Welcome to another edition of Lesser-known Video Game Soundtracks. Today, we’ll take a look a soundtrack composed by Koichi Sugiyama’s orchestral arranger and published by a company known for a blue hedgeh— Sega. I don’t need to make it mysterious. This game is developed and published by Sega.
Tag Archives: Mega Drive
This is Part 3 of my blog posts on arranging the music for the new Beta Test Music concert, Beta Test Presents: HEROES! In this entry, I am going to talk about “Sonic the Hedgehog”. In case you missed it, here’s links to Part 1 and Part 2.
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.
One of the goals of this website is to introduce people to the various video game consoles and their sound capabilities. Let’s talk about the Sega Genesis.
A Brief Description
Known as the Sega Mega Drive in Japan and as the Genesis here due to copyright restrictions on the name “Mega Drive”, the Sega Genesis was the first 16-bit gaming console released in the US, though not by much (it only bested NEC’s Turbografx-16 by 14 days). It featured a huge library of 915 game cartridges, stereo output sound, and numerous add-on console enhancements including the Sega CD (a CD-ROM drive attachment) and the Sega 32x (a 32-bit gaming console attachment). It was Sega’s best selling console of all time (though Sega has refused to report how many units were sold officially). The last Sega Genesis rolled off the line in 1997, when the console was retired. For more information, check out: http://segaretro.org/Sega_Mega_Drive
The Sega Genesis was built off the original Sega Master System motherboard (an 8-bit console developed by Sega- I’ll talk about this later). The main processor for the system was the legendary Motorola 68000 which was used in many arcade console machines and Apple Macintosh computers. Since the Genesis motherboard is actually BUILT from Master System board (like, literally the same board with modifications), the Motorola 68000 is assisted by a Zilog Z80 “coprocessor”…. which is actually just the processor from the Master System. In this capacity, the Z80 is used almost exclusively to control sounds and audio. (A nerdy aside – the Motorola 68000 goes on to serve as the sound processor for the Sega Saturn – the proccessor circle of life).
As for the sound chips themselves, the Genesis utilized the Yamaha YM2612 and the Texas Instruments SN76489. The SN76489 was simply the Master System audio chip that was left over after editing the board. It had three square waves and a noise channel (very similar to the NES sound chip, the 2A03). By adding the YM2612, the Genesis gained 6 channels of FM synthesis, with the 6th channel capable of being used as a DAC (digital to analog) converter. Through the use of these two complimentary sound chips, the audio system for the Genesis was capable of playing 6 concurrent sounds while using the SN76489 for sound effects (like jumping, bumping, running, grabbing rings, etc). Very powerful stuff.
Lastly, the Genesis, just like the Nintendo Famicom, had two pins inside the cartridge reader just for sound expansion modules. Sadly, not a single Genesis game utilized this and no sound expansion modules were ever developed for the Genesis.
Essentially, the 6 FM synthesis channels of the Genesis allowed for many varied sounds. FM synthesis allows one to customize or modulate the frequencies of the sounds to create almost infinite possibilities (hence frequency modulation synthesis). In addition to that, the Genesis could always use the 8-bit sound chip to create three pure square waves or noise. This gave the Genesis the best of both worlds – an arcade-like FM synthesis sound chip AND an 8-bit audio chip. Let’s take a look at some classic Genesis music. Here’s Sonic the Hedgehog “Green Hill Zone”:
Pretty awesome. How about more awesome? Noriyuki Iwadare (who I wrote about here) wrote the soundtrack to Warsong (Langrisser in Japan), an awesome strategy RPG:
I really love the utilization of all the different sound effects. The drums are impressive for 1991. Just a great track. Finally, I’ll post what I consider to be one of the most complex pieces of music for the Sega Genesis- a track from Sonic the Hedgehog 3 – “Final Battle”:
What I think is so great about this track is the utilization of the 8-bit audio chip for the backgrounds. We’ll talk more about Howard Drossin later – he’s awesome.
The Sega Genesis may be remembered for its massive collection of arcade game ports, Sonic the Hedgehog, or numerous unique sports games. Still, I think people may remember it as being the console they owned that made their NES owning friends jealous. I chose to remember it for its impressive sound capabilities and a version of Mortal Kombat that actually had blood in it. Whatever you remember it for, it was an important console in the history of gaming that changed the landscape forever. I hope you found this informative. I welcome your comments.
