February 18th, 2010

  • storlek

Impulse Tracker and Wikipedia

So apparently Wikipedia's Impulse Tracker article was recently reinstated, after having been deleted in December. To be fair, it was brought to my attention quite some time ago that some people who have administrative rights on Wikipedia have decided that it wasn't worth an article. A couple of people were urging me to "do something" about it. (Which would be... what, register for Wikipedia to paste it back in?)

Now I'll start off by noting that I have no objection to some Wikipedia article being deleted, in itself; Wikipedia can add or remove whatever content they want, and it really won't affect me too much. A few years ago, the Schism Tracker article was also deleted for being non-notable, then later reinstated, and deleted again. The reason for deletion was that it lacked (among other silly requirements) "news coverage in reliable sources." What? That's such a stupid reason to delete an article. I really doubt that, say, Evince or even xterm ever had a segment on NBC Nightly News, but I think they're entirely worth their own articles.

However, I think the discussion on the deletion page ought to be enough to show that the people involved have no idea what they're discussing, and this is the part that bothers me tremendously. I do have a love-hate relationship for Wikipedia, and the fact that people who are entirely uninformed about a subject can and do have the ability to completely remove articles from the site falls cleanly within the "hate" camp. It's no different than if I'd just load up the article on orangutans and blank the page, leaving a comment on the talk page that it appeared to be a "non-notable" sort of ape, and that maybe they could change the page to a redirect on the "Ape" page instead, maybe with a statement suggesting that should orangutans suddenly become notable, then someone else can put it back. That'd probably get my IP banned, and yet this is exactly what is going on here: the orangutan of the tracker-community was deleted.

Note, by the way, that the .IT file format article was deleted at the same time, and hasn't yet been reinstated. The delete comments say "doesn't appear to be used outside said app", what?! This reasoning alone ought to serve as clear evidence that the people on Wikipedia who are making these decisions for deletion haven't a proper clue what they're talking about. It's certainly used outside of Impulse Tracker, and very widely; anyone who thinks otherwise is patently clueless.

I think the mere fact that a piece of software that is so heavily used, many years after running it directly has ceased to be feasible on modern hardware, alone is more than enough to make the program "notable". You just don't see this in consumer software. Businesses sometimes cling desparately onto old DOS programs because they've got millions of dollars tied to them and switching would be financially burdensome, but the vast majority of consumer-facing applications simply die off when people can't run them anymore. This is clearly not the case with IT: when Windows XP started becoming the norm for desktop systems, IT users didn't all suddenly jump ship. They just kept their old computers. People started writing how-to guides about different ways to coerce IT to run in Windows 2000/XP. People still use Impulse Tracker now, and even produce commercial works with it, eleven years after it was discontinued. There's people who run it inside DosBox, and in Mac OS X. It simply won't go away, and that isn't because it's "non-notable".

And beyond that, they still have articles for the much less far-reaching MultiTracker, Psycle, SoundTracker for Linux, Nanoloop – I haven't even heard of that one, but apparently this gets an article and the much better-known LSDJ doesn't? (I quote: "Google Books lists over eight thousand books about banjos; zero for this particular topic.") We have an obvious case of incongruity here. There's articles for Fast Tracker, Scream Tracker, even MilkyTracker (okay, Milky is pending deletion, but it's managed to exist longer than Impulse Tracker's, and which one has been around and well-used for a good fifteen years?

I have assembled a brief compilation of articles and other notable references to Impulse Tracker and other software that uses its file format. Note that it only took me a couple of minutes to come up with these links; and if the Wikipedia admins were doing their jobs correctly, they should have seen and been familiar with a large number of these pages already. Further search results would easily produce tons more websites which could be used as references.

Here's a kuro5hin article on cutting breakbeats with a tracker, which mentions both Impulse Tracker and Schism Tracker, and also an older article that also makes a passing reference to IT. The Mod Archive, which is one of the most prominent sites for tracker music on the face of the internet, gives Impulse Tracker a mention in its introduction to modules page. In fact, many such "introduction to trackers"-style articles reference Impulse Tracker; you'd really be hard-pressed to find one that doesn't at least acknowledge its existence, save for those which are entirely focused on old Amiga formats.

Maz Sound Tools' Tracked Worx is a CD-ROM compilation (or more accurately, three separate compilations) filled with thousands of tracker songs; Impulse Tracker is included on those discs. I know that it's also been shipped in the pack-in disks with some print magazines in the past, namely those related to audio software, but alas I don't have any specific details here as I never subscribed to those magazines.

