Chip On Your Shoulder

In my first article for this fine website, I talked about how games are crossing over into movie territory and how it isn’t necessarily a good thing – in my second, I talked largely about breasts but let’s just skim over that shall one we. Anyone who has known me for more than 5 minutes knows that I love films as much as I do games so it might not come as a shock for them to find out that for this article, I’m going to emulate some of the great filmmakers I’ve admired throughout my life; I’m going to sell out and release a blog spin-off. In this article, I’m going to discuss computer games and another passion of mine, music – more specifically chipmusic.

Back in the good old days of chip sampling, computer game music was at best a few vaguely similar sounding virtual synthesisers playing roughly the same thing over the top of a programmed drum beat. It wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t impressive but that’s not to say it wasn’t good – hell, the Mario Bros. theme was one of the first things I learned on guitar. Games where simple back then; they didn’t have 3 hour cutscenes, they didn’t have emotional storylines and they didn’t have Hollywood stars providing voice-overs. There was no need for spectacular instrumental scores or epic choral singing, even if designers had the technology to do it. Instead, chirpy little riffs highlighted the moments of frivolity as you happily jumped from platform to platform and ominous drone notes signalled your untimely demise or the entrance to a haunted house. As with everything though, time passed and the technology improved, games became more advanced and so did the music. By the mid 90’s chip sampling was dead, but not forgotten.

The year 2000 signalled the decade of ‘retro’. Suddenly everything from the 80’s and 90’s was cool again. Mullets came back in fashion for approximately one week, Duran Duran reformed and Wispa bars became all the rage. Even computer games hitched a ride on the band wagon with reboot after remake appearing on XBLA and even hitting the shelves with the likes of Bionic Commando and Leisure Suit Larry. 8 and 16-bit samples even started appearing in modern music, spreading across many different genres from nintendocore acts like HORSE the Band to chipmusic artists such as Sabrepulse.

The man behind Saberpulse – Ash – was kind enough to give me an interview on what inspired his jump into chipmusic and how he feels about computer gaming culture;

What was it that got you into music, specifically chiptune?

I enjoyed listening to the sound of videogame consoles being used to create modern music. The scene and energy in the early 00′s was very appealing and I wanted to be a part of that.

Who are your biggest influences?

With chipmusic; Bit Shifter, USK, Saskrotch, Anamanaguchi, Paza, Goto80, Xinon, Covox, Firebrand Boy, Random and Syphus. With other music; Squarepusher, The Prodigy, Ludovico Einaudi, Glassjaw, Minus the Bear and Pedro the Lion

Before getting into chiptune, did you ever play in a band/play other styles of music or have you always been drawn to chipmusic?

Before getting into the purely chip stuff, I listened to and tried to emulate artists like Aphex Twin – It was terrible, but a learning process!

You organise the Chiptune Alliance Tour along with other gigs, how do you find the time to fit it all in?

At the moment I have a full-time job nothing to do with my music, and it’s difficult to find time for anything. I use weekends and my holiday time to travel to gigs.

Are you a gamer yourself?

I’m a moderate gamer, I like to comment (some would rightly call it moaning) about the state of the industry more than playing the games – but that’s more due to a lack of time – I’ll get through Bayonetta one of these days!

What is your all time favourite game?

It’s a tossup between Grim Fandango and the PSX Metal Gear Solid.

How do you think that games and gaming culture has grown over the past few years?

Journos and gamers alike constantly herald the age of mainstream gaming, ‘electronic entertainment’. But with every step forward the industry takes (Rez, Heavy Rain, Portal etc) it takes two steps back (the constant barrage of military FPS’s). There’s hope within the indie community and definitely a backlash of sorts, which is going to shape gaming in the decade to come.

How do you feel people perceive gamers now compared to 5-10 years ago?

Lazier. There seems to be less sense of community or team playing and more cheap thrills through soulless achievements. There’s also this culture of playing a game for 5 minutes then moving onto the next best thing. I played Tekken 2 and quake 3 for years; I just can’t see that happening these days.

As the years pass, people’s love of all things retro seems to grow and grow whether it’s in games, music, fashion or movies. With seemingly everyone and their dog wanting to buy a SNES again, it looks like chipmusic, nintendocore, bitpop and other chip sampling music genres will be around for a long time to come.

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  1. Samuel The Preacher says:

    “There’s also this culture of playing a game for 5 minutes then moving onto the next best thing. I played Tekken 2 and quake 3 for years; I just can’t see that happening these days.”

    I can agree with that (go figure). Actually, I agree with quite a lot of his answers.

    How’d you manage to get hold of this guy to interview him, Pix? I sincerely hope you don’t have him tied up under your stairs in the crawl space.

  2. Simon says:

    I think it depends. Halo 2 has been out forever, but there is still a community willing to play it(until the servers go off soonish). The big hitting games will always have a fan base, I mean, if he had said, “I played Max Power: The Game and Rascal for 3 years…” people would have gone WTF and ridiculed him, but because he picked classic games it seems less odd. These big hitting games will always have players, even when they have been superseded people still play the older titles, you only have to look at how many people flocked back to MW when they realised WaW and MW2 were duds. I have people on my friendslist that still regularly play games like the original R6 Vegas and Ghost Recon. I know they are not old old, but they are still pushing the 3 years mark that this guy mentions, and I bet they’ll carry on for as long as the servers will support them.

  3. Iain Iain says:

    @ Ramsden – a gentleman never tells, but it’s safe to say that no one is or was tied up under my stairs :)

    @Simon – I think the sort of people who still play R6 Vegas and Ghost Recon are (as much as I hate this expression) more like hardcore gamers. There are no where near as many people playing these games as when they were released. The general game playing public – the sort who play games but wouldn’t dare call themselves gamers for fear of being called a geek – do seem to play something for a few weeks, maybe a month and then trade it in for whatever looks similar.

  4. Rook says:

    I play games for enjoyment and as long as I feel I ahve my money’s worth, I don’t mind if I move on to another game. Plus I hold onto my games, as you never know when some DLC will come out and make you pick up that older title. As for music in games, I still hum the old Mario tune, as well as Still Alive from Portal. Although, technology has obviously advanced to the stage were music is now actual songs by artists, as evident through the Guitar Hero/Rock Band games and soundtracks through games like Burnout.

  5. MrCuddleswick says:

    Really interesting stuff!

    I’m not sure I agree with some of Ash’s views
    on modern gaming though!

  6. Lorna Lorna says:

    Enjoyable piece…but I liked the denial of having anyone tied up in your love dungeon Pix ;) Good point about the five minute wonder attitude…some folk seem to have the gaming equivalent of ADHD…their disc tray is never closed for more than a few minutes.

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