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The Type of Game I’m Going to Make, it’s Context and my Thoughts for it’s Potential Music.

November 11, 2010

I’ve decided what kind of game I’m going to make as part of this project: a vertical scrolling shooter, which is a popular arcade-style game. In a scrolling shooter the player controls an object, such as a space ship or other vehicle, over a scrolling background. The player must avoid or shoot enemies that approach them from the top of the screen – That’s a simple explanation of this type of game.

Scrolling shooters, as a genre of game, are quite old. Also, nearly any game created on Game Maker 8 (which is what I’m using) will have an inherent retro fell to it, in regards to the graphical capabilities of it – it lends itself really well to working with pixelated ‘sprites’, which were the norm for gaming graphics on old system like the Sega Megadrive or the Super Nintendo.

Here is an example of the graphics from the Super Nintendo, so you can see what I mean when I talk about pixelated sprites and the ‘retro’ look of it:

As we you can see, we can see each of the individual pixels that make up the graphics.

Due to the reasons already mentioned, the game I’m going to create will have a retro look and feel, so in a way the context of this game has been largely defined by what program I’m going to use to make it. So with this in mind, I thought to fit the context of this retro feel I should apply the same context of this ‘retro era’ with the music, by writing Chiptunes for the game.

I am already familiar with the concept and context of Chiptunes, but here is a definition I found from Suite101:

“Chiptunes is a catch-all term describing music composed with the use of a synthesized computer or video game chip, normally instrumental. The limitations of the format forced the original video game music composers to be more creative and introduce several trademarks to their work, such as the use of fast arpeggios and a basic sine wave pattern composed of ascending and descending scales. Chiptunes are the logical extension of a generation raised on classic 80’s arcade and home video games who now possess the technology to make their own music.”

Chiptunes are made with very simple waveforms such as sine waves, square waves and triangle waves, with not a whole lot of processing done to them and as such they have a very raw, bare sound to them. Chiptunes were the only kind of music found on old systems like the Nintendo, where composers of the day had to make the music on the sound chips of the system, which had their own limitations and character.

Here is a piece from Mega Man 2, from the Nes, which is a great example of what I mean by a ‘Chiptune’ from this era:

Chiptunes get their very definition in that they are almost always predominantly melodic led – hence chip-‘tunes’. Some of the limitations on old systems such as the Nes, meant that they could play no more than three notes at once, which gave rise to fast arpeggio sequences being used as a stand in for chordal harmony.

Due to the bare nature of the sound waves used in the creation of chiptunes and its reliance on melodies, I think it’s a real test of a composers skill to compose them effectively because they can’t hide behind lots of instruments, big harmonies and the like. It’s a real test of a composers skill to write melodic material.

Obviously technology and video game music have moved on in leaps and bounds since then. But because my game will look and feel is if it’s from an earlier time, to fit the context of this earlier time Chiptunes would fit the context perfectly. Of course I could write a full blow orchestral score for the game, but then there would be a much lessened contextual relationship between my game and music.

While the music that I compose for it will be heavily and primarily Chiptune based, I might add in some more modern sounding elements, just to acknowledge that the game is being made ‘today’.

I should also mention that traditionally chiptunes were/are written on special programs call Trackers. Which are program’s that allow the creation of music in a manner similar to codding. But because Trackers are notoriously difficult to get to grips with, and because I’m making this game, I will create all the music in Ableton Live, a traditional Digital Audio Workstation. And by using plugins that emulate chiptune sound chips, I will be able to create fitting music for this context.

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