interesting compromises
November 26, 2012 10:26 AM   Subscribe

"my interest in a lot of old game music now has very little to do with "nostalgia" or any associations i had with the games, and much more to do with the way the different kinds of hardware used created interesting compromises for composers that led them [to] making some really interesting sounds," Liz Ryerson collects sounds from the abyss. In her blog post here she details the history and appeal of five (mostly forgotten) game soundtracks which push the limits of the both the genre and the hardware.

Soundtracks in the post: She also maintains Lost Worlds, which is a collection of surreal, strange, and interesting game screenshots.
posted by codacorolla (24 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Equinox gets some love!

I must also recommend Magician (NES).
posted by a snickering nuthatch at 10:32 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dude, that Equinox soundtrack is stunning.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:47 AM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

I could never get very far in Equinox.

Also, top of the abyss link right now is Solid Runner. I've been hoping that would get translated for ages; its even been on Zhi's project page for something like 8+ years now. Last I heard it was a hacking issue, so it'll probably never happen.
posted by curious nu at 10:55 AM on November 26, 2012

ULAN-BATOR has a ton of awesome obscure game screenshots.
posted by pravit at 10:55 AM on November 26, 2012

I've always been partial to Comic Bakery (C64).
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:56 AM on November 26, 2012

Final Fantasy III for Kefka's theme!
posted by duvatney at 11:18 AM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Holy crap, that Animorphs soundtrack. 8-bit LSD nightmare.
posted by naju at 11:19 AM on November 26, 2012

Dude, that Equinox soundtrack is stunning.

Here's more of Tim Follin's genius - Solstice (NES)
posted by naju at 11:33 AM on November 26, 2012

Recca is unbelievably good. It's not just good by 8-bit standards, it's legitimately listenable. It really picks up 52 seconds in. Competing music on similar hardware: Duck Hunt
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:41 AM on November 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I have to admit that nostalgia is a big part of my appreciation of chiptunes though I agree with the idea of limitations as a catalyst of creativity. Here is a couple of my favourites: Ben Dalgliesh' "The Last Ninja", Martin Galway's "Ocean Loader II" and "Times of Lore". The last one in particular is impressive considering the hardware limitations. Remember, it's not just about overcoming only having limited polyphony and sounds, but also about having very little memory in which to store the song.
posted by cx at 11:58 AM on November 26, 2012

Solstice had the best theme song ever.
posted by adamdschneider at 12:01 PM on November 26, 2012


posted by Sebmojo at 12:02 PM on November 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

(Nice post, I just couldn't resist)
posted by Sebmojo at 12:05 PM on November 26, 2012

Oh man I really did not enjoy playing Equinox but those pads...yowza.

Video game music in general played a huge role in my personal musical development. Some things are just locked in my brain, like the medieval overworld music from Chrono Trigger...instanstly transports me back to summer at the tender age of 14, holed up in my room playing Squaresoft RPGs all day long.

Later on a friend managed to purchase an import of the full Final Fantasy VI OST, which I borrowed for like 3 months and listened to on repeat almost the entire time. A few years later I dropped my "telecommunications" class in order to enroll in AP Music Theory, and I "borrowed" another friend's copy of Cakewalk and started writing my own MIDI files of music.

My SoundBlaster! 16 could only produce the most basic of sounds, and the video game soundingness of that production certainly pushed me to emulate the sounds of video games, much to my parents' chagrin, who never fully appreciated my early works. I'd play them a track and they'd say "that sounds like a video game" and I'd think to myself well yeah, that's why I liked it!. By the time I had graduated high school I had written hours and hours of music on my computer. I was well and fully obsessed.

I went to College on a violin performance scholarship (and major) then eventually switched my major to straight-up composition. I devoured music. Soundtracks, concert music, more video game music. Although I didn't end up finishing those studies my fate has been well and truly sealed: even now, with a successful career in IT, all my extra time and money still goes right back into writing music, recording music, composing music, producing music, studying music, and just plain 'ol obsession with music.

And much of the blame can be laid at the feet of video game soundtracks.

