Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Kickstarter for Beep: A Documentary History of Video Game Sound

I'm in the midst of getting things organized for the semester.  Really excited to make Video Game Music an even more awesome class this semester.  Have been studying, reading, and playing some games in preparation...  more on that soon.  

Yesterday, I got an email from my friend Karen Collins.  I'd consider her to be the academic expert in the western world on game audio.  Every time I hear her speak, she's thought provoking.  She's amazing!  Anyhow, Karen's recently launched a kickstarter campaign to help fund a documentary she's making on game audio.  The timing of this documentary is perfect: many of the groundbreakers in game audio are still alive and ready to tell their tales.  Plus, game audio is more popular than ever and it's a great time to get even more ears focused on it and its rich history.   

If you love game audio and video game music, help suppert Beep: A Documentary of Video Game Sound.  Like it, share it, help fund it-- if you're able.  Click to see more about the game audio gurus she's already got committed to the project!  It'll be awesome to nerd out to and also an important history.  The ability to hear the sounds as they're being discussed in the video will be a big boon over reading about it in text.  It'll be a great teaching tool if you're into teaching game audio like me!  It'll be a chance to learn if you're looking for a place to start.

Monday, July 28, 2014

My Gaming Audio History: F-Zero (1991)

I've been working on this F-Zero entry for quite a while.  The timing is completely appropriate for me as I'm currently on my annual summer road trip of performing, teaching, and (now) vacation.  I've listened to the F-Zero soundtrack a few times while driving and it makes a really cool aural experience while on the interstate.  I've also listened to it when running-- it's almost the perfect length for me to run two miles and it feels really great to hear the end game music start up as I finish my run.  Overall, an awesome soundtrack for this game-- which was one of the titles available when the SNES was first shipped.

One of my favorite videos about F-Zero music is a YouTube upload by "Dr. Mario" and displays the SNES channels.  In this video, you hear the Port Town music loop and the audio channels are added in various combinations.  This allows you to hear exactly what each channel adds to the mix.  Very cool-- give this a listen!  This is a video I show in my game music class.

The composers for this music are simply listed as "staff" in the game credits: Yumiko Kanki and Naoto Ishida.  Yumiko also worked on the music for Star Fox 2.  I don't find much information about Naoto Ishida or Yumiko Kanki and would love to know more about either of them.  

Amount of music versus gameplay...

One question I wondered was a comparison of the amount of music and the length of the race tracks.  The first track, Mute City, is 55 seconds long and the track takes around 2:15 to complete.  The final level, Fire Field, takes just over 3 minutes to complete and has about 85 seconds of music.  In both cases, that's about a 40% ratio of music to gameplay level.  In other words, as a player, you'll hear just over two loops of the music before you've completed the level.  Unlike a platform game like Super Mario Bros, where many various actions reset the music, aside from jumping off the track or blowing up and dying, you're likely to hear the entire music track through just over twice in these levels.

Soundtrack in detail

The soundtrack has just under 11 minutes of music (656 sec).  This is on the low side of the end of NES game music lengths.  No discernible key center.  These notes were made using this soundtrack.

-Title screen: 12 sec.  Eb major.  Short loop.
-Zoom: 3 sec.  Eb-F gliss to Db-Eb.
-Start: 4 sec.  Three slides to D, go is up to F.
-Mute City: 55 sec.  C minor.  Intro-vamp, repeat, A A B C (5).  Intro-vamp only repeats once in loop.
-Big Blue: 59.5 sec.  Bb minor (Picardy third).  A A A' (melody) B (Picardy third) C C' C''.  Reminds me of Mega Man-- is it the bVI-V and sounds of the C sections?  Variations over a loop.
-Sand Ocean: 57.5 sec.  B minor.  A(14) B C(10). Hemiola in C.  Compound meter.  Reminds me of 7th Saga-- is it the sounds used?  
-Death Wind: 57.5 sec.  Ab minor.  A A' A'' B C(9).  Variations that build.  Never thought about how this has a blowing sound in the track.  Sounds like breathing into a mic-- cool!  Always loved this music as kid.
-Silence: 50 sec.  Eb major?  B major?  I hear this in two different keys, A in Eb and B in B.  A(2+12) B12.  First 2 of A don't repeat in the loop.  9th chords rule!   This is definitely one of my favorite tracks in the game!
-Select Time: 12.5 sec.  Db major.  Simple Db-Cmin-Db6/4 progression.
-Red Canyon: 60 sec.  F minor--> G minor.  (Vamp 4) A A' A'(4) B B'(6) Variations over a bass.
-White Land I: 52.5 sec.  Eb minor.  Intro (6) A A'(4) B B B
-Port Town: 60 sec.  C# minor.  A A' (add octave) B C D D'.
-White Land II: 57 sec.  D minor.  Intro (6+8) A A' (countermelody) B.  First 6 of intro don't repeat in the loop. Variations over a bass.
-Fire Field: 85 sec.  F minor.  Intro A (32) A' (18) B (16).  I hear this in big chunks, not smaller sections.  Reminds me of Maniac Mansion.  As if improvising melody over bass (variations over bass).
-Lost Life: 2.5 sec.  C# minor.
-Ending: 28 sec.  A minor.  A B.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

My Gaming Audio History: Super Mario World (1991)

Excited for today's entry on my first SNES game in My Gaming Audio History and this next period of SNES games (and a couple more GameBoy and computer games mixed in as well).  First of all, I've been doing a bit of research into the differences between the NES and the SNES in terms of audio capabilities.  The SNES had 8 channels in comparison to the 4 channels plus the sample channel of the NES.  The SNES also allowed for 16-bit music versus the 8-bit of the NES, so a significant step up.  You can read more about the technical aspects of the SNES on its wikipedia page.

Super Mario World shipped with the SNES and I'm sure we got it as part of the release pack.  As best I can remember, we got this for Christmas when my parents had finished adding on a bonus room with stereo and space for my brother and I to play games out of the living room.  I've played SMW many times through both as a kid and as an adult.  I bought it for the Wii a few years ago and played it completely through, which I'm not ever sure I'd done before.  Still, though, with all this playing, I learned this from my study of it-- notably, the fact that you can hear the original Super Mario Bros music on Star Road.  Cool musical easter egg.

Now on to the music...

Unity of musical themes

I always watch a longplay of the games I study in addition to listening and analyzing their soundtracks and usually embed the longplay as I think it's generally best to hear the game audio in the context of the game.  However, in this case, I was so intrigued by realizing that Super Mario World has a musical theme throughout it, I made a video to explore that musical theme and its uses in the game.  Ta da!

Koji Kondo is such a mastermind and genius, no?  I couldn't find anything where he specifically comments on his work with Super Mario World, but here's a great interview where he talks about composing for games and his history in the game audio industry.


Layering is a really important part of game audio.  In short, I'd define it as the addition of sound/music to reflect a change in gameplay state.  It's much more clear to hear than it is to read about; plus, it just so happens that the classic example I show of layering to my game audio class is from Super Mario World.

The layering in this game involves Yoshi.  When you jump on Yoshi, an additional audio channel activates and drums are added to the musical mix.  If you jump off Yoshi, the drumming stops.  This is different from getting a star where the current music is completely usurped for the invincibility theme.  In the case of jumping on Yoshi, another layer is simply added into the musical mix (hence the name, layering).  Yoshi layering is possible in all of the levels where you can take Yoshi: Overworld, Athletic, Underworld, and Water world.  You can't take Yoshi into castles or ghost houses, so there's no layering possible there.  Note as well: one themes always has Yoshi drumming sounds, even though Yoshi isn't present: the bonus levels/switch worlds.

Soundtrack notes

Two things really stand out to me about this soundtrack.  One is that it seems to be very much in the key of C major, as do all the Super Mario games before it.  Much of the game is spent in C, but also G and F.  The very end of the game is fascinating with its "truck driver modulation" up a half step for the last sections.  Overall, with the way ending theme here goes through different feels, double time vs slow, and building voices on the repeat of various sections, it feels very much to me like the finale to a musical.

Secondly, the Castle music stands out to me as a bit schizophrenic compared with the rest of the tracks.  The first section, in F minor, which uses the SMW theme, is 103 BPM.  It doesn't repeat in the loop.  The second section, in C minor, is 126 BPM and is the only section of the piece that repeats.  I wondered, considering that these were different keys and tempos, if these were at one point two separate track ideas that were combined into the same track.

