Sunday Game Soundtrack: Super Mario World (SFC/SNES)

It’s Sunday so that means it’s time for another Sunday Game Soundtrack!  On Sundays, Classical Gaming takes time off from scouring older, lesser-known soundtracks to highlight some of the greatest original soundtracks of all time and, of course, highlight some little known facts about each game.  Today, let’s take a look at an obvious choice for Sunday listening:  the Nintendo-made and Koji Kondo-composed Super Mario World.

Here’s the soundtrack:

And here’s some little known facts while you enjoy:

  • Many of you probably know this but I’m sure some of you don’t since I only learned about this about 5~ years ago.  If you leave the Special World music on for a while, it transforms into a pretty rockin’ version of the original “Ground Theme” from Super Mario Bros..  It’s awesome.
  • The Japanese version of the game has a couple fun differences:
    • My favorite is that you can eat the dolphins in Vanilla Secret 3.  Take that, you annoying platforming jerks.
    • The last stage of Special World (Funky) spells out “YOU ARE A SUPER PLAYER!!” in the English version.  The Japanese version spells out “YOU ARE SUPER PLAYER!!”.  Perfect.
    • Reznor is called “Bui Bui” in the Japanese version.
    • In the Japanese version, Cheese Bridge Area, Cookie Mountain, Forest Secret Area, and Chocolate Island Secret are all tagged “Course #1”, implying that there are other stages similar to them.  But…. there are no other stages with those names so why do we need to know that these are the FIRST stages?  This was corrected in the International release.  (thanks to Super Mario Wiki for that!)
  • Did you know that the berries you eat during the stages actually… DO something?  I actually had no clue how they worked haha.  Here’s an explanation for each color:
    • Red Berry :  Eat 10 red berries and receive a Super Mushroom.
    • Pink Berry : Eat 2 pink berries and that coin throwing cloud appears.  Collect all the coins dropped by the silly cloud thing and get a 1-Up.
    • Green Berry :  Eat a green berry and receive 20 more ticks on your timer.  These ONLY appear in Special World’s Funky.  Weird.  Never noticed that.

Anyhow, enjoy Koji Kondo’s work AND your Sunday.  This week – a couple new posts from the vault.  So stay tuned!

Advertisements

Originals: Signature Strike OST

Hey guys!  Been really busy with a lot of things lately, including this.  Yep, it’s my very first commissioned game soundtrack!  Check it out here!

The soundtrack contains 10 different tracks created in Famitracker that utilize the Ricoh 2a03 and the Konami VRC6.  I really tried to keep the music absolutely authentic to the console.  It is unfortunate that many great game composers did NOT have the opportunity to use the VRC6, due the its cost and late release in the life of the Famicom.  I spent a lot of time trying to think how some of the great shooters would have sounded IF they had the extra pulses and sawtooth.  Hopefully, I was able to create something that is not only nostalgic but also brand new!

The album here is mixed so you’ll hear some unauthentic reverb that is not characteristic of the console.  I do I think it adds more depth to the music, though.  I figured it would be nice to use some patches when mixing to give it a bit more polish.

Don’t like that mixed sound?  If you download the soundtrack, you will get copies of the NSF files.  If you go get an NSF player, you can listen to the unmixed, raw Famicom sound.  It’s kind of perfect.  Of course, since I wanted to maintain authenticity for the game, the game itself features the tracks from the NSF files.

I’m going to do further write up for the music later.  For now though, go check it out and download it.  It’s free and I promise it’s awesome.


Research in Game Music: Silence

While working on the second installment of Research in Game Music:  Writing effective and non-repetitive game music (Part 1 here!), I stumbled upon an article from ScienceDaily.com highlighting a 2007 Stanford University School of Medicine study about music.  The study (and I’m paraphrasing a bit here) basically wanted to scan people’s brains while listening to music.  It would appear “that music engages the areas of the brain involved with paying attention, making predictions and updating the event in memory.” (SD)  I mean, that makes sense.  We all get a bit mesmerized by music from time to time.  As we sit and listen, we may attempt to figure out where the music may be “going” (tonally, structure-wise, etc).  This prediction clearly requires brain power and focus.