I have been combing through interviews to find some good examples of video game composers talking about the issues they faced when either rearranging their music or porting their music to another console. I found a great interview with Noriyuki Iwadare, the composer for the Lunar and Grandia series, speaking specifically on the matter.
Iwadare has been in the unique position over the years of being able to rearrange most of his music, as Lunar: The Silver Star has been recreated numerous times on various consoles. The original was on Sega CD, then it was re-released as Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete for Sega Saturn/Sony Playstion/Windows PC, then re-re-released as Lunar Legend for Game Boy Advance, and finally, re-re-re-released just last year on Sony Playstation Portable as Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star. Iwadare had this to say: [excerpt taken from Interview with Noriyuki Iwadare (Square Enix Music Online – January 2010) – By Chris, webmaster of Square Enix Music Online, tranlasted by Shota Nakama.]
Chris: For the PSP’s Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star, you re-arranged and re-recorded all the music from Lunar: The Silver Star. How did you remake this classic score for the new generation and how does the music compare with previous adaptations? What highlights should listeners expect from the vocal and instrumental themes?
Noriyuki Iwadare: First of all, Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star features the music from Lunar: Silver Star Story, not Lunar: The Silver Star. Even though they are kind of similar, they have different game scenarios and music.
Well, it is true that we re-arranged and re-recorded the music from such an old game from over 10 years ago. First I started considering how I was going to arrange the music. The original music was made for built-in sounds, so the task was to not change the impressions the pieces create, but to enrich their quality.
Then for the recording, I tried to record as many instruments on my own due to the lower budget limit. I bought and practiced the ocarina, recorded the guitar and trombone, and whatnot. I did my best to do whatever I could do to improve the quality of the music. For the North American version, we also re-arranged and re-recorded the music for the cutscenes, so please check that out.
(for full interview, check out : http://iwadare.cocoebiz.com/interviews/14.html )
Iwadare, as I read in other interviews, essentially recreated all the music from Lunar: The Silver Star for Lunar: The Silver Star Story Complete due to the fact that the game scenarios (as he says above), plot, and “general feelings” of the games were different. I’ve also read there MAY have been copyright issues but I cannot find any confirmation on that. He wrote nearly 100 tracks of new music for Lunar: SSSC, some of which were not included in the game and were pushed on to a bonus disc. Let’s take a look at Iwadare working with Sega Saturn/Sony Playstation sounds (Fighting Spirits):
So, Iwadare wrote this battle theme specifically for the remake over 10 years ago. Interestingly, he released an “arrange album” right around the time of the Sega Saturn release (1996). Here’s an actual rock band arrangement of the same piece, done by Iwadare himself:
Wow. So is this how he would have liked the theme to actually sound? From what I’ve read, Iwadare was ALWAYS frustrated with limitations of gaming consoles so I would have to say yes. Notice also, that since he wasn’t using a “loop” (commonly used in game music scores to make sure the theme can play indefinitely), he actually tacks on an interesting ending. Definitely an upgrade.
Then… uh…. the game was remade for Game Boy Advance as Lunar Legend. I think this speaks for itself (this was REALLY hard to find):
I don’t know if we should even talk about that. Obviously he tried his best but when you’re dealing with hardware that is inferior to your original design, things get a little muddy. Or a lot muddy. I couldn’t find a version of this that loops but the 8 bar intro to the song is not included in the loop (you can BARELY hear that as it tries to loop). I think that’s weird, considering it’s only literally 8 seconds of music and it’s already in the song once so it’s not like it’s new data or anything… weird.
Finally, let’s look at his most current version of the work in Lunar: Harmony of the Silver Star:
Wow, so clearly Iwadare’s opinion has changed on the piece over the last 13 years. It’s refreshingly orchestral (I think a lot of game music is headed in that direction). I also think it’s funny to imagine Iwadare on trombone playing backgrounds. The guitar is up an octave vs. the arranged album. There’s a lot more reverb. There’s also more intense and almost distractingly busy background figures. I feel like Iwadare threw everything he had into it (with varying success). Strangely, he did not choose to include parts of the arranged version (there’s a 30-40 second bridge). I guess he really was just re-arranging the original SSSC version of it. I wonder why he would do that, considering how much more the bridge adds to the whole piece. It’s also especially strange he would leave it out considering how Iwadare frequently expresses his frustration with the limitations of the older consoles- both in sound quality and length of tracks. It’s fascinating that in a scenario where he is given much more freedom, he doesn’t necessarily take those risks. I’d love to ask him about that some day.
At any rate, I appreciate any of your comments.