The game has 17 minutes of music.  Interestingly, not so much beyond the amount of the last NES games!  Here are my detailed notes.  These notes were compiled using this soundtrack.

-Title screen: 41.5 sec.  G major.  Intro (2) A B C.  Regular, simple, classical form.
-Castle Clear: 12.5 sec.  C major.  I-IV-iv-I-ii-V.  Ends on V to emphasize the "keep going" feel.
-Yoshi's Island: 10 sec.  C major.  Short loop.  Gives tonic after the "Castle clear music."
-Overworld: 41 sec.  F major.  Intro (3) A B (4) A' (4) C (4)
-Underworld: 43 sec.  F major (bit of minor thrown in).  Intro vamp (4) A B (4).  Intro vamp is shortened to 2 bars when it loops.  Shares thematic similarities with the Overworld music, both A and B sections, particularly B is obvious.
-Course clear: 7 sec.  F major.  Short I-V7/IV-IV-iv-V6/4-V-I progression.
-Donut Plains/Chocolate Island: 13 sec.  C major.  Short, regular, simple, classical loop.
-Bonus level: 33 sec.  F major.  Related to Overworld, in both A and particularly B section.  Intro (2+4) A B(4) A.  Second 4 of intro repeat with the loop.
-Bonus level clear: 3 sec loop that plays on the end of the Bonus level music giving a cadence in F.
-Switch: 2.5 sec oscillation between C major and Db major.  Speeds up during the switch, which lasts 12.5 sec.
-Athletic: 36 sec.  C major.  Intro (1+8) A B A' Ragtime, stride piano feel.  Related to Overworld, A and B.  First bar (fanfare) doesn't repeat in the loop.
-Invincibility: 3 sec.  Same D min7 C maj 7 loop as earlier games.  Drum beat.
-Castle: 107 sec.  F minor--> C minor.  Intro (1+Vamp 4) A A' (10) B (new vamp) B' B'' (12).  Only the B sections repeat in the loop.  Uses the overworld motive mainly in the F minor section, but also more subtly in the C minor section.  Were these two different pieces???  F minor section 103 BPM, C minor section 126 BPM.
-Castle boss: 52 sec.  C major.  C major- Db major oscillation or F minor to F# major oscillation.  Form:  Intro 1+ Vamp (4) A (8) Vamp + obligato (4) A(8) First intro bar doesn't repeat in the loop.
-Castle clear: 8 sec.  F major.  Based on overworld theme.
-Egg rescued:  4 sec.  C major.  Ends on a half cadence.  Leads to Castle clear.
-Underwater:  49 sec.  F major.  Intro (2+4) A A' B A''(4).  6/8.  Based on overworld theme.
-Ghost house: 47 sec.  89 sec.  B minor--> A minor--> G minor.  Intro vamp (2+8) A(6) A'(6) A''(6). Incomplete in the soundtrack linked version, hence the new link.
-Vanilla Dome: 21. 5 sec.  D major?  Feels as if it teeters between major and minor mode because of the motion to bIII.  Intro (2) A.
-Forest of Illusion:  15 sec.  G major.  I hear this in G because of the Eb-D motion toward the end of the loop.  Thus the loop doesn't start on topic.
-Boswer's Castle: 11 sec.  Tritones.  Chromatic.  Short, simple loop.
-Star Road: 11 sec.  Short loop.  Same D min7 C maj7 vamp as the "invincibility music," but with an added rhythmic element.  Fascinating that the rhythmic loop takes the same time as the star's invincibility in the first SMB game.  Almost as long as the invincibility in this game (15 sec)
-Special Zone: 14 sec loop.  C major/ D minor, same as star music... then, after clearing all the worlds, then the music changes after 2 loops and plays SMB overworld theme A B and C over a similar vamp.  (87 sec loop).  Awesome use of previous material.  Musical easter egg!
-Life Lost: 3 sec.  C major.
-Game over: 5 sec.  F major.  Nice use of extended harmonies!  Jazzy!
-Bowser: 75 sec.  E?  Lots of tritones.  I hear this as an E home base.  Intro (accelerates)- Vamp(A)-Vamp+Melody(A')-B
-Rescue Princess: 16 sec.  D-->G major.  Big build up of a V-I.
-End game: 4:10.  C major--> Db major.  Synced with onscreen action.  Builds, rather than simple repeats.  Only A''' and A'''' repeat exactly as they are, and crescendo both times.  FORM: Vamp (2) A A'(countermelody, voice change) B A'' (added voice) A''' A'''' Tag (4) A(slow 4 pause while Yoshi's hatch+4) A (double time feel) A' (dt) B(dt) B(dt, voice change) A(dt) A (dt bars 7-8 slow) A''' A'''' (10, 9-10 repeat two measures, key change) A'''' (in Db) Tag (4 in Db, with ending).  Could reduce maybe 30 sec for repeated music.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Musings: Analysis: NES My Gaming Audio History Lessons Learned

This is a rather long entry, but contains a lot of information.  If you're new to the blog or a regular reader, I highly suggest taking your time and reading.  There's a lot of insight and information below as I analyze the NES games in My Gaming Audio History, a journey I've come to the end of after over a year.  Next up, SNES games... but for today, the last of my musings and analysis of the NES era audio.

I've been taking some time to think about what I learned by studying the music (and audio) to these NES games that I played growing up.  Not only have I been wondering about results of my study and what I've learned so far, but I've been asking myself fundamental questions like: why is the NES era so fascinating to me, and why am I studying game music?  It's this final question that I'm going to start with now...

For one, I've always played games.  I've also played the piano as well as several other musical instruments.  I've already written about the connections I see between playing games and playing musical instruments, particularly my life and career as a pianist.  Yet, recently I've thought of another reason that games study is so appealing to me.  My partner is a very successful opera singer and is traveling the world roughly half of the year.  I'm at home... my connection with his work is in preparing him for those roles and performances.  After that initial step, then he leaves and is gone for months working on the projects in fabulous places around the country (the last year took him to France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, and Holland, for instance).  I've begun to realize that games are not just nostalgic, but also a way for me to go to exotic locations and hear amazing sounds right from my living room.  I think this "away from where I am" aspect is a big part of the draw in studying game audio for me.  It's a way to travel anywhere and hear new sounds from my life at home.

Continuing in reverse order, why is the NES era so fascinating to me?  And, it's not just me!  Many other folks love the 8-bit era above all other game audio times.  One thing is that the NES was nearly universal-- it had such a huge market share in the 80s that nearly everyone who played games played the NES and could relate to it.  Thus, it gives a universal language among people around my age.

Another reason I think the NES era is so fascinating is that with the development of the NES, the era of home gaming was born.  One can definitely hear the influence of the arcades (the "ringing" up of your score at the end of Super Mario Bros, for instance, imitates pinball).  However, music needed to fill out the audio experience of gaming because it was at home and not in a crowded arcade.  Also, your NES was plugged into a TV, which didn't have great speakers, but probably better ones than your computer sound in the 80s!  So, there's an influence of what came before (main the arcade/ pinball sound effects) but also better audio quality.

For me, undoubtedly one of the most amazing aspects of game music in the NES era was the lack of precedent.  By the time of 16-bit consoles, there were years of game audio history to build on.  But the developers of NES games and game audio were in uncharted territory.  What should a game sound like?  What should a power-up sound like?  What should death sound like?  What should running out of time sound like?  What did music tell the player about the scene and moment in the game?  These questions were decided in this era of home gaming in a way that still carries influence today-- and not just because some sounds are exactly the same (finding a treasure in Zelda, for instance), but even more basic parameters.  Generally, power-ups rise, death music descends, running out of time speeds up....

By the time of the SNES, my parents had bought another TV and my brother and I were moved into a new room where we could game without using the "family TV."  Thus, game audio no longer filled the house in the same way.  Thus, games had lost their universality as my parents no longer watched and listened as we played along for hours.

Finally, what have I learned so far?  I've already created a chart where I show how the amount of music in NES games increases over time.  But what else?  Well...

When I started this project, I expected to find a grand key scheme and design in these games.  By this I mean: like a great Beethoven symphony, I hoped to find that a game was in a certain key with various tracks in related keys, which were connected by musical (mathematic) significance.  I really didn't find much of this.  Koji Kondo definitely has key relationships in the Mario Bros games (these games are overwhelmingly in C major), and David Wise has moments of it-- like the E centered RC Pro-Am.  However, composers don't do this as much as one might expect.