However, what this study points out, and I think is worth further exploration, is this:  “Peak brain activity occurred during a short period of silence between musical movements – when seemingly nothing was happening.”  (DC)  Uh, wow.  The SILENCE had a profound effect, in fact, the PEAK of our listening prediction/brain activity occurs during the silence.

I also stumbled upon another article by Marcel Cobussen, a music professor at Leiden University in The Netherlands.  If you check out his website, http://cobussen.com/, you can check out his entire dissertation, online: “Deconstruction in Music“.  It reads like a subway map and is full of small articles that branch off the main topic.  There were couple sections on John Cage and Silence, other composers and Silence, etc.  Out of all this, though, the article that interested me the most was, “Silence and/in Music“.  An expanded excerpt for you:

This brief and incomplete summary immediately shows the heterogeneity of silence. Silence and silence do not necessarily match. For that reason alone, silence deserves more attention. As Martin Zenck concludes in ‘Dal niente – Vom Verlöschen der Musik’ [On the Extinguishing of Music], however, the attention to silence is a peripheral moment in composition and music analysis. By no means is its status equal to sound (cf. Zenck, p.15). The pause in music, identified as an absence of sound, is the exception to the rule that has music designated as the center of the musical spectrum. Eduard Hanslick’s famous definition of music as ‘die tönend bewegte Form’ [‘form propelled by sound’] in no way indicates a music that is present in its absence, in non-sound. Sound and silence relate to each other as the essential versus the supplement, as the primary versus the secondary. It seems that not the tritonus (the augmented fourth), but rather silence is the true ‘diabolus in musica’ in Western music. Contrary to the tritonus, silence was never banned, but its raison d’etre has been thoroughly questioned up until the 20th century. Its function was mainly dramatic or rhetoric. Silence is subordinate to sound, and has for the longest time (still?) been regarded as something less significant.

Music, for the most part, has been either ON or OFF for many hundreds of years.  Notationally, how do we show “silence”?   In composition, we document silence during a piece with a rest.  In Famitracker, we simply leave it blank. It is, to us, a simple ABSENCE of sound and therefore, not AS valid.   Cobussen would agree (begrudgingly) that we do, in fact, treat silence as a second class citizen.

So how does this relate to the Stanford article?  If silence/anticipation stimulates the listeners’ brains, how can we effectively deploy these tactics in our own music?  Is is possible to write a piece that upgrades silence to first class and gives it a martini?

My brain really started to wrap around this after really digging into some chiptune tracks I’ve been working on for the past couple weeks.  With digital music, I feel like it’s even easier to convey this juxtaposition of silence and sound.  Built-in to digital sound is the ability to create both with the flick of a switch or code.  Most chiptune composers already employ this.  Imagine chiptune tracks without space, with all the channels activated and meandering.  There needs to be space (IE mistakes that all beginning composers make- “I have 7 tonal channels, I gotta use them ALL, ALL THE TIME.”  No.)

Face it.  We all love SOUND.  We all STRIVE to have wonderful sounds.  C’mon, sound is where it’s at.   LISTEN TO THIS GREAT NEW SYNTH I MADE.  DUDE, YOUR WAVE CHANNEL IS BALLIN’.  etc. etc. etc.  Still, our study shows that silence can be just powerful… and we don’t need cool wave table effects to create silence.

So where am I going with this?  Video games, much like symphonies and other predetermined and measured pieces of interactive art, find ways to employ silence as well.  In a video game, where there is already a ton of sensory overload via lights and colors and sound, does silence have an impact on us as players?  Can silence HELP our immersion and attention when playing games?

Example of Silence in Games #1:  LOADING…. LOADING…. LOADING….

Andrew High and I would agree (though we didn’t here) that loading screens definitely ruin our immersion while playing games.  Many of the older games had completely silent loading screens.  Hell, loading screens sunk entire consoles (I’m looking at you, Sega Saturn!)

Here’s a well known example of a loading screen:

If you’ve played any of the games in the Madden, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The average delay from the game options screens (Franchise Screen, Online Screen, etc) to the actual game was usually enough for me to go downstairs, grab a beverage and some food, and come back to the screen, with time still remaining on the load.  Pretty darn awful.  On the loading screen, the game usually plays whatever music is cued up and then fades out slowly when the game is about to load.  Once it goes silent, you pretty much know the game is about to begin.  It’s a cue that we pick up on.  The silence SAYS something to us.  Interesting.