As for the nostalgia aspect: I completely agree and feel that what starts from nostalgia usually evolves into an appreciation of the aesthetic, and then the sheer discipline of the art itself.

Thanks for posting this!
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:21 PM on November 26, 2012 [5 favorites]

Also also! Why have we not done a Video Game Music Challenge on MeFiMu yet?
posted by Doleful Creature at 12:22 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

The best on the NES, in my opinion, I used to sit at the sound select screen in front of my tv as a kid listening to these tracks, and I always have them in my library now....

Journey to Silius (part 1)

Journey to Silius (part 2)
posted by FireballForever at 12:26 PM on November 26, 2012

The defining 8 bit sound

It's something else to hear it translated into a orchesta or this treatment.

I think the other contender for 8 bit classic is of course this.
posted by Shit Parade at 2:27 PM on November 26, 2012

Complete Last Ninja 2 Level 1 Loading Screen Music (Tape). Tell me this ain't great.

If you can't rely on perfect instrumentation and a booming orchestra, you have to pay more attention to melody, rhythm and harmony. Cool post.

Someone ping jake.
posted by ersatz at 3:57 PM on November 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Doleful Creature, awesome comment. One of the major reasons I got into electronic music and electronic music production was because of video game soundtracks and the occasional random demo - the first .MOD file I downloaded (I think from a BBS!) totally blew my mind, that you could get computer hardware to sound like that. I never had consoles growing up due to NPR parents, but I spent a significant part of my youth writing (pretty terrible) MIDI files for (also terrible and mostly never completed) Klik & Play epics. It's funny to think now about how many doors that opened for me.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:19 PM on November 26, 2012

I'm no expert on these matters, but Recca sounds to me like "high quality compression" of a more traditionally composed piece of music. I say this because of dithering artifacts, and the many, many layers of different textures. It's really good, given the 8-bit-ness, but I don't think it's in the same league as the other ones that seem to have been composed "natively 8-bit". (erm, the Amiga had 12-bits to play with, but I hope you get my point)
posted by dylanjames at 4:22 PM on November 26, 2012

I don't have stable enough internet to check this out right now, but I love old videogame music (and graphics) for the same reason--partly nostalgia, mostly just loving the way things sound (and look). A lot of my favorite Old Game Music is from stuff I've never played: I love the music for Chaotix. I could listen to this forever. It evokes a particular glowy, colorful, slightly melancholy aesthetic much better than if the composers didn't have to work with (and around) weird sound hardware.

I think that's interesting.

Another personal favorite, Secret of Mana, really and truly has some of the most beautiful music I've ever heard from a game. It has this tinkly music box sound that I completely adore. The overall aesthetic of that game is so much more flowery and serene than you really see in anything else. It's also interesting to me that Hiroki Kikuta's post-hardware limitations soundtrack work is interesting and strange (and great) but only rarely recaptures the serene beauty here.
posted by byanyothername at 5:12 PM on November 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Earthbound Soundfont (right-hand side of the page under "downloads")
posted by Doleful Creature at 10:29 PM on November 26, 2012

This is great! I like chiptune music a lot, but I definitely agree with her assessment of the genre:

i tend to feel now like it usually falls pretty safely into one kind of musical cliche or another. either it's the JRPG soundtrack with the typical range of character and battle themes, or the rockin' action or racing game, or the "epic" orchestral soundtrack, or the ambient background music, or lately, "generic chiptune" - you get the idea.

The songs linked here are much more interesting and odd than the usual 8-bit stuff you hear. Some of it, especially that totally insane Animorphs soundtrack, reminds me of DJ Scotch Egg; he's one of the few people that seems to be really pushing the chips scene beyond its pretty, nostalgic origins. (Not that there's anything really wrong with that!)
posted by Frobenius Twist at 10:45 AM on November 27, 2012

Man, I can't believe this whole thread went by and I didn't even think to post the Faxanadu Theme until now. Loved that song.
posted by adamdschneider at 7:34 AM on December 3, 2012

« Older Social Enclosures “R” Us   |   Mary Shelley Writes for the Guardian Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments