Thursday, September 7, 2017

Learning Music Production with Blast Processing

Hey guys! Long time no see. Don't worry, I haven't forgotten about this blog. I've been busy working on a super long tutorial post that I hope to share with you very soon. If you've been following me on Twitter, you'll notice that I have been spending a lot of time learning about ASM and programming games for the Super Nintendo. I have been organizing all of my findings into a mega post that both shows off what I have created as well as teaches people about SNES development themselves. So that should be done soon.

I also spent another summer working as the Assistant Director at the Stanford iD Game Academy. Since most of what I would share about that would be similar to my post from last summer, I'm not going to go into too many details. Just know that it was a lot of work and a lot of fun!

In the meantime, I want to share a fun little project that I have been working on the past few days. I took a brief side quest from SNES development to spend some time on the dark side and try out a little Sega Genesis development. It all started when I stumbled upon this excellent video about how Genesis music was created back in the 90s. I was curious, so I decided to download the GEMS software that musicians used back then.

As expected of a pre-Windows program, it was very clunky and hard to use. I had to load the software in DOSBox and even then I couldn't get it to actually function correctly. Based on my research, it seems that GEMS needs to be connected to physical Genesis hardware before you can really do anything.

Just as it seemed like I was about to reach a dead end on this little adventure, one of the kind folks over at suggested that I check out a more modern program called DefleMask. This awesome software can emulate the soundchips of many different retro consoles, including the Genesis, NES, GameBoy, Master System, and more.

Unlike most music production software, this one scrolls vertically instead of left to right. You have multiple channels that can each store its own sound. You also segment the song into sequences that each contain a particular beat. The software comes preloaded with a lot of instruments, many of which come directly from Genesis games. If you're feeling adventurous, you can also make your own. It is a much more technical approach to sound production, but I actually found that to make more sense to me than traditional music software.

I don't know the first thing about creating music, but I played around with the program for a few days and put together something that sounded decent. Instead of just uploading the music by itself, I also ended up creating a short animation to showcase the song. Check it out!

Streeka Unchained - Sega Genesis Intro from Steve Rakar on Vimeo.

The goal of this animation was to emulate an opening title sequence for a Sega Genesis game. I tried to pick colors from the actual Genesis palette. I also used an old school dithering style for most of the shading. The fonts came directly from the Genesis logo itself, and I added a very 90s themed metal gradient to it.

I created the text reveal animation in about 12 frames for each word. I actually worked backwards from the last frame and erased the letters as I went, adding in erratic lightning bolt squiggles with the pencil tool. As for the thunder sound effects, I sampled from both Jurassic Park and Gunstar Heroes on the Genesis, tweaking the pitch and tempo in Audacity.

Overall it was a fun little project that took me back to the days of funky basses and blast processing. It was a great way to jump back into retro game development after a summer of teaching modern software. I would love to learn more about music creation someday, so this was a nice first step. Anyways, hope you enjoyed this post and feel inspired to try out the software for yourself (DefleMask is free!). My next post should be that meaty SNES tutorial that I promised so stay tuned. Until next time... Adios!