Tag Archives: sega genesis

Meet the System: Sega Game Gear

One of the main goals of this blog is to introduce people to each video game console and their sound capabilities.   Today, let’s talk about the Sega Game Gear.

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Composers: Tim Follin

As one YouTube comment states about Tim Follin, “He really knew how to crank up the 2A0E to 11.”  And he totally does.

Tim Follin was mainly active during the Commodore 64/ZX Spectrum/NES era of gaming starting in 1985.  These were more limited boards in terms of simultaneous sounds and productions.  He officially retired in 2006 but still programs and composes.

He received no formal musical training though he did attend music college in England for a semester.  He got his start because his older brother Mike was programming for the ZX Spectrum system.  Evident in his music is his influence by progressive rock (mainly YES) and his love for the composer John Adams (as he states “the only minimalist stuff I’ve heard which struck a chord with me”).

Honestly, I can’t say much more about the composer as his music speaks for itself.  Let’s take a look at some tracks:

(credit: Otouto72)

Yes, this is quite primitive music.  Still, Follin is able to unlock some of the best that the ZX Spectrum 128k model has to offer.  There is a lot here considering this sound module is MUCH weaker than even the 2a03 from the NES.  For the game Star Firebirds, Follin arranged and adapted Stravinsky’s Firebird for ZX Spectrum engine.  I wish I could find a copy to play for you but I feel like the previous track showed depth.  If I find it, I’ll post it.

(credit:  explod2A03)

This is his music for the NES game Pictionary.  Yes, THAT Pictionary.  I think his approach is hilarious.  Honestly, since Pictionary itself really lends nothing to music design, writing any kind of music would probably fit the mold.  By writing a solid rock track, it really lends something to this boring, slow NES port of the board game.  Notice all the techniques he uses.  He’s very heavy handed with sampled sound and uses the NES DCPM very often.  It produces small sampled drums sounds which are far more pleasing than the usual noise channel sounds.

(credit: PlinthYT)

So imagine what happens when you give a guy like this the ability to work with the broad spectrum of sounds provided by the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis.  Notice how he creates a guitar effect and sound with the limited resources and channels.  It’s quite masterful.  I love the broad swells he’s able to produce with the chords (a feat which I’m told is very complicated to pull off using that chip).

(credit: clov56)

Using the full capabilities of the variable SFC/SNES soundboards combined with stereo sound, Follin (et al) is able to bring us one of my favorite video game tracks from my youth.  This track plays during gameplay so imagine playing baseball and just flat out rockin’ out.  I love the organ and guitar sounds he was able to create.  It’s like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” meets Jethro Tull.  The game itself?  Just ok.  I used to play this game ONLY for the music.  Looking back, that says a lot.

Later, as he grew as a composer and discovered John Adams, his music took a very different turn.  We start to see less progressive rock and more minimalism.

(credit:  MonsterCondo)

This is a beautiful track.  I find it hard to believe this is the same composer… but it is.  There’s a certain level of touch that he develops.  It’s not just WHAM HIT YOU IN THE FACE anymore.  In an interview, Follin stated that much of the time when he was composing for ZX Spectrum and NES, he had no frame of reference for the game.  He was just told to compose.  This lead to his tracks (such as Pictionary) which don’t necessarily fit the game.  He spent a lot of time testing the limitations of the old hardware as opposed to really viewing and imagining the games.  For games such as Ecco the Dolphin:  Defender of the The Future, Follin was a complete part of the development and execution of the game.  The result is music that follows the atmosphere of the game and is not just some kind of show off piece.

(credit:  VGMhalloffame)

Lemmings.  His final work was Lemmings for PSP/PS2.  Tim Follin was approached by Psygnosis/Rockstar North to provide the soundtrack.  Lemmings has always been known for it’s quirky selection of classical music and rock tunes as BGM.  The result is a cutesy and somewhat ironic soundtrack that follows your poor Lemmings as they attempt to make it from one side of the screen to another in colorful, dangerous environments full of traps which usually ends with disasters and exploding.  Follin, however, provides a much different view of Lemmings.  His soundtrack examines the suffering of the Lemmings and their incredible journey through dangerous landscapes to reach their goal.  As someone who has played, helped, and killed millions of Lemmings in my life, I enjoy this minimalist approach to a timeless game.