I also expected to find lots of thematic relationships.  By this I mean musical symbolism that occurs by the use of motives that describe feelings, people, places, things, etc...  If you need more info, check out my video on Leitmotifs in Final Fantasy 7.  I've only just started my SNES research, and am looking forward to writing about it soon, but I can already say that this is more common in SNES games than NES games.  Koji Kondo is definitely a leader in this way.

Finally, I'd like to share one unexpected thing I've learned in my NES game study.  Admittedly, I feel a little foolish to write that this is unexpected, because I should have realized it, but...  Game composers have "sounds" that define them in the same way that Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, etc, have "sounds" that an experienced listener can identify.  I definitely can recognize David Wise music, at least on the NES.  He has compositional forms as well as sounds that he uses more regularly than another composer might, say Koji Kondo, for instance.  And likewise with other composers.  This isn't to say that all games by a composer sound exactly the same, but there are similarities that one can come to hear and understand as this music is studied so that even hearing a piece for the first time allows for educated guesses if you're familiar with more of the composer's work.  Like I said, I don't know why I didn't expect to find this, but I hadn't thought of it until now and definitely hear it.

So there are my reflections on the last year and a half of game audio study I've been doing.  Now, I'm off to the next era; I've already been studying Super Mario World with great delight.  Looking forward to the next journey.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Analysis: Amount of music in NES games via My Gaming Audio History.

My next few posts will be analyzing the data I gathered by examining all these NES games that I played growing up in My Gaming Audio History.  I've spent a bit of time creating a chart that describes the amount of music in these 33 NES games (including Wizards and Warriors, whose blog entry has gone missing...).

My thought process when I first started examining these games was that I wanted to find tonal commonalities.   In other words, Super Mario Bros would be in the key of C, like some grand musically crafted symphony by Mozart, and all the various music in the game would have tonal significance and relevance.  While I do think that Super Mario Bros is in the key of C overall (and in fact, I would argue so are SMB 2 and SMB 3), I didn't find as much tonal planning in that way as I was hoping.  As I continued this work, I learned that game composers are often paid by minute of music, and thus also began to note how much music was in a game.  Recently, I returned to some of my first entries and added duration calculations as well.  Now, I doubt that this early period of game music creation had as strict of a pay scale and calculation as there is now, but still, it's a way to organize the amount of music in a game.

So check out my chart and I'll have a few more reflections after the jump.

As you can see, the amount of music in NES games increased overall through the general "life" of the NES.  By this I mean the period from when the NES came out through the release of the SNES, when the NES and game development for the NES was Nintendo's main focus.  I had definitely expected to find an increase in amount of music as the importance of music for home systems became more clear and programmers and composers became more crafty with system resources, and am pleased to have the data support it.

A few outliers jump out at me, most notably The Simpsons: Bart vs the Space Mutants, the next to last game I examined.  This game has shockingly little music compared with contemporary titles.  I believe this is because the game was rushed to release before the SNES came out, much the same as Atari's infamous ET game.  Mega Man II also stands out as having quite a bit more music than its contemporaries.  This is because of limitations in the way I considered "amount of music" as I describe in detail below.  However, to be brief about it here, MM II uses variations and looping transpositions that undoubtedly saved memory, but made for much longer musical loops.  These reasons are why it seems to have much more music than contemporary games.

I'm curious as to any trends you notice here.  Leave me a comment, if you like.  It's really cool for me to see the data expressed in this visual way.  Looking forward to blogging some reflections on my NES game study.

