Category Archives: Overview

Once Upon A Platform Soundtrack -Concept

retro,game,indie,Indie,8,bit,-bit,games,gaming,Gaming,klik,Klik,KLIK,boom,Boom,BOOM,platformer,platforms,platform,2D,2d Composing music for videogames and other forms of visual media requires the individual writing the music to take a different approach from writing songs. As video games more often than not follow a concept, or some form of storytelling, this requires reinforcement in aspects of its creation, such as the music.

Writing a popular song can consist of a few chords and a melody. Often these can be chords that sound nice with the melody that is being sung. However thought is often not given as to how the melody and chords can interact to portray a certain emotion, and therefore have  psychological effect on the listener. When it comes to composing for visual media though, thought needs to be given to this, and how both the melody and chords can shape the individual’s experience of what they are either playing or watching.

This is where the idea of an overall concept comes into play. A concept can help paint a picture. Of course when it comes to videogames the concept will come from the developers as they will be the decision makers behind how they want the story to be shaped and the overall outcome. From this though the composer can take away many aspects that can aid in their endeavours. Let me explain further with a game I am currently composing for. retro,game,indie,Indie,8,bit,-bit,games,gaming,Gaming,klik,Klik,KLIK,boom,Boom,BOOM,platformer,platforms,platform,2D,2d Once Upon A Platform is a challenge based game where the player has to move through levels, avoid obstacles and reach end stages. The developer (Klim Bloom Games) wanted to explore various human emotions throughout the game and provided me with a list of keywords which are to be the names of the various chapters in the game. The chapter names are below:

  • Chapter 0: Rules
  • Chapter 1: Time
  • Chapter 2: Space
  • Chapter 3: Confidence
  • Chapter 4: Perseverance
  • Chapter 5: Adaptability
  • Chapter 6: Self Control
  • Chapter 7: Nirvana

When presented with these words as a composer what would your first thoughts be? Mine were, “how can I reinforce the meanings of these words with music?” This question alone opens up a collection of other points that can be addressed, such as:

  • What does each of these words mean when relating to human psychology?
  • When it comes to the overall audio production, how can each area be reinforced? (For instance, how can reverb and delay be used to reinforce the essence of Space?)
  • When would a major key work best and when would a minor key work best?

retro,game,indie,Indie,8,bit,-bit,games,gaming,Gaming,klik,Klik,KLIK,boom,Boom,BOOM,platformer,platforms,platform,2D,2d Approaching projects like this allows the composer to break down what needs to be taken into consideration when creating the music for the game, in order for it to reinforce the overall concept and story of the game. This can then be taken a step further and when developing the main theme for a game you can take the essence of the concept/story and portray it in a singular piece of music. This was my aim with the below main theme for Once Upon A Platform, to encapsulate the keywords of the chapters.   Joe Gilliver – BA Hons (Ocular Audio) Composer | Producer | Sound Designer www.ocularaudio.com

If you want to know more about Once Upon A Platform  and download the free demo, please head over to KlimBoom Games.

And don’t forget to vote for it on Steam Greenlight!

I’d like to commend both Thomas from KlimBoom Games & Joe from Ocular Audio for their work on what looks like a cool and fun, neo-retro game. I particularly like the clean, minimalist look while the music matches the on-screen action perfectly – Demos

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In Praise Of Zilog’s Z80 Microprocessor

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The choice of the 8-bit generation!

Video games are an electronic medium and quite naturally require some form of computer hardware to run on. The CPU (central processing unit or processor if you prefer) has always played a vital part in the creation and execution of game code. Without this important component, video games would simply not exist. After all the processor is essentially the brain of a computer system…basic stuff!

And just as human brains can vary in intellectual capacity, various makes and models of microprocessors offer different performance capabilities. For game related tasks, the GPU (graphics processing unit) plays an even greater role within the modern game development paradigm. However, this article is not about development techniques and how they are to be applied to modern hardware. Rather, we will look at a specific microprocessor which played a leading role in defining gaming during it’s early stages.

Two prominent periods of gaming are the 8-bit and 16-bit eras, and quite frankly of greatest import. As shiny as our games are, and powerful as our hardware is nowadays – none of this would exist without the groundwork laid down during those halcyon days. And both those eras brought forward to amazing microprocessors that truly revolutionized gaming, namely the Zilog Z80 and the Motorola 68000.

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The Z80 is one of the most important microprocessors in gaming history

Zilog’s Z80 truly helped to kick start affordable home computing and arcade gaming from the late 70’s onward. The Z80 is an 8-bit processor, which is closely based on Intel’s earlier 8080 CPU. Due to it’s performance and versatility, it was adopted by a large variety of computer and arcade amusement vendors. Either Zilog’s original CPU, clones or variants of the Z80 architecture was incorporated into motherboards worldwide. Everyone from Sinclair Research right through to Sega made use of this mighty little chip, benefiting gaming inexplicably.

Some will argue in favour of a rival 8-bit microprocessor, namely the 6502 by MOS Technology. Also very popular and widely used, particularly in the home computer market but also made in-roads in the arcades thanks to Atari. However, the true acid test of which 8-bit processor was better, rests with the greater adoption enjoyed by the Z80, especially among Japanese arcade manufacturers. From Namco’s Galaxian through to Irem’s M52 system boards, the Z80 was the CPU of choice.

