Xeodrifter Dev Diary #12 - An interview with Xeodrifter's composer & a new song revealed!

Please make sure to check out the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth installments of the Xeodrifter dev diary, which you can find here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here!

Wednesday, September 12, 2014

Helllo diary!

For this entry I thought it would be great to give you a glimpse into the process behind making chiptunes by chatting with Roth Sothy, who created many of the tunes for Xeodrifter.

1. Hi Roth, thanks for chatting with me about music. At what age did you create your first song? What inspired or encouraged you to create it, and what tools or instruments did you use to create it?

Hey Jools! I've always been surrounded by music growing up. My mom was a vocalist. My dad built a home recording studio and used to release cassette tapes locally back in the 80s and 90s. My uncles still play guitar in bands locally. Music pretty much runs in the family for me. I loved singing along with pop songs and humming to cartoon intros that played on the TV and radio. Learning melody and rhythm became second nature. When I was a kid, I went over a friend's house and played Mario Paint on SNES. There was a little music creating tool on there. That was my first exposure to music creation. Fasting forward a little, it was shortly after we got our first personal computer (Dell Dimension XPS T700r with a Turtle Beach soundcard and 2.1 harmon/kardon speakers). I think I was about 14 years of age when I started playing around with music software. I was a freshman in high school (1999-2000) when a close friend of mine introduced me to bunch of programs including Adobe Photoshop, 3D Studio Max, Dreamweaver, etc. and there was a little program called FruityLoops. I think it was version 2.x or something at the time. We played around with it a little bit, had no idea what we were doing. But it was fun, so I took it home. That's when I started making my own beats. It was just something I did on my leisure; making loops and learning the ins and outs of this DAW (digital audio workstation); pretty much learning to make music in general. They were never completed though. I do remember the first beat I made on there. It was a funky little tune using sound samples the software provided. In 2001, I made my first bootleg remix, well more of a mashup, of a song called "Baby Girl" by an R&B group, InnerVoices. I would trade various music clips of what we made back and forth with my friends. We also played around with MTV Music Generator on the original PlayStation too. Anyone remember that? That was quite fun.

I've never owned my own playing instrument because they were always too expensive. People knew me more for my art side than my music side at the time anyway - the class artist. They did let us play songs with different instruments in elementary and middle school music class, a little piano, xylophone, etc. That was pretty much it. I never had any non-school lessons. Everything was basically self-taught. Any real instrument I ever had was my vocal, and the rest were baby toy instruments or anything I could get my hands just to play with. I would imagine things would be a lot different if I did ever own a guitar or piano.

2. What are some of your biggest inspirations for your own chiptune creations?

I find inspiration from many places from video games to movies/films to expriences in life. Most of all, it's just the love of music! It's the feeling or thought you get when you hear that certain combination of chords, harmony, or lyric. Sometimes, it's that beat, that rhythm that makes you want to get up and bust-a-groove. You just can't get enough of it. For me, I'm very attracted to melody so I have an ear for anything melodically tasteful. You might find it reflected on the tracks I produced. The freedom to create or freedom to express oneself is also what drives me. I could not be happier knowing we can make our own music, let other people hear it and love what you made too. But for chipmusic specifically, I owe it to old school retro video games or just video games in general. Some people even call it Nintendo Music when they hear those bleeps and bloops, haha. There's just something about that sound, the aesthetics of that sound that's so raw, so clear, and so loud, that brings you back to a much simpler time in life but can also take you to a newer place.

3. What is your process for making a new chiptune? Do you have a single way or perhaps multiple ways you tend to use to create a new song?

For me, when it comes to making music, first - a sparking idea, a thought, or emotion. A lot of the time, I'd wake up in the morning with this cool melody and theme just looping in my head. So I try to keep playing it in my head, and add more things to it to make it sound cooler, and more memorable, all this while it's still developing in my head. Then finally, I'd get on the computer and start laying everything down. The fastest way to do this is with a digital audio workstation (DAW) software like FL Studio. So I start that up, pick an instrument, and start laying down the notes. An alternate way, if there's no computer around, I would just use my mobile handset and record an audio clip of myself humming and/or beatboxing the ideas out because I know these will be forgotten later and lost forever. Usually, the melody is what comes first. The melody is the most important. I can already tell what the tempo is (or can be) right after that and what kind of beat pattern fits with that tempo. That is always changeable later too. Then ideas would stem from there.