I mean, this is just one example of how the music and load screen typically line up.  A lot of the new games have music that just plays over the load screen or through it… and you’re going to need that little bit of music if you’re playing Skyim on PS3, for sure:

That’s pretty infuriating.  But at least it’s not complete silence.  Entering a new area cues up new music too, so that itself is a reward haha.

Example #2:  HARVEST MOON:  THE HERO OF LEAF VALLEY – y u no load music gud k?

Perhaps a personal example as I’m not sure how many of you guys played this but Harvest Moon:  The Hero of Leaf Valley for PSP has some major issues with the music.  I mean, the music itself is kind of nice and sweet and what you’d expect from an RPG about farming… but I’m more concerned with what happens when you change areas:

You wanna talk about “losing immersion”?  This game is a nightmare.  Every time you zone, the music cuts out.  It’s interesting though, because the music doesn’t restart… it picks back up where it left off… which makes it stutter along.  It totally drives me crazy.  I don’t understand what they were thinking.

Still, oddly, I sometimes find myself humming the next bar to the phrase during the silence.  I want my sound!  Where is my sound?  The delay creates anticipation.

Example #3:  Cue the death music!

Perfect example, again, is Super Mario Bros.  Let’s highlight this in an amusing fashion:

Dying plays the dying music… and then what happens?  There’s silence, followed by a load screen that displays how many lives remaining.  That’s your musical prep – your silence between movements.  It gives you ample time to think about what you’re going to do differently.  It’s not just Super Mario Bros too.  There are plenty of other games that have screens that give you a second to think about it after dying.

Example #4:  Dead Space IE I know there’s necromorphs here, I just can’t see them yet!

The Dead Space series employs silence to add to the drama of the game.  Nothing is more frightening than walking into a large open room with vents.  Clearly, something is going to happen.  Is it now?  How about… now!?  Let me walk a little… OH GOD NO!  MY FACE! Once a necromorph appears, the music rushes in and attempts to startle the player.  For example:

A very loose conclusion:

Obviously, there’s a lot to study about this.  My intention here was not to go into a 3000+ word paper on this but to point out some moments where silence could have some kind of affect on us.  Any thoughts out there?  Let me know and thanks for reading, as always!


Originals: “A Promise”

This track premiered at 8static 36’s Open Mic on June 8th at PhilaMOCA in Philadelphia, PA.  It was written in Famitracker v. 0.4.2 using 2a03+VRC6 and numerous drum samples programmed through the DPCM channel.  Please enjoy!

Some background on the piece while you listen:

  • The title for this track was decided long after it was finished.  The track was written specifically for June’s 8static with the intent of showing off all the new techniques I learned while working on my Chiptunes = WIN submission (which was accepted, by the way) without playing my ChipWIN submission live.  At first, I wanted to call it something like “My Promise” or “Promises” or “It Will Continue”- something that showed that the work done here was not the end of my own personal growth.  I figured that “My Promise” was too pretentious.  There’s not really a pretentious vibe to the song.  I eventually settled on “A Promise”.  “A Promise” can be from me to you, from you to me, from anyone and anything, as long as it’s kept.  I figured I’ll leave that interpretation up to you, the listener.
  • Construction:
    • My original goal was find a way to create “heavy metal” using NES audio.  I spent a lot of time developing sounds and tweaking instruments to get a nasty, almost grungy sound.  I was pretty happy with it.
    • From there, I constructed the beat.  8static IS a dance party, I know people play chip music and stuff there, but it’s fundamentally a dance party.  I spend time messing with various ideas until I settled on the beat your hear above.
    • I overlayed the original bass line (which was far less busy) and then wrote a simple melody.  I usually start with a very “quarter note-y” version of everything just to hear the harmonies and the direction.  I adjusted the shapes of the melodies to be more interesting, cut some “holes” for silence, and then spliced the original part to the grunge part.  I then cloned the beginning, changed the bassline and feel, and tweaked everything so that it flowed.
  • Things I’d do differently:
    • After almost getting rejected from the ChipWIN comp for bad volume levels on my instruments, I think I’ve finally learned that I cannot crank every instrument up to the highest volume setting.  I LOVE the sound it creates.  It’s like… garbage noise.  It distorts and spreads.  It’s a useful tool but I don’t think I can use it all the time.  I definitely could go back and change the volume levels on this guy too.  It would probably sound even better.
    • I need to follow my instincts a bit more when composing.  My ChipWIN submission took about 15-16 hours to write and this took 25+.  At the last minute, I found myself reverting parts of the piece back to the originals ideas.  Lesson here is:

