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Thread: Why did the Commodore 64 have such epic music for its time?

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    Pac-Man (Level 10) treismac's Avatar
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    Default Why did the Commodore 64 have such epic music for its time?

    Question:

    Why was the length and the quality of the Commodore 64's music so grand in the context of it being the video game system in the transition period between the decline of Atari and the rise of Nintendo? All these years after the computer and its games have come and gone, it just strikes me as beautifully strange that rather than just porting a video game with its music as is, C64 composers would often make the effort of composing opening screen/loading music that would often dwarf the pre-existing music on the original game (Yie Ar Kung Fu, anyone?). Yet for all of the splendor of the epic music composed for the C64, for the most part, many of its successor's (NES) games had many very forgettable and short scraps of music that were an afterthought at best. Was this because the Commodore 64 didn't have a Japanese presence, which is where the lion's share of NES developers came from? Where they unaware that the bar had been raised to such heights or did they just not care?

    Your thoughts, memories, and what-have-yous.

    Optional (i.e. read if you feel so compelled) rose-tinted essay:

    To this day the music of the Commodore 64 astounds me.

    As far as its technical ability goes, the majesty that was the SID soundchip gave composers an unique and amazing instrument, which could emulate everything from ethereal hums from other realms to screeching, whammy bar accented guitar solos. For those of us who lived through the transition of the Atari 2600's beeps and brainks to the C64, seemingly countless multiverses were bounded in the world of music. If it is hyperbolic, it is not very to say that the leap was like going from enduring a panhandler serenading you with a rubber band to listening to a philharmonic orchestra.

    The music of the games were the work of musicians. The Commodore's finest composers created soaring anthems rather than 15 or so seconds of forgettable looped filler. I recall from my childhood's memories listening in rapture to title screen music, almost completely oblivious to the actual game that was waiting to be played. It was as if it was the music, not the game, that was the payoff for the long loading times. Here is Rob Hubbard's piece for Arcade Classics:



    Good heavens. Listen to that crunching rock anthem and then skip to 5:44 when the music transitions to the soothing bridge that melts away all the tension it built up. Was all of that necessary for the title screen of an arcade classics collection? This so beautifully illustrates what makes the Commodore's music so special: it is unexpectedly and even undeservedly sublime for its time and place.

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    Strawberry (Level 2) Damaniel's Avatar
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    The main factor, is - as you mentioned - the SID, which was an amazing sound chip. For game programmers used to working on consoles, there wasn't much of a history of access to powerful sound hardware. As a result, composition quality on the console side took quite some time to catch up. Also, the availability of software specifically designed to control and compose music with the SID allowed the musically inclined to experiment with creating music on the C64, and many of these people were able to find jobs in the industry. There wasn't much of a chance to 'experiment' with NES or other console hardware. Finally, there wasn't a lot of overlap between console and computer game development teams during the 80s (all of the C64 console and arcade ports were outsourced to companies that specialized in computer software), so neither group directly influenced the other, at least until much later on.

    There are some exceptions to the rule - Tim Follin's work on Solstice and Silver Surfer for the NES, for example. You definitely get some of that Commodore 64 music vibe, especially in the Solstice main theme (which is pretty much unlike anything else done with the NES sound hardware).

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    Kirby (Level 13) j_factor's Avatar
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    Two reasons. SID has an awesome sound, and floppy disks had more memory than cartridges.
    Quote Originally Posted by TheShawn
    Please highlight what a douche I am.

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    Storage capacity isn't really an issue here, unless the NES requires a lot more data/storage by comparison for its music. Your average title track SID would occupy 4-6k in total, so not a huge footprint in the overall memory structure for a single load game.