So there are different ways to make chiptune. Most software and hardware synthesizers can already produce the '8-bit' sound by default or even have patches available to use. A lot of chip artists use a simple tracker program like FamiTracker, nanoloop, or even LSDJ for the Nintendo Game Boy to get the more authentic raw 4-bit GB sound. Some bands like to combine the chip sound with modern sounds and actual instruments. I guess it depends on the style you want go for. NESTracker, Musetracker, MilkyTracker, SunVox are some other ones. I like MilkyTracker too, it's based off of FastTracker II on the old DOS/Amiga systems. My favorite way is through a DAW, namely FL Studio, and a VSTi plugin called Magical 8bit Plug. It's developed by Takeshi Yokemura, 1/3 member of a well-known Japanese chiptune band named YMCK. They've done music for the DSiWare game, Art Style: PiCTOBiTS. A lot of my sounds are created using Magical 8bit Plug. It's available for free download on their official website. http://www.ymck.net/en/download/magical8bitplug/ As long as you have a DAW or Audio Unit that supports VST plugins, you are good to go.

So here's how magical8bitplug looks once I open it in FL Studio. It may look different in other DAW or sequencers. It's a simple VST that uses the native GUI of whatever parent program it's opened in:

With magical8bitPlug, you got your Osc shape dial so you can switch between square, triangle, noise, and pulse waveforms. There's the Volume. Then there's ADSR (Attack, Decay, Sustain, Release) which lets you adjust and transform your sound to create the instrument you want. I usually tweak away at this spot a lot and make new instruments/sounds as I go.

Here's how one of the Xeodrifter projects look like:

It's an old version of FL Studio that came free with my soundcard - Creative Sound Blaster Audigy2 ZS Platinum Pro. Normally, it wouldn't be all brightly colored like that. I reopened the project and recolored each channel and instrument just to make it more presentable and pretty to look at. My projects are usually a bit more messy, but I try to keep it clean and organized sometimes.

So I'll do a little tour of FL Studio. This is good for people that are looking to get into music production. Starting from the top you got the Time, play controls, tempo, CPU/RAM usage stats, and window toggles, etc. At the far left, you have your Browser - convenient access to all your project files and audio WAV samples. Next, you have the Pattern box which contains all the Channels and instruments. Each one of these are actually magical8bitPlug VST, but I've altered each as their own instrument. You can rename each channel however you like. In this case, I name them by the sound shape or what instrument they are (lead, chord, etc.), which helps to identify them. You also have access to the volume and pan knobs here. To the right of that, is the Piano roll window, and this is where you jot down all your notes. It's where the magic happens, really. This is the link between your mind and the track you're working on. Any sequencer should have this editor. FL Studio is very flexible, so if you like, you can hook up a keyboard through MIDI or microphone, click record, start playing, and notes or waveform would appear in real-time as you play. I just do it the hard way by placing each note one after another. It's kind of like pixel art in a way. It takes a lot of practice and lots and lots of patience. You can adjust the velocity/volume and panning of the channel through here as well. Underneath there, you see one of the Channel settings open. That lets you adjust the pan, volume, and pitch, and assign to a FX channel on the Mixer (which is located all the way at the bottom right). The [--] indicates it is not on any of the FX channels, only the Master channel. Now for this project, I refrain from using any FX (like reverb, echo, distortion, etc.) to keep a more NES feel. The only thing I have are the EQ for a couple channels as you can see at the bottom, and one default Limiter at the Master channel just so nothing would get too loud and distort. The EQs don't necessarily need to even be there either. I can disable them or take them out if I wanted. It's a habit in music production, and helps when you want to get your instrument sounding the way you want it to. Somewhere in the middle there, you see the Fruiter Wrapper which contains the magical8bitPlug VST. You can bring the VST's interface up when you click any of the channels in the Pattern box, and in the Channel settings, click Plugin tab. Now to the right of that, that big box field is the Playlist. Each of those small colored boxes are all of your patterns. Unlike Trackers which play/preview the song vertically, the sequencer here plays the song horizontally. You can paint and chop the patterns up just as you would in the Piano roll, and structure your song to how you like it. Again, I used color and name to ID each instrument, etc. The gray colored patterns are actually empty, but I used them to write my initials on there for this screenshot. Underneath there, is a little Dancer visualization - just a little anime character that dances to the sound as you click play. Not necessary, but it's cute. Then finally, to the bottom right, is the Mixer where you have your assigned FX channels and audio levels.

So once I feel the track is complete or near completion, I'd give a listen, then export it to mp3 or wav and give it some more test listens on multiple devices like mobile phones/handsets or a radio or something just to hear how they'd sound on the those speakers or headphones. If there's anything I notice that needs changing or fixing, I'd go back do that.

4. In your opinion, who are some of the finest examples of chiptune artists, and what are some examples of their best works?