I hope you really enjoyed this post.  I will post some interviews I found with Tim Follin in the future.  He has a lot to say about the game music industry.  Happy New Year to everyone!


Research in Game Music: An example of why Wikipedia is a terrible research vehicle

After a bit of a break (just finished up an important recital and then took some time off), I decided I was going to highlight the famous Sega arcade “driving” game, Outrun. I usually start my research by checking the Wikipedia page for the video game, gathering up some information, and then blasting Google until I find enough sources saying the same thing.  A lot of times, I am disappointed with what I find.  There’s not a lot of truth to information out there.  Many of the blogs I read are… basically like me.  So how can I even be sure their sources are true?  They are reading the same sources I’m reading and then I’m using them as a source.  This doesn’t work well.  It creates this whole web of misinformation.  If I can’t confirm something, I don’t write it here.

As a result, I really really try to find a primary source.  Interviews tend to provide the most information.  However, much of the time, the right questions aren’t asked and the information provided is confusing and/or almost useless.  I’m really glad that x composer had a great time making x game.  And I’m really glad that x composer would like to make more music in the future.  I’m also really glad x composer has more projects…. but that doesn’t really explain anything.  I cannot use this information to analyze the score or soundtrack to a game.


(credit:  Brian Gazza – “Outrun”)

Anyhow, while doing research for Sega OutRun, I decided to consult the OutRun‘s wiki first (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Outrun).  This is quite a messy article for such an iconic game.  I decided to, instead of talking about the game, talk about the weakness of this Wikipedia entry.

Here’s what I found on the wiki for OutRun‘s music:

Out Run was the first video arcade game that allowed the user to choose the background music, a soundtrack of both laid-back beach music (very similar in style and tone to the popular ’70s/’80s Japanese jazz fusion band Casiopea[original research?]), and some Miami Sound Machine-styled[original research?] Latin/Caribbean beats. Three selectable tracks were featured in all and were broadcast through imaginary FM Radio stations received by the radio receiver in the Testarossa.

The music was composed by Hiroshi Miyauchi; he had composed soundtracks for other Sega games and was part of Sega’s official band at the time, the S.S.T. Band[note 2]

So here, we have an entire paragraph of information missing quotes, explaining to us how the music sounds.  We have no confirmation that the composer(s) were thinking of these specific bands or styles and we don’t even have links to the music itself.  The information may be technically correct but there is no interview or primary source.  This information is utterly useless to me.  I could just write that the music to OutRun sounds like Metallica’s Master of Puppets. There’s nothing written anywhere to refute this.  So to say that the music specifically sounds like Miami Sound Machine without a quote or musical comparison is dangerous.  Furthermore, there’s no quoted source labeling OutRun to be the first game to have selectable music.

Hiroshi Miyauchi.  If you click that link, it is actually broken.  Hiroshi Miyauchi was NOT the composer for Sega OutRun.  Hiroshi Miyauchi was the alias for the composer Hiroshi Kawaguchi, who is still working for Sega and has been since 1986.  Kawaguchi recently worked on the soundtrack for Bayonetta.  Wiki does not have a page for him at all.  (I should make it.)  UPDATE:  Hiroshi Kawaguchi is indeed the composer and is usually referred to as “Hiro”.

The S.S.T. Band (a rock band put together by Sega to perform the music of video games live in concert) had many composers working under aliases and Kawaguchi  (meaning, roughly translated, “mouth of the river”) ran under the alias Miyauchi (meaning, roughly translated, “shrine within the mountains”).  Not sure why he would do this.  Again, there’s no primary source for me to draw upon.  I do know that Hiroshi Miyauchi is the name of the actor who played Kamen Rider in the famous Kamen Rider V3 television series.  I could suspect the name MAY be a homage but again, no confirmation.  Furthermore, if you wiki Hiroshi Kawaguchi, you get the Japanese film actor of the same name, famous for his role as Kiyoshi in Yasujiro Ozu’s remake of the film A Story of Floating Weeds (1934), Floating Weeds(1959). More obscure but again, we don’t know.

