Computer Game Music You grew up With

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Post by malickfan on Thu Jan 11, 2018 8:29 pm









I'm a 90's kid, ah the memories...

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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:19 pm

{{Being the decade earlier most of my favourite games had no music! Or at least you had a choice when playing of music OR sound effects- the machines of the day usually couldn't do both at the same time.
And whilst much of it was hugely innovative it was usually also very beepy- the best of which I think I have posted previously.
The other issue being many of the games I loved most- Dungeon Master and other early RPG's or adventure games did not tend to have music just sfx- mind you creep up behind me in the dark and play the (hissy sampled) mummy shriek from Dungeon Master I will probably still jump out my skin (or instinctively bludgeon you to death with whatever comes to hand!)- there is something to be said for long tense periods of silence punctuated suddenly by this unseen right behind you- }}


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Post by Amarië on Thu Jan 11, 2018 9:57 pm




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"Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth."
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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:43 pm

{{{ If anyone has an interest in the games industries histroy, the rie and fall of systems of youre, then I highly recommend any of the videos by Kim Justice- in my view one of the best games journalists publishing on youtube about the retro scene. Chances are if you owned any machine at all in the last 40 years theres an extensive, informative and entertaining video all about it.

This particular one is on a very British subject- the playground fight of my childhood- ZX Spectrum v Commodore 64. But I strongly recommend checking out their vids and playlists for some excellent bits of journalism on the games industry and its history. }}


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Post by Pettytyrant101 on Thu Feb 07, 2019 1:42 pm

{{{ Computer music and sound through the years- a personal journey. Settle in with a brew.

First some context to these tunes. The first is where I started in my gaming life, with the Atari console and stuff like pong (its early variant tennis was actually my very first game). And this bit covers up to the end of the 16 bit era.
The main thing to note about the 8-bit period in particular is that all the music had to be programmed. No one is playing any instruments (mind you that will be fairly evident rather quickly). All the computer systems of this time had a sound chip which had to be programmed to make each 'note'  in all cases here the sound was carried through the lead going to your tv and was played through the tv speakers. But the main point is that there is generally a sound chip inside, and it makes the noises when you program it.
There were however massive limitations on this- the spectrum 48k for example only had 4 channels of sound, meaning it could play 4 different notes, but not at the same time and one channel for example simply produced a static hissing and in case there was only a tiny amount of memory to utilise anyway, about 4k.
Very clever programmers, such as the examples I am about to give below, found ways around this and clever tricks to give the impression of either a wider note range, or of more than one note playing at once.

So we begin in about 1980, with a young crabbit Tyrant aged 9 and living in a word coloured brown and orange and where everyone makes a weird swishing noise when they walk because of all the corduroy and you cant touch anyone for fear of electric shock thanks to polyester clothing, and where tupperware is literally a space age material, and its my first ever video game experience playing the atari 2600, the one with the fake wood panelling.

Computer Game Music You grew up With - Page 3 Atari-2600-Wood-4-Sw-Set

I was of course gobsmacked at the simple, yet revolutionary premise that I could move a thing in my hand  Embarassed (no joysticks yet, just a 'paddle' which was a rectangular flat thing with a twisty knob on it, turn it right and left to move either right or left, or depending on the game (such as Pong) it moved you up and down) and I could control a thing on my tv screen. My actual tv, which up till then had only ever been able to do non-interactive showing of stuff transmitted without choice. Now I could choose to do this activity when I wanted (well assuming no-one else was watching the 1 tv in the house!) and I participated in what was on the screen. I am not sure to a younger modern audience it is quite possible to convey how revolutionary an idea this was to a 9 year old me. This was stuff from Doctor Who and Star Trek, not in your living room actually doing it.
The atari 2600 sounded like this (and like all the examples given here this is among what the machine could do at its best and in the hands of a talented programmer and musician)-



Still pretty beepy though and so it would remain. But now was the dawn of 8-bit computing in Europe and in 1983, one year after its release, I got for xmas my first spectrum, the 48k model with the rubber keyboard.

Computer Game Music You grew up With - Page 3 Product-77665

The spectrum sound chip was by any modern standards terrible, and even in the 8 bit era it was soon outmatched by the (more expensive) commodore c64 when it finally came out, but which I never owned. But it was still progress. It was even possible thanks to new compression techniques to sample sound effects now and play them back- however the tiny memory restrictions meant the playback was often of such poor quality that it was hard to make out the words from the background hiss caused by the terrible sample rates used to reduce size-



But it did allow for the emergence of something new- the dedicated computer programmer musician, folk like the legendary 8-bit music maestro David Whittaker- he was one of those people who pioneered many of the tricks and means to make the humble speccy sound like it had more under its hood than it actually had, allowing for the creation of recognisable pieces of music.



Its 1984 now, I've had my 48k speccy for a year of fun gaming and basic programming, and I've aged to an elderly 13, getting pretty good at football playing in the local Junior League, got myself a girlfriend who will be there for the next 6 years of my life, Torvill and Dean just did some Bolero and Thatcher is trying to destroy the miners and succedding, and I've got my hands on the spectrum 128k +2 (with the built in tape player-oh didn't I mention, all games at this point are loaded from audio tape cassettes?)

