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Science, Maths & Technology
  • Audio
  • 5 mins
  • Level 1: Introductory


Updated Tuesday 26th May 2009

It's not just the computer industry that took inspiration from the code-breaking machine Colossus. The BBC/OU series Digital Planet discovers a unique fusion of retro gaming and music

Once upon a time, games consoles were for playing games on. But as we saw at the Maker Faire, sometimes the tinkerers of the world step in an re-imagine what's possible.

Take for example Matthew Applegate, aka chiptunes artist Pixelh8. It's amazing what he can do with a Game Boy Advance... Like recreate the sound of Colossus...

And as a special treat for Digital Planet listeners, he also put together a special mix of the the Digital Planet theme tune, which presenter Gareth Mitchell is currently using as a ring tone on his mobile phone!

Copyright Used with permission

Hands on With Pixelh8

If you fancy a go at creating you own chiptunes, you can download some software from the Pixelh8 website that will turn a Game Boy Advance into a chiptunes synth. If you do download the software and create your own chiptunes, or maybe create your own chiptunes using some of the personal computers of yesteryear, then why not post a link to them on the Digital Planet Listeners' Group on Facebook. Who knows, if even people post enough links, we might be able to run a chiptunes festival here on!

Taking it Further

If you'd like to learn more about the role of audio in computer games, it's one of the many topics included in the Open University short course Digital worlds [T151].

The course is structured in terms of weekly topic explorations, one of which covers "An Introduction to Game Audio". And who do you think features in it? You guessed it!

Question 4: What are chiptunes, and what is generative music? How do they relate to game audio?

Chiptunes are are tunes that are played using game console sound chips. So for example, if you have a GameBoy Advance or Nintendo DS, then software developed by chiptunes performer Pixelh8 is capable of turning it into a chiptunes instrument.

Generative music (a phrase apparently coined by Brian Eno) refers to algorithmically produced music, in which a MIDI file, for example, is created according to a set of parameterised rules defined and configured by the music designer. Potentially, generative music can also respond adaptively to current or anticipated events within a game.

See also: Video Game chiptunes playlist



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