The Marvel Of Synth Processing In Old Games

For this entry I wanted to talk about something I had been considering recently and that is just how damn impressive some of the things developers did with old synth processing in 8/16 bit systems were. First I wanted to start with the good old NES.

NES: How many people know the Super Mario Bros. Overworld Theme by heart. Those of you who don’t should be ashamed of yourselves, go sit in the corner and think about what you’ve done.

Some of these old NES songs are just insanely catchy. How about the Metroid Brinstar Theme, The Underworld Theme from Kid Icarus or even that Legendary Zelda Overworld Theme.

Can people guess what they used to make these themes? There were four sound channels including the main channel, one for noise/reverb, one for percussion and one for a chime effect and sometimes not even all of those were used. A lot could be said for just far the forefathers of gaming music were able to take their tunes with incredibly limited space and music processing to work with. I still listen to these tunes to this day as well, which probably speaks for my age and mindset, but it also speaks for how these old NES songs stick with me, and hopefully others to this day.

Genesis: For the most part the Genesis Chip was kind of crappy. It only used 2 sound channels and was arguably weaker sounding and less versatile than the NES one and often sounded like it was eating and regurgitating its own effects via its strange use of reverb technology. That’s not to say there aren’t some phenomenal pieces that were made for some of the games, just not that many. The Starlight Zone Theme from Sonic 1, Japonesque from Shinobi 3, and Go Straight from Streets of Rage 2 (I still don’t know to this day how they pulled this one of on the Genesis) are among the best. The Genesis chip had to really a lot on techno style music to get the full effect out of it, but when some developer actually managed to get it to work and work well, it was something else, both in terms of their capabilites and in the results of he music.

SNES: This is what it is all about, 8 sound channels all working together at the same time to create some truly impressive music that sounded almost like real instruments at times. Among my favourites are Dancing Mad:Kefka from Final Fantasy VI, Magus Theme from Chrono Trigger and The Museum Intro Music from Rockman and Forte. These are songs one could loop for hours given the chance, and there are arguably more instantly recognizable classic for this system than any other in history.

Overall this entry is pretty much a vanity thing, but I really wanted to talk about the marvels of some of the old synth processors in gaming. I can’t even begin to imagine how these developers managed to pull so much out of such limited technology to produce pieces that can even frequently beat the pants off of modern gaming music that has the advantage of being able to process the sounds of real instruments. Hopefully people out there remember these days, feel a little nostaligic and go and listen to some of there old favourites after reading this little piece on Classic Gaming Music.

NES Songs Mentioned:

Mario Overworld Theme:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/nes/Smbtheme.mid

Brinstar Theme:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/nes/metbrin.mid

Kid Icarus Underworld Theme:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/nes/kidicar1.mid

Legend of Zelda Overworld Theme:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/nes/lozow.mid

Genesis Songs Mentioned:

Sonic The Hedgehog Starlight Zone:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/sega/genesis/s1starlight4.mid

Streets of Rage 2 Go Straight:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/sega/genesis/SoRII1st.mid

Shinobi 3 Japonesque:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/sega/genesis/Japonesque.mid

SNES:

FFVI Dancing Mad Kefka:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/snes/ff3last.mid

Chrono Trigger Magus’ Theme:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/snes/Magus1.mid

Rockman & Forte Museum Intro:
http://www.vgmusic.com/music/console/nintendo/snes/Rockman_and_Forte-Robot_Museum.mid

You need to copy and paste the links in order for them to work.

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