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Game music that pushes the hardware


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Couple of favourites for me - game music that really pushes the host platform to its limits..   these are my favourites - what are yours?

 

Agent X2, Spectrum 128. 

The game used the beeper to do 7 channel sound at once, and the 128 was used to add a sampled drum to it. Blew my 9 year old mind.

 

9 Fingers Demo - Amiga.

When you rip the mod file and have a listen, the composer (Travolta / Spaceballs) has used multiple instruments in one sample that he triggers from the appropriate part, allowing more instruments than protracker can handle. It's amazing to watch the line jumping about and a proper achievement to see the whole track never has more than 4 notes playing at once. 

 

Castlevania: hell of a tune, perfect for the end of game boss, so much going on, great use of stereo.  Keep listening as it builds into a sort of techno orchestra and it's coming from a DS of all things.

 

 

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Another Amiga one, Giga Mix by The Evil Forces.  This one plays back samples that are mixed and messed about with in real-time, using some 6 bit samples to save memory and loading new parts from the disk while the previous part plays. You get 2 mixes of 10 minutes each.  No idea how easy it hard this stuff is to do, but again , amazed me back in the day.

 

 

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Amaurote, Spectrum 128k. Creepy as fuck! Totally unlike anything I'd heard at that time. Added so much atmosphere to the game.  Played this game a lot over a period of years, loved every minute despite never having a clue what to do or where to go.

 

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Lagrange Point

(Akio Dobashi, Noriyuki Takahashi, Aki Hata, Makoto Kawamoto, Kenji Nakamura, Tadashi Sawashita)

 

 

This game literally pushed the Famicom cartridge hardware: Konami built into the cartridge their original Virtual ROM Controller VII (VRC7) sound chip, an FM synthesizer that allowed the composers to make 16-bit-like sound with an extra 6 audio channels and advanced bank switching. The cartridge is literally immense:

 

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Right?!? Even now, almost twenty years later, I can remember that tune despite only being 11 when the game came out. I can't always remember the names of my children but I'll never forget that music. 

 

The title theme was also quite involved for a Gameboy game:

 

Actually all the music was great:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It’s a simple tune, but Last Ninja 2’s Mansion theme impressed me when I jumped into a channel mixer and found that the piano melody used two (of the four available) channels to get that sound, with different channels playing different notes of the melody. An interesting use of limited resources. :) 

 

 

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8 minutes ago, df0 said:

I'm not sure if this pushes the boundaries of the hardware, but to my layman ears this sounds too complex for a Commodore 64.


I never played this but I heard it on a SID music podcast and it blew my mind; at first I thought it was some kind of modern remix using extra trickery, rather than an original tune. :D 

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I thought that but I was thinking of the context sensitive music on Switch and thought it isn't entirely retro.  But mainly it is.  So here's the Switch thing.  Sound effects are usually created in the same key as the music so it doesn't induce headaches over time.  Mario Odyssey took it all a stage further with something you don't really notice until it's pointed out to you.

 

 

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One of the less well known Chris Hulsbeck Amiga tracks.

 

It's pretty cheesy but it's a nice showcase of his real time mixing routines where the drums and bass are all done on a single channel freeing up more channels to harmonise samples for those thick chords. The same technique used to reproduce 4 channel Amiga tracker music on the ST, but used here to coax more channels out of the Amiga hardware which was sounding a bit anaemic up against the megadrive and SNES by this point.

 

And just compositionally it's got loads of variety and a decent length + sample quality jammed in to 512k.

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I don’t know how much this pushed the humble Soundblaster in MS Dos, but nearly 30 years later, I still love it!

 

 

It also had Gravis Ultrasound compatibility, I’m sure that was impressive but I never had one of those cards. 
 

Edit: forgot there was a C64 port too

 

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5 hours ago, dumpster said:

I thought that but I was thinking of the context sensitive music on Switch and thought it isn't entirely retro.  But mainly it is.  So here's the Switch thing.  Sound effects are usually created in the same key as the music so it doesn't induce headaches over time.  Mario Odyssey took it all a stage further with something you don't really notice until it's pointed out to you.

 

 

 

That's fascinating!  When you mention the bit about headaches over time, what's that about? 

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1 minute ago, Doctor Shark said:

 

That's fascinating!  When you mention the bit about headaches over time, what's that about? 

 

It was some thing I heard of in an interview with whoever did the music for the original super Mario brothers. The main Mario theme is deliberately in the same key as the notes used for the sound effects. It means that the sound effects do not clash with each other or the music. It's one of the reasons why games that use sampled sounds are much more prone to giving you a headache when all the action kicks off. Think of the cacophony of noise that is Call of Duty with the orchestra playing and guns firing Andy people screaming and compare to old arcade games with chip music and beeps sound effects.  Everything you do in Super Mario Bros results in a little sound effect or a quick series of notes, but the background music stays in that similar key so it Doesn't grate together.

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20 hours ago, dumpster said:

Castlevania: hell of a tune, perfect for the end of game boss, so much going on, great use of stereo.  Keep listening as it builds into a sort of techno orchestra and it's coming from a DS of all things.

 

 

 

Do modern consoles actually have sound chips like the old days though? I thought since the invention of samplers and digitising music, everything was recorded externally by other musical hardware, digitised (if not already digitally recorded) and then uploaded in various quality settings (carts being compressed because of the size, but CD/DVD/Blu-Ray pretty much uncompressed).

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3 hours ago, englishbob said:

 

Do modern consoles actually have sound chips like the old days though? I thought since the invention of samplers and digitising music, everything was recorded externally by other musical hardware, digitised (if not already digitally recorded) and then uploaded in various quality settings (carts being compressed because of the size, but CD/DVD/Blu-Ray pretty much uncompressed).

The DS has a file format for music that can be ripped similar to the way we used to rip Amiga Modules and mess about with them in protracker.  You are right though, the console could play an MP3, so I'm not sure whether that Castlevania one is chip music or not.  But modern consoles have their tricks too - I love R Type Delta on PS1 that has (I think) 2 soundtracks simultaneously running on some levels , seamlessly switching to an echoey, underwater version when you fly the ship under the surface and switching back when you emerge. Mario above has some amazing examples of that, music that is context sensitive and sound effects to match.

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