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September 7, 2011 / jwaxo

Super Mario Bros. (Chiptune)

The classic tale of plumbers, mushroom-people, and fireballs.

I wanted to save Super Mario Bros. for a more special occasion than just talking about how it impacted my life, because honestly, the game didn’t really impact our lives in a direct manner. It was definitely one of the top games we played in the early 90’s, and we definitely played it a lot. We cheated on it a lot, too, as you might recall, but even that story doesn’t really give this game justice.

The game itself may not have impacted my growth, development, and maturation than some other games at the time.

But its music did.

Let me ask an easy question: do you know the theme to Super Mario Bros.? You do. If you lived in the late 80’s or early 90’s, you do. Just give it a listen. I’ll wait. This is one of the most recognizable songs in the world. And I mean that. In the US it has been in the top ten downloaded ringtones of all time for the past 6 years. Paul and Linda McCartney met with the composer of the Mario soundtrack and both knew it by heart. And I’m sure you do, too.

That composer, Koji Kondo, didn’t just create the Super Mario Bros. theme, or just its soundtrack, or just all of its sequels. Maybe you’ve heard the music from The Legend of Zelda? And I of course mean this song.

These songs are ingrained in our heads, and not just because we listen to them over and over again as we try to beat Bowser again and again and again.

And again and again and again.

No, we remember them because they are actually excellent songs.

First of all, what is chiptune? Chiptune is those two tracks I just had you listen to (assuming you clicked the link). It is the technology that arose with increased (but still small) memory limitations and sound hardware, which would allow the playing of a limited number of pre-recorded sounds. The slightly-more astute of computer users might recall a similar technique known as MIDI. Basically, rather than wasting hard drive space on recording an entire song, video game composers would just record 8 or 16 or however many different notes they would use, and then tell the computer what order to play them in. It saved on a heck of a lot of space, but also created a very unique, canned sound.

Enter video game composers, who would utilize their palette of chiptune sounds to create music that would not only be enjoyable, but would add to gameplay, loop reliably, and provide enough variation to still be reasonably fun to listen to after hours and hours of playing.

Music is important.

This is something that I often take for granted people understand, but it is highly, highly important. Every time you cry at a movie, every time you’re scared, every time you feel tense or angry or cheerful, it’s because of the music. Sure, the acting is there, and the script, the cinematography, the effects, all of that is very important. But the music ties it all together. And this is just with movies.

Music is often called the universal language, and there’s a reason: it is. Every culture develops music in some way, and it is always used as a way to describe emotion and tell stories.

Because of this, it’s only natural that music would become important with games, as a way of creating engaging stories and increasing entertainment potential.

This would have definitely made our home movies more popular.

This entire topic arose when, relatively recently, I sent an awesome chiptune song I had found on YouTube to a friend, unable to express exactly why I thought it was so awesome. “It’s all blips and beeps to me”, he said, and maybe that’s what you’re saying right now.

Maybe it’s because I grew up listening to these chiptune epics, but there’s something about the style of music that still stirs something inside my heart. Complicated melodies and harmonies can be arranged to interplay and resound off of each other, entire stories and genres interweaving. All just to repeat in the background as you hop off of the top of Goombas. These “blips and beeps” build up and echo inside my head in a way that drives them in.

When I found out that the Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World game had an entirely 16-bit chiptune soundtrack, I was instantly more interested in the music than in the entire game (and it was awesome music). When I found out that people covered certain amazing songs in chiptune my head nearly exploded. And whenever I want to just sit back and listen to the classic tunes of Koji Kondo, well, there’s always that, to ease my mind into a classic, relaxed state.

(victory fanfare)

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