Chiptune Dissertation

My doctoral dissertation titled “Chiptune Music: An Exploration of Compositional Techniques as Found in Sunsoft Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom From 1988-1992” is a landmark work in honoring the composers and their songs which defined early game music. The dissertation has been accepted and approved at Five Towns College. The findings will lead the way for the education of students in music theory, composition, and multimedia production. It is available for perusal or purchase through ProQuest.

I developed an undergraduate course with the cooperation of Long Island University based on these principles titled “Sounds Like Fun and Games.” The course engages students through the study of innovation in the video game industry and modern musical trends which are then applied to an original game project. I also developed an undergraduate course with the cooperation of Five Towns College on "The History of Video Game Music", which explores the evolution of music from sound chips to CD audio to surround sound systems.

Dissertation Box Art

Title

Chiptune Music: An Exploration of Compositional Techniques as Found in Sunsoft Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom from 1988-1992

Abstract

This study explores the compositional techniques of eight selected Sunsoft games in detail. Included are complete transcriptions from those games which incorporate common and novel techniques.

The developments that established the chiptune style during the late 1980s lie in three primary areas: technology, the era of its popularity in video games, and the composers. This dissertation examines each area as it relates to chiptune music. First, it explores technology in the sound chips and sound programming techniques used by the Nintendo Entertainment System and Famicom. Next, it provides background information on prominent Sunsoft composers and other notable chiptune composers of the past and present. Lastly, it examines musical excerpts from Sunsoft games, other NES and Famicom games, and more recent games with chiptune soundtracks to identify and codify compositional techniques first as sounds and effects and later as larger musical elements. The findings provide the historical context to examine the direction of chiptune music and video game music in general.

Full-Score Transcriptions

The dissertation contains transcriptions of all of the tracks available in music data from the following Sunsoft games:

  • Blaster Master, NES
  • Batman, NES
  • Batman (Prototype), NES
  • Batman: Return of the Joker, NES
  • Fester’s Quest, NES
  • Journey to Silius, NES
  • Gremlins 2: the New Batch, NES
  • Ufouria: the Saga, NES
  • Gimmick!, Famicom

    One-Track Transcription

    A track from other games appears to show the further application of chiptune techniques:

  • Asterix, NES
  • Hero Quest, NES
  • Super Mario Bros., NES
  • Kirby’s Adventure, NES
  • Duck Tales, NES
  • Final Fantasy, NES
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: the Manhattan Project, NES
  • Ninja Gaiden 2: the Dark Sword of Chaos, NES
  • New Super Mario Bros., Nintendo DS
  • Mutant Mudds, Nintendo 3DS, iOS, Wii U, PC
  • Retro City Rampage, PC, PSN, WiiWare, XBLA, PS Vita
  • Mega Man 9, XBLA, WiiWare, PSN

    Contributors

    Interviews and insight from the following individuals highlight and validate the trends revealed:

  • Patrick "Bucky" Todd, NES audio enthusiast
  • Neil Baldwin, composer of Hero Quest
  • Alberto Jose Gonzalez, composer of Asterix
  • Masashi Kageyama, composer of Gimmick!
  • Troupe Gammage, composer of Mutant Mudds
  • Brent Weinbach and Rob F., hosts of the Legacy Music Hour
  • "Matrixz", NES sound engine expert