None can downplay the wide adoption of the Z80 when considering it brain-powered the following systems:

  • Sinclair ZX80 & ZX81
  • Sinclair ZX Spectrum 16K / 48K / + / 128K / +2 / +3
  • Amstrad / Schneider CPC464 / 464plus / CPC664 / CPC6128 / 6128plus
  • Amstrad GX4000
  • Cambridge Z88
  • SAM Coupé
  • Tandy / Radio Shack TRS-80 series
  • Coleco’s – ColecoVision
  • Commodore 128 (includes both a Zilog Z80A & MOS 8602)
  • NEC PC-6001 / mkII / mkIISR (using NEC’s μPD780C – a Z80 compatible CPU)
  • NEC PC-6601
  • NEC PC-8000 series
  • NEC PC-8801 (a wide range of models manufactured between 1981 – 1989)
  • MSX 2 / 2+ / turboR
  • Sharp MZ-80K series / MZ-80B series / MZ-3500 series
  • Sharp X1 / X1 turbo / X1 turbo Z / X1 twin 
  • Sony SMC-70
  • Sega SG-1000 / SG-1000 II / SC-3000 / Mark III / Master System
  • Sega Game Gear
  • Sega Mega Drive / Genesis (includes both a Motorola 68000 & Zilog Z80)
  • SNK Neo Geo (includes both a Motorola 68000 & Zilog Z80)
  • SNK Neo Geo Pocket / Color (includes both a TOSHIBA TLCS-900H & Z80)
  • Nintendo Game Boy / Color (Sharp LR35902 – a custom Z80 CPU)

The above list is only a small segment of computer and console systems that the trusty Z80 found itself in. Arcade manufacturers in particular, truly took advantage of this versatile processor in numerous ways. Initially arcade boards would only be designed with a singular Z80 CPU in place. But as games were becoming more complex, some added processing grunt was required. Since the Z80 was affordable and developers already accustomed to coding games for it, a very common solution was to add a secondary Z80 to increase the board’s horsepower.

SNK (Shin Nihon Kikaku Corporation) were always partial to manufacturing some fantastically exotic boards. During the mid-80’s they came up with the SNK Triple Z80 arcade board, and as the name suggests – boasts three Zilog Z80’s working in tandem. Two Z80’s were allocated to handle main CPU duties, while the third was specifically for sound CPU tasks. The games that ran on this board naturally surpassed the audio and visual fidelity of many of it’s counterparts. Resulting in games that had a look, feel and sound closer to the 16-bit standard.

My personal experiences with the Z80 were both positive and enjoyable, owning a ZX Spectrum played a big part in this. I learned to program on it, firstly in BASIC and then later on in machine code – wasn’t easy but I got the nitty-gritty. Later on I got hold of Zeus Assembler which made programming in assembly far more palatable to machine code.

Generally it didn’t take long to get accustomed to how the accumulator and various registers within the Z80 work together. The architecture is simple and elegant enough, not hard to figure out why it was so readily adopted. Not bad for a microprocessor that was originally intended for cash registers, instead of computers, consoles and arcade machines.

80’s Sci-Fi Inspiration – Brazil

 

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This has to be one of the coolest movie posters of all time

Over the weekend I decided to indulge in a little art house & old school movie viewing. Working in a creative medium such as games, it’s always a good idea to draw inspiration from various outside sources. It’s no secret that games, from their very inception were influenced by the film, animation and comic book mediums, considerably.

I’ve always been a fan of the science fiction genre, my interest started when I picked up an issue of 2000 AD (loved the Judge Dredd universe) and following the G-Force (also known as Gatchaman or Battle of the Planets) tv animation series. The 80’s in particular were a great time for the genre, an unprecedented number of excellent sci-fi movies were produced. So many, in fact, that it was difficult to keep up. One particular movie that I heard good things about but never got round to seeing is – Brazil.

Finally I managed something of a double bill, watching Brazil alongside Holy Motors. Both films were predictably unhinged, Holy Motors takes the cake – gorging on it and then spewing it out. Truth be said, I had high hopes for Holy Motors but it didn’t quite live up to the hype in my opinion. Certainly no sci-fi flick here, however treading experimental art movie territory closely. Seemingly a French Mulholland Drive of sorts, but with an entirely different message.

Brazil is a completely different beast altogether, definitely the better of the two movies by a significant margin. Directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Jonathan Pryce and Robert De Niro in this 1984-inspired dystopian cult-classic. Irreverent with a healthy dose of slapstick and satire goes some way to dilute the bureaucratic retro-futurist world depicted. Ironically, many countries in the present day seem to closely resemble this world, just without the aesthetic and humour.

There is also a healthy dose of the fantastical and exploration of the high-concept. The idea of an artificial simulated world as depicted in the Matrix films is not unique. Even Megazone 23, a Japanese anime produced by AIC in the mid-80’s covered similar ground. An excellent three part OVA that I should make a point of covering in a future article. While the use of this concept makes for some incredibly interesting sci-fi, it’s a concept that is sourced from certain religious spheres. Namely from the Ancient Gnostics and to a certain extent eastern esotericism including Buddhism.

Surely a movie such as Brazil would have shocked audiences with the issues it was exploring back in 1985. Watching it for the first time, 30 years later there just isn’t much shock value left. But this doesn’t diminish the film in any way, shape or form. For one, it’s delightfully unique while conveying a warning about bureaucracy and the police state.

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Boasting some startling imagery and composition, movie buffs & game developers take note

Brazil certainly has the hallmarks of a top-notch cinematic experience, however it wouldn’t translate well as a game. At least, I’m not aware of there ever being a game conversion of this particular film license. Quite frankly, that’s a good thing as Brazil is so incredibly nuanced, it’s beyond the scope of the majority of game developers to reinterpret successfully.

Nevertheless, what I got out of Brazil was further affirmation of taking creative risks. There’s much in this movie that is off-kilter but in the grand scheme of things – everything works out!