Extra Life 2012: Play Games, Heal Kids

Well, it’s that time of year again! In case you aren’t familiar with the concept, I basically sit on my ass and play video games for an extended period of time.

How is this different than any other day you ask? Well, firstly, I will be playing for slightly longer than usual – 24 hours. Secondly, I’m doing it to raise money for the Children’s Miracle Network and the IWK Foundation.

If the prospect of my eyes bleeding and brain exploding from 24 hours of video games isn’t enough to motivate you, surely helping children is?

Head on over to my Extra Life page or click the link below to pledge!

Thanks for your support!

P.S. remember: the opposite of “Play Games, Heal Kids” is “Don’t play games, hurt kids”. You aren’t in support of hurting children… are you?!

Thursday Throwback – November 24, 2011

This week’s throwback goes out to my Mario Kart crew – the many adversaries I’ve faced off with in the original SNES Mario Kart battle mode since it was released in 1992. Just off the top of my head: Chris P, Mike P, Jordan L, Anne B, Amanda, Keri, Sasha L, Denis T, Bruno C, James B, Jamie R, James S, and many more I’m sure I’m forgetting. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing: keep on kartin’, yo!

I have no idea how many hours I’ve listened to this track. It’s gotta be in the hundreds. The great thing about the original Mario Kart soundtrack is that synth bass sample… bow bow buh-buh-buh bow… that never gets old!

Mario Kart (SNES) – battle mode, c. 1992:

And now for a sad announcement: December 9th marks the the 1 year anniversary of Thursday Throwback. It will also mark the last.

I originally started doing this as a promotional tool to increase readership on my blog and ultimately get the word out about my music. From that perspective it’s been largely unsuccessful. Perhaps I’ve not been doing enough to promote it – I am often guilty of that.

Regardless, I’ve enjoyed chronicling the music of my past and will continue to post old tracks as they pop into my head, just not necessarily on Thursdays.

Extra Life: Play Games. Heal Kids.

Dear Friends,

I’m raising money and awareness for my local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital.

On Oct. 15, 2011, I’ll attempt to play video games for 24 hours straight in hopes you’ll support me by giving just $1 per hour ($24 total).

Your donation is tax-deductible and 100 percent of your gift goes to help kids.

My fellow Extra Life gamers and I are going to make miracles happen for kids. I can’t reach my goal without your support. Any contribution will help, and all donations are tax deductible. Donating online is safe and easy! To make an online donation please click the “Make a Donation” button below.

Thank you for your time, support and participation.

Update: you can track what I’m up to throughout the event on this Facebook group

Thursday Throwback – July 21, 2011

Another retro game throwback this week and, in my opinion, one of the most classic video game themes of all times.

I was introduced to Mario at the ripe young age of 8. I got my first video game console (the NES, of course) along with Super Mario Brothers 2. I know, it wasn’t actually a “real” Mario game but it was good nonetheless and definitely raised the bar on platform games (and video games in general).

A couple years later the Super Nintendo was released, along with Super Mario World, and the bar was raised again. By a lot.

Completely random side-story: I remember me and my friend had rented a SNES and were playing in his parent’s bedroom for whatever reason. On the night table is what appeared to be a… dildo. Apparently he was told it was a back scratcher. To this day I’m completely confident it was a dildo.

Why the hell would you keep that in plain sight and tell your kid it was a back scratcher? Would it not be completely awkward if said kid then started to use it for its “intended” purpose?

But I digress.

Apart from that awkwardness the game itself was awesome. An instant classic. What I think is so great about the music is the motif that’s carried all the away through. That same riff is used in all of the background music, often switching to a minor key, a different time signature, etc. To this day I’m totally in love with that idea and feel and am disappointed we don’t hear more of this. I suppose this must be fairly challenging to pull off without becoming repetitive, but it was definitely pulled off masterfully by Koji Kondo.

So here’s the background music from the first level in SMW, c. 1990:

Oh yeah, and if you enjoy this at all or it brings back fond memories, do check out XOC’s one-man-band reinterpretation using dozens of instruments.

Thursday Throwback – June 16, 2011

I’ve been helping with several indie game projects lately so it seemed only fitting to post another retro video game track for today’s Throwback.

The first Castlevania game was released when I was only 6 (!), so I was a bit too young for it then, but by the time Super Castlevania 4 came out I was all over it.
I remember my Grandmother buying it for me as a gift, along with my Super Nintendo. It was definitely an exciting time in my childhood, and I was one of the first of my friends to have a SNES so I had that to lord over my little snot-nose bratty friends 🙂

I actually chose the game based on the back of the box (similarly, this was also my strategy for video game rental). We didn’t have Metacritic or ShopSavvy in those days. All we had was Nintendo Power, and unfortunately I didn’t always have a subscription.

Like Mega Man, Castlevania is one of those series that’s renowned for its soundtracks. This particular track, while short, definitely sticks out to me as one of the catchier tunes. Along with random Christmas songs – and Krust’s “Warhead” – it pops into my head at least once every few weeks for as far back as I can remember.

So here ya go – “Bloody Tears” from Super Castlevania for SNES c. 1991:

Thursday Throwback – April 7, 2011

Here’s something for those of you who, like me, have video games to thank for the outstanding social prowess they developed during their childhood. Those whose third and unofficial parent was Shigeru Miyamoto. Those who still follow all the major Nintendo franchises like a religion, despite being in their 30s…

Anyway, if this doesn’t bring back memories of staying up half the night playing video games I really don’t know what will.

I’ve always been a bit of a video game music geek. I guess because I’m a music geek. And a video game geek. Or just a geek in general. But also, I’m drawn to it because it can be like anything and everything, or like nothing.

Often it’s plain and simple and just sets a mood. Other times it’s a dozen or so genres mashed up into a sonic Frankenstein. Other times it’s so gloriously cheesy it makes your eye balls ooze rainbow juice and head sprout kitten fur.

On ocassion I’ve had some of my own music likened to this particular piece… I guess it’s obvious that this stuff has rubbed off on me (in case naming several of my tracks after video games wasn’t obvious enough!)

How to make NES music

I like video games, music and synthesizers. Nothing brings these three things together quite like the soundtrack from a NES game. Sure, there’s the C64’s SID chip, but alas, I never owned a C64 (side note: check out Quadrasid and Sidstation).

So then, you say you want to write some original NES music? There are some good resources on the web (here’s a starting point), but I wanted to summarize the two main approaches and my experiences.

Use synthesizers

There are a couple important things to keep in mind when using modern synthesizers to write NES music:

  • The NES had 5 channels:
    • 1 triangle
    • 2 pulse (with only 4 duty cycles to choose from)
    • 1 noise
    • 1 D-PCM
  • The NES had no effects or filters, although basic chorus and echo effects could be achieved by using two channels

The triangle and pulse channels are easy enough to simulate, but the noise and D-PCM take a bit more work. My earlier attempts at writing NES music were done mostly with my workhorse subtractive synth, NI Pro53. I also played around with Waldorf Attack to simulate the noise channel, and Bitcrusher to simulate the D-PCM channel, with varying degrees of success.

I recently came across the NES VST pack. It consists of 3 plug-ins: pulse, triangle and noise. The pulse plug-in has a switch to toggle between the 4 duty cycles. The noise plug-in has 2 noise modes and allows you to “sweep” the noise. All 3 plug-ins are quite faithful to the original NES sound chip.

Here’s a little demo I whipped together with nothing but the NES VST pack and the default FL Studio limiter. Update Sept. 09: by popular demand here’s the FL project (you’ll need FL Studio 8 to open it)

Use the actual hardware (or emulation)

If you’ve got a bit of money to spend, Wayfar makes something called the MIDINES. It’s basically modified NES cartridge that runs custom software and provides a MIDI interface to the actual NES sound chip! Check out the demos!

Otherwise, take a look at trackers like Famitracker or Nerdtracker ii. These allow you to create NSF (NES sound format) files which can then be played back with an NSF player. If you’re not familiar with trackers then these will be a bit awkward to use at first, but next to the MIDINES they will give you the most convincing results.