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Compositional Techniques of Chiptune Music

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Compositional Techniques of Chiptune Music

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This is the slideshow that accompanied my paper at the 2015 North American Conference on Video Game Music held at Texas Christian University. It includes hyperlinks and audio examples to break down the compositional techniques discussed. Click on words and images on the slides to explore and deconstruct the chiptune style!

This is the slideshow that accompanied my paper at the 2015 North American Conference on Video Game Music held at Texas Christian University. It includes hyperlinks and audio examples to break down the compositional techniques discussed. Click on words and images on the slides to explore and deconstruct the chiptune style!

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Compositional Techniques of Chiptune Music

  1. 1. Compositional Techniques of Chiptune Music ● A Presentation for the 2015 North American Conference on Video Game Music ● By Prof. Christopher Hopkins, LIU Post Faculty
  2. 2. Goals ● This presentation explores the inner workings of the audio processing unit of the NES and Famicom and the extent to which they suggest audio design choices and limitations for composition. We will identify the techniques preferred by the composers at Sunsoft games which comprise the chiptune style. This style is reemerging as a viable and marketable audio solution in recent games with a retro or nostalgic aesthetic.
  3. 3. Dissertation ● Chiptune Music: An Exploration of Compositional Techniques in Sunsoft Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom from 1988- 1992 – How did the composers at Sunsoft overcome the limitations of the sound chips to create compelling sounds and effects? – This dissertation defines and acknowledges the compositional tradition of this genre during the 8- bit gaming era.
  4. 4. Great vs. Poor Chiptunes ● Exhibits a majority of attributes of the chiptune style ● Exists to enhance the gameplay GREAT “Dr. Wily's Stage” Mega Man 2 POOR “Title Screen” The Adventures of Rad Gravity
  5. 5. Sound Waves ● Chiptune style vs. Chiptune-sounding – Adhering to compositional trends and techniques from the 80s and 90s – Not just using sound waves SINE SQUARE TRIANGLE SAWTOOTH
  6. 6. Sound Channels ● More than sounds...number of simultaneous sounds! ● NES – 2 pulse, 1 triangle, 1 noise, 1 PCM ● Commodore 64 – 3, each can be sawtooth, pulse, triangle, or noise ● Amiga 500 – 4 PCM ● Game Boy – 2 pulse, 1 triangle, 1 wavetable
  7. 7. Basic to Advanced ● Over the life of the NES/Famicom, composers and audio programmers found creative, new ways to expand musical possibilities from the internal soundchip – Repitching of delta-encoded samples – Changes of note attack and decay – Inserting softer sounds between main sounds Pulse w/ 12.5% duty cycle Pulse w/ 25% duty cycle Pulse w/ 50% duty cycle
  8. 8. How Composers Programmed ● Family BASIC ● Compact Editor ● Digital Performer ● Hex Code ● MIDI to Hex Code – Specialized tool – Output needs editing for NES/Famicom characteristic effects
  9. 9. Compositional Techniques ● Focus on melody ● Reuse musical motives – Rhythmic – Melodic – Harmonic – Micro & Macro ● Variation through – Duty cycles – Tempo – Key – Meter – Dynamics – Articulation
  10. 10. Artificial Reverberation ● Duplicate a part played a little behind the original ● The part in reverb can have variation in pitch and/or rhythm ● PROS – The part has a fuller sound ● CONS – One less sound channel for other musical activity
  11. 11. Batman (1990) ● “Ending” – Composer: Naoki Kotaka – Pulse 1 plays melody ● Weak notes within melody give more natural decay – Pulse 2 plays melody an 8th note later ● Softer in volume than Pulse 1 channel ● Same duty cycle changes Melody w/ reverb Melody w/o reverb Full
