If there’s one thing Frank Klepacki knows how to compose for, it’s real-time strategy games. He’s touched some of the biggest, best and most recent entries in the genre, the latest of which is 8-Bit Armies from former Westwood Studios members at Petroglyph Games. It’s the classic gameplay of Command & Conquer painted in vibrant voxel style over which Klepacki plies his familiar hard rock and electronic stylings to some new sounds.
Immediately obvious are the tracks that feature flourishes of chiptune but there’s a general darker and harder electronic vibe over C&C’s military rock sound throughout. Breakbeats, those chippy synth leads and just a hint of dubstep distortion play over his familiar brooding and driving bass. It adds just enough newness to the familiar feel of a classic to hit you right in the nostalgic pit of your heart.
The game is out now and available from all your favorite digital storefronts (Steam, GOG and Humble Bundle) for 10% off the asking price of $14.99. The soundtrack is also on sale at a discount over at Steam or bundled with 8-Bit Armies directly from Petroglyph Games. The 9-track album runs with just over 30 minutes of music and is priced at $3.99 including the following songs:
Charlotte Seeker is an upcoming game from Bearcowboy that has narrowly dodged some some of its own setbacks just like the bullet-weaving heroine. After an unsuccessful Kickstarter in 2014 and a slipped release in 2015, the tiny team has forged ahead through Steam Greenlight and are now aiming to launch in Q2 of this year.
Described as a 16 bit-inspired, lo-fi melange of twin stick shooters and roguelikes, Charlotte Seeker wears its influences on its sleeve. Bearcowboy sites The Binding of Isaac, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past and Resogun as inspiration behind its brand of mesmerizing “bullet heck” gameplay and vibrant pixelart visuals. Accompanying that is Spencer Riedel’s soundtrack that’s full of boppin’ chiptune interwoven with modern synths all chopped up with break beats, acoustic drums and thick bass. Just how the action puts its own spin on familiar gameplay, the music also mixes old and new. The combination evokes some very specific old console sounds — at least for me — while peppering everything with fresh melodies and unexpected rhythms.
The first track, “Menu Theme”, was designed to ease players into both the listening and playing experience. This is as calm as the album gets and it opens with pulsing bass and a deconstruction of the game’s main theme that wafts in and out as the layers build. Things drop out around 2:00 into a muffled drum beat that finally ushers us into the proper tune with dueling voices of tinny and grungy synths. It’s a perfect introductory track and things only get more interesting from there.
The next track, “Pistons”, sings with the same high synth voice but gets a whole new feel to evoke the engine room that it accompanies. Riedel adds a hint of Latin influence that can be heard in the opening percussion and the crisp syncopated drum and cymbal throughout. Just about halfway through a wonderful guitar solo leaps into the mix and is matched by the main synth. The pair lead us right into a breakdown of chippy drums before a new guitar solo wraps around for one final, glorious refrain. The song gets a great remix later in the album on the track “Turbines” where it accompanies a boss battle with double speed, grungier guitars and layers of extra harmonies.
Between “Pistons” and “Turbines” is the funky track “Cogs” which Riedel says is a “love letter to two early game music memories” from Spyro the Dragon and the Sega Genesis. Sure enough, the plodding little melody at the beginning reminds me of Spyro’s earliest adventures but quickly picks up speed with fast synth melodies. These are punctuated through the rest of the song by both shrill and crunchy sounds that thoroughly remind me of the Genesis’ unique sound.
The track “Thorns” maintains the album’s signature sounds with high synths and crunchy drums but takes a stylistic turn towards surf rock. The simple bass and lead synths at the beginning initially remind me of the Game Boy Advance hardware but once the choppy drum samples and guitar jump in it feels wonderfully unique. Another mid-track break simmers back down to the main synth before exploding with even choppier breakbeat drums and a cacophonous swell of melodies.
“Nettles” is spot on boss battle music from the get-go with its descending run and jumpy synth melody. It’s punctuated by droning backing sounds that also remind me of the Game Boy Advance and more punchy, syncopated drumming. Midway through is one of those great musical flourishes that always inspires me to make brash, boneheaded attacks when I’m playing a game. In this case it’s another out-of-nowhere descending run of main and bass synths that pops back into full swing just before the loop point.
The layers of synths in “Squids” all have that wonderful tremolo waver that calls to mind Amiga cracktros I’ve posted about before. It’s a unique sound for what is one of the game’s desert levels and it gets stronger after the intro when the pounding drums thump in. At the midpoint a pair of scratchy, abrasive synths pipe up adding to the harsh and chaotic sound of the track.
“Wind” is another song set in the game’s desert environment that opens with plucky synths and remind me of the NES. Before you have time to place the sound though, that crunchy guitar and percussion, with a nonstop cowbell, crash onto the scene, repeating the synth line. The contrast of chiptune and acoustic instruments is particularly strong here as the two voices take turns in the lead while those persistent drums move everything along at a great speed.
Setting the stage for one of the game’s wintery levels, “Snow” opens with fast drum and bass percussion and a low end synth that is quickly joined by a sawing guitar. The slippery sensation of ice and cold comes from the dual pair of frantic and twinkly synth leads. The pair echo trembling arpeggios back and forth and right on through the thumping bass break at the midpoint and back around for a final loop.
“Frostbite” is the tune used in the game’s trailer and, fittingly enough, it was the first thing I heard when I started this review. While this edited version now accompanies a boss battle and appears almost at the end of the album I’ve come to think of it as the game’s theme. It incorporates all the sounds we’ve heard elsewhere and has a bombastic sound that’s perfect for a theme song. The opening bass synth is backed up by chippy percussion that reminds me a bit of Bionic Commando on the NES. Seconds later the familiar high synth voice and acoustic drums burst in with a brash staccato theme that swells with the scratchy background synths of a Genesis game. The whole thing crescendos into a solo by that familiar high synth, echoed back by yet higher voices before flowing into a quick loop.
The final track I want to highlight is “Credits”. Calling back to the tune established on the very first track, and the game’s main menu screen, it’s a great wraparound with enough variety to sound familiar but new. The increases in speed and pitch give the song that triumphant “you beat the game” vibe and the bass keeps your head bopping along.
The rest of the album is honestly just as good as the tracks I picked to explore. In fact, it was hard not to write up every single song because they all have something unique worth hearing. The full album even throws in an extra eight tracks of demo tunes, alternate takes and unused material that are fun to explore after hearing the main playlist a few times. Accompanying the game or on its own, Charlotte Seeker – Games on Cassette is a wonderful, re-listenable aural spectacle. If you’re love of chiptune is waning or if you’re just looking for something fresh and exhilarating I definitely suggest taking a listen.
The best kinds of April Fool’s gags are the ones that wind up becoming real things. The Mega Man tie and the Tauntaun sleeping bag spring to mind but this year’s gag-to-grab is VGM NXC 001. Released by GameChops, the 17-track album is the work of “international video game remixing super group” Party Members. The guilty parties behind the music include DJ Cutman, Ben Briggs, Mega Flare, Grimecraft, RoBKTA, DJ Mykah, Ralfington and many more.
Leading up to the release several of the artists renounced their chiptune and electronic heritage in favor of nightcore, the increasingly misinterpreted act of speeding up electronic tracks close to 200 beats per minute. However you feel about the sub-genre the album is worth a listen offering spastic remixes from Final Fantasy, Cave Story, Undertale, Animal Crossing, Katamari Damacy and more.
VGM NXC 001 is available on Bandcamp for whatever price you want to pay or you can listen on SoundCloud or check out the entire album in this hyper-bouncy YouTube video. Did you come across any other noteworthy April Fool’s game music or remixes over the weekend? Let us know in the comments below.
Rytmik Ultimate is a new app from developer CINEMAX for creating and sharing your own music. Available now for Nintendo 3DS, iPad, and Windows (through Steam), it’s a music workstation that provides a library of sounds to work with and gives you a wide range of tools and settings to customize and tweak everything to your own liking. You can use it to write your own music, create covers and arrangements of your favorite tunes, or even to create music clips or tracks for use in your other works or performances. Read on to learn more!
For this edition of Know Your MAG, we’re featuring the Chicago-based chip-pop-rock band known only as I Fight Dragons. The band, comprised currently of Brian Mazzaferri (lead vocals, rhythm guitar, Gameboy), Hari Rao (Bass), Packy Lundholm (lead guitar, harmony vocals) and Chad Van Dahm (Drums) combine chiptunes with their own rock/pop style to create their signature sound. (Also featuring past members Laura Green, Mike Mentzer, Dave Midell and Bill Prokopow throughout the band’s tenure.)
Currently the band sports two full-length albums; 2011’s KABOOM!, and 2014’s The Near Future” which they self-released after raising over $100,000 on Kickstarter through their “Project Atma” project. They also boast two EPs; two EPs, 2009’s Cool Is Just a Number and 2010’s Welcome to the Breakdown.
I Fight Dragons also sports several pop culture notables, having their music featured in commercials for Big Brother and NCIS. As such, they have a following to match, and will be hitting the Potomac ballroom on Saturday the 20th at 10pm to blow the concert hall away at this year’s MAGFest. (Perhaps as robots; we’re not privy to that information)
Oh, and they are DEFINITELY NOT secret agent super-spies. DEFINITELY NOT. So don’t ask.
Or at least, that’s what they tell us.
You might remember hearing about 8Bit Music Power last November. The collaborative chiptune album has the distinction of being released exclusively for the Famicom console. Though not an official Nintendo product, Japanese accessory manufacturer, Columbus Circle, has matched the real deal with a gorgeous full color box and reproduction cartridge.
The 12-track album contains original songs by several Japanese game and chiptune composers under the direction of producer and illustrator, Riki. Contributors include Omodaka (Ape Escape), Masahiro Kajihara (Triggerheart Excelica), Takeaki Kunimoto (Star Soldier), Yuriko Keino (Dig Dug), Saitone, Hiroaki Sano (Triangle Heart), Nobuyuki Shioda (Summer Carnival ’92), Professor Sakamoto, Tappy (Tokimeki Memorial), Hally (Mighty Gunvolt) and Keishi Yonao (Asuka 120%). The cart’s pixelart graphics were created with the help of Hiroshi Ono, artist on some of gaming’s classic arcade titles like Pac Man, Galaga, Dig Dug and Mappy.
We’ve known the details for a while but the big news of the day is that 8Bit Music Power… is out. The first thousand cartridges produced are on sale now through Amazon Japan and Play-Asia will have them ready to ship worldwide on January 31st. Click inside to check out the full tracklist, a preview of the album and more.
Whether you grew up with a computer in the ’80s, pirated a copy of Photoshop in the 2000s or ran a benchmark on a video card last year, you’ve come into contact with a cracktro in one form or another. Also called a Crack Intro or Loader, these screens were first appended to pirated software in the late 70s and early 80s by the groups that cracked them. They served as digital graffiti, a way for the cracking “crew” to stake their claim, brag about their accomplishments and shout out to friends and rivals.
As such they rapidly evolved into ever more elaborate feats of visual programming until some coders detached their efforts from the shadier side of things. By 1986 the movement became known as the Demoscene and would later inspire benchmarking software to find dazzling ways to tax computer hardware. The legacy of the cracktro would also be carried on beyond the 90s in the form of keygens; tiny programs that generate serial keys for pirated software.
Wrapped up in that thirty year history is the music that accompanied the illicit cracktros, trainers and keygens, some of which outmatched the games they were attached to. While crews have left their calling cards on virtually every platform, this playlist (which can’t be embedded here) by YouTuber Zeusdaz features solely the Amiga. So prolific was the cracking scene back then that even this incomplete collection clocks in at an astounding eight and a half hours. It serves as a great intro to cracktros, offers a time capsule-like glimpse into the scene and it was even captured directly from a real Amiga. No emulation from Zeusdaz! It’s also a convenient playlist to pop on for quick audio/visual party ambiance.
Tracking down the coding composers behind these tunes is an even more daunting challenge and one I’d like to dig into… someday. For now I’ll point curious parties to Wikipedia, Cracktros.org, SceneMusic and Kestra Bitworld to see how deep the cracktro hole goes. I can’t remember any by name but there are definitely some cracktros and keygens I would repeatedly load up just to listen to. What about you? Any memorable crack or trainer tunes? Do you know another good source for even more cracktro themes? Let us know below.