I listen to many types of music, and my interest grows each day. But I've always had an affinity for electronic music and music from old video games that I've played. So if you want to count that, then Koji Kondo still remains as one of my favorites for composing some of the best music for my favorite video game series of all time, The Legend of Zelda. Surely, he and many other legendary VGM composers (David Wise, Manami Matsumae, Nobou Uematsu, Hirokazu Tanaka, Yuzo Koshiro, Michiru Yamane..) had been an inspiration to a lot of today's artists, not only in the chiptune scene, but in other styles of music as well.

As for modern chiptune artists, there are so many to recommend and many new arising. One of the first artists that got me into chipmusic was, I think, a drummer who went by the name of Duracell because he drums non-stop like the Energizer bunny. About 8 years ago, I saw a video of him performing music from Space Harrier, and I was just in awe, still amazing today. Nullsleep, Glomag, Goto80, Covox, 8-Bit Weapon, Bit Shifter, Bubblyfish, Freezepop, YMCK were some I started diving into through compilation CDs and YouTube findings. These are just some of the guys that really pioneered chipmusic from the early days of the demoscene to what it is now. I browsed music communities like 8bitpeoples (which Nullsleep runs), 8bitcollective, micromusic, OCReMix, VGMix, Arecibo Radio, which was how I later discovered great musicians like virt (Jake Kaufman), coda, C-Jeff, 4mat, minusbaby, Dubmood, Sabrepulse, Fighter X, Kplecraft, Unicorn Kid, Firebrand Boy, Disasterpeace, Henry Homesweet, Alex Mauer, and so many others. Check out Random (aka Mega Ran) if you're into nerdcore hip-hop, rap over chip beats. Dj CUTMAN is another one; he's always spinning the latest in chiptunes. A few of them have made music for well-known indie games like the Bit.Trip series and Fez. I onced witnessed Anamanaguchi perform live at PAX East 2010, announcing their involvement in the Scott Pilgrim vs The World The Game soundtrack, got to meet them and got their CDs and group pic. Then I saw them again earlier this year at PAX East 2014. "Helix Nebula" is an oldie but goodie from this band that I would introduce to my friends. Their new album, Endless Fantasy, which was crowd-funded on Kickstarter, is definitely worth checking out. Any new listeners who are open-minded and looking to get into this type of music, should like video game music first and then try that album out.

5. Regarding the chiptunes that you have created for Xeodrifter, what technical limitations did you put on yourself in the creation of the tunes in regards to sounds chips, numbers of tracks, etc.

Chipmusic itself is limited by the hardware, but that's the beauty of it. For the NES, you got your square, triangle, noise, and pulse. They're the most basic forms of sound ever. Then you have your volume and pitch controls. It's all up to you and your creativity to make the most of these basic sounds. There's an option to use lo-fi PCM samples too on the NES, but even that, I limit myself from using samples. I wanted to keep everything pure and sample-free. Every kick, snare, percussive sound are made from scratch and put as a separate instrument or channel as I go. However, I do bend the rules a little bit by adjusting the tempo to whatever speed I want and using as many channels as I want. The tunes I wrote for Xeodrifter were more "barebones" from what I'd usually do when it comes to the style. I keep the number of channels/patterns to a minimum as I can. Anything I don't need, I strip it away. No effects plugins. Anything that sounds like an echo or phaser/flanger can actually be replicated manually by repeating the same note timely after the lead on another channel or pattern if you want and adjusting the volume level of that to your liking. If done right, it gives off the "illusion" that it sounds like an echo. It takes some experimenting, but the more you play around with it, you'll find different techniques to create all kinds of sounds. By limiting yourself, you learn to be more creative and come up with a totally different solution than what you would've originally done. Sometimes, that can lead to even more cooler ideas.

I think what's limiting and most challenging for me was Time. I had about 2 and half weeks, maybe a little more, to come with up some original theme music. I was definitely up to the task, and took the challenge bravely by default. This had forced me to push my creativity level up the highest it has ever been. I had never done so many tunes within that set amount of time. Although each track is only a couple minutes long, just coming up with those melodies and putting them all together takes a bit of time and effort. Then proof-listening to them, making sure they are the way I want them. I surprise even myself at times. You never what you are capable of until you push yourself... Limit Break!

6. You created many (all?) of the Xeodrifter chiptunes without seeing any reference for the game - which is really impressive! Do you find your perspective of your own chip tunes is altered in any way when you hear it in context in the game or the trailer?

