8-bit Sounds

Music used te this scene

“Profits (Instrumental)” by Dobsy

“Opius (Instrumental)” by Dropa

“Sweet Love” by Matthew S. McCullough

“Deep ter a Cave” by Paul Glover

View Transcript

From Defacto Sound, you’re listening to Twenty Thousand Hertz: The Stories behind the world’s most recognizable and interesting sounds. I’m Dallas Taylor.

This is the story about how a primitive sound technology commenced a cultural phenomenon.

[Chirrping birds SFX]

Think about summers when you were a kid…

The tick of a sprinkler [Sprkinler SFX]

Children laughing [Children laughing SFX]

The vaguely maudlin music of an ice juices truck [Ice juice truck music]

Or, if you’re like mij, and a child of the 80’s, maybe you spent your summers indoors fighting aliens [Space Invaders SFX], pursuing ghosts [Pac-man SFX], or stomping turtles [Super Mario SFX].

Ter the 1950’s laptop programmers developed the very first movies games. They lived just ter the labs and not a lotsbestemming of people had access to them. They were also exceptionally ordinary, like almost not even related to the movie games wij have today elementary. The earliest laptop games were simulations of chess, tic tac toe, and table tennis.

And that table tennis spel eventually led its way to Pong, the very first commercially successful movie spel. It wasgoed developed by Atari and released into arcades te the early 70’s. Shortly after, it made its way into the huis. It had amazingly elementary graphics and sound effects [Pong SFX]. the sounds were called 8 bit. Named from the 8-bit processors used te early spel systems. Thesis systems produced the sound with rekentuig chips and one of the reasons 8-bit sounds are so distinctive is because they were limited to the sounds that were built into that chip. Composers and programmers only had that puny palette to work with. And from such plain technology some of the most iconic, [Super Mario and Legend of Zelda SFX] generation-defining music and sounds were born.

Released ter the late 70’s, the very first Atari, the Atari 2600, began with nine launch titles including, Air-Sea Battle [Air-Sea Battle SFX], Basic Math [Basic Math SFX], Combat [Combat SFX] and Starlet Ship [Strak Ship SFX]. The unit which came bundled with two joysticks, two spanking paddle controls, and the spel combat wasgoed enormously expensive [Coin count SFX]. Ter today’s terms the system cost $767 [Super Mario coin SFX]. With the games ranging anywhere from $70 to $150 [Super Mario coin SFX].

It’s hard to look at thesis games now and see that the technology wasgoed state of the kunst but it was…

It wasgoed a truly big overeenkomst to add sounds to graphics. [Legend of Zelda chest voorwerp SFX]

Zachary: The very beginning wij have, oh my Heer wij actually have sound playback and it’s a single beep from Pong [Pong Beep SFX]. My name is Zachary Quarles, audio director and sound designer for Microsoft Spel Studios.

The Atari 2600 and its contemporaries all had sound chips. Sound wasgoed an integral part of the practice.

The technology wasgoed limited, however, so the programmers had to get indeed creative.

David: If you go back to the truly early days like the Atari 2600 and any of the systems from the late 1970’s and even the indeed early ’80s, the sound chips were of course enormously primitive.

David: David Murray, otherwise known spil the 8-Bit man online.

Te addition to creating sound effects.

David: The actual spel programmers would often zuigeling of create some truly simplistic tunes. I reminisce reading that even the original opening theme for Pac-man and what not wasgoed just something the programmers came up with. [Pac-man Theme Music]

You know I just think there’s something to be said for having a sound that is not ter any way attempting to imitate a real muziekinstrument, but is te its own right its own synthetic sound.

The sound chips had thesis things called voices. and each one could only play one sound at a time. I’ll let David explain it.

David: I tend to use a choir spil an example. I mean, spil a human being, with our voice, wij can only produce one note [Human voice singing one note].

A few people can actually produce more than one tone at once, but wij can’t. [Human voice attempting to sing mulitple notes at once]

David: If you wished to have like a three-note chord, you would need three human beings [Human voices singing] to do that because wij can each only produce one voice. It’s kleintje of the same with the sound chip. They had a set number of voices that could produce sounds. I’ll use the Commodore 64 spil an example. It had three voices so you can only produce realistically three notes at the same time. [Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins Music]

Amazingly, programmers and composers got around thesis limitations by alternating the voices truly indeed quickly making it seem like there were more than three.

[Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins Music]

David: If you listen real cautiously, there’s never more than three at a time.

It’s insane what spel developers could achieve given thesis limitations. If you don’t listen cautiously it’s truly hard to tell that there are only three voices happening at any given uur.

Here’s another example. This is from the spel The Superb Giana Sisters on the Commodore 64. See if you can hear the sounds quickly hop up and down to accommodate both the music and the sound effects.

