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.