*For those particularly interested in details and data...  A word about how I calculated the amount of music, which is far from an exact science.  I considered the music in the game to be from the start of a loop to the repeat of that loop.  In the case of the SMB overworld music, that's a 90 second loop.  Now, all of that music isn't brand new, the form of the SMB overworld music is A-B-B-C-A-D-D-C-D.  As you can see, there are repeating internal sections of music.  However, the whole loop doesn't repeat until after the final D section, so I consider this to be 90 seconds of music.  Another easy to visualize case is the SMB star music.  It's a much shorter ~2 second loop-- even though that same 2 second loop repeats for the duration of invincibility ~ 10 sec.  In that case, because the loop of music contains nothing new after the first two seconds, I only count that as a two second loop.  That may seem arbitrary, but I considered the repeat of an entire musical loop to be "amount of music" rather than judging small inner repetitions.  I did not include the same musical loop if it was sped up or slowed down, for instance, when you're running out of time in SMB, the same music loop plays faster.  Or in Dungeons and Dragons, as you descend in a cave, the music loop slows down and is lowered in pitch.  Because these were the same musical loops, transposed up or down or sped up, and then played in completion, I didn't include them in the musical total.  However, I did include musical loops that transposed within a loop...  If you're thinking that sounds crazy and potentially subjective, I agree.  And what of sound effects-- are they music or not???  I'm happy to discuss particular decisions I made and why if you're interested.  Having examined these early games in detail, I now see it's very difficult to precisely calculate "how much music" there is.  I often wondered if amount of memory might be a more accurate gauge than duration, but I suspect that it too would leave complex questions.  

Thursday, June 12, 2014

My Gaming Audio History: Battletoads (1991)

Today's a momentous occasion: the last of the NES games in My Gaming Audio History!  Truth be told, I realized that I've skipped a few games that I did play.  This realization came about because I went to UM's Engineering library and browsed through old Nintendo Powers and saw old games I had played but forgotten about.  Maybe I'll go back and cover those old games eventually, but for today, the last NES game we bought and played: Battletoads.

Battletoads was an awesome game.  The two player setting was really well done and my brother and I would return to the NES even after we got our SNES to play this game.  I could rock out the first few levels, but I never quite figured out how to jump correctly in the third level underground racing area, so I mostly ended up watching my brother play.  I'm not sure if I ever saw him beat it, or watched another friend, but I have seen the final boss before watching on a longplay.  Interestingly, I know the music from the third level the best as well because I used to hear it so many times as I tried to get good at that level.

Cool that the first thing you hear is the sound of space travel rather than starting with music...

The composer is David Wise. I came across this Square Enix interview with David Wise and am intrigued by the information about Battletoads.  It's not exactly clear, but sounds as if the arcade music was created before the NES or SNES versions.  Fascinating because the NES version was released in 1991 and the arcade in 1994, so I'm wondering if this means he just worked on with the more advanced hardware as he composed or ???  More information is needed...  In the meanwhile, I'm giving the arcade version a listen as I write, but don't hear any similarities yet.

There are some game audio conventions in place in this game that I've not heard before with a David Wise score.  For instance, in all the racing levels, the music speeds up as the level progresses.  This, of course, adds tension for the player and heightens the gameplay in a Space Invaders, Super Mario Bros, et al, way.  Also, even the sound effects have clever rhythms.  Take, for instance, the sound of the defeated boss robot pieces falling apart at the end of the first level.  I used to sing this rhythm along with the visuals onscreen as a kid.  These touches are small, but clever, and add deeply to the connection between gameplay, visual, and audio.

Little more than 13 minutes of music in this game.

The following detailed notes were made using this soundtrack.

-Title Screen: 90 (ish) sec.  A major.  Intro (4) A B C(2, intro?) A B B'(transposed) C' (transposed, intro?) Drum vamp.  Not clear to me if the end loops indefinitely or eventually cuts off.  Awesome opening track that uses repeated material to build familiarity.
-Interlude - The T-Bird: 26 sec.  D minor.  A A' (melody over bass vamp).  This is really 2/4 not, 8/8, as a space saver, but I catalog when the loop repeats as the length, not necessarily musical material.
-Ragnarok's Canyon (Level 1): 66.5 sec.  E minor.  Awesome, rocking groove.  Variations over bass.  Irregular phrase shapes.
-Wookie Hole (Level 2): 80 sec.  D minor.  A6 A'8 B4 B'5 A''4 A'''5 C4 A'''8 D4 E8 E'8 Irregular phrase lengths.  Uses downward glissandos to emphasize the descent aspect of the level.  Also a series of variations, although there are changes...
-Turbo Tunnel (Level 3): 8 sec.  D minor.  Short vamp in preparation for the next theme.
-Turbo Tunnel Bike Race: 79 sec.  G major.  Intro (3) A (9) A'(Intro? 4) A(9) B6 B' B'' uses bII and IV.    First bar of intro doesn't repeat.
-Turbo Tunnel Bike Race Extended: nothing new.  In game, speeds up.
-Arctic Caverns (Level 4): 50 sec.  E minor.  A (2+5) A' (4+5) B
-Surf City (Level 5)/ Terra Tubes (Level 9): 57 sec.  C minor.  A(9) B A' A''(4)
-Karnath's Lair (Level 6): 63 sec.  E minor.  A(4) A' B B'(4) C
-Volkmire's Inferno (Level 7):  24 sec.  Bb major.  A B(4).  Short, economic loop.
-Volkmire's Inferno Rocket Race: 46 sec.  D minor--> D major.  10 sec intro doesn't repeat in loop.  Intro -A B (10)
-Intruder Excluder (Level 8):  43.5 sec.  C minor.  Intro (8) A(6) B(4) C (4).  Intro only second 4 repeat.  First 4 have "race sounds" over the music.
-Terra Tubes (Unused): 36 sec.  E minor.  Did not include this in the calculation since it's unused.
-Rat Race (Level 10): 47.5 sec.  Eb minor.  Intro(4) A B C.  Regular loop.  Speeds as the race continues.
-Clinger Wingers (Level 11): 19.5 sec.  E minor.  Intro (6) A(4).  Short loop.  Rising pitch at the beginning mimics the speeding up of your race.
-The Revolution (Level 12): 69 sec.  G minor.  Rising keys and falling progressions build tension and uneasiness.  A4 A'4 A4 B3 C D12
-Armageddon- Boss Battle: 10 sec.  E minor.  Typically short boss loop.  Brief intro doesn't repeat.
-Level Complete: 2.5 sec.  E minor.
-Game Over: 12 sec.  F major?

Friday, June 6, 2014

My Gaming Audio History: The Simpsons: Bart vs the Space Mutants (1991)

Honestly, this game reminds me of Atari's ET.  Bart vs the Space Mutants was incredibly difficult-- I could never beat it and don't remember getting past the museum level ever.  The gameplay was also awkward; I couldn't consistently jump over the aliens... ever.  And also, the music was just mediocre.  But, everyone bought it because it was "The Simpsons," and you had to have that.  I mean, the game starts with you as Bart Simpson spray painting things.  For a kid, it doesn't get much more awesome than that!  

The main question I have at this point...  Was this pushed out for a certain release date?  My thought process here is that it simply doesn't really compare with other games of this NES era.  This is beyond the golden years of the NES, by '91, the SNES had come out and attention was shifting there. Perhaps, then, this answers my own question about a rushed release.  In any case, the game has only about 2 minutes (!!!) of music.  Two themes within those minutes: the main TV theme composed by Danny Elfman theme and a second theme.  All the battle music, lose a life, level restart, end game music... all the rest is reusing bits of the main theme or is simply the main theme.  Two minutes of audio is even less than Super Mario Bros, one of the first games for the NES.  By now, it seems much more common to have ten or more minutes of music.

One of the coolest parts of the game audio I remember from my youth are the vocal samples of Bart saying "Cool man!" and "Eat my shorts!"  The quality of these samples is abysmal, yes, but also bear in mind that NES games really didn't use much spoken word, so it was awesome to hear something in the celebrity voice, period.

After I watched this longplay, I listened to the Genesis version to see if it had better sound and it does, but the music is totally different for that game.  The Amiga version also has much better sounding music and is similar to the NES game audio.  However, it only uses the first level theme song music, it never varies to a second tune as the NES does.  I'm shocked by the small amount of music in this game.  I don't know if I ever thought about it as a kid because it was so hard I never played it for that long, but it's kind of embarrassing.... Tetris for Gameboy has more music than this NES game!

The in-game credits list original score material by Mark Van Hecke.  If what VGMPF says is true, Mark often wrote music for tv conversions to games where the music "sounds rushed."  Audio Engineer is Alex de Meo if you're curious.

Here are my usual notes on the game.  Not much to say here because there's not much audio and the quality of it is pretty lacking.  These notes were made using this soundtrack.

Title theme: 80 sec.  C major--> Db major.   Similar form to the TV theme.  A set of variations and various keys for the main theme.  Literally simply plays itself and ends then restarts.  5 sec intro doesn't repeat in the loop.
Stage 2: 43 sec.  F# major.  Like jazz solos over a vamp.  Intro (4) A A' A'' (in E) A''' (4)