Videogame Music Nostalgia

A trip down memory lane then. I occassionally idly exchange Tweets with my friend @cubiq. We're pretty much the same age and into the same things. Like a couple of old aged pensioners on a park bench - we like to reminisce.

This time it was video game music.

When I was much younger I really loved to play games, it started with a ZX Spectrum, then aged 17 I ventured down to Gloucestershire to work on a fruit-farm and earn enough money for an Atari ST, followed not long after — via an abuse(?) of University grant money — with an Amiga 500. Like many my age I started programming on the very accessible Spectrum.

I was also really into music.

For a few years now I'd been thinking about this one song, it's certainly not a great song, but for some reason it's taken on earwormish tendencies. It came packaged on a separate cassette tape to the game and wasn't in-game music, rather a separate complementary soundtrack. Much as game package artwork bears no resemblance to in-game art, the same could be said of this music.

As you can imagine, video game audio wasn't always as hi-fidelity as it is today. Nowadays there are pretty much no restrictions on sound quality, apart from perhaps load time. In the 80s and some of the 90s it very much depended on your sound chip.

The ZX Spectrum could produce one channel of sound and had 10 octaves at its disposal, accessible via the famous BEEP command.

It sounded a bit like this:

That said — and I can't find this — the Spectrum version of Top Gun was one of the first games to 'trick out' the humble beeper to produce something resembling music.

Anyway, I couldn't remember the name of the game but I eventually found that song that was stuck in my head, which it turned out had been put together by a guy called Dave Lowe aka "Uncle Art" a famous British game music composer.

So I tweeted my discovery and get a tweet back from @cubiq linking to one of the Commodore 64's most famous game melodies:

The C64 was a rival of the Spectrum but had a much better sound chip with "three channels, each with its own ADSR envelope generator, ring modulation and filter capabilities".

As a schoolkid I used to hang around a shop called 'The Soft Centre' in Doncaster (of which no mention on the web exists) - and still remember the excitement following the release of the Ghostbusters game. Kids were packed into the shop listening to the soundtrack, it was the first soundtrack (at least that I can remember) that included vocals! I reply to @cubiq with:

In the late eighties with the advent of the Commodore Amiga and the Atari ST, video game sound really started to hot up. Commodore outdid themselves again - the addition of a great soundchip and controlling software making the Amiga the first 'multimedia machine' way ahead of the humble PC of the time which produced music rather like this (cue @cubiq):

as opposed to:

Eventually the PC — specifically their soundcards — caught up, which finds us where we are now and thanks to the Web Audio API we can do amazing things with audio on the web too - we just need all modern browsers to support it and that's looking promising.

In case you're wondering the tune I was tracking down was this.

I'm pretty sure that it wasn't produced for any computer-based sound chip of the time.

ZX Spectrum image courtesey of and Bill Bertram CC BY-SA 2.5 - Mark Boas added the 'Beep' speech bubble.