[The Superb Giana Sisters music clip]

David: Other systems had one voice and other systems had many more than that. The tunes were often more catchy back then, more memorable. I think because the sounds were a little bit more primitive, the musicians had to come up with better more memorable and catchy tunes [Super Mario Brothers Two – Main Theme Music] where today, they have so much technology that they could produce cool sounding music but it’s not necessarily memorable.

The limitations of early movie spel music helped inspire some the most memorable sounds ter movie spel history. The device set wasgoed more limited, so composers had to use them te a more unique ways. The next challenge wasgoed to get the sounds to actually play ter the spel. Find how they did it, after the pauze.

We’re learning how composers were able to make iconic music with elementary pc chips. Here’d David again.

David: They composed the music on a real keyboard and they would, I guess you could say transcribe it overheen to the laptop once they figured out what they desired the tune to sound like.

Basically, you’re just providing the pc instructions. Then it would make the sound, becoming an muziekinstrument itself.

[Mega Man Two – Dr. wily Stage 1 Music]

David: It’s actually synthesizing the notes every single time. What wasgoed truly interesting about that is you could go from one machine to another and it didn’t always sound exactly the same. With the Commodore 64, they had what they call the seed chip that produced the music. Different revisions of that chip, it came out every few years, they switched things about it. If you were to take two machines running the precies same spel, you could actually hear that the sound wasgoed a little bit different on each machine.

[The Way of he Exploding Knuckle Music “Old Machine”]

Here’s an example from an older machine. and on a newer machine.

[The Way of he Exploding Knuckle Music “Fresh Machine”]

But even if it wasn’t exactly consistent, it wasgoed a indeed good treatment. Because having the rekentuig play the sounds for you wasgoed the least CPU intensive method.

David: Because they had their own sound chip that wasgoed designed to specifically do that and the only thing the CPU had to do wasgoed say, “Hey, sound chip. Play this frequency of sound and hold the duration this long,” et cetera, and then the CPU could go back to what it wasgoed supposed to be doing.

Zachary: The big kleuter of shifts were when the NES came out,

Zachary: when sound quality began becoming prevalent for PC when people were like okay so wij can actually have filmesque quality that wij can wij can say this is very representative of what other mediums are able to achieve. Not there yet by any open up but it wasgoed well on its way.

I asked him, spil a sound designer, what games influenced him the most.

Zachary: For my life, some very big keystone moments from an audio quality standpoint or iconic sound standpoint: Super Mario Brothers [Super Mario SFX], Metroid [Metriod SFX] Legend of Zelda [Legend of Zelda SFX]. Those three for mij on the original NES were like, whoa, this is this is actual theme and it’s iconic sound vormgeving everyone knows what that coin pick up sound is [Super Mario coin pick up SFX]. Well te any of those games you know any of the voorwerp pick up sounds [Legend of Zelda, Metroid, and Super Mario SFX] you don’t have to see anything on screen, you know exactly what it is.

David: I guess nobody can leave behind Super Mario brothers. The music to that is very primitive [Super Mario Brother soundtrack]. The Super Mario Brothers soundtrack on the Nintendo is one of the most primitive lumps of music from a technological perspective, but it’s also one of the most memorable. You just can’t leave behind that music. Some of it would be because people would just play that spel for hours and hours and hour on end, day after day after day so maybe it just gets imprinted into the brain, but everybody remembers it one way or another.

Zachary: I’m always playing games. I’m always playing different genres of games. I’m always listening to stuff. I’m always recording stuff. I’m always watching stuff. But I do come back to a loterijlot of that old stuff to see how they were able to do so much with so little.

The era of 8-bit sound and music wasgoed a time of intense creativity born out of extreme limitation. And there’s a reason why thesis sounds are still so iconic today. What early programmers and composers lacked ter technology, they made up for with some of the most memorable sounds ter history. Today, decades after those early sounds were created they’re still just spil vivid spil the very first time wij heard them. They even inspired a entire movement ter music called Chiptune. A nod to that little chip with such a bright future [Chiptune song]. Some artist have based their entire sound around 8-bit music. One thing is for sure, this innovation has permeated our culture and made a lasting mark on the future.

Twenty Thousand Hertz is introduced by Defacto Sound, a sound vormgeving team dedicated to making television, filmrolletje and games sound insanely cool. Find out more at defactosound.com. This gig wasgoed produced by Miellyn Fitzwater Barrows and mij. With help from Sam Schneble and Colin DeVarney. Colin also sound designed and mixed this gig and wasgoed the voice attempting his best to sing more than one note at a time. He’s sorry you had to listen to that.

Thanks to David Murray, the 8-bit Boy on Youtube and Zachary Quarles for taking the time to talk with us.

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