VGM or Chiptune of The Year 2002

"Important but unspectacular." This is my rough feeling when I look back on the past year. No doubt there were many can't-miss news. However, IMHO, most of them are not exciting independently since impressive as the foundations for the next stage. In any case, VORC picked up most impressive topics or releases of 2002 which are related to video game music or chiptune, from top to ten. Check them out if there're any missings!

1.Return of YM Rockerz and saltatory Atari scene.
Like celebrating Atari 30th anniversary, this year's Atari music scene was totally powerful.

  • Jan. launched to bring topics about Atari PC internal music.
  • Mar. Synthcart released. It allows you to use Atari 2600 as a synthesizer.
  • May YM Rockerz, the conscience of Atari ST chiptune scene, returned. They released new music disk called "spinning wheels" for the first time in two years. (Songs are also available in MP3 format).
  • Oct. P.H.F. released the biggest chiptune collection in the history of Atari ST: "Ultimate Muzak Demo 8730". 4646 tunes composed by 180 artists are included.
  • Dec. Chiptune composers in ZX Spectrum scene were impressed by the activity of YM Rockerz. They organized AY Riders and released an online album which consists of 20 MP3s composed with ZX Spectrum. Both computers have almost the same PSG sound chip, so they're really a brother project beyond the platform difference.

Among YM Rockerz, Tao aka Frank Seemann from Germany should be called as the soul of the party. He has been active in Atari chiptune scene since 80s, and is still one of the most aggressive composer in the scene. He uses his own music editor, and is known as the innovator of unique techniques on YM sound chip such as "SID Voice" and "Syncbuzzer." This year his chip music spirit moved into high gear again and he released 'ym-jam' for "Ultimate Muzak Demo 8730" intro. It sounds as an ultimate suite which consists of 21 minutes of masterpieces in the Atari ST history. It's available in MP3 format at "misc" section on Cream official site. Here Tao also showed another interesting approach recorded from ms 4.0: Tao's new music editor which is now work in progress. Although you may know, the first ST has only three square wave channels, but later models support sample dma channels which allow you to use like Amiga. ms 4.0 is the first full-fledged attempt to synchronize both sound modules, and Tao did it pretty effectively.

2. Romeo and Catweasel MK3 - reality consciousness for the emulator generation.
Commercial based 80s pc revival plans as typified by the official MSX emulator or AmigaOne were very hot this year. Fringes of the chiptune were not exception. In Japan, Romeo appeared as PC sound card on April. It features Japanese popular FM synth chip called OPNA (PC-8801/9801 etc.), and also allows you to add OPM (X68000/arcade etc.) optionally. There are already many emulators supporting Romeo, and sound emulators such as MXDRVg and hoot support it officially.

In Germany, Catweasel MK3 was released on November. Originally it's designed as a PCI card which allows you to control local floppy discs such as Amiga's and Macintosh's. But as such a bridge between real platforms and emulator, it also features Commodore64's SID sound chip and 9 pin sub-D Atari Joystick connector. HardSID is already successful forerunner as SID sound card for PC, but Catweasel aims for more accurate sound than HardSID. HardSID company is also developing newer PCI version. Their products have an advantage that allows you to use up to four SIDs at the same time. On the other hand Catweasel supports just one SID. So HardSID will be enforced as MIDI instrument.

Both of them approaches reality consciousness people who are not satisfied with emulation, and they prove there are still not a few people who are interested in the perfection of the sound even though today music emulation shows high reproducibility.

3. rebels chipmusicdisk #2
Year 2002 was the music disk bonanza. Today is the most popular place where demoscene people announce their products, and according to the prods list, total number of music disks released in 2002 reaches 56 works. This is half as many again as last year. And interestingly, eight out of ten place chiptune mainly. This fact confirms that chip music disk is now one of the considerable trends of the demoscene.

Not only quantity but also quality. Many of them features well-developed conception and high grade music. But rebels chipmusicdisk #2 by Rebels (for Windows, Jan.) is outstanding. This collection includes 35 tunes composed by Auricom, Beek, Dallas, Dawn, Edzes, Joule, Maktone, Nagz, Ne7, Rez, Seablue, Slash, Smash, Sond, Jelly, Vhiiula, Virt, Xerxes and Zalza. Most of them put a bold construction on chiptune, but arranged their sound by excellent juzzy essence without acquiescence. As a result it was highly completed and includes almost no crappy tunes in spite of such many numbers. It might be one of the most important collections not only in 2002 but also in the history of the chiptune.

