BambooTracker – a new OPNA tracker with great usability and even greater potential

A newcomer to the plethora of music-making programs, BambooTracker by rerrahkr is the first music tracker for the YM2608 (OPNA), a soundchip which combines 6 FM channels, 3 SSG channels, a custom PCM channel (not implemented yet) and 6 channels of preset drums. The YM2608 was most famously used in the PC-98. BambooTracker openly takes inspiration from other music trackers, such as 0CC-FamiTracker, GoatTracker and Deflemask. While still a new program, BambooTracker has already begun to make a name for itself in the chiptune scene. But does it live up to its early hype?

I started off by heading to the GitHub repository to grab the latest build. Not surprisingly, the release is only compiled for Windows at the moment, but the repo gives simple instructions for building on Linux, which presumably would work on other Unix-like systems as well, such as Mac OS X. That’s… actually pretty cool; I didn’t expect that at all. I clone the repo, compile it and, surely enough, it runs like a charm on Linux! This is already a good start.

I’m greeted by an interface extremely reminiscent of 0CC-FamiTracker; the toolbar, the pattern editor, the order list, the song information and the instruments are all in similar positions. Even the colour scheme is similar. This is a bit biased, but as a veteran user of (j0CC-)FamiTracker, this already makes a good impression on me. It’s easy on the eyes and it’s easy to find what you need. Simply put, it’s already beautiful.

I shake myself out of my trance and play around with the interface a bit. A neat little thing that I haven’t noticed in any other trackers is that you can highlight each channel by hovering over its name. It’s a small detail, but a cool one that I’d like to see implemented in other programs in the future.

Looking closer, some of the UI elements seem to be out of proportion. The order list is too wide, as is the middle text panel. In contrast, the instrument list is too small for my liking. Unlike (j0CC-)FamiTracker, the instrument list scrolls up and down, instead of left and right. There’s also no toolbar at the bottom for quickly making, cloning, deleting or renaming instruments; you have to keep on right clicking to do these repeatedly. Notably, all of the options from FamiTracker are there. Curious how the instrument editor works, I double-click on an instrument name.

Surely enough, there it is. This instrument editor looks more like something out of VGM Music Maker by Shiru than something out of FamiTracker. With all of the sliders and graphical representations, the ADSR envelope tab looks more like a digital synth editor than a tracker instrument editor. Unfortunately, you can’t actually type in the values for these, as far as I know; you have to imprecisely drag around and then press the up and down arrow keys. Also, it’d be cool if you could switch operators around. Nevertheless, it’s still easy to use.

Instrument envelopes, similarly to FT, are globally shared between instruments; however, unlike FT, when you create a new instrument, it always defaults to the first envelope. When you’re editing these envelopes, be careful that you’re not accidentally screwing with any other instruments!

The second tab, LFO/Operator sequence, is a bit more interesting. While LFO uses the inbuilt LFO capabilities of the FM chip, the operator sequence actually tampers with a given setting, such as top level or attack rate, while the instrument is playing. This can get you some interesting results that ADSR alone wouldn’t be able to do. Personally, I’d like the option to have multiple operator sequences, but I can also see why that would get bloated easily. I don’t really mind the way it is right now, as this already opens up a lot of possibilities. The same caveats apply to editing these as editing the ADSR envelopes, as these also default to the first sequence.

The third tab, arpeggio/pitch, affect exactly what you’d expect them to. Notably, these come in absolute, relative and fixed (arpeggio-only) varieties, which is good news for MML and tracker users alike. This is the first FM tracker I know that provides these options for FM instruments. Like the operator sequence, I think this will open up many possibilities. Again, the same caveats apply here as the other sequences and envelopes.

Oh, one important detail I forgot to mention earlier – you can resize the instrument window. Wow. I can’t believe this is the first time I’ve seen that.

And now, into the pattern editor. It looks great and feels great (good ol’ FT2 layout), but it has its fair share of issues, though admittedly, some of these come down to personal taste. I hope that these will get ironed out as the program matures.

  1. The effects and volume columns type left to right. When I typed D, I got D0, when most trackers would input 0D.
  2. The note release key isn’t configurable, at least as far as I know. The minus key (-) is its default, and there’s no changing that. Welp.
  3. Pressing enter while playing stops in a lot of trackers. Not here. It just restarts from the beginning of pattern. F8 stops playback.
  4. A nitpick, admittedly, but there is only one layer of highlight. I’d like my strong and weak highlights, thanks.
  5. Where are the keyboard shortcuts? What are the keyboard shortcuts? I can’t find them nor configure them.
  6. The note range feels a bit stifled. Ending at D’, really?

Despite these limitations, however, BambooTracker feels comfortable and easy to use! I’d say that it does live up to the hype and, even in its early stages, it is already viable for production. I hope that more people find this program and provide the developer with helpful and positive feedback. It’s the least that, as a community, we could do in return. Give it a shot, and let us know what you think!


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