    Almost all the best SID composers came from Europe. I'm not sure why we took to it, and certainly here in the UK is arguably where SID music took off, with the likes of Hubbard (THE first notable composer), Galway, Daglish, Whittaker, Frey and Matt Grey... which led to composers such as Huelsbeck, Maniacs of Noise, and Ouwehand et al also becoming well known. It might be due to electronic music in general becoming prominent around the time the C64 launched, and the rise of one genre led to people wanting to emulate it on their own home machines.

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    Kirby (Level 13) j_factor's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mayhem View Post
    Storage capacity isn't really an issue here, unless the NES requires a lot more data/storage by comparison for its music. Your average title track SID would occupy 4-6k in total, so not a huge footprint in the overall memory structure for a single load game.
    My American-ness is showing; I had a different interpretation of "its [C64's] time" than you.
    Quote Originally Posted by TheShawn
    Please highlight what a douche I am.

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    Peach (Level 3)
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    Apple (Level 5) Gamevet's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mayhem View Post
    Storage capacity isn't really an issue here, unless the NES requires a lot more data/storage by comparison for its music. Your average title track SID would occupy 4-6k in total, so not a huge footprint in the overall memory structure for a single load game.

    Almost all the best SID composers came from Europe. I'm not sure why we took to it, and certainly here in the UK is arguably where SID music took off, with the likes of Hubbard (THE first notable composer), Galway, Daglish, Whittaker, Frey and Matt Grey... which led to composers such as Huelsbeck, Maniacs of Noise, and Ouwehand et al also becoming well known. It might be due to electronic music in general becoming prominent around the time the C64 launched, and the rise of one genre led to people wanting to emulate it on their own home machines.
    The SID music scene definitely flourished in the UK, but America had guys like Ed Bogas that put together great music for Accolade games and Roy Glover for Ozark Software.


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yre8waZlJSI


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p6L6MhSgpgo

    I don't know who created the intro music for Free Fall's Archon (Jon Freeman?), but it's pretty good.


    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wdfIfC9BHwQ
    Last edited by Gamevet; 01-09-2013 at 12:10 AM.

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    Kirby (Level 13) j_factor's Avatar
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    Also, Rob Hubbard moved to America to do Skate or Die.

    I really like this Wizardry VI track. It's credited to a Mike Alsop, but I'm not sure what else he did. (Pretty sure he's American though.) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8P6tvQoWKps

    Googling his name gave me this one. Fairlight. Also pretty awesome. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_l-K5VClik
    Quote Originally Posted by TheShawn
    Please highlight what a douche I am.

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    ServBot (Level 11) tom's Avatar
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    In the UK you often found that the quality of the music surpassed the quality of the game.

    Anyway, should be moved to Classic Computing

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    Key (Level 9) Satoshi_Matrix's Avatar
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    As stated on the RetroGamingRoundup 7ish hour podcasts, the C64 was really overdesigned for what it needed to be, and the kick ass SID chip afforded programmers to produce some of the best chiptune music of all time. Of course, there are many examples of C64 games with poorly composed/bad music, but that's the fault of the creator, not the C64.

    Some tracks worth taking a look at include the C64 version of R-Type, the title theme of Robocop 3, and pretty much any track from the Great Giana Sisters which is still the best Mario clone ever made.
    check out my classic gaming review site: http://satoshimatrix.wordpress.com/

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    ServBot (Level 11) tom's Avatar
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    Pokey is pretty close though, just listen to Gary Gilbertson's stuff.

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    Peach (Level 3) NeoZeedeater's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tom View Post
    In the UK you often found that the quality of the music surpassed the quality of the game.

    Anyway, should be moved to Classic Computing
    My rant - Computer gaming being relegated to a separate section away from the consoles, arcades, and portables is the main reason I donít post here much anymore. It just contributes to the notion that they somehow arenít really video games, and by having it separate less people are going to be encouraged to learn about a big part of classic gaming culture they missed out on.

    Anyway, more on topic, the SID was pretty much a turning point for home gaming audio. Just listening to Lazy Jones, it sounds so much more complex than most other stuff around 1984.

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