Hope you enjoyed the track!  More to come as usual.  Thanks again!


Sunday Game Soundtrack: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (SFC/SNES)

Hi guys!  It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these.  For those of you new to the blog, on Sundays (if I post), I like to post about games that have great soundtracks that AREN’T Lesser-known.  Today, we’ll talk about Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, composed by Koji Kondo.

Here’s the complete OST for your listening enjoyment.  Below, I’ll post some facts about the game.

  • The game was originally released on August 15th, 1995 in Japan and October 4th/6th for NA/EU markets respectively.  The game was re-released for Game Boy Advance as Yoshi’s Island:  Super Mario Advance 3 in 2002 and featured a couple extra stages and features.
  • Super Mario World 2 has not had an official re-release.  Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario Advance 3 and NOT Super Mario World 2:  Yoshi’s Island was re-released for Virtual Console in 2011.
  • Yoshi’s Island DS is the direct sequel to this game and was released in 2006 for the Nintendo DS.
  • The game takes a departure from many of the other games in the Mario series as it is single player only.
  • The SNES version uses the Super FX 2 chip.  The original idea was to try to render the game just as they had rendered Donkey Kong Country.  According to Kent Steven’s “The Ultimate History of Video Games: The Story Behind the Craze that Touched our Lives and Changed the World”, Miyamoto brought the game to his board of directors with 3-D pre-rendered sprites and was ordered to change it to something else.  He then decided to develop it as if it had been drawn by children with crayons.  He brought the game back and it passed.  Miyamoto would eventually get his way, though, as Yoshi’s Story features 3D rendered characters.
    • The Super FX 2 chip allows the game to render those GIANT sprites, such as Burt the Bashful.  Many other games APPEAR to have large sprites (such as Contra III).  These sprites are actually part background/part moving sprite.  This game ACTUALLY HAS enormous, moving sprites.

The goal is to remove Burt the Bashful’s pants. And we’re okay with this.

  • The game sold about 4~ million copies.  It finds its way onto MANY “Greatest Video Games of All Time” lists.
  • Koji Kondo’s soundtrack to this game is exactly what you’d expect from him.  It’s goofy, rockin’, and thoughtful.  When I was a kid, the music stuck in my head for days.  My friend Mike and I actually arranged some of the tunes for trombone and bass back in the day.
    • One of the coolest things Kondo does is for the World Maps.  The game features 6 different worlds.  World 1 features a very simple melody.  As you travel from world to world, the map music becomes more and more diverse, adding drums, bass, strings, and trumpet.  It’s a really cool feature.  To hear it back to back, set the video to 23:20~.  Enjoy
    • One of my favorite tracks of all time is the Mid-Boss theme from this game.  Here’s a direct link to it.  It’s like… Mario meets Baby Elephant Walk meets Dancing Homer.  It’s so Koji Kondo though- that laid back jazz feel and subtly goofiness? It’s perfect.

At any rate, I hope I helped you feel some subtle nostalgia today!  Please feel free to leave comments!


Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: Devil’s Crush (PC Engine/TG-16)

Welcome back for another edition of Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks.  Today, we’ll talk about a game that has two different names released for a console that has two different names.  Oh, and it’s pinball and stuff.

Continue reading


Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks: Brave Fencer Musashi (PS1)

“If I’m reincarnated, I wanna be Musashi again!”

Welcome back to another edition of Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks.  Today, we’ll talk about a food themed game that somehow tells the story of Miyamoto Musashi but really doesn’t.  There’s also something with two swords and making bread and like, chibi rabbit things?  OH and DDR- there’s a DDR minigame… and zombie bowling.

Continue reading