Tag Archives: 2a03

Originals: The Last Dream (EP)

Artwork by Joey Mariano ( animal-style.com )

Hi guys!  Been quite some time since I’ve posted.  Hope all is well.

I’m pleased to announce the release of my very first chiptune album, “The Last Dream”.  I’ve been working on this for some time and I’m very excited to share it with you.  Please take a listen and download it (it’s free!).

Feel free to leave comments.  I’m not revealing exactly what the album is about (maybe you can figure it out!) but I’ll be glad to answer any questions about how I put the music together, constructed the concept, etc.

Expanded Liner Notes:

The entire album was created using jsr’s Famitracker 0.4.2 with Ricoh 2a03 and Konami VRC6.   I created my own DPCM 1bit samples and all the samples you hear are playable on a Famicom console.  If you download the album, you will get the NSF files and if you have the right equipment, you can play it right off hardware, which is neat!

Here’s a couple things I thought about while making this album:

  • I excluded tuba.  I know that I’ve been working on combining the two during performances but I wanted to write an album that stands alone to start.  Well, and also, I’m not sure exactly how to integrate the tuba well enough at this point to make it sound polished.  I will definitely continue to experiment with that.
  • While I have been writing a LOT of Turbografx-16 tracks lately, I wanted my first album to reflect the work I’ve done with this set up.  I’ve been using 2a03+VRC6 since I started last February.  I really wanted to show off what I’ve learned.
  • This album was originally slated to be called “First Blood”.  I actually completed most of the tracks and then realized that I didn’t like the concept.  I ended up tossing many of the ideas I had and rewriting a couple from the ground up.  I wanted to focus on a different concept as I felt “First Blood”‘s concept of drinking, depression, and self-pity was a bit too dark overall.
    • The only track from “First Blood” that made this album is “Rumble”.  The rest of the tracks were written with the new concept in mind and all within the last 4 months or so.
    • There was to be an “Oddball – Album Version” included on the CD but I cut it at the last minute.  The track is completely done.  I plan on releasing it in the future but I won’t tell when.
    • My toughest decision was to cut a 9-minute long epic track about depression called “Nagging Cough”.  I have been fighting with this track since last March.  This was written right after “What Happens When You Take the Wrong Bus”, making it the second track of my short chiptuning career.  It started small and now it’s kind of grown into something completely different.  There are so many good things in it… and so many things I want to change.  I believe I will release it as a single in the spring, maybe as a one-year anniversary of my struggle to make it sound like music.

At any rate, I really hope you like what I’ve put together.  Thanks for listening and thanks for reading!  Hope to see some of you lovely people at MAGFest this year.  I will be in town on January 4th.


Sunday Game Soundtrack: DuckTales (FC/NES)

It’s Sunday and that means it’s time for another Sunday Game Soundtrack!  This opening tag sounds cheesier and cheesier every time I write it.  Too bad.  Today, let’s listen to Capcom’s DuckTales for the Nintendo Famicom/NES.

Before we dive in, I just want to point this out to all you blogger types who are writing incorrect articles:  the composer for this game is Hiroshige Tonomura.  It is NOT Yoshihiro Sakaguchi.  How many sources do you guys check?  YouTube?  Seriously.  Capcom’s official website lists Tonomura.  It’s the 3rd result.  It’s called Google, people.  Please go and change it if you haven’t already.

Let’s dive right in:

Okay, while you listen, let’s chat:

  • Hiroshige Tonomura’s alias is Perorin.  In addition to DuckTales, he wrote tracks for the arcade version 1942 and the Romance of the Three Kingdoms-based RPG, Destiny of an Emperor.  He left Capcom after 1989 to join Taito, where he worked on the sound team for such games as Bust-a-Move and Pro Baseball? Murder Case! (yes, that’s a real game).  Not sure what he’s up to right now.
  • Keiji Inafune (of Rockman and now Mighty No. 9 fame) did the character design for the game.  Awesome.
  • Yoshishiro Sakaguchi did the SOUND PROGRAMMING;  it’s not the same as being a composer.  He was a part of the development of the  game, though.
  • This was Capcom’s first Disney-based platformer.  Disney sent over a spy (Darlene Lacy) to make sure the game was up to Disney’s standards.  In an interview with Nintendo Player, she discussed DuckTales and some of the changes that had to be made to the game to get it “on board” with Disney.  Some changes:
    • Capcom originally had crosses on all of the coffins in Transylvania.  Religion!!??  IN A U.S. VIDEO GAME SPONSORED BY DISNEY?  OH NO!  NO WAY!  They changed them to say RIP instead.
    • Scrooge was originally supposed to eat hamburgers to gain back health dots (the technical term for those red dots that I just made up).  Disney had it changed to ice cream cones.
    • Oh man, this one would have been brutal.  There was originally a way for Scrooge to lose all his money.  Lacey says they removed it because it was “un-Scrooge-like”.  Just imagine…. oy…
  • The beta version of the game reveals some different tracks.  For instance, this alternate unused Transylvania stage track (also note the crosses!  OH NO!  RELIGION!  PROTOTYPE REJECTED!)

