Factor 5 takes no jive to stay alive!
What’s Factor 5 about? What is the company’s History?
Factor 5 hails from Germany and began when five friends decided to form their own software development company back in 1987. Today, Factor 5 remains a small company, comprised of 19 artists, writers, musicians and programmers all dedicated to quality. Looking back on Factor 5’s history, it’s plain to see that the company’s employees are hardworking—and total video game freaks.
Factor 5 broke into the industry when they programmed an “R-Type rip-off” which sold well for the Amiga in Europe. Shortly thereafter, Activision acquired the rights for R-Type and planned to do a conversion. Discovering Factor-5’s game, they threatened to sue but ironically offered to drop the lawsuit if Factor 5 would do the R-Type conversion for them. Naturally, Factor 5 jumped at the chance.
Factor 5 followed up with its Turrican series, which combined the shoot-‘em-up action of Konami’s Contra series with sci-fi platformer exploration inspired by Nintendo’s Metroid. Seeking to bring the series to Nintendo and Sega’s 16-bit platforms, Factor 5 reversed engineered development kits for Super NES and Genesis, without contacting either company. Regardless, Factor 5 produced Super Turrican for SNES and Mega Turrican for Genesis with stellar results. (Author’s note: Super Turrican 1&2 are a BLAST, well worth looking for at Flea Markets &/or Funcoland…)
Shortly thereafter, Factor 5 worked with LucasArts to develop games based on the Indiana Jones trilogy of movies. Indiana Jones Great Adventures for SNES resulted, the first collaboration between Factor 5 & LucasArts—but not the last. Factor 5 would work with other companies, such as Konami and Hudson but continued to augment their relationship with LucasArts.
In 1994, Factor 5 packed up shop in Cologne, Germany and moved to San Rafael in a move financed in part by LucasArts. Despite continued association with LucasArts, Factor 5 is still a privately owned company with no outside financial assistance and as such retains its independence.In 1998, LucasArts published the Factor 5 developed Star Wars: Rogue Squadron for N64. The game received much acclaim from fans and reviewers alike. Rogue Squadron was highlighted by Factor 5’s sound compression techniques, which allowed extensive speech samples and encompassing Dolby Digital Surround. Considering the alleged limitations of the cartridge format, it was an incredible achievement—one that did not escape the notice of Nintendo.
For more information on the company, check out our Factor 5 Developer Profile.
What is Factor 5’s Involvement with Nintendo and the GameCube?
Factor 5 was responsible for designing the GameCube’s dedicated sound processor. This chip resides inside the graphics chip (“Flipper”). Now, this doesn’t mean that designers will have to sacrifice sound for graphics. The sound chip is completely independent from the graphics chip.
Factor 5 is licensing their sound tool, MusyX to Nintendo for use in its Nintendo 64, Gameboy Color, Gameboy Advance and GameCube consoles. MusyX is a very powerful sound tool, and it should be comforting for developers to know that it was made by the designers of the GameCube’s sound chip. Some developers may create their own sound tools.
Factor 5 will definitely develop games for GameCube as well. They developed the amazing Rogue Squadron demo for the Space World unveiling, and they have given glimpses of a next-generation game called Thornado. These are both expected to appear as GameCube games in the future.
What are some of the Key Features of Factor 5’s MusyX?
Here’s an impressive list (reproduced from Factor 5’s website) of Musy X’s capabilities. Keep in mind that MusyX is a sound development tool with applications on multiple hardware platforms, not just Nintendo GameCube.
* Complete handling of music and sound effects in one package
* Hardware independent overall design
* N umber of voices only limited by hardware
* Both CPU and Co-Processors may be utilized for sound generation
* Multiple sample compression formats (Raw, ADPCM, uLaw)
* Powerful SMaL programming language to define sound effects and music instruments
* Variable MIDI controller architecture to allow for maximum flexibility while using the extended set of MIDI controllers
* Synthesizer supports all standard modes and effects like monophony, polyphony, pitch bending, portamento mode and much more
* Complex voice priority system to allow for optimal usage of limited number of voices
* Complete 3D SoundFX API, including handling of "rooms" and relative velocities
* Interactive crossfades between different pieces of music
* Up to 16 master volume groups for easy volume handling at runtime
* GM-MIDI compatible
* GM instrument set included
* Dolby Surround support Compatibility with Factor 5’s MORT speech compression system
* Compatibility with GM MIDI standard makes conversion of data from other sound systems easy
* PC slave system is used to emulate the target hardware during sound development. No target development system is needed for the musician
* Win95 / Windows NT compatible sound editor
* Easy to use graphical interface to manage all data entities within the system
* Graphical ADSR editor
* Customized SMaL language editor included
* Easy to use templates to use the sound system with out using SMaL at all
* Mapping of sounds to specific key via keymaps and layering of sound using the build in layer feature is easily done
* Virtual MIDI keyboard to test sounds without a MIDI keyboard being connected
* Easy conversion from standard MIDI file format to the proprietary format used at runtime
* All converter tools are command line based and therefore can be easily integrated into the games data path via any available make tool
So what’s up with Factor 5 making games for NGC?
Factor 5 currently have at least two NGC projects in development & we have previews on both. One is a Star Wars Rogue Squadron game, being developed in conjunction with LucasArts. The other title is Thornado, a title which serves as a successor to the Turrican series and was originally planned as an N64 title. Factor 5 may have other games in the works as well but it isn’t telling yet.
Is Factor 5 a Nintendo Second-Party Developer?
Nope. Surprisingly, Factor 5 is not among the ranks of Nintendo's numerous second-party developers. Despite close ties to Nintendo, Factor 5 enjoys its independence as a third-party developer. It is also believed that becoming a second-party might conflict with Factor 5's partnership with LucasArts. Second-party or no, Factor 5's assistance & support is certainly appreciated by Nintendo.