I am quite possibly one of Brad Smith’s biggest fans. His complete cover of The Dark Side of the Moon on a NES cart is always in regular rotation on my playlist. Brad is putting his chiptune and professional game development experience to work on a brand new game for the NES called Lizard. He’s running a Kickstarter here and it’s a project I’d really like to see succeed. The demo thus far reminds me of Legacy of the Wizard, Metroid and Little Nemo. The video also hints at some different play modes and of course, we can expect quality chip tunes. Pledge today!
Posted by beatscribe on October 29, 2014
Plogue Chipsounds is one of the best tools for making retro-chiptune style sounds. However, the wave table configuration is sometimes a bit confusing to learn. Here’s a quick video to show you the basics on how to do it. It’s not very different from Famitracker or the LsDj table setup. This tutorial will show you how to make some Megaman-style sounds.
Posted by beatscribe on October 28, 2014
Glows in the dark too. Get it!
Posted by beatscribe on October 27, 2014
Recently, I was thinking of some of the problems I had in the early days of composing and noticed an interesting paradigm between how modern companies develop software and the practices I’d adopted when creating music for clients.
Years ago, software developers did their work in a straight line. A client wanted a system and you started building it from the ground up, not stopping until it was near completion. Then, you showed it to the client, tested it and usually had to go back and change a ton of things since the client wasn’t really sure what they were asking for or you misinterpreted it.
To resolve this problem the Agile Scrum process was created to solve some important problems with the traditional method. This idea was developed in the 80’s but in the early 2000’s it really started to become adopted on a large scale by many companies. I’m going to keep it very high-level here (developers aren’t my main audience, I think?). The aim was to cut down in the vicious cycle of developing done without any communication to the end user and then going back and redoing it when the end user didn’t like it. It also addresses how teams plan and deliver things.
One of the most important pieces is incremental delivery. This is something I’ve adopted into my music composition process when working for a third party. Much like the traditional developer, my early soundtracks were seen and heard only by me until completion. Then, when the client got the finished product, they usually said, “this part is too long”, “we don’t like this instrument”, etc.
In the Scrum methodology, you have a “sprint” which is a set of time to complete a unit of work. A unit of work is something you can show the client at the end of the sprint. This way the client knows what on earth you’re billing him for and you also can be more sure the client will like the finished product. This is exactly what I do with a soundtrack now. Here’s my sprints:
- Initial sound of the album – I create a few 30 second demos, not properly mixed, some default oZone mastering on it and send them to the client. I usually make them loops so they can try them in game. From here, we determine if they like where things are going or if I’ve misinterpreted their directions and suggested feeling.
- Short Drafts of Each Track – If the soundtrack will be 10 songs in total, I make 10 30-45 second looping tracks displaying how I envision each track based on their direction. I usually try to include at least 2 dynamic shifts in this short period of time so that they can envision how the final version would sound. This could be more than one sprint depending on the amount of tracks needed.
- Final Drafts – Once the client is happy with the short drafts, I develop all of these short unmixed and unmastered demos into complete tracks based on the duration the client has requested. At this point they have their last chance to weigh in on instrument changes, tempos and other factors that play into the mixing and mastering phase. This section may be many sprints if it’s a very large job.
- Mixing and Mastering – Now we do our mixing and mastering and create finished products. We know we are safe doing this now since the client has confirmed everything up until now, what we send them in the end will only be slightly different from what they heard in the “Final Drafts” stage.
- Final Preview and Delivery – Once we have them all mixed, I send an archive file of mp3 versions for the client to listen to one last time. Then, if they’re satisfied, I send them the formats they’ve requested, raw WAV files and any stems if they needed them.
The great thing is that this is a great way to break up a large contract into multiple payments. Any completion of a sprint is a good place for an incremental payment.
Here’s a few tips for working with this mindset:
- Save everything! – Don’t think a song is done when you’re done with it. Save each draft you make. If you make 3 versions with a different lead instrument, save three projects so you wont have to remember what it is later. Once, when I used a hardware synth to make an early version, I didn’t write down the settings, and I could never quite capture the same sound later on for the final. Keep track of everything.
- Be Organized – It’s totally worth the time to move things into folders, save backups and make spreadsheets of where things are. If you don’t, you will forget something at some point.
- Communicate – Make sure you’re client understands this process. One important thing is that they realize your first drafts are not final projects. They need to remember that it’s just to get a mood or feeling to start with.
What are your methods for composing?
Posted by beatscribe on October 22, 2014
The Revengineers are without a doubt my favorite chiptune-influenced group. They’re about the only post-rock chiptune blending group I’ve heard and their earnest emotional songs really hit hard. Besides that, they have some amazing drumming and guitar playing and avoid all the meandering, pointless doodling sections that make you forget which post-rock group you were listening to.
Their new two-track ep is hopefully a teaser for what will be a whole album following in the tracks of their epic self-titled ep. The new tracks don’t stray far from the wonderful formula of NES leads backed by powerful guitars and drums and synths. It seems like there’s a bit more synth action this time around and the overall recording quality is crystal-clear and slightly above that of the self-titled ep.
I highly suggest picking up both albums today and making a sizeable bandcamp donation to keep this amazing band going strong!
Posted by beatscribe on October 19, 2014
Posted by beatscribe on October 8, 2014
From the early days of computing, games were always an interesting idea with potential. The cost of operating early mainframes was so high that formal games weren’t really a possibility, and the idea that they could be a profitable medium was probably unheard of!
However, there were some early academic projects that we can easily consider games in their proper form. The really cool thing I hope to highlight here is how these early experiments form the basis for the first generation if arcade games and computer games. If alway been under the impression that pong and joust were among the first games, by there is way more history leading up to those games.