As a runner-up of the music disk, we'd like to push Hybrid'Elic by coolphat (for Windows, Dec.). Included 18 songs were compiled with the superb balance between past and contemporary sense of chip music.

4. virt "fx 2.0"
US based young chiptune talent, virt aka Jake Kaufman comes again this year. "fx 2.0" released in this September was very impressive as well as "fx ep" which was awarded VGM or Chiptune of The Year 2001. For the former fx, he imagined "Castlevania" for NES. And this time he showed more variety of talent by assimilating "Gyruss", "Top Gun", Contra", "T.M.N.T.", "Gradius II" and "T.M.N.T.3" style. It proved that he is only straight-ahead successor of old Konami style. His excellent works also tell us that such polished Konami style would be truely difficult for today's Konami. However, this year Konami suddenly suggested a interesting regression for Gameboy Advance. I'll mention it later.

This year, Virt was also powerful as a game music composer in every style, regardless of whether platforms are chippie or not. Shantae (GBC, MP3s available), Karnaaj Rally (GBA), X'Treme Roller (PS, N64) ... he composed for over 10 titles. His talent is still spreading. Now he shows real skills for all genres from hiphop to orchestral. Are there such a versatile game music composer except him? Focusing on chip music on GBA, he's one of few persons who use old GB compatible channels carefully. Still there's not many impressive music for GBA, so his future approach would be worth to check out.

5. COMMODORE VIC-20 returns
As well as Atari 30th anniversary, year 2002 is 20th anniversary of Commodore64's birth. The official start of the full-scale demoscene database called The C-64 Scene Database (Apr.?) and long awaited upward compatible machine CommodoreOne (Dec.) are big news which are adequate for this year.

And not only C64, but VIC-20 scene suddenly slid into rapid growth. More than 10 products were counted this year. For chiptune people, Creators released "Blip Blop Pack 01" music disk. And two powerful music editors such as Fisichella (Aleksi Eeben) and VIC-TRACKER (Daniel Kahlin) also appeared. Still VIC's unique noise emulation is under development, but chiptune freaks cannot miss the bright future of VIC-20.

6. mck community
mck allows you to make NES music in NSF format on DOS/Windows. We selected the birth of it as VGM or Chiptune of The Year 2001 with the following comment: "Although there haven't been many tunes yet, this developing scene will be interesting next year." And actually, fringes of mck showed pretty unique progress. First of all, it became quite easy to use since MCKwatch appeared. And second, now it allows you to access external sound modules such as Famicom Disk System and Namcot106. And the third, playing NSF on real Famicom succeeded.

As with hardware/software development, cultural revolution caused by mck is also worth to mention. Some non-Japanese composers such as Virt, Rugar and Nulsleep started to use mck. You know, graphical tracker style has been the standard method to compose game/demo tunes for European/American people. So Japanese simple (for better or for worse) text based style called MML has been out of understanding. At least most of people weren't motivated to enter with this way. But mck started melting such an ice wall.

So Virt translated mckc manual to English. It's the first MML guide written by non-Japanese. And nullsleep also explained how to use DPCM for mck. Then Rugar released "My Girl, The Princess LP", the first MML music album compiled by non-Japanese. NES - the common background between two chip music culture - met the internet which makes us forget the national border. Those factors caused such unheard-of collaboration.

On the other hand, other music editors to make NSF files such as NerdTracker2 (for DOS/Windows, Dec.) and cheestracker (for Linux, Jan.) were brought. Now you can select your favorite ways. Hope this revolution will cause a little change to Japanese ossified chip musicians who isn't motivated to compose their original music yet.

7. Vortex Tracker II and increased cross-platform editors
Since it was almost forgotten, the return of Voltex Tracker project surprised us enough. Now this has already supported basic features and allows you to make ZX Spectrum music on Windows. Today's chiptune on ZX Spectrum has already far exceeded the limitation of AY chip (as well as in case of Atari ST). However, to approach this, we had to learn the situation of Russian clones + Russian language. Fortunately, Voltex Tracker II made the situation easy.

