Retronauts Micro returns with a double-length episode

Well, I say “double-length,” but Bob has been stretching the definition of “Retronauts Micro” for quite a while now, so I suppose you’re used to “Micro” episodes being nearly half the length of a full episode by now.

But, anyway! Because you demanded it, Retronauts Micro has indeed made its grand and glorious return. Not that it was gone all that long. Nevertheless, to mark the occasion I’ve put together what is by far the most involved and complicated Micro I’ve ever produced. It’s a follow-up to the FM synthesis episode from a few months back, which means it centers around music. And lots of it.

This episode offers a very loose overview of the use of sampling in video games, exploring a large number of permutations and tripping a bit over the ambiguity of some of the terminology used on the tech side. Before that, though, I’ve outlined the history of sampling as a concept as well, since the concept has a significant existence outside of gaming — though of course it has to a certain degree evolved and developed alongside video games. Eh, I’m making a mess of this. Just have a listen to the episode. It’s nearly half an hour in length and incorporates dozens of examples (and samples). And, of course, that one track that EarthBound blatantly just stole from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

(Incidentally, it seems like PodcastOne’s system has a habit of overwriting custom episode art with the generic show art, so if you’re into the individual covers we create, you can snag the one above and add it yourself. Sorry for the inconvenience.)

Episode description: Retronauts Micro returns on a biweekly schedule! Jeremy kicks things off with a follow-up to last year’s look at FM synthesis in games by exploring a flip side: A brief (and at all comprehensive) history of audio sampling vis-a-vis video games.

MP3, 12.7 MB | 25:31 | Direct download
Retronauts on iTunes | Retronauts at PodcastOne

Music in this episode comes from… oh boy, where do I even begin? There’s a ton — and by no means is this list a comprehensive breakdown of all the examples I could provide.

  • Revenge of Shinobi
  • SoulBlazer
  • EarthBound
  • Psycho Soldier
  • Summer Carnival ’92: Recca
  • Pierre Schaeffer “Apostrophe”
  • The Beach Boys “Pet Sounds”
  • The Beach Boys “Caroline No”
  • Pink Floyd “Money”
  • King Crimson “In the Court of the Crimson King”
  • Led Zeppelin “Stairway to Heaven”
  • David Bowie “Space Oddity”
  • Yes “Siberian Khatru”
  • King Crimson “Epitaph”
  • Genesis “Watcher of the Skies”
  • Gentle Giant “Free Hand”
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra “Computer Game”
  • Rick Wakeman “Catherine Parr”
  • Rally-X
  • King & Balloon
  • Ghostbusters (Commodore 64)
  • Wild Gunman
  • Ninja Gaiden (NES)
  • Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
  • Otocky
  • Quadrun
  • Journey (Arcade)
  • Super Mario Kart
  • ActRaiser
  • Final Fantasy VI
  • Jet Grind Radio

Yeah, OK, I think that’s it. Whew, I’m fried. Enjoy the show, and there’ll be the usual full-length production on Monday… which also is about music. It’s like a theme or something.

17 Comments

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17 Responses to Retronauts Micro returns with a double-length episode

  1. Brian Clark

    I was meaning to ask, at the end of the EarthBound discussion you play a song that is basically “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – Reprise” but in the style of EarthBound.

    Where did you find this? To my knowledge, it’s not in the game. Yes, a sample of The Beatles song is used for when the Dungeon Man is following you in the desert, but it’s just using the drums from the beginning of the song.

  2. Daniel Feit

    for the record I listened to this while walking around Kyoto and it added a spring to my step

  3. TheLupineOne

    Heh, just as I was reading this Get Back started to play on the radio. In the words of the king from King & Balloon, “Thank You!”

  4. Extremely dope episode. I could go on and on about this topic.

    The NES is a great example of creative sample use. I love the packs that Konami, Tecmo, and Capcom used for their games. And even though I’m not the biggest fan of the SNES sound, some companies like Namco were able to come up with incredible sounds for it that make it sound near FM.

    One final thing, lol, most everyone talks about how FF6’s opera was the most amazing thing they heard, but personally, when I heard the Clayfighter intro it was OVER! If you’ve never heard it, check it out and pretend it’s the mid-90s and that “speaking” in games is completely not a thing.

  5. Abrahm

    This is a fantastic episode! I loved the FM synthesis episode as well. It’s fantastic to have game technology put into a broader cultural perspective. These two minis walk the balance of history, technology and entertainment. I love them both. Retronauts is really knocking it out of the park lately!

  6. Another fantastic episode! About midway through, I was so engrossed with the information you were presenting that I forgot about all the niggling addendums I tend to accumulate out of obsessive habit.