The term video game could apply to many things, but for this article, we are gonna look at anything that had graphics of some form. I’m not counting anything that is text-based, or just a electronic version of a board game. These don’t represent the interactivity of a video game as we use the term. This rules out early chess, tic tac toe and text choose your own adventure games.
Tennis for two
Features: physics for bouncing ball, two player interaction
Granddaddy of: Pong, breakout, tennis games
Emulate it: http://www.gamersquarter.com/tennisfortwo/
Tennis for two utilized code that was meant for calculating missile trajectories on an analog computer to make a two player tennis game. The coolest thing is how they hijacked an oscilloscope to be the games display and graphics. This would be like rigging your car stereo’s station display screen to display a game of pong. This game sets up future physics based games like pong and breakout.
Mouse in the Maze
Features: graphical maze, overhead mapping, tiles, user designed levels, path finding ai
Granddaddy of: Pacman, Gauntlet, Zelda
Emulate it: http://bitsavers.informatik.uni-stuttgart.de/bits/MIT/tx-0/mouse/
While it could be argued that this isn’t a game, since there is no way to “win” per se, Mouse in the Maze represents a stepping stone for path finding ai and level design. In the game, you draw a maze with light pen and place bits of cheese. Then a computer controlled mouse heads out to find them. You have to admit, it even looks like Pacman a little bit.
Features: realistic physics, gravity, space battles, collision detection
Granddaddy of: Asteroids
Emulate it: http://spacewar.oversigma.com
Space War is arguably the first space shooter. It even “looks” like a classic video game, except it comes on a sweet circular monitor. You can see lots of familiar concepts here: space battle, collision detection, ai, gravity simulation and more. It also had many game modes, a feature now common to almost any genre.
Magnavox Odyssey console
Features: controlled, standardized console that reads cartridge games
Grandady of: Nintendo entertainment system, NES Zapper, joysticks and virtually every other modern console
Emulate it: http://www.zophar.net/odyssey2.html
Here’s where pong finally appears…Nope, that’s not some early model Atari, it’s the only game console you could have bought when Led Zeppelin was the biggest band in the world. While it mostly had simple black and white sports games, it pioneered standardized controls and game formats, and even the light gun if nes fame.
Investigating this had certainly raised my level of knowledge and appreciation for the field of game development. Enjoy!
Posted by beatscribe on October 6, 2014
Something the early video games only flirted with was a really immersive atmosphere. Metroid’s ambience only hinted at what could be done with graphics and sound in the future.
For me, SCUMM or point and click adventure games were the first games to make me feel completely absorbed in another world. It was here that the PC first started to outperform the consoles in graphic and sound capability and the combination of classic text games and modern graphics and sound created a memorable sense of escapism. It’s the first time I encountered professional voice acting In a game too, something we take for granted today.
For a few years now, There has been a great SCUMM emulator available to let you relive some of these excellent masterpieces from the early 90s, here’s a list of ones worth checking out.
LucasArts was primarily responsible for many of these games. There are WAY more than these four but these are the ones that resonated most with me. Feel free to add your own to the comments.
The Dig (PC)
As one of the first games to feature real actors voicing characters and a soundtrack by the legendary John Williams, Lucasarts The Dig set the bar very high. Robert Patrick (from numerous sci-fi and action films of the 80’s and 90’s) voices the main character and the hand-drawn backgrounds really draw you into the amazing alien world that the three astronauts find themselves on.
Exploring the abandoned alien world light years from earth is one of the most memorable experiences from my childhood. The game’s sense of isolation is incredible. It’s also a fairly relaxing game. The puzzles stump you but you can’t die. It’s a game you can play while drinking a coffee with your feet up on the table.
Kings Quest (PC and NES)
The kings quest series is one of the most prolific in the early adventure game genre. Lots of the content had to do with finding the right items and using them in the right places. This is one of the earliest games I can remember that had things in the “foreground” to create a bit of 3d In a limited way.
Maniac mansion (PC and NES)
Probably one of the strangest games ever made, maniac mansion is a sort of b-movie camp sci-fi affair about a sentient meteor controlling a local scientist in his mansion. Only a group of teenagers seems to be awAre that something is amiss in the neighborhood and has to rescue their friend from the mansion.
This is one of the earliest games I can think of that had multiple endings, various solutions to problems and fairly non-linear gameplay. I literally had entire sections of the game bypassed simply by using another character who found himself in new situations. It must have been a nightmare to plan all possible scenarios and combinations of teens and abilities. It’s said you can finish the game with any combination of the teens. This game even spawned a short lived TV show.
Nightshade came out a few years too late for it’s own good. This genre crossing game is mostly a SCUMM but occasionally you have to fight bad guys in a side view ninja-gaiden style mini-level. The film noir atmosphere juxtaposed with cheesy humor is great. I just love the opening, nightshade strikes a
Dramatic pose and speaks about how he’s going to right the wrongs in metro city..then the game cuts to a few hours later..he’s already tied up and captured in the bad guys fortress, off to a great start, there .it’s also cool that instead of a simple game over/continue system, when you are defeated you Are put in a bond-villainesque death trap that is easily escapable. Get out, and the game goes on!
Posted by beatscribe on October 2, 2014
I love ski ball, although I was never particularly good At it. Fruit Slinger accurately captures the feeling of ski ball on a mobile device. It’s a fun casual game that keeps you coming back for more.
For the music, Exalt wanted something that sounds modern but also iconic western. It was a odd combination but I think it worked out nicely. Get it today!
Posted by beatscribe on October 1, 2014