The highly well-known psytrance group Infected Mushroom once used Impulse Tracker; and hey, that fact is even on their Wikipedia page. Here's another group with a Wikipedia page. And here's another, and yet another. I am in no danger of running out of names to drop here; surely this wide usage by obviously notable artists isn't a property of a program that's "non-notable" or "insignificant".

This well-known article from Salon.com references Impulse Tracker and even has quotations from its author Jeffrey Lim, as well as many much-respected and well-known demoscene musicians who've also done music for games. (But apparently that's not good enough, because this very article was cited in the deletion discussion, and the page was still deleted.)

Ah, yes, games – Impulse Tracker has seen a lot of use in the production of game music. Or if some sketchy-looking site like that isn't convincing, here's a page straight from Epic Games' website written by Alexander Brandon. Who, by the way, has his own Wikipedia page, which uses this interview as a reference, wherein he specifically mentions using Impulse Tracker to write Jazz Jackrabbit 2's music. And then here's another game music composer: Jake Kaufman, aka virt. He has a computer in his studio equipped with Windows 98, specifically in order to run Impulse Tracker. (As an aside: check out this Youtube video of him tracking Funky Town. :)

So there's two more composers who use Impulse Tracker, and who have each produced music for sizable lists of games. Yet apparently the best Wikipedia users could do was Pocket Tanks. Wow.

How about looking at the influence Impulse Tracker has had on other related programs: although Renoise borrowed its GUI largely from Fast Tracker, the integrated filters, channel polyphony, sustain loops, and a whole slew of other features can be traced back to innovations first seen in Impulse Tracker. Heck, Renoise even uses the same names for its polyphony control as Impulse Tracker: New Note Actions. Okay, that's admittedly not the most inventive name, but the concept of playing multiple simultaneous notes in the same control channel was fully nonexistent until it was introduced in Impulse Tracker, and its effect on other modern software is undeniable.

To address that stupid and entirely uninformed comment about the file format not being used anywhere, here's a brief list of some of the other code libraries that support IT files:
  • FMOD, which is used in a number of games, a number of which are conveniently listed on Wikipedia.
  • BASS, also used in some games, as well as in the highly popular music player XMPlay
  • DUMB, also used in ... oh, you get the point :)
  • Mikmod (which has a Wikipedia article)
  • libmodplug (AFAIK libmodplug's existence as a separate library was spawned from this XMMS plugin) – note that both Modplug and MikMod are listed on the XMMS Wikipedia page
  • Audiere, which actually embeds a modified version of DUMB. The website has a list of other programs and libraries that use it, although that list seems to be rather outdated and succumbing to link rot. By the way, here's another Wikipedia article.
And how about some other standalone players:
  • Cubic Player, which doesn't appear to have its own Wikipedia article, but here's a screenshot of it
  • MikIT (same author as MikMod, but entirely different codebase)
  • XMP (not to be confused with XMPlay) – article deleted; you might recognize some of the names involved in the deletion by this point...
Here's a couple of secondary programs/libraries that use one or more of the above: And of course here are some programs that write IT files (excluding Impulse Tracker itself, of course): Now, I can already hear the responses of the Wikipedia admins: "but that's just a big list of other programs, that doesn't meant that Impulse Tracker is notable!" Of course it does, you dunces. If not for Impulse Tracker (and also Scream Tracker, Fast Tracker, and the other programs of its time – see here for a timeline) this list would be largely nonexistent. These programs unarguably defined tracker music on the PC, and without them, there would only be a bunch of MIDI players, and weak 4-channel formats brought over from the Amiga.

Of course, the other argument that's bound to come up, because I've seen this nonsense before and I know how Wikipedia works, is "but this is just some list that someone wrote on some blog, it can't possibly be credible!" Well, for what it's worth, I wrote a highly capable Impulse Tracker clone. I can tell you about every single insignificant detail of the file format, I know every pixel of the interface, and I can recite sections of Impulse Tracker's documentation and revision history verbatim without looking them up. I don't want to sound too sure of myself, but I think to find a better source of information on the inner workings of the program and format, you'd probably have to go directly to Jeffrey Lim.

This is the first, and last, that I'm going to write on this subject, since I entirely do not intend to get myself involved in some juvenile Wikipedia squabbling. However, I would like to point out that the system is fairly broken if people can go about deleting pages for subjects about which they evidently know nothing at all. I don't believe for a minute that anyone holding any more than a passing familiarity with Impulse Tracker would have deleted the article without a lot of discussion and deliberation, and that discussion seems to have been prematurely squelched. Now hopefully given the massive body of information I have provided here, someone might be inclined to convince the powers-that-be that, should the page find itself on Wikipedia's "Articles for Deletion" list again, that perhaps they should evaluate the discussion more completely before making an inappropriate choice.
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