Category Archives: Game Music

Top 10 Articles Of 2014

We’re almost a fortnight into 2015 and I hope it’s been going great for everyone. Here at 16-BIT Shock HQ, things are moving along at a brisk pace. Work on game projects resumed early last week, after a short holiday break.

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Before moving on with fresh content for the new year, let’s take this opportunity for a brief recap of top posts on this blog. Several articles proved to be quite popular with readers and it would be great to showcase them again. Particularly for those who discovered this blog, only recently. The following list features a quick rundown of those posts truly, resonating with folks during 2014, and my personal viewpoint of why that is the case.

Just click on the relative heading and you will be taken directly to the article:

  1. Tools Of The Trade – GameMaker : Studio – Certainly the most read article on this site by a large margin, and quite understandably so. With the explosion of indie game development in recent years, everyone is looking around for the best ways to make games. This article gives a brief overview of one of the most popular game engines in existence today.
  2. Project MSG – Early Development – The game project I’ve been working on and has fortunately excited a few people. It’s a 2D retro-style shooting game with a top-down view perspective set within a cyberpunk universe. Many folks loved the logo and the pixel-art style, and in turn generated some interesting conversation between us. I appreciate all the input I’ve received and will be sharing more about this project in the near future.
  3. Developing For Vintage Hardware – It’s a no-brainer why this post struck a nerve, after all the number of retro gaming and computer aficionados keeps growing. Homebrew development is both intriguing and reinvigorating within the game development scene. Vintage consoles and computer systems, with their limited capabilities offer alternative, frankly more interesting roads for creative expression.
  4. Cybermanga – I’m a huge fan of anime & manga, particularly from the 80’s – 90’s. And it seems so are plenty of people visiting this site, even attracting significant traffic from Japan. The influence of these art forms play a big part in my own creative path and this post gives a brief overview.
  5. This Is For Retro Lovers – On the 2nd of June 2014, I wrote this blog’s very first post. Short, sweet and straight to the point – ultimately setting the general tone for future articles. Surprisingly it attracted a far larger audience than I was expecting, considering it was very early days for the blog.
  6. The 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy – Probably one of the more important articles I’ve written here. The goal was to convey the direction that my game development projects were to take. Worth a read for recent visitors.
  7. Prototyping And Arcade Presentation – A fairly recent article, managing to gain far more traction than I was expecting. I covered an issue in games that I feel should gain more attention, and that’s the matter of how they are presented. Arcade games in particular are a great example of how this could be done.
  8. Anti-Establishment – Another one of those articles that had a significant impact with readers. Further reiterating key points from the 16-BIT Shock Design Philosophy article. Perhaps a tad more cheeky, but still attracting small trickles of traffic several months after it was published.
  9. Tools Of The Trade – GraphicsGale – At one point, pixel art seemed like it was a dying art form. Fortunately it has been rejuvenated recently with all the interest in retro and indie gaming. One of the better, if not the best pixel art editor is GraphicsGale. A personal favourite of mine which I go into more detail in this post.
  10. FM Synthesis & Video Games: Kick Drums & Toms – Last but not least, is this excellent article by Joe Giliver from Ocular Audio. Joe’s vast knowledge in music composition and FM synthesis is a great help in understanding what is substantially niche subject matter. Lately FM synthesis, is enjoying growing interest which is in line with the resurgence of retro gaming, computing and 80’s synthesizer music.

Plenty of reading there, great way to start the new year I would think. Future articles will tread similar ground for the most part. However, there will be a shift in focus around the periods when I’ll be releasing my game projects. Naturally there will be greater emphasis on these as should be expected.

 

 

 

 

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Bass Cadet 04 – Silpheed

It seems like an eon since last a Bass Cadet article was posted. Finally it’s time to rectify matters with an interesting addition. I gave away a few clues in my previous article, savvy retro heads should have figured it out long before this post went up.

Sierra On-Line were one of my fave game development houses back in the 80’s with their strong line-up of adventure titles. A noteworthy developer, particularly on the PC. They had a knack for quality games and amazing packaging with killer cover art. Probably the end result of, a genuinely inspired passion for what gaming, was truly all about.

However, Sierra were not just a developer but also a publisher that established ties with one of their counterparts in Japan. This was none other than the equally proficient – Game Arts. Famous for releasing hit games such as Thexder, Silpheed, Zeliard and later on the Lunar and Grandia series of rpg’s. 

Game Arts started out developing for home computer platforms such as the MSX and NEC PC-8801. Both of which were hugely popular in Japan. Sierra On-Line ported and published Game Art’s earlier titles over to the west, with great success.

While Thexder remains a firm favourite of mine, and still enjoy to play it periodically. I have fond memories of Silpheed for a reason. This game came packed in with my very first sound card – Creative Labs’ Game Blaster. Finally I could enjoy arcade-quality FM tunes on my home PC and Silpheed would be my first foray.

I’ll be honest, Silpheed is not a particularly great game – it’s not terrible by any stretch either. Technically it’s impressive for it’s time, but rather bland. None the less, control is great and a space opera ambiance is conveyed rather competently. The music plays a big part in this, managing to cover cheerful, heroic and melancholic melodies. As the player, one does get a sense of partaking in an interstellar dog fighting scenario.

Silpheed’s BGM is composed by Hibiki Godai which just happens to be an alias. The real artist’s name is  Kohei Ikeda for the sound team known as Mecano Associates. Above is the soundtrack of the original version of the game when it debuted on the NEC PC-8801 on the 5th of December, 1986.

Rediscovering The Sound Blaster

Over the weekend I decided to dig out my old Pentium PC from the storeroom, saving it from permanent obsolescence. Ridding the machine of dust and grime was tiresome and time-consuming. A task that I didn’t confidently believe would be fruitful, as I was unsure whether the various components in the system were in working order.

Slowly but surely I took the computer apart, inspecting the motherboard, power supply unit, cables, video and sound cards, modem, various drives and their relevant controllers etc. On the surface everything seemed fine, just slightly dusty. Thankfully, no nasty capacitor leakage was detected, a scourge on many older computers and other electronic equipment. Even the CMOS battery seemed healthy, but later on it became apparent that it was out of juice and required replacement.

SB16, soundblaster, 16, pro, AWE64, FM, synthsis, Yamaha, retrogaming
Sound Blaster AWE64 still sounds great today

Interestingly enough, with everything in bits and pieces was the opportunity for rediscoveries. Such being the case of the sound card. My trusty old workhorse didn’t just possess any pedestrian audio device…oh no! Instead it would be the Sound Blaster AWE64 from Creative Labs, truly a terrific card with impressive specifications for it’s time. However, it’s real draw is it’s FM Synthesis capabilities which just made me eager to fire it up urgently.

Carefully I attended to piecing together the machine before, finally powering it back on in years. Excited and at the same time worried of prospective faults. Fortunately my fears were soon alleviated, the hum from the power supply sounded as I remembered it. However there was a ‘CMOS Checksum error’ on start up, though that was due to battery depletion which was soon rectified. Apart from some wavy video output, which is somewhat attributed to electromagnetic interference from the power supply. I moved the graphics card to the furthest slot away from the PSU and image quality improved noticeably.

In all likelihood, there is probably a fault with the video card as I don’t recall encountering this issue before. Some shielding could help and am already looking into that. The good news is that everything else is in working order. Once I installed the drivers and tested the Sound Blaster, hearing the sounds generated from this card made all the difference. Finally, all my hard work in getting the Pentium up and running was validated. I now have an authentic and dedicated system which will gradually find it’s way in aiding in my game music compositions.

An awful lot can be said about the differences of working in an emulated environment versus actual hardware. Essentially convenience in contrast to veritable accuracy. One cannot discount the enormous cost factor and usefulness VSTi’s (virtual synthesizer plugins) bring to the table. For some, this may be the only feasible option available to them. And in many ways, music produced with the use of VSTi’s can sound just as good compared to hardware. Not forgetting to mention that, VSTi’s and even trackers have advanced tremendously in offering astoundingly accurate renditions.

Nonetheless, moments spent listening to the Sound Blaster in action is undeniable proof that hardware can trump software. There is an evident richness in the sound that doesn’t quite come through in emulation such as DOSBox or any other applications. Yamaha’s OPL2 & OPL3 FM sound chips were employed in the early range of Sound Blaster cards. Noble attempts at recreating the sounds emanating from these two chips have come close – but still nothing like the real thing.

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The choice PC of the first true FM maestros

It’s been awhile since I’ve last added a Bass Cadet post, and it’s about high time that I did. There’s a particular game soundtrack that I have in mind. I will only give away three clues to give you an idea on what is is. Here they are: Game Arts, Sierra On-Line & NEC PC-8801. Any retro game enthusiast should be able to figure this one out. Till next time 🙂