  • The beta version of the game also reveals a painfully slow version of “The Moon”‘s legendary track.  It drags on and on:

Okay people, enjoy the rest of your Sunday.  Comments welcome, as always.  More Lesser-known Game Soundtracks this week.  OMINOUS.


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!


Covering a Tune: “What Happens When You Take The Wrong Bus” Remix 1

Hey guys!

It’s been exactly 3 months since I first performed at 8static.  Wow.  Time flies.  Since then, I’ve been working diligently on new chiptune works and trying my best to continue to explore the limitations of NES audio.

One of the cool things about working with Famitracker and actually composing music IN the original 2a03 is that it gives me MUCH greater insight into how the original composers used the chip.  My perspectives on old soundtracks have changed greatly since I’ve begun composing as Ap0c.  I believe the difficulties I encountered working with the chip and the limitations of the output of sound really steel my original opinions on retro game audio and bgm.  But more on that later!

Since Ap0c is fundamentally a performance experiment, I’m still not sure what Ap0c’s voice is.  Is it gothic-classical-Castlevania inspired dance music?  Happy chiptune ska?  Mega serious and brooding classical works?  I guess so far it’s been all of the above.  There’s really no sense in labeling what I do… still, it would be nice to have a cohesive idea behind all the tracks, especially if I’m planning on releasing an EP.

In the stuggle to find the voice for this project, I’ve decided to remix some of my older tracks.  I believe the answer to my question lies really in my own interpretation of my own work.  For this ongoing experiment, I’ve chosen “What Happens When You Take The Wrong Bus”.  I will make a new cover of this song every 3 months and use the recordings to measure my progress.  The key thing I’ll be looking at is style.  Why did I write it the way I did in the first place?  Does that work?  Does it fit in with what Ap0c’s become?  All of these questions will need to be answered as I go.

This piece was first performed (IE Famitracker’d off a laptop… lame!) on February 8th, 2013 for 8static 32.  Here’s my write-up on that performance in case you’re wondering.

Okay, so here’s the original work.  I’m not reposting this to soundcloud so listen from Chipmusic.org.

The original work accomplishes much of what it set out to do.  My goal was to write a traditional RPG town theme and then basically go crazy with noises and sound effects to create perhaps FEAR or something along those lines.  I believe the original is effective AS IS in many ways.

Still, there’s a lot that can change.  One of the things that I’m not terribly proud about is the beat.  A certain chiptune musician who I often send my unfinished works to for review would say that it lacks “treble” in the drums.  I would agree.  I changed the drums a LOT in the new version.

The way I programmed this was completely stupid.  I created ONLY 2 instruments.  Yes.  There’s only a generic VRC6 instrument and a 2a03 instrument, assigned to play indefinitely.  I programmed EVERYTHING outside the instrument editor.  Since I’ve actually learned how to make instruments that are varied and interesting, I decided to add my regular slew of instruments to the new version.

Lastly, I was really unhappy with the original solo I wrote around 2:14.  It’s effective but it could be so much more.  A lot of my newer pieces have rockin’ guitar-esque solos.  Why not this piece as well?

The finished product is on my SoundCloud right now and can be viewed below.  I hope you guys enjoy it and I’ll see you back in 3 months to see how much my style has changed.  Rock on!

What Happens When You Take The Wrong Bus [May Mix]

Also, I’m down for ANY feedback you guys can provide between the two mixes.  So please let me know what you think!  Thanks again!


Originals: Close to Good X Ap0c – “Solstice”

I’m delighted to announce the release of the first track from Close to Good X Ap0c: “Solstice”.

To hear it, go to the: Close to Good X Ap0c – “Solstice” Official Page

The brainchild behind this project is Close to Good’s drummer, Kevin Ragone.  He thought it was be really cool for me  to cover one of Close to Good’s tracks via chiptune with the idea that both their track and my track would be released together.  The listener would be allowed to listen back and forth between the tracks and enjoy two different interpretations of the same melodic material.  He sent me a track that C2G had been working on and I instantly agreed.  Thus, the Close to Good X Ap0c project began.  Enjoy!

“Solstice”

Close to Good’s version of “Solstice” is damn catchy.  The track is based off one clean, live take (here’s the original video).  Geez.  I know a lot of classical musicians who would need a ton of takes to get a solid recording.  Talented dudes.

Kev had informed me that the theme was done in such a way that it should invoke the feeling of a video game title screen, perhaps even for a game named “Solstice” or something along those lines.  The track certainly invokes a video game element- perhaps a title theme or even a world map theme remix of the title theme, etc.  I spent a lot of time listening to the nuances of the piece.  I wanted to figure out exactly how to interpret the lines in such a way that didn’t completely change the meaning of the work.

The version by me is done in Famitracker with 2a03+VRC6 sound.  This presented many challenges to me, the biggest being the genre of chiptune itself.  There’s different standards for rock bands and chiptunes, of course, and  I had to find a way to navigate creating a chiptune remix without it… well…. becoming an “untz untz untz” dance version of the original.

