Category Archives: Fidelity Concerns

Fidelity Concerns: Sega Master System (US) vs. Sega Master System (JP)

Show of hands… how many people actually owned a Sega Master System?  Anyone?  Someone?  Are you out there?

Well.  Did you know that your US Sega Master System produced MASSIVELY INFERIOR audio to the Japanese Sega Master System?

Some little known facts about the Japanese system and the Konami VRC7, for some reason, after the bump.

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Fidelity Concerns: “Hip” Tanaka’s Dr. Mario, Part 1

This is Part 1 of my 2 part series on the music of Dr. Mario.

In 1990, Nintendo released Dr. Mario for both the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Nintendo Game Boy.  As we know, the both of these systems use different audio instructions (Ricoh 2a03 for NES/Fami and the custom Sharp LR35902 for the Game Boy).  So what challenges did Tanaka face when moving his soundtrack across these two platforms?  Let’s take a look.

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Fidelity Concerns: Mega Man (Rockman) 1/2/3 and Mega Man: The Wily Wars (Rockman Mega World) continued-

This is Part 2 of my two part analysis of the music from Mega Man:  The Wily Wars.  For Part 1, please click here.

An example of fidelity lost:

I don’t normally revisit previous posts topics so quickly.  After posting a lengthy discourse on the music from this game yesterday, I was listening to my iPod today and found a really quite horrendous adaptation of Mega Man 3 music on the Genesis.  I figure I would post it.  In general, the Mega Man 3 music is not treated particularly well but this one is pretty much the worst.

I also fixed the title and some typos.  He’s known as “Mega Man” here and “Rockman” in Japan- there’s a space.  Oops.  I’m glad no one pointed this out.  I guess I just did though.  Double oops.

Here’s the offending example.  The “Ending- Theme of Protoman” track from the Genesis version of this game is downright awful.  Let’s demonstrate.  Here’s the NES version:

(fixed this link finally – 8/20/13)

The original intention for Protoman is this idea of a whistle-based melody that plays when you meet him throughout the game.  The artists, according to the Mega Man Official Complete Works, mention that Protoman was intended to be neither friend nor foe- an ambiguous character archetype from Japanese anime.  The idea is that he would have a “cool” theme (literally using the word “cool” to describe him).  The artists and the sound programmers worked together closely to develop a true, team-wide aesthetic.  The whistle could be Protoman whistling, to announce his arrival.  I feel that falls into line with the idea of how “cool” Protoman is in the sense of that epic Japanese anime hero genre from which he’s developed.  Either way, when you fight him, part of this theme plays:

(credit:  I apologize for the awful sound quality.  Ouch, my ears.  Clearly done on emulator or something.)

So naturally, the ending theme exposition of this theme is warranted and welcome considering how the game plays out (spoilers, etc etc).  So you’d think they would do a decent job moving this over to the Genesis?  Uhhhh:

(credit:  )

(Yes, that’s me.  This stuff isn’t online so I’m just going to post it.  I’m sick of looking for it.)

I do not like this attempt at creating a “flute” sound or a “whistle” sound.  It is unflattering and shrill.  I think it does execute the “rock ballad” successfully.  Then, you get to about 1:06 and you’re all set for it to go into the modulation and cool solo… and… wait.. what?  The music stops and begins to repeat.  I heard this on my iPod yesterday and was like:  WHAT?!  I couldn’t believe it.  They chopped off literally 30 seconds of music.  That is unacceptable in my mind.  I would love to ask someone who worked on the development team why this happened.  I understand there was a lot of pressure to churn this game out but wow- I don’t see why they couldn’t just spend the extra time and get it done.

More on the music:

I finally received my Mega Man Official Complete Works artbook in the mail yesterday and read some very interesting information about Mega Man:  The Wily Wars.   For one, the game was outsourced for the artwork and design.  Also, as I quoted from Wiki, this was a very disorganized and rushed project.  With book in hand, I can confirm the quote made yesterday.  Keiji Inafune, the lead artist and developer, was not directly involved in any of the decisions, though, he did aid in creating the “Journey to the West” inspired villains for the bonus content.  Thus, I’m not sure if we can really blame anyone in particular over at Capcom for the following Wily Tower stage tracks:

This is the “Huey Lewis and the News” track I was talking about.  Yes.  This is supposed to be a castle of doom.  In fact, it is the second to last stage of the game.

This next track is much more “Mega Man” by comparison though.  It reminds me of the later Mega Man X tracks (like Mega Man X5 and X6):

I really like this track.  It’s like the classic “Mega Man” feel meets epic anime theme song.

Since I’m in the uploading mood, here’s a couple more tracks that were not on YouTube I posted for your consideration:

After this, I should think the subject should be exhausted.  Hope you enjoyed !

Fidelity Concerns: Mega Man (Rockman) 1/2/3 and Mega Man: The Wily Wars (Rockman Mega World)

With the popular success of Mega Man series on the Nintendo Entertainment System, Capcom decided to branch out and release Mega Man for Sega Genesis, a company and console that Capcom rarely worked with.  Capcom was looking to absorb more of the market and since they had very good success releasing Street Fighter II:  Champion Edition (mainly due to the fact that the giant cartridge released for Genesis had enough room to put the four boss characters into the game… a subject to be explored later), they decided they could resell to a whole new group of gamers.

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Composers: Koichi Sugiyama, Part 1 (Dragon Quest 1)

Many of what we know about video game music today was influenced by Koichi Sugiyama.  Here’s some exceedingly brief background information.