Oh man, definitely! When you came to me and asked me if I wanted to make music for Renegade Kid’s new game, being a Renegade Kid fan, I couldn't say no. You described what kind of track you wanted for the first one. So everything I made was based on that description in mind. I think if I had known that it was going to be an outer space/Metroid/Moon style game, I would've gone for that more dark ambient atmosphere. But then it might sound too much like Metroid. There was at least one track that felt like Metroid, and that's the one people have heard already. There's another one I'm proud of that sounds like it belongs in a classic Mega Man game. I can't wait to hear how you guys think of that track if it does end up in the game. All the music was already done and sent by the time Xeodrifter was revealed. I had no idea what to expect at that reveal. Even I was surprised when I saw it, but super super excited! But I'm staying confident. I just need to see more of the game!

7. Is there anything you would like to talk about or comment on? Anything you like. :)

I'm very excited for Xeodrifter! I know a lot of you are too, and we can't wait to learn the release date. The same goes for Treasurenauts and other halted RK projects. After that is done, I hope we finally get to see RK make a return to the horror genre. I love horror games and horror movies, and RK's first release was one that really laid an impression on me.

Ultimately, I want to thank GoNintendo for this feature and the rest of the GoNin Community for keeping this site afloat. It's one of the best, if not the best, online communities for video games on the net. I'm so glad to get the chance to meet some of you in person. Shout outs to the #gonintendo IRC and podcast crew.

Never stop imagining. Keep on exploring. Peace and much respect! \:D/

This is the tune we revealed previously...

And, here’s a brand new tune to check out!

Sakurai on Smash Bros. 3DS - Smash Run length, music, tips and 'pic of the day'

Coming from a Famitsu feature with Masahiro Sakurai...

F: Please tell us why Smash Run is set to 5 minutes.

MS: Isn’t 4 minutes too short and 6 minutes too long? Kid Icarus: Uprising’s aerial fights were about 5 minutes, right? In Smash Run, because song use fits perfectly and feels good, I decided to use two songs tracks as a time length.

F: The approach for music is incredible. Why go to such lengths?

MS: My games always have a sound test. Game music which creates a scene in a short loop and brings back many things, including the situation when it played, is really likeable, right?

Especially in a project like Smash Bros. where it is possible to bring everything together, that chance must be used to the fullest!! The required coordination for rights is tenfold compared to a normal software so that multiplies the efforts.

F: How many tips there are in total?

MS: The truth is that is that the total can be updated. It is possible to add them without any notification, as this is a game with content that cannot exactly be “completed.” Though, if you add more tips, then there is translation work to be done, and with every country in mind, this is more difficult than it seems at first.

F: Updating the website with “pic of the day”, in what way you do the updates?

MS: First I decide what theme to show, photographed at the desk, come up with a manuscript, and then I have to ask someone at Nintendo to update. Since I’m usually very busy, when I get the chance, I finish several posts in advance. Also, because of all the translations, I have to have the posts ready 10 days in advance.

Full interview here

Splatoon - more off-screen footage

Direct link here

Mad Men Football - prototype trailer, press release

On this day in history, October 19, 1781, General Cornwallis surrendered nearly 8,000 British soldiers under his command to American (and French) forces at Yorktown, Virginia, effectively ending the American Revolution, though not officially ending it.*

Earlier this year, Mad Men Football (working title) was announced as being effectively in development for the Wii U, but not officially in development. Development started on Mad Men Football last year and development has continued since it was first announced, but there has been a BIG change to it during the development process after getting officially approved as a Wii U developer.

In early August, it was said of the game, "A fair warning would be, what the game was, is not what the game is becoming." And, a post shortly after that one said, "What the prototype was, is not what the game is becoming!"

The difference between effectively developing the game before being an approved Wii U developer, and then becoming an officially approved Wii U developer is what resulted in the big change and the decisions leading to the change.

What is the big change that has happened to Mad Men Football since first announcing it, and getting approved as a Wii U developer? Watch the pre-alpha promotional screens trailer below from the current work-in-progress, for the first in-game look at George Washington and the big change in development to the game from what the prototype was last year and earlier this year!

PR email

Fan-Art: Video games in the real world

Direct link here

IronFall still coming to 3DS, no release date set, game in the final stretch

The following comes from VD-Dev...

- IronFall is still in development
- the team took a “small break” in September
- they have since resumed work
- VD-Dev has been busy with improvements
- release date will be announced when the game is completely finished
- original plan was to get the game out this year, but now there is no date set
- game is currently 95 percent complete
- the devs say the final bits “are taking much time”
- the team has “love” for the project and wants to “polish every detail”


Hyrule Warriors - Master Quest DLC: Cia's Tale (Part 3)

Direct link here

ACB rating - Art of Balance

Twisted Fusion Kickstarter update - Meet the Locals

Trails is an explorer and you are sure to bump into him on your own travels. Don't forget to stop and chat as Trails is a generous guy and may give you an item that could be just what your looking for.

Full update here (thanks Matt!)

The history of Mario Kart items - The Bob-omb

Direct link here

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