Disclaimer: Original Sound Version does not endorse software piracy for the sake of listening to cracktros, no matter how cool their music might be.
The ZEN ALBATROSS is different from your average albatross. You see, the ancient mariner has nothin’ on him. Nor do invasive government spy agencies. Confused yet? You need to get to know ZEN ALBATROSS then. This bird is a master of cryptography, and he is also good at dodging the slings and arrows of would-be seafaring jerk wads.
My single favorite chip music album from 2010 was a double-single featuring “Mastada Gestalt” and “April 10,” both songs by ZEN ALBATROSS. Since then, we’ve heard precious little from him. Now he’s back with a new EP (almost 30 minutes long), which you can get digitally or on cassette tape via the artist’s Bandcamp page.
This new EP, “SIGINT,” is a head trip from start to finish. Interested in the finer details? Keep on reading… (more…)
Coming to you horribly later than the rest of my compatriots, I feel it still necessary to cast my vote on the VGM releases of 2015. So much came out last year that was notable that it’s hard to settle on any one thing. Fortunately, my fellow OSV writers have touched upon the best of things, so it’s a matter of following up on their fantastic lists with my own.
Keiji Yamagishi’s Retro-Active was originally planned as an overarching, three-album journey to be released across 2015. While we got the first installment on February 5th with Retro-Active Pt. 1 the follow up has taken a bit longer than expected. One year, to be exact.
Brave Wave has revealed that Retro-Active Pt. 2 will be released on February 5th, 2016 bringing listeners back to Yamagishi’s “futuristic emotional chiptunes world”. Along with new solo tracks the famed Famicom/NES composer will be teaming up with Ninja Gaiden II composer Ryuichi Nitta. The first track from the album, “Chaotic Code”, will be released on January 14th to give listeners a taste of Part 2’s sound in advance of the full album release on February 5th.
For now we’ll have to settle for the new album art above which is a continuation from Part 1. That’ll make for one sweet panorama once the final part is released. Are you excited to finally hear Retro-Active Pt. 2? Did you pick up the original album or the remix album? Let us know in the comments below.
Prolific electronic composer, Shiryu, has had one helluva year. I’ve seen his name and new releases on almost every visit I’ve made to Bandcamp’s video game page over the months. From original works to commemorative albums and themed compilations of his existing tracks (like Age of Shmup, Age of Ninja and Age of Vampire) he’s released more music in 2015 than anyone else I’ve seen.
He’s capped it off with Melodies from Video Games Past, a 12-track commission project that spiraled to 50 songs with over 2 hours of music. Included are all-new arrangements of fan favorites including Turrican, Street Fighter, Agony, Metroid, Sonic, Axelay, F-Zero, Galaxy Force and so many more.
“If you are familiar with my precious “Shiryu’s Arcade” ten LP project, you will recognize most of these tracks, but please note they were all made from scratch for this special release. Yep, these fifty tracks are all baked fresh! Even if this was a commission LP for someone, I want to publicly state that I refused payment. I’m not making anything out of this except for the coins people give me over [on] Bandcamp.
I just want everyone who listens to it get some nostalgic goose bump and get reminded some awesome memories of simpler times. Hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed making it. Happy holidays and… see in 2016?”
To further extend the holiday cheer, Shiryu’s offering up a 50% discount on all of his sprawling Bandcamp discography. Just use the promo code “shiryu_is_xmas_king” on checkout. The code is good from now through January 4th, 2016.
Chiptune artist and overall talented guy Samuel “Shnabubula” Ascher-Weiss has put his entire bandcamp discography on sale for the holidays, at a discount of 90% off the total of all 18 of his albums. Having released his newest album Sued for Christmas (I’m hoping that’s not the actual reason for the sale but we don’t judge here), which features his own spin on Christmas classics, he posted the following within the album’s page:
Please do not pay for this album. Upon the suggestion of a close friend I recorded and uploaded an album that has a price so that I can get in on all of the fun of releasing my entire discography at a discount!!!!<+100 more exclamation points> – Shnabubula
His previous albums feature a bevy of chiptune music inspired by oldschool NES and SNES tunes such as SNESology, as well as composing for indie games such as Americana Dawn. You can check out his entire music library and grab yourself some fun music for the season.