A classically trained conductor, Sugiyama graduated from University of Tokyo will full honors in 1958.  After a brief stint in broadcasting, he shifted his focus to composition, writing many movie and anime sountracks.  In the 80s, he was contacted by Enix to work on Dragon Quest for the Nintendo Famicom (aka Dragon Warrior in the US).  His career took off and Sugiyama, at age 79, is still composing game music today.  There’s so much to talk about when it comes to Sugiyama, I’d rather split it up into a couple blog posts.  I’m very excited to get to his orchestral contributions rather than bore you with his life story (though it is really fascinating).

That being said, Sugiyama is credited as being the first game music composer to have his works arranged and composed live.  In 1987, Sugiyama arranged and conducted his music from Dragon Quest II at the first “Family Classic Concert” series (performance by the Tokyo City Music Combination Playing Group on August 20th, 1987).  He has since then participated in many other orchestral game music concerts as a conductor and arranger.

(A wiki aside:  the wiki for Koichi Sugiyama is horrible- I’ll highlight all the errors soon enough.  For one, it says that he released Dragon Quest 1:  Symphonic Suite on CD in 1986.  Right… considering I took two seconds to google this and found that the CD was released in 1994.  Plus the fact that Sugiyama hadn’t written the music to Dragon Quest II yet so… how would he know it was to be called Dragon Quest 1 ?  Bahhhhhhh!!! Reference here.)

Okay, let’s listen in on a track of his original Dragon Quest music and orchestral arrangements:

(credit:  )

This is the “battle theme” from the game.  It’s effective and epic in its own regard if simplistic.  I spent many hours listening to this (and being frustrated).  It never got old.  Here’s Sugiyama’s orchestral version from Dragon Quest I:  Symphonic Suite:

(credit:  )

As you can see, there was… considerable orchestration done here.  This (I BELIEVE) is Sugiyama conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  It is a live recording (hence the really bad french horn clam at around 0:18).  What is fascinating is that it was largely cited that Sugiyama wrote orchestral arrangements first and then “dumbed” them down to fit the sound limitations of the Famicom.

What is interesting to note is that Sugiyama has re-recorded many of these tracks 12-15 times making alterations, orchestration changes, etc many of which are recent and actually of a better quality.  There is a large amount of misinformation I’m finding on the exact releases of his works and their original forms.  It could be assumed that perhaps his works in the 80s were released on LP (a Japanese friend of mine confirmed that he did indeed own Dragon Quest LPs.  I’ll have to look into this).  I’ll have to research this.  At any rate, this has been Part 1 of an introduction to Koichi Sugiyama.  Comments welcome.

Fidelity Concerns: Atari’s Paperboy and Mindscape’s Paperboy 2

I have talked an awful lot about the ability of NES’s sound.  I think it is time to talk about the limitations.

First, let’s briefly compare the music of the original Atari full size arcade game, Paperboy, with its Nintendo Entertainment System version.  Here’s the arcade console version of the music:

(credit: CecilMcW00T)

And the NES version:

(credit:  GBelair)

Um.  Wow.  No comparison.  The NES version actually has mistakes in the pulse waves.  The noise channel isn’t even used.  They convert the music horribly across the two platforms.  I feel like I’m falling asleep.  The original arcade version was released in 1984 and the NES version was released in 1988.  Even by 1988 Nintendo music standards, this is a meager track (Contra and Castlevania II are both from 1988 as well).  I bet someone could’ve made an awesome VRC6 track that sounded more like the arcade version of the music… but still.  Ouch.

Later, in 1992, Paperboy 2 releases for the the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo Entertainment System.  Both have the same music.  But there are many key differences. Let’s listen to the Super Nintendo music first:

(credit:  fidy11)

And now the Nintendo version of this theme:

(credit:  GBelair)

Ouch.  It’s hard to listen to.  They at least add drums but a ton of instruments and sounds are missing.  It captures the idea of the music a little better than the attempt at Atari’s Paperboy but by comparison, is still quite inferior.  The issue presented is many of the sound modules, like MMC5, were still expensive even in 1992.  Many companies began to realize that the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis (both 16-bit systems) had vastly superior sound capabilities.   This marked the end of the 8-bit era, with a lot of the sound capabilities of the old hardware unchecked or unused.  That’s why we have many brilliant chip tune composers today keeping it alive.

There are many more examples of the short comings of NES sound that I will post in the future.  I plan on moving forward to the next generations of consoles this week.  Comments are welcome.

Fidelity Concerns: Dracula II: Noroi no Fuuin vs. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest

After focusing on the VRC6 vs. the MMC5, I decided maybe we should highlight the Nintendo FDS vs. the Nintendo MMC1.  The beloved game Castlevania II:  Simon’s Quest was originally released for Famicom Disk System before it was released as a cartridge.  The Famicom Disk System version featured a “save” system that allowed the player to actually save their progress on the disk, while the Nintendo version we know and love featured a password system.

What is interesting to note:  Dracula II:  Noroi no Fuuin only utilized the Nintendo FDS.  Castlevania II:  Simon’s Quest was one of the first US games to use the Nintendo MMC1.  The MMC1 is the famous chip used for Megaman 2.  The main feature of the MMC1 was that it allowed for game saving and vertical/horizontal scrolling…. (which makes me think – why couldn’t you save in Megaman 2… or the US version of Dracula II for that matter?)

Anyhow, strangely, the US version of the music is actually more advanced than the Japanese version, containing first party (H. Maezawa) remixes of the original tracks.  Let’s look at the classic Castlevania series theme “Bloody Tears”, which was introduced in this game:

(credit: Divisiblebywaffle)

So this is the Famicom Disk System version.  It features the 2A03 and the Nintendo FDS.  Here’s the US Nintendo version:

(credit:  KamilDowonna)

I’m not sure which version I like better.  Both have a certain charm.  I think the MMC1 version has more… weight.   The Nintendo FDS version is lighter and more lively.  I don’t know if I think that’s the best “mood” for the game.  At any rate, I hope this was informative.  Comments are welcome.