Including Vortex Tracker II, NerdTracker2 and cheestracker, many cross-platform music editors were released/announced this year:

Already they're unexpected wide choice. But more were brought from the MOD scene. Two standard (but seemed to have been discontinued) music editors such as Fast Tracker II and Impulse Tracker declared their intention of continuing. On September, Fast Tracker III appeared as Skale Tracker. Impulse Tracker III is also preparing beta test.

8.Chiptunes on Gameboy Advance
Music emulation on Gameboy Advance advanced by leaps and bounds this year. Spearheading it, ST-Sound Advance (Atari ST/Amiga) was released on September 2001. However, originally EU/USA based game companies have played active roles in researching the way to reproduce MOD data. This year, many non-commercial softwares as typified by krawall also achieved at this field. By PogoShell, the graphical interface which looks like Windows, we can play MODs easily without any knowledge about programing now. PogoShell also allows you to play NSF files on GBA.

On the other hand, SID emulation war was caused by GBAsid, YASP and SPLAM!SID from August to September. The emulation speed and quality were much improved like a sudden storm. Now you can hear average SID emulation on SPLAM!SID.

Independent of emulation, there was a situation that commercial software had to consider about chip music on GBA. On June Konami released "Castlevania: White Night Concerto." It aroused criticism since sample DAC channels are used as wave memory synthesis like SCC on MSX computer. Soushirou Hokkai, the main composer, wrote the following comment at the liner note for the original soundtrack album:

"Sorry for people who disappointed. As you heard, it uses PSG sound module mainly. Such a limitation was needed to realize an action game which approaches "Nocturne in the Moonlight" for PS. And you may know, GBA has specification that makes the adjustment of the PSG volume difficult. However, I never gave up and tried rich expression. Also for the composition, I tried to get back the progressive factors to game music."

More complicated sound wastes more CPU load - this is the truth of GBA development. More elaborate games which will appear in the future may have to face up to the chip music again. Anyway, Konami considered such a problem earlier than anyone else. This should be told as an attainment of Konami, though they had never thought about chip music for a long time.

9. chiptune featuring vocals
"Electro clash" is one of the most frequent keyword of the music scene in 2002. In fact, the revival of 80s electro pop visibly exploded this year. Today Commodore64 or Atari computers are popular synth for this kind of music. Yes, chippie sound is no more strange, many people have already regarded it as an musical instrument.

In such a stream, vocal is getting to be mixed to chippie sound. PUSS's upcoming new single "Master Slave" (pre-released at micromusic on November) is one of the best examples of this style. It's different from typical robot-voice electro or electro punk featuring chippie synth. Tobi-Wan and LayDJ sing together naturally on Gameboy groove. Originally their music was cute but groovy Gameboy electro, and by this song their music seems to have reached their real ability. Incidentally they will also release new album soon.

Although this is completely different approach, Mark VII "Presents Action Replays" is also very impressive and novel way of vocal mixture. You might hear unexpected chemistry between hiphop and raploch 8-bit. It can add a new dimension to the vocal chip music.

10. Real start of Japanese chiptune scene
Till last year, non-commercial chip music in Japan was almost dead. But since nanoloop started Japanese language support, new chiptune generation finally appeared also from Japan. cow'p (19-t) is one of the most successful Gameboy musician in Japan. His debut album "Africa" bursts hardcore chippie idm. mmfan316 is one of the earliest nanoloop musician in Japan who will soon debut from USA. K-> is one of the most recent Little Sound Dj user, but brings quite refreshed Konamic pops. W2X is an unknown robotic chip composer who uses GBC or MSX. Hex125 is impressive about super tricky funky style. He's now directing Little Sound Dj Japanese support page. Btw. Little Sound Dj added some excellent features such as LSDj Patcher which allows you to change sample kits, and KeyboardInterface to play Gameboy via PC keyborard.

Runner-up. m1 - multi-platform arcade music emulator
Finally _fair_ arcade music emulator appeared. Arcade music emulation was one of the element of Japanese chip sound emulation scene. However, most of results have been covered up due to various reasons. So this non-Japanese powerful emulator is worth as a reformer. Of course, over 700 supported titles and newer sound chip emulations such as SCSP/OTIS are incredible.

Additional. VORC RECORDS launched
In recent years, many CDs/Vinyls featuring chip music was released. Unfortunately most of them had been difficult to buy here in Japan. So VORC started an online chiptune record shop only for Japanese. Fortunately it's being received well though we're still small. Please contact us if you're interested in selling your chiptune single/album in Japan.

[written by:Hally]