Saturday, June 16, 2007

Lawrence Power on Video Game Soundtracks (& Space Harