There aren't many synthesizers that people uninitiated with the world of oscillators and filters are likely to name. But if there's one, perhaps mentioned after the oft-mispronounced Moog (pronounced to rhyme with "rogue"), it's the Yamaha DX7. This synth from the early 1980s dominated that decade and changed the sound of popular music. Before the DX7, analog was at the top of its game. But analog was expensive, sensitive to environmental conditions, and difficult to integrate with a studio. The DX7, on the other hand, was digital. It had MIDI so that notes could be played from early computers, obviating any need to play, and it did away with tactile controllers, replacing them with a minimal set of buttons and a tiny LCD. But most importantly, it sounded like nothing else that came before it. It was a digital synth in a world of analog, and it wasn't even trying to sound like an analog synth. Instead, it implemented something Yamaha called "frequency modulation."

Frequency modulation is a process where the frequency of one waveform, such as a square or sawtooth wave, is modulated (changed) by another similarly pitched waveform. You can hear the effect in an analog synth if you modulate the frequency of one oscillator with another – it creates metallic percussive sounds, similar to a bell. But analog components are too variable to control with any degree of certainty. That's where the DX7 succeeded. Not only could it create those sounds using commodity digital components, it could generate sounds using code that would always generate the same sounds on the hardware, regardless of the humidity or the amount of smoke in the studio. And it could even do this while playing more than one note at a time and, later, more than one instrument at a time, and for a price lower than the average polyphonic analog.

Dexed is an exacting and perfectionist software recreation of the DX7. It aims to capture all the peculiar and specific nuances of the original, brought about because of the relative newness of digital technology of the time. It is these nuances that give the DX7 such character, despite nearly every PC sound card including an FM sound generator since the 90s and CPUs being capable of the processing involved for almost as long. It loads and saves sounds from the original synth, loads cartridges, and can even control the original parameters with the various sliders and buttons on the software interface – a huge advantage over the limited input of the original. There's also the option to downgrade the modern 24-bit sound generator with designs based on the original OPL 8-bit chips for a more authentically noisy output. However, this is also more than nostalgia. The synth sounds wonderful, and it's completely open source. The electric pianos and pads are still perfect in today's music, especially with a little processing, and FM synthesis remains one of the most complex to get your head around if you want to get into sound design. There still is no other set of synthesizers that sound the same, and you can get it on your Linux desktop without having to worry about leaking batteries or beer damage to the keyboard.

Project Website

Not only does Dexed sound just like a Yamaha DX7, it can even control a real DX7 and load its patches.
The FM7 was the sound of the 80s, and you can choose from all the same algorithms in Dexed.

Real-time strategy

Star Ruler 2

While it's sad when a company gives up on gaming, if they choose to do the right thing with the code, it benefits a much wider audience. Star Ruler 2 is a great example. This is a popular real-time strategy (RTS) game from 2015, and it's still available on Steam, but the studio behind it, Blind Mind Studios, has been inactive for a few years. Rather than drop off the radar completely and alienate its players, the studio decided to open source both its game and the expansion pack. The code drop didn't include binaries, but you can already install the game with just a single command, sudo snap install starruler2, if your system supports snaps. This is great news for anyone who wants to study the game's engine or modify it to make their own game, but it also means we get a major multiplayer RTS title on Linux for free, and that's never a bad thing.

Set in space, the game itself is known as a "4x" RTS game, meaning your role as the ruler of the galaxy is to explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. There are seven different races with different attributes, or you can create your own. With that done, you're dumped into space where you need to manage your finances and local resources to build an empire. You map resources between systems by dragging lines between them, creating networks for imports and exports. You use your fleet of ships to explore and colonize just as you do with other RTS games. As you play, you acquire points of influence that can be used in diplomacy, and you can even design your own ships. The game is a lot of fun, and it's polished, just as you'd expect with a commercial game. And hopefully, this is the beginning of a new era for Star Ruler 2.

Project Website

You can drag lines between systems to create trade routes and even design your own warships for total galactic domination.

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