I started out by transcribing the whole piece from start to finish.  I labeled the “A” section, “B” section, intro, and outro accordingly and then began to arrange.

My first version included an expanded intro that covered and realized each of the chords in an almost a latin feel.  I wasn’t too happy with it.  I realized that I had fallen directly into the dance hell of chiptune remix by accident.  It’s so easy to do that somehow.  I scrapped this version completely and started all over again.  I ended up starting over about 5-6 times.  There’s a lot of other smaller and varied versions with weirder changes and stuff.  Going from Solstice v 1.1 to 1.2 to 1.3 etc, I had to go all the way to “Solstice v 2.0” before I was happy with the product.

The final version is technically “Solstice 2a.”  There was a “Solstice 2b”, which included a fade out similar to Close to Good’s track (and an extra “C” section that contained some new melodic material) but after consulting with the Close to Good themselves, they really liked my “2a” version.

I think my favorite part of my own piece is from :17-:44.  This is 2a03 alone.  I tried to see how much I could squeeze out of the limitation, as both an exercise and for the aesthetic principle.  It’s amazing how much sound you can get from the 2a03- it makes me feel like I’m wasting the extra 3 VRC6 channels sometimes.

We’re working on exchanging some more tunes in the future and the next entry appears to be a cover of one of my tunes, realized by Close to Good.  I’m pretty psyched about that!

Close to Good and I hope you really enjoy “Solstice”!


Research in Game Music: The difference between pulse waves and square waves

So, a couple of the readers of this blog asked me (in lieu of my current 2 part series on Dr. Mario across the NES and Game Boy) to explain the difference between square waves and pulse waves.  Let’s see if I can shed some light on how this works.

Continue reading


Meet the System: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

One of the goals of this website is to introduce people to the various video game consoles and their sound capabilities.  Today, I choose the Nintendo Entertainment System.

A Brief Description

Known as the Family Computer (Famicom) in Japan, the Nintendo Entertainment System is the 10th best selling game console of all time at 61.91 million units sold.  It featured 8-bit graphics, a library of 799 games, and numerous peripherals including the NES Zapper (a light gun for simulated shooting games), the Power Glove (the first controller that allowed human movement to control a video game), and the Power Pad (a floor mat controller controlled by a player’s feet).  The console was released in the US in 1984 and was discontinued 1994.  For more info, check out the NES wiki : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nintendo_Entertainment_System

Sound Capability

Technical Stuff:

The NES uses a Ricoh 2A03 8-bit microprocessor.  It was based on the MOS Technology 6502, the same processor as the famous Apple II series.  (The MOS Technology 6502 was developed by the same engineering team that built the very popular and successful Motorola 6800.  (A nerdy aside:  the Motorola 6800 is the processor that eventually led to the development of the MC68000 series, the Apple Macintosh chip that competed with the Intel x86 chip for many years and was coincidentally the chip used in the Sega Genesis). )

The 2A03 allowed for two pulse wave channels with 16 volume settings and duty settings of 12.5%, 25%, 50%, and 75%, one fixed-volume triangle wave channel, a white noise channel with 16 volume settings, and delta pulse-code modulation (DPCM).  The console also allowed for sound expansion chips.  These were controlled by two pins on the cartridge connection.  This allowed for more simultaneous sounds, extra channels, and other sound types such as sawtooth waves.  Unfortunately, the two pins were removed from the US Nintendo console so we actually never heard the most powerful and clean sound expansion chips.  I’ll save that conversation for another post.

Explanation:

Essentially, most first generation NES games had only 4 different simultaneous sounds – two pulse waves that could change in timbre from pulse to square with adjustments, a triangle wave, and a white noise channel.  The DPCM is essentially just a really, really primitive audio sampler.  A lot of the sound effects you hear when you play NES (such as punching, kicking, jumping, power ups etc) are just sampled sounds that are fed through the DPCM.  Through creative use of these channels, early NES composers managed to create music.  Here’s a montage of all the songs from Super Mario Bros. for NES:

(credit:  Garudoh)

So, what you’re hearing right now from composer Koji Kondo is the two pulse waves controlling the melody and the triangle serving as the bass.  The noise channel is manipulated to attempt to create something that sounds like or acts like drums.  What is interesting to know is that the triangle wave is fixed volume so while the other channels can technically be louder or softer, the total volume has to be based completely on the output sound of the triangle wave.  A puzzling limitation.

However, as I mentioned before, there were MANY sound expansion modules that were attached to the game cartridges themselves that allowed for extra channels to be added.  Many companies, when producing games, took advantage of this to add many more “instrument” options for their composers.  Here’s of an example Yoshinori Sasaki et al using Konami’s VRC6, a chip that added two pulse waves and a sawtooth wave:

(credit:  Explod2A03 – awesome name)

Conclusion

The NES was and still is an incredibly iconic system that paved the way for modern video game consoles.  Its sound capabilities are impressive and vast due the system’s ability to process sound expansion modules from the game cartridges themselves.  I hope this brief “meet and greet” has been informative and has allowed for a greater understanding of what composers worked with in order to create the music for the NES.