There’s a LOT more to attack but I’d rather take a look at the sources:

  1. a b Brian Gazza. “Outrun”. Hardcore Gaming 101. Retrieved 2011-03-17.
  2. ^ Out Run at the Killer List of Videogames
  3. ^ Ashcraft, Brian (2010-07-05). “A Quick Look Back At Sega 3D”. Kotaku. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  4. ^ “Out Run 3-D for SEGA Master System”. MobyGames. Retrieved 2010-07-05.
  5. ^ “out run [deluxe sit-down model] video game, Sega enterprises, ltd. (1986)”. Arcade-history.com. 2008-07-01. Retrieved 2009-07-13.
  6. ^ Kristan Reed (2008-01-18). “Sega Superstars Tennis Preview // Xbox 360 /// Eurogamer – Games Reviews, News and More”. Eurogamer.net. Retrieved 2009-07-13.
  7. ^ Lesser, Hartley, Patricia, and Kirk (September 1988). “The Role of Computers”. Dragon (137): 88–93.

Okay.

  1. Link 1 is Brian Gazza, a blogger.  He did a great job, though- love the screenshot comparisons but again, there’s no primary sources.  And this can hardly serve as a primary source, though informative.  He is used to source how the game ends and the fact that the game uses radio stations.  These are things that a blogger or anyone who played the game would know and since his website provides clear information confirming this via pictures and good description, this information is useful.
  2. Link 2 is a website for people who are vintage arcade enthusiasts- it provides a lot of technical information but it is hardly a primary source.  It provides basic information that I could obtain by googling the OutRun- actually, less than if I just google it.
  3. A link to an article about the Sega Master System version of the game and how it used 3-D glasses.
  4. Another link to an article about the 3-D glasses.  So we have 2 sources about Sega Masters System and 3-D glasses.  Perfect.  We can confirm that the game used 3-D glasses on Master System.
  5. Arcade-history.com’s description of OutRun essentially is the basis of the whole article.  Much of the description in this wiki is literally a cut and paste job from this website.  The website, however, is only credited with providing the “Pop Culture” reference of a mid-90s commercial about drunk driving (for which they don’t even confirm, show a link to, or have a proper date).  Furthermore, the website article from Arcade-history.com is just a cut and paste job of Chris White & Andrew W. Sharples’s FAQ on OutRun, The Sega OutRun FAQs Version 0.3.  So, we’re looking at a wiki article that quotes information without giving credit to a website that quotes information from an FAQ written in 1998.  Great.
  6. This is just here because Sega Superstars Tennis makes reference to OutRun. Because you know, God forbid we don’t have a source confirming this fact.
  7. This is just here to show and quote a review of the game.  From 1988.

So there’s consequences to this misinformation:

  1. There’s no official wiki page for Hiroshi Kawaguchi (composer) because no one seems to know his name.
  2. There’s a Wikipedia entry for a popular game that many people may be searching with vastly inferior information and tons of unproven speculation.
  3. I’m sure a lot of bloggers are using Wikipedia as a primary source and are completely unaware of the name being incorrect.  This is a shame.

In conclusion, we should toss the wiki out and everyone should just read White and Sharples The Sega OutRun FAQs (http://www.mikesarcade.com/cgi-bin/spies.cgi?action=url&type=info&page=outrunFAQ.txt) which provides 10x as much information as the wiki.  This is basically the primary source.  I would like to edit this wiki to make it actually useful.  I’m willing to bet that someone will instantly argue with me and pound my changes down.  And that someone proves why wiki articles make terrible research vehicles.


Meet the System: Sega Mega Drive/Genesis

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

Sound Capability

Technical Stuff:

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.

Explanation:

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”:

(credit:  )

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:

(credit:  )

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”:

(credit:  )

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.

Conclusion:

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.