How 8 Bit Video Game Music Used to be Made

I’ve spoken a little bit before about how to make chiptunes, but I thought maybe it would be good to take a look at how they actually used to make music on computers many years ago. Take a look at this great video:

Doesn’t it make you realise just how easy we have it now? To think that we have such sophisticated music software as Propellerhead Reason, and even have a free electronic music software available. So these days, if you have a computer and you want to make music, you really have no excuses.

Back in the early days of computer music, they were so limited. They only had a few voices to choose from, meaning you could only play a few notes at a time. The Nintendo Entertainment System had 5 voices, but the Commodore 64 only had 3 voices. Each of these voices could only play a limited range of basic waveforms: square wave, triangle wave, or noise. There was also the ability for one of the voices on the NES to play PCM samples, but they were low quality and very short samples.

But isn’t it amazing what they were able to do with such limitations? For example, here is a selection of NES music:

To think that every note of that music had to be meticulously programmed in, in the same way, that any other part of the game was programmed. Very slowly and tediously. And yet they would have had to have composed the music beforehand so they knew what they were going to program. Hats off to them, really.

But I would just like to briefly backtrack and talk about the Casio SK-1 sampling keyboard that they mentioned in that first video. I used to own one of those. Here is a demonstration of it:

This keyboard was hilarious! We used to record ourselves burping into it, and then we would get it to play the built-in demo tune all in burps. Hours of fun!

Anyway, what do you think? Do you enjoy listening back to old computer game music for nostalgia reasons? Why not let me know in the comments section below.

All the best,
Marcus.

4 Comments

  1. Robin Rasmussen

    Hey Marcus, Yes I have done some listening to old game soundtracks. A friend and I did this watching youtube awhile back. Great entertainment! It makes you feel like you are going back in time. Things sure are so much easier these days. Everything in the world of computers is so much faster, cleaner and more vivid with graphics by far!

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Yes, you are definitely right about improved graphics, Robin, that’s for sure. Sometimes I wonder, though, whether the games in the 80s were more fun because their graphics weren’t as good? Maybe they had to make the games more fun because they could’t rely on impressive graphics. Or am I just being nostalgic there?

      Reply
  2. Jenny

    What an interesting site on how they used to make music. I think everything is easier these days. We don’t just have sophisticated music software, but access to the internet and computers, can’t imagine how life must have been in the olden days when the highlight of their day was 3 black and white channels! No facebook, or internet, how did they go on.

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Yes, life was very different back then. The thing is, though, they didn’t know any differently. In a few more decades, things will exist that we don’t know about now. Things which future people will feel like they cannot live without.

      Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *