes in it. Damn that ST NEWS editor (sorry, ex-
The next moment there was silence. The music programmer sat in
the high and wet grass alongside the road, feeling wonderfully
relieved but wondering what all those passers-by were staring at.
He looked down and saw it. With a face that would have made a
boiled lobster look pale, he pulled up his pants that must have
dropped somewhere in the process of having these spasms.
He got back on his bike. While doing that, he obviously wheeled
a geometric figure that had a point somewhere in the middle of
the road, so that a driver sounded his horn, turned his car
around some 180 degrees (give or take a few) and landed in a
ditch. There was muddy water in the ditch. A cow in the meadow
blinked with her eyes like only a cow would be able to do.
The music programmer looked blankly at the car that was now
slightly malformed and its driver that seemed awfully excited
about something. He took his small piece of paper, found an empty
square centimetre and scribbled something down on it.
He cycled on.
As he arrived home, he wanted to examine the contents of the
tape in his answering machine. After having burned his hands in
the bread toaster, he suddenly seemed to remember that he didn't
"I'm gone shopping. Erik called. Don't bother your sister too
much. Mum." was written on a small note stuck to the fridge.
There were some smaller letters on the note as well, but he first
had to clean his glasses to be able to read those.
Where for God's sake did that piece of Pepperoni pizza in the
centre of his left glass come from? After cleaning them
sufficiently, he put his glasses back on.
"Don't burn your hands in the bread toaster again!" the note
I wouldn't like to repeat the word that he then said, but it
sounded something like the German word for 'soft', 'dim', or
He went upside, after taking another piece of cold pizza from
the fridge and even eating it.
Note from the author: Some of you readers might be thoroughly
disgusted by this total and utter lack of gastronomic taste. Many
of those fabulous German programmers, however, have this weird
tendency of eating cold pizza (isn't it, Gunter?). Anyway, I
think you're totally right when you feel disgusted.
When you don't feel disgusted, I suggest you read the old "real
time" article about "TEX in Holland" in an older Volume 3 ST NEWS
issue or the Volume 3 Compendium (shortly due). Then, you'll
surely feel disgusted anyway.
The music programmer switched on his computer system and loaded
an assembler program as well as some source code. He looked at
the screen as if in deep thought, a screen that now displayed
many a line containing mnemonics, labels and certain hexadecimal
The telephone rang. The sound created an urge in our music
programmer that expressed itself through taking a small piece of
paper from his pocket, carefully looking for some spot where
something might still be scribbled down, and then indeed
scribbling that down.
After a while, a girl's voice could be heard yelling from below:
"Jochen! Telephone! It's Holland!"
The music programmer inserted the small piece of paper in his
disk drive and went down, sticking his pencil up a wall socket.
Had he worn other shoes he would have electrocuted himself. But
he hadn't, so he didn't.
He was completely overwhelmed by emotions, since he knew who
would be on the other end of the line: It just had to be that
darned editor (sorry, ex-editor) of ST NEWS again. He suppressed
some spasms as well as a virtually incontrollable urge to start
screaming in desperation, and went down.
"Yeah?" he sighed in the horn.
"Good afternoon. Have you already finished the 'Knuckle Buster'
music? Have you already finished the..."
Grunt (that was the music programmer; not the horn).
One day, he would kill that sucker. He would have fun doing it
as slowly as he could. An undefinably sadistic smile wrought his
lips into a strange shape.
He went into the kitchen and opened the oven. Where had the
damned Cola gone?
Someone knocked him on the shoulder. He looked up and saw his
sister, pointing her hand in the direction of a large white
machine with a note stuck on it.
"Ah. Of course." he said.
Some moments later, he went upstairs again, now clutching to a
big bottle of Coke, a couple of big bags of crisps and a
desperate urge to do some heavy coding.
For the next couple of hours, all that could be heard coming
from the music programmer's small room was the frantic sound of
keys being pressed and an equally frantic cry when he found out
that his piece of paper produced a read error in the disk drive.
Clouds of thick, sweaty mist penetrated the landing through the
key hole. The scent of various crisps and coke, mixed with some
heavy perspiration odour, could be smelled on the whole upper
floor of the house.
Then it happened.
The door was thrown open, and a meagre figure could be seen
standing in the opening, in his eyes a triumphant gleam. His
glasses were blurred, his hair stuck to his forehead, Cola stains
soaked his shirt, paprika and Italian flavoured crisps sat stuck
in his hair. His hands looked ragged and hurt, his fingers
bleeding. Behind him, a smoking computer system could be seen;
some melted floppies on the table, blood all over and between the
keys. From the monitor speaker came the sound of music: "Knuckle
"Wow!" was the only thing this unrecognizable excuse for a human
being said while folding the small and crippled piece of paper
into an even smaller paper airplane and throwing it out of a
The wind toyed with the paper airplane a bit, as if it was
hesitant to let it fly in the first place. Eventually, it let the
tiny plane drop down through a sewer lid.