    It’s interesting to note that some Japanese computers like the PC-98, with its FM-based YM2608, included ADPCM sampling options as well as samples ‘baked into the firmware’–particularly percussion.

    Of more import: While the SNES was the first home console to have an exclusively sample-based chip, The Commodore Amiga 500(with its 4-channel, 8-bit sampling chip) beat it by four years. The Amiga often sounds pretty different than the SNES, particularly because it lacks the SNES’ anti-aliasing-like sample filters, but there are examples where they definitely sound like kin.

    Which reminds me: While your estimation of the Genesis sound as more immediate and punchy(and the SNES as more smooth) is definitely accurate, good sound designers could really get a lot out of the SNES. For example, Koshiro’s Super Adventure Island OST, while being one of the most stylistically datable soundtracks for the SNES, nevertheless has crisp punch and proper impact. Also of note for immediacy are Super Castlevania IV and Plok.

    The only other thing that I think bears mention(on the music culture side of things) is the popularity of sampling in Hip-Hop and EDM and its parallel to gaming audio trends. Kutaragi’s chip was exceedingly prescient; within a few years of its introduction, sampling had reached a level of cultural consciousness that producers were commonly using samplers as part of their repertoire. That popularity was a boon for the perception of the SNES sound; it just sounded more like things people were used to hearing in music. It’s funny to think about now. I play VGM to my kids all the time, and it all sounds so homogenous to them that they still can’t consistently tell a SNES tune from a Genesis one.

    One more thing: There’s a really interesting YouTube video on Genesis sample quality by a guy who composes AMAZING YM2612 tracks. It’s worth a view, (as is his YM2612 take on Simon’s Theme from Super Castlevania IV, which inexplicably sounds phenomenal) https://youtu.be/2W4yTL-9gZE

    • Thanks, that was a really awesome video. It’s interesting to see how composers were able to use that sample channel. Even more interesting that Western composers were a bit more skilled at using it than the Japanese composers

      • Nathan Daniels

        I think any channel(S) can be made a sample channel. But in any case, it wasn’t the composers per se who were more adept at using the sample channels, but the sound designers….I think that got lost in the video. The Western composers, specifically the North American ones, didn’t want to be programmers, so the sound designers built the drivers to function like MIDI samplers. That was especially true for the later 16-bit EA games and Virgin Interactive. There’s a great interview with Jeff Van Dyck on Legacy Music Hour and a great one with Tommy Rallarico on VGMpire where they both talk about that very thing. So that’s why EA’s later offerings were so inventive with the sampling.

        There was a similar situation with Matt Furniss, as he talks about in a recent interview with Pixeltunes Radio….but I give Matt a lot more credit for being heavily involved with his Sound Designer to come up with the best sounding instruments and samples. His stuff always sounds crisp and hard hitting.

        • Nathan Daniels

          *Tallarico

          Jeff Van Dyck talks about relying primarily on pitched samples, and using the PSG(!?) for a synth pad sound, but completely bypassing the FM because of its ‘dated’ tonality. By contrast, Matt Furniss primarily used the FM and augmented it with crisp, punchy drum samples. He eschewed the PSG on account of its dated sound, but said that after hearing how Yuzo Koshiro used the PSG in Streets of Rage, he really regretted not putting it to use.

          Using Koshiro to come back to the topic at hand, it was really cool to hear Jeremy describe in the FFIV episode how when Uematsu heard Koshiro’s work on Actraiser, he went back to the drawing board. Koshiro may not have liked working with the SNES chip, but that guy got more out of whatever medium he used than just about any other composer-programmer. Hitoshi Sakimoto in the same ballpark, but everything Koshiro touched was pure gold.

  7. kris

    you’re killing it with these music episodes. thanks!

  8. Greg Falkingham

    Really terrific episode; extensive information and context, and very well produced.

    For those looking to dig deeper into the music history touched on in this episode, it is worth seeking out the recent documentary series Soundbreaking, and especially the episode ‘Painting With Sound’ [ http://soundbreaking.com/episodes/episode-two/ ]

    In addition, a couple of fun and informative documentaries about sampling in music worth seeking out are Copyright Criminals [ http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/copyright-criminals/ ] and Sonic Outlaws [ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zI1PtnNXOs ]

  9. econmara

    Great episode! I really enjoyed it. Thank you.

  10. Aaron Bassow

    I really liked both this episode and the FM Synthesis episode, and I hope you’ll do more like this.

  11. Ion H.

    Great episode! And thanks for introducing me to some mellotron, um, samples!

    In the SNES section, though, I’m surprised you didn’t mention Mario Paint, which put the ability to control samples in the players’ hands. As if you and/or your friends didn’t chuckle when putting the “baby” note down low. 😉