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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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:
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!
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.