He turned back into his room to save his work on the harddisk.
He had often found that he was too soon distracted when he saved
his work during the process of programming, so that he preferred
doing it afterwards. And this achievement was surely worth
saving! Finally, he would get rid of the constant nagging of that
There was a soft 'pop', however. A lamp on the lower floor
ceased burning. The music programmer went right back to the
landing again. He knew what to expect now.
Some moments later, there was a 'click'. His sister yelled
upstairs: "Jochen! Can you help me change this light bulb?"
"Women!" he thought (lucky enough for his health, he didn't
think aloud). He smiled at himself being right in knowing what to
expect when something in the house went wrong for which his
technical expertise might come in handy.
He made a mental note not to forget saving his work anyway when
this stupid light bulb would have been replaced.
He went downstairs, leaving a trace of blood, sweat and tears.
Yes; hard work took its toll - especially if it was to satisfy
that bloody editor (sorry, ex-editor) of ST NEWS.
He took a new lightbulb as well as his handkerchief to turn the
old bulb out of its fitting without hurting his sore hands even
"Silvana, are you sure you put this lightswitch out?" he asked
"Er...no. I just turned off the main power switch. Is that OK?"
Over half a year ago, I saw the first test screens and heard the
first music tracks that were to be included in the ST version of
Chris Hülsbeck's game "To be on Top". I already had a hunch: This
would be a computer game that redefined a whole lot of limits
formerly set on the ST. And it turns out that it has. I must say:
I was completely and substantially impressed; even purely and
honestly amazed. Amazed at what I saw. And especially amazed at
what I heard.
In "To be on Top", the player is a music composer that is
seeking for inspiration and trying to compose a tune that will
eventually have to end up on the top: On number one of the
charts. Thus, "To be on Top" falls in the category of arcade
adventures; you control a certain (longhaired?!) character in the
game, entering various buildings in a street (his home, a
friend's home, a disco, a radio station...) on his search for the
aforementioned inspiration. On various musical instruments that
are present in some of these buildings (like a piano and a
synthesizer), he can create the raw basics of his tune. A demo
tape has to be made....the song has to be promoted.... That's the
goal of the game. A constant indication tells you at which spot
of the charts the song currently resides. I got to number 8...
The plot is very original - that has to be admitted. But that's
just about the least impressive thing about the game.
For starters, the graphics are awesome. The intro picture, the
song name/credits letters, the feller walking the streets, the
various people he meets (grannies, Hell's Angels,
Ghettoblasters), the street with the buildings, the interiors of
the buildings, even the excellently drawn musical instruments and
the television where you can get your first inspiration points.
Everything is detailed and drawn in perfection. "Play
Dragonflight" is drawn on a wall. Simple but effective: These
guys' next game.
The graphics, by the way, are presented exactly like they
should: Some nifty color effects add a complete new dimension to
the simple credit screens, and the street TRULY SCROLLS 100%
SMOOTHLY YET HORIZONTALLY over the screen. Incredible!
The most striking thing about this game, however, is the music.
After all, that's what the whole game is about, so one cannot
afford to put a lousy sound programmer on the job. So they had
the best sound programmer on the ST (no modesty needed here!) do
the job: Jochen.
The whole thing starts off with the four-voice intro music, that
takes a massive 5.5 minutes to listen to (of course it can be
skipped as well, but I'd consider that blasphemy!). Every single
note has Commodore 64 quality (and remember: The 64's soundchip
is quite MUCH better than the ST's!) and the whole thing
sounds....well, I think "magic" is the proper word.
"To be on Top" has the best music incorporated in it of all
computer games. And I'm perfectly willing to strangle whoever
disagrees with that.
Altogether, there are ten pieces of brilliant digital four-voice
music in the game - the ten musical compositions that are in the
charts when you start the game. These are the ones that you have
to beat by creating your own song. Principally, you can make just
as brilliant a piece of digital music; but therefore you need to
earn quite some inspiration points and you need to advance far in
Concluding, "To be on Top" is a revolutionary computer game. A
new concept, awesome graphics, exceptional music and breathtaking
attention to detail create a sensational piece of entertainment
software. Every little thing they do is magic. They truly deserve
to become millionaires! If it's up to me, "To be on Top" can be
dubbed "Most Promising Game of 1989"!!
Name: To be on Top
Company: Rainbow Arts
Value for Money: 9
Overall rating: 9.5
Price: DM 59,--
Hardware: Color only
Remark: Sheer brilliance packed together
on two disks...
Note: "Knuckle Buster" is a game on the Commodore 64 containing
the BEST music Rob Hubbard ever made. Due to technical
problems (having something to do with variable playing
speeds of the music, as far as I understood), it is quite
impossible to convert it to the ST. Which is a pity, since
it is great both in quality and in length (17 minutes!).