Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Chip Tunes

So if you ever get to know me, and the subject of music is brought up you will find that there is only one kind of music for me: chip tunes. Now I know what you may be thinking. How is that bleep bloop stuff even considered music and how can it be the only thing I listen to? Well first of all it isn't "bleep bloop" music, it is just as much like music as rock, hip-hop, or whatever it is you kids listen to these days. Chip music, when done right can be just as inspired as "real" music if not more so, and there are countless types of chips that produce different sounds and many different "styles" as I like to call them. Just as with artists of more traditional forms of music, you can often tell when a certain chip tune artist made a particular music for a game. It really is amazing how imaginative these artists can get especially considering in some cases all they had to work with were things like square waves and noise channels. Contrary to what you may believe by this point, the purpose of this article is not for me to rant and rave about how awesome chip tunes are (which they are by the way), but rather to SHOW you how awesome they are and hopefully by the end of this article I will have pointed you out to something you may have overlooked or not given a chance before.

So here's what I am going to do. Every now and then (hopefully once a week), I will pick one console, computer, or hand held that made use of chip music, and go into detail about what is is capable of, and make some recommendations of music to listen to.

First up the Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom. Ah the good old nes, for many it was their first and they hold fond memories of it's games. Who can blame em with such classics as Super Mario Brothers, Castlevania, Metroid, Punch Out, and Zelda amongst others. It wasn't my first system and even I get this nostalgic feeling from playing it's games. However lots of time, the nes gets a bad rap for having lame, simple, or primitive sounding chip tunes. Granted the Super Mario Brothers theme is a classic forever etched into anyone who has ever played a games' memory, but you have to admit that, while catchy, it is a very simple tune. Believe it or not the nes can do better WAY better, and it has. Games like Mother, Batman, Astynax, Journey to Silius, Silver Surfer, Sky Shark, and Target Renegade show what the nes is really capable of. All of those games I mentioned have quite different styles and give you an idea of the range of sounds the nes can produce. Well except for the last three which were all made by the same artist Tim Follin, who by the way made some kick ass tunes for many old systems and computers back in the day.

But that's not all! Those lucky bastards in Japan, boy do they get the good stuff. You see the whole idea behind the nes/famicom was to produce a cheap, not so powerful system and as required allow for add on chips in cartridges, to enhance what the system could do. The vast majority of nes games used one of these mappers as they are called, and it allowed for the pretty weak nes to do some pretty impressive stuff for the time. One such enhancement were mappers that allowed for extra channels of sound, in some cases even fm synthesis! Unfortunately for whatever reason as usual, in the US we got shafted, and the capability for the mappers with extra sound channels was removed. Also due to the cost of these mappers that allowed for better sound, relatively few games in Japan even used them. Well with the exception of the famicom disk system which had the capability built into the add-on itself. There are about 6 said chips total (including the disk system) and each produced it's own unique sounding tunes. Probably the most impressive of the bunch, were the Namco106, VRC7, and to a lesser extent the VRC6. The games using the namco106 like Megami Tensei 2 sound very close to the turbo grafx's music, and the VRC7, while only one commercially released game used it (Lagrange Point), was pretty damned impressive. The VRC7 made the nes sound similiar to the Sega Genesis, but better! It's a damn shame we never got to experience any of it over here, and even more of a shame so few games use them. Fortunately, due to the nes's thriving popularity, there is a community of many people making chip tunes to this day that will run on actual hardware, and yep you guessed it, they often use the special chips to unlock the nes's full potential.

If you want to listen to some good old nes tunes for yourself, you can download a plugin for Winamp called nezplug++ that supports many chip tune formats including nes, gameboy, turbo grafx, amongst others, and then download a mostly complete library of game chip tunes: http://www.snesmusic.org/hoot/nsf/nsf_games.rar and homebrew tunes: http://www.snesmusic.org/hoot/nsf/nsf_homebrew.rar.

There's a lot of good stuff there so it should keep you occupied until next time! I hope...

By Zeon

1 comment:

Windancer said...

awesome Article Zeon I hope you dont mind I just changed the font size for my old eyes LOL