Computer Game Music You grew up With - Page 3 Zx-spectrum-128k-plus2-grey-u260961-01

It has a new, improved sound-chip. Now the afore mentioned Mr Whittaker can get his hands on it-



You will note whilst there are more channels, more options, and more ability to sample small sounds and use them, its still, well beeby as hell.

That did not change as much as you might expect, or as folk had hoped, when the computer world took its jump from 8-bit to 16-bit and in 1986 I upgraded to the Atari St520 when I was 15.

Computer Game Music You grew up With - Page 3 Atari-520st

There was a notable step up in things like desktop, operating system (it was all starting to look more recognisable to what we have today on a standard home pc) and graphics were a lot better. The sound however was not so good, as whilst there was more horsepower to do more, it was still basically the same sound chip as the spectrum 128 had used.



That Whittaker piece does very well at capturing the original tune with the limitations of the St sound. But after the release of the Amiga 500 it quickly became apparent that in graphical, and most definitely in sound terms it was offering something new in the 16bit home computer market, and for gaming.

So in 1988 aged 17 I bought my first computer with my own money. The rather pricey at the time Amiga 500 (which I could still only afford by paying it up at the shop in instalments).

Computer Game Music You grew up With - Page 3 8714392a-9140-43f0-80c0-ef5318670c28

To give a direct comparison here's that same outrun music, only this time its on the Amiga.



The Amiga could certainly do a lot more but you have noticed the ST version is 'cleaner' and clearer in sound quality- this is nothing to do with the relative sound chips but rather that Amiga allowed for more use of sampling, but the memory cost of sampling was at this point still very high, so the trade off was poorer playback quality with more hiss, or which could make the music seem somewhat muffled. But programmers would soon get to grips with this.

And happy to report that with the transition form 8-bit music to 16-bit Mr Whittaker had come along too. His famous and evocative soundtrack for Shadow of the Beast is a perfect example of using the Amigas capabilities to play back sampled sound and then to compose a piece of music out of those sampled sounds.



Moving away from Whittakers work here's a few examples of Amiga music that use a mix of traditional making the sound-chip make a noise programming, and the new sampling techniques the greater 16 bit power was allowing for.










By the 1990's it was the dawn of the cd, and its adoption as the main means of storing information for computers and consoles. This also signalled the death of the traditional sound chip- the need to program a chip to make beeps was no longer necessary- now you could just record music, or take existing recorded music and just put it on the CD. An entire era of programming geniuses were out of a job. And there is something sad about that, all those programming tricks they had to invent to fight against the limitations of the technology and produce something that was therefore more amazing than it should have been in its time, as it seemed to be doing the impossible- making a computer sing.
One of the advantages to have grown up through this period is being apart of the experience of that development. To have had the joy and simple wonder at hearing your spectrum say "Robin in the Wood" in hissy words you could barely hear- but it was saying words! In a world of modern pc's tablets and phones the simple wonder of that is hard to convey. And at each new step in development of technology there were new moments of wonder to discover.
Now you can put an entire orchestrated soundtrack into a game and its simply expected in the same way you simply expect a soundtrack in film or tv. But it was a long way getting to where we are here, in little painful beepy steps.

Oh and those last five examples I put up of Amiga music, here are the same pieces being played by a Swedish orchestra- see there really was music in those old machines! }}



{{Additional- and US readers of a certain age, or who have watched retro videos on the US retro scene, well you may have noticed my computing experience is absent the events of the great global computing crash that saw the rise of Nintendo to dominance- and there's a very good reaosn for this- it didn't happen!! Mad
It is something which makes gamers of a certain age outside the US rather crabbit- you see it only happened in North America, the rest of the world saw a steady and exciting line of new products, machines, concepts without break throughout this period and Nintendo barely made an appearance outside of North America and Asia. On the console side SEGA ruled with the master system then the mega-drive (Genesis to in the US to appeal to your religious nuttery!)  The rest of us were blissfully unaware of any crash at all, because we weren't having one, were too busy with our speccy's, c64, vic20's, msx's, master systems, mega-drives, St's and Amigas to notice your troubles.
Yet for some reason the myth of a global computing, console and gaming crash in the late 80's persists to this day! Mad }}

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Post by Lancebloke on Fri Feb 08, 2019 3:56 pm

I think game music is such an underrated art. There are plenty of iconic soundtracks to films and TV that people would know anywhere but I bet there vast majority of people would not recognise themes that a lot of the gaming community would consider iconic even though they are just as spectacular.

I am a little behind you in the experience stakes here, the middle section is where my gaming memory really starts but I didn't recognise the themes to games like Flashback and Populous despite spending many hours playing them.

The earliest theme tune I can probably remember is Sonic the Hedgehog on Master System (although I do remember some music from a game called Rescue on Fractalus but mainly because of a part of that game that used to scare the living shit out of me!!)

One of the best modern gaming scores is from The Last of Us, which happens to be one of the best modern games and I think may be my number 2 game of all time!
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