  12. 12. Looping ● Musical material at loop end must flow into that at loop start in terms of key, meter, tempo ● PROS – Saves a lot of memory – Players remember the songs with repetition – Accounts for music of variable length in gameplay ● CONS – Short loops = frustrating repetitions – Limits amount of musical development
  13. 13. Ufouria: the Saga (1992) ● “Boss 1” – Composer: Naoki Kotaka – Loops after 25 seconds ● PROS – more repetitions – increased familiarity – increased desire to defeat the boss quickly Melody Full
  14. 14. Arpeggiation ● Arpeggiate between 3 or more pitches to create harmony ● PROS – Frees up other sound channels ● CONS – Needs to be moderate to fast as harmony – Not as effective for slow tracks
  15. 15. Mega Man 9 (2008) ● “Galaxy Man” – Composers: Ippo Yamada, Yu Shimoda, Ryo Kawakami, and Hiroki Isogai – Moderate arpeggiation Arpeggiation Alone Full
  16. 16. Hero Quest (1991 Prototype) ● “Final Track” – Composer: Neil Baldwin – Rapid arpeggiation Arpeggiation Alone Arpeggiation Slowed Down Full
  17. 17. Samples ● Ideal for short sounds due to memory – Sound effects – Grunts, moans, – Percussion hits ● NES/Famicom can repitch samples on the PCM channel ● Sunsoft's signature sound due to samples – Journey to Silius (1990) – Fester's Quest (1989) – Batman (1990) Sampled bass Sampled orchestra hit Sampled percussion short voiceovers
  18. 18. Famicom Expansion Chips ● Additional audio soundchip included within cartridge or expansion unit ● PROS – Add additional sound channels and/or sound waves for sound and music design ● 4-note chords and more ● CONS – Needs more memory – Not accessible on the NES
  19. 19. Audio Expansion Chips ● Nintendo FDS (Famicom Disk System) – Adds 1 wavetable channel – The Legend of Zelda ● Nintendo MMC5 – Adds 2 pulse and 1 PCM channel – Castlevania 3
  20. 20. Gimmick (1992) ● Only game to ever use the Sunsoft 5B chip – Adds 3 pulse channels – Needed to compete with Super NES market ● PROS – Allows for richer musical elements ● CONS – Takes up more memory – More of the same timbres
  21. 21. “Good Morning” - Masashi Kageyama NES Soundchip Alone Sunsoft 5B Alone Full
  22. 22. When/Where Does Retro Work? ● There are much fewer hardware restrictions on sound today than from the 80s and 90s ● DO – Write chiptunes to fit visual aesthetic and/or gameplay – Adhere to some or all of the sound limitations and compositional techniques of yesteryear ● DON'T – Use extended sampled voicework – Expect realism
  23. 23. Mutant Mudds (2012) ● Composer: Troupe Gammage – “The limited number of tonal voices would force melody to the forefront in the same way that the limited number of pixels in the visuals forced an emphasis on silhouette.” – “The NES style also provides an incredible focus on melody, which helps the game achieve a more iconic feel.”
  24. 24. Mutant Mudds (2012) “World 1-1” – Examples of ● Artificial reverberation ● Slides ● Weak notes ● Fall-offs ● Grace notes ● Crescendo and diminuendoFull Melody Slowed Down
  25. 25. Retro City Rampage (2012) ● Began life as an NES homebrew game called Grand Theftendo ● Chiptunes appropriate due to: – 80s pop culture – 8-bit visual aesthetic – nostalgia
  26. 26. Retro City Rampage (2012) ● “Title Screen” – Composed by Jake “virt” Kaufman – Fits within chiptune style by: ● use of five channels like the NES and Famicom ● use of samples only for percussion ● use of sound waves available on the NES and Famicom Melody Slowed Down Full
  27. 27. Chiptune Soundtracks ● Chiptunes have commercial appeal – Shovel Knight (2014) – JumpJet Rex (in Early Access)
  28. 28. Games Discussed ● Mega Man 2 (1988) ● Fester's Quest (1989) ● Batman (1990) ● Journey to Silius (1990) ● The Adventures of Rad Gravity (1990) ● Hero Quest (1991 Prototype) ● Ufouria: the Saga (1992) ● Gimmick! (1992) ● Mega Man 9 (2008) ● Mutant Mudds (2012) ● Retro City Rampage (2012) ● Shovel Knight (2014) ● JumpJet Rex (in Early Access)
  29. 29. Questions? ● Prof. Christopher Hopkins – Official Website – E-Mail ● North American Conference on Video Game Music – Website

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