April 18, 2007

Boulevard Of Broken Dreams #4

by Chris Randall

In the last installment of this series, we'll have a look at some product evolution. The above image is the starting point. Early on, while we were casting about for a direction the company would take, we considered doing a synth, and here was my idea for one. Totally modular (with the exception that audio routing and CV routing had to, by necessity, be separate patchbays) it would be a fairly typical representation of a small modular synth. Now, this would certainly be a good product; the main problem with it is two-fold. (A) The synth market is flooded, and (b) it is pretty plain once you get past the semi-interesting UI.

So, we decided (more or less permanently, as it turned out) for better or worse to just avoid the synth market at the time and expand on some of the better ideas in our Mayhem package, namely the TimeFnk delay. So we took the better ideas from Plexus and combined them with the general execution of TimeFnk, and this is what we came up with:

Now, if you take a close look at that UI, you'll note that it mirrors a product you might already own pretty much exactly. That is the first UI for Ronin. In retrospect it is a far better UI, but there were reasons for not using it. They are:

1. This UI was built with the concept of using PNGs for the knobs and such in mind. Using PNGs instead of BMPs for the knob filmstrips and elements was a relatively new thing at the time. It worked on OSX machines, but Windows machines, which had no built-in method for reading PNGs, exhibited many issues. (This also engendered the redesign of Discord between v1 and v1.5.) So once we discovered that PNGs were a serious problem, we had a relatively short time to come up with a solution.

2. When we were working on this, it was a current fad on a couple of the pertinent forums to complain mightily and loud about "hardware look" user interfaces. I actually took this quite seriously. I know better now, of course, but when you're just starting a company, you only have that sort of feedback to go on. So we thought "well, we better avoid hardware UIs; we don't want to piss anybody off."

So, TimeFnk II got its name changed to Ronin, and got the current Ronin UI, for better or worse. Due to its obvious complexity, Ronin isn't one of our better sellers. But Ronin begat Dubstation, which our best-selling effect, so we're not complaining.

But this brings up an interesting point about user interfaces. Ronin and Dubstation are essentially the same code inside. With Ronin, you have access to every single possible parameter in the plugin, and you can route the audio and control signals however you want. With Dubstation, we've basically removed the patchbay, the LFOs, and roughly 2/3 of the controls. Dubstation has sold ten times the number of Ronin. You can easily see how this has informed our design process.



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Apr.18.2007 @ 5:23 PM
Chris Randall
The issue is unrelated. GDI+ can load and view PNGs, but the VSTGUI SDK uses LIBPNG (since it predates GDI+ by some time). The version of LIBPNG that was available at the time of our first PNG releases (Discord 1 and Deverb) was a little bit fucked with certain Windows installations.

Now it's fine, of course, and every release since Dubstation has been built with PNGs.



Apr.18.2007 @ 6:16 PM
so, any hope of an upgrade path for Ronin for us Dubstation owners? heh.

Apr.18.2007 @ 9:08 PM
Actually I was only half kidding - both of joshua's reasons for owning both are upsides. Ronin is very fiddly (deep), takes more patience and will have you ordering fresh monitors if you don't watch your levels.

DS is truly the quick and dirrty. dirrrrty. dirrrrrrrrrty dirrrrrrrrrrrrrrr----....yyyyy

No regrets!


Apr.18.2007 @ 10:04 PM
professor ned
"Ataru hits the nail on the head. We've found that $49 is the cut-off point for an impulse buy."

The $69 for Ronin isn't so much the problem - I was ready to impulse-buy it when I was impulse-buying a few other plugs as well - but more the fact that there's no AU. All bitching about AU's general suckiness aside, if DubStation and Ronin share so much code, how come no RoninAU?



Apr.18.2007 @ 11:21 PM
Adam Schabtach
In the sense of an AU version, Dubstation and Ronin don't share much code at all. They have in common an unusually sophisticated delay algorithm that reproduces the interesting pitch/time interrelationships present in older hardware delays that used variable sampling-rate technologies (either BBD devices or digital memory). A huge amount of my time and energy went into developing that delay code, so in that sense Dubstation and Ronin share a very large amount of R&D costs. Dubstation has internal filtering and saturation stages that add the characteristics of distortion and limited bandwidth inherent to BBD-based delay devices (i.e., "analog delays") to the core delay code. Those processes are hidden from the user. Ronin has somewhat similar features in the sense that it also has filters and distortion stages, but those features are out in the open where the user can patch them in and tweak them (or not).
The reason that there is no AU version (yet) of Ronin is that it was the last plug-in we developed before we started doing AU versions of our products. I put another huge amount of time into developing a code architecture that allows us to develop AU and VST versions more or less simultaneously. (This was actually my second such AU R&D effort; the first resulted in a dismal and frustrating failure because Apple screwed around with the AU spec so many times that I was shooting at an undocumented moving target and eventually we decided to abandon the project and get back to doing stuff that would pay off for us in terms of actually bringing products to market. I'm not just "bitching about AU's general suckiness", I'm stating a factual reason for our decisions.) Since Ronin was built before I created that architecture, it has to be rewritten in large part to create the AU version. Given that Ronin has not sold well relative to our other products, it has been an ongoing point of debate between Chris and myself whether doing an AU version of Ronin would actually pay off. The good news for current and prospective Ronin owners is that we've very recently decided that there seems to be enough sustained interest in Ronin among its (relatively few) users that it's both sensible and appropriate to suck it up and do the AU version. If I remember correctly--and I may not, since I went to Japan for two weeks after that conversation--our current plan is to do the AU version after we complete Dr. Device. No, I won't hazard a guess about the release date for either.


Apr.19.2007 @ 12:00 AM
So will that constitute a ".5" update to Ronin, or will you guys do a full revision across all platforms? A UI update perhaps? I have to confess that's the only thing preventing me from purchasing (It's just to small for my monitor).

Apr.19.2007 @ 2:39 AM
For what it's worth - of the AD plugs I own, my favorite UI's, in order:

1) Reverence - the best; PSP should take a lesson

2) Discord 2 - but I use this plug the least : (

3) 914 -I absolutely love this plug, especially combined with Dubstation

4) Dubstation / Fuzz plus 2 - I can't stand the angled perspective, but I use these plugs the most, along with Replicant

5) BigSeq - does nothing for me, and I'm still waiting on that retrigger functionality I emailed you about over a year ago ;) - seriously, used quite often

6) Replicant - keep the millenium falcon, redesign the rest; maybe place the other UI elements in "orbit" around the cockpit - BTW I played a track to a friend the other day and he wanted to "study" how I made my beats...I sent him your way ;)


Apr.19.2007 @ 2:51 AM
Chris Randall
When we do the Ronin do-over, it will be a full point update across all platforms almost certainly. If that is the case, we'll also do the UI over; I'll probably tend to want to make it look like Discord 2, given my druthers. However, the Discord 2 faceplate (the part _underneath_ the knobs and lettering) is a GIGANTIC pain in the ass to deal with, so I may try to come up with something else that matches the Discord 2 layout but isn't so problematic for a large amount of knobs.



Apr.19.2007 @ 3:22 AM
If you threw in bit/sample rate reduction in ronin and put the parameters in the patchbay with the update, I would buy it in an instant. (I would probably get it when the AU comes out anyway.) I love the deconcrisseur in plogue, but it's a little inconvenient to use it in logic sometimes.

Apr.19.2007 @ 3:22 AM

Why not run with the Reverence paradigm? Or rather, perhaps some kind of cross-breeding between Reverence and Discord 2? Is the Reverence faceplate also such a strain on the sphincter?


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