I use to ask myself what music I prefer... Dragonslayer 6 or SD-Snatcher.
Same gametype, another era but both fun. I can’t give the answer, only the
fact that the music can’t be compared with eachother. Both have great music,
but the design differs. That design is the main point of the course this
Below is a small scheme with the kind of music game companies did on MSX:
|accent on sounddesign||allround||accent on composition
|Konami with SCC||Compile with FM-Pac||Falcom with
|Microcabin with FM-Pac|| ||Konami with PSG
The left column shows both Microcabin and Konami’s SCC. The introduction of the
SCC chip was by then ofcourse great news, at last there was a new sound and
things which were impossible on the PSG could finally be done: sounddesign. The
same happened with Microcabin. While we were annoyed with boring hardware voices
and not less boring drums, Microcabin laughed and showed us a total new sound on
the same chip. Some parts of Xak 3 show that the main thing in the music wasn’t
melody, but sounddesign. The same story applies for SD-Snatcher, several parts
are based on the atmosphere in the sounddesign and not really on melody. There’s
nothing wrong with this by the way, and there are parts which do have good themes!
When we take a look at some other Konami titles
— Maze of Galious, Usas, Metal Gear etc. —
then we notice that Konami offers us some great melodic material.
Konami had to do so, the PSG was limited! If there’s no way for good
sounddesign, then make sure you make a good melody instead, a melody which
sticks into your head. That was no problem for Konami, as we all know;
especially the three titles above offer us some of the greatest PSG themes on
MSX. Also in the right column is Falcom, especially with their masterpiece
Dragonslayer 6. The music from DS6 is thematically perfect, yet not really
difficult when speaking of production quality, like Microcabin.
Falcom, with DS6, avoided the soundesign concept and emphasised on melody.
What we learn from this is that these companies were conscious of the limits and
possibilities of the chip they composed for. If a concept couldn’t be realised
they wiped it from the drawing board. This sentence is extremely important!
Composing is making choices, and sometimes you have to say “NO!”.
This whole story was only an intermezzo for the main goal for today: how to
compose and produce for the FM-Pac using Moonblaster. Below are a few standard
procedures of mine. But, understand that it is not the effect of the procedures
that counts, but the reason why the procedure is here anyhow. I also had to
choose back then, I also did the research, that’s why the procedures are here.
The basic rules:
- quality assurance! If it’s not good, wipe it!
- if you can do better, do so!
- if you can’t do better, stop! It’s no use to continue...
- if something is not possible from the beginning, don’t try it
- if something is not good: never make a musicdisk from it!
- not 40 bad tunes, rather four good ones!
A little information on the first point: this is a real important one! The
problem is: how do you know — second item — if you can do better? When can
you say something is good or not? The answer is rather simple: if you ever hear
something on the same system you’re working on which sounds better than your
product — whether it is on FM-Pac or soundcanvas — then that means there
is a way to do better. The only way to get to that level is that
you want yourself to be there too. Dare to say “NO” to something
which isn’t good enough. Actually, this is the only rule you must remember, the
example below is just an example, like there are many examples possible. Every
situation is new, that’s the challenge!
Ok, the journey begins at the “set start voices” menu where you set all
instruments 1 on 1. So channel 1 has instrument 1, channel 2 has instrument 2
etc. The advantage of this is that you never have to go to this part of the
program anymore, especially when you’re not sure yet about the set-up of your
voices, which usualy happens when you start a new song.
We’ll continue with the set-up. As we only have 6 channels — using the 6
melody + 5 drums mode — we have to figure out what we’re going to use and
what we want in the future. Anybody who does this well is well ahead! Anyhow,
the question remains: how to set-up only 6 channels... Take notice of the
- Make sure the melody always has an echo channel. If the melody consists
of two lines, pick the upper line for the echo channel. We choose a melody based
on one line with one echo channel. The echo channel has to be detuned to the
original melody channel, in normal circumstances a detune value of +1. If you
use two echo channels, the second detune has to be -1.
There’s another little rule here for the echo channels: how many echo steps do
we use. When using the average speed of 18 to 20 stick to two or three steps. Don’t
use an echo time of only one step, you’ll loose the spacyness, the FM-Pac is
already pretty dry.
But the choice between two or three steps also deserves a little
attention. An echo is something which has to be heard, if an echo coincides with
the original direct melody, then the echo effect disappeares for a big part.
You have to make sure that the echos fill-up the empty steps of the dry melody.
If you already know that your melody consists of eight’s notes, i.e. a note, an empty
step, a note, an empty step etc., then you’ll know that the echo distance should
be three steps!
For the die-hards: it’s possible to make an echo by writing notes which should
be the result of an original dry note which never was given anyhow. And for the
true die-hards, it’s even possible to make an echo effect without loosing
channels! The only cost is a software instrument and you do win some channels
here. Oh, yeah, the other cost is some year of your life because of the painful
puzzle you have to solve as you have to know the melody before you start. But
this is too heavy for now, let’s continue with the article.
Luckily the bass sounds rather good on the FM-Pac, one channel is good enough.
It’s very interesting to try some other instruments instead of the acoustic bass
everyone uses. Rather try the trumpet, oboe or violin etc. Your music immediately
sounds different. This method is very much like that of Microcabin who regulary
made this choice also. You also could take the synthesizer as bassinstrument,
but as everybody does this already, it’s no fun anymore. The vibraphone misses
the body in the low frequencies, but if you turn-up the volume enough, it’s
possible, I’ll mention this later on in this article. But all depends on your
type of music.
We have the bass and melody ready — the base — and still three channels left to
fill-up. A chord does a lot when it comes to emotion — I’ll also mention this
further on in the article again — but costs a normal non-MSX composer about
four channels. And that’s a no-go for the FM-Pac! Lets say, one or two channels is
enough. With these one or two channels, you have to deal carefully, or actually,
with these one or two channels and the melody! If you pay a little attention to
them, you can let the melodyline be a part of the chord. This doesn’t always
work, but if it works, then you got one extra channel, if your melody consists of
two channels, you’ll get two extra channels! Imagine: the melody is an [E 4], if you
were going to use three chordnotes [C 3][E 3][G 3], then the [E 3] would actually be
a double. Wipe the [E 3] and what we get is [C 3][G 3][E 4]. This is a major
chord, including the melody. And because the melody had its own echo channel,
the overal sound is pretty nice. And we gain that extra channel also!
Of course you can see what happens: the melody makes you change the two chord notes
frequently. Indeed! What I personally used to do is writing a melody which
doesn’t need much changing in the chordnotes. This method has his advantages and
disadvantages: disadvantage is that you have to be able to write simple yet
attractive melodies, advantage on the other side is that the melody gets very
structured and accessible to the listener, it’s all part of efficient FM-Pac
composing. How microscopic this all might be, if you use the method well, the
sounddesign makes you write a melody which you normaly wouldn’t write, because
you might not have paid attention to sounddesign before!
But what it’s all about is the quality assurance. If the above method
work for your tune, wipe it! If something else doesn’t work either, perhaps you
have to change your complete melody. It’s quite funny actually when we look at
the way a melody is made. You start with the melody and you hope the arrangement
will fit. If not, you can change the arrangement as well as the melody. This
means the you can end up with a totally different melody compared to the one you
begun with! This way of composing where your melody depends on your hardware is
not only applicable to MSX composers with FM-Pac. Also the bigger projects
— leaders, commercials, company-presentations — have this problem. If someone has
no time to hire instrument players — project has to be done yesterday! — and plays
the saxophone by him/herself from a synthesizer, that person has to change the
melody too when a nasty wavetable-switch shows up. And this isn’t just something
I made up!
We still have a channel left. You could use it to accent the bassline.
doubling the same bass with a detuned one, but, for example, by putting a violin
an octave above the bass. With a bit of luck, this violin gets part of the
chord, just as the melody did!. Again you use one instrument for two purposes!
the channels are all used!
Ok, so we didn’t compose anything yet, we just made the setup. Before we worry
about the balance, we set all instruments at volume 13, don’t just let them be
on volume 15 by default. At this stage, step one shows up, as you’re only
dealing with the select voice menu, it is clear how all instruments are
balanced: for now volume 13. Now you start to compose. By the time you’ll notice
that you have to adjust the balance of your voices; use the select voice menu
for this. Because you set all the instruments at volume 13, you can really make
instruments louder. The best setup has its instruments between volume 11 and 13.
Because of these volumes, the drums — which you put at volume 15
ofcourse! — show up better in the mix. And instruments which miss the body of
a bass, e.g. the vibraphone, can easily be boosted up by setting it to volume 15.
I mentioned the term ‘emotions’ in chords, maybe it’s a nice idea to write some
down here. I’ll use the — vertical — tracker notation, so you can input
them and test hem right away. You might have to raise the octaves a bit... depends on your instrument also!
|[C 3] [C 4][E 4][G 4]||normal happy
|[C 3] [B 3][E 4][G 4]||releaved, relaxed
|[C 3] [A#3][E 4][G 4]||normal, amazed
|[C 3] [A#3][D 4][G 4]||laughing-like, amazed
|[C 3] [A#3][D 4][F 4]||happy amazed
|[C 3] [C 4][D#4][G 4]||normal sad
|[C 3] [B 3][D#4][G 4]||sad, with some extra flavour
|[C 3] [A#3][D#4][G 4]||angry
This are just some examples, very often a chord only has its effect when you put another chord before or after the chord. For example this happy amazed scheme:
|[C 3] [A#3][D 4][A 4]
|[C 3] [A#3][D 4][G 4]
Or: happy and releaved amazed:
|[C 3] [A#3][F 4][A 4]
|[C 3] [A#3][D 4][G 4]
|[F 2] [A 3][C 4][E 4]
Now, what’s the use of this? Well, if someone asks you to make the music for an
introdemo for a game — with some sort of active storyline — then you can
extract the chord from the emotions of the characters playing in the story. Add
a melody — don’t forget the echo! — and done you are!
You might ask: ‘What has this whole story to do with Microcabin and Konami?’
Well, technically not very much indeed. It’s all about the quality assurance.
Konami made melody-type music for the PSG and sounddesign-type music for the
SCC. Or simply, basic rule four: ‘if something is not possible from the beginning,
don’t try it anyway’. Sounddesign is just more or less impossible on PSG.
Microcabin choose for huge sounddesign in games like Xak 3 and Illusion City. To
make the FM-Pac sound huge they used a lot of channels to boost the whole thing
up. This meant that there often wasn’t room for a melody. If they
would have inserted a
melody, it would have cost quality in the sounddesign. They didn’t, and that was
right. I said it once: composing is making choices. If you do the right choices
always, you don’t even need the rules above, you make them yourself!
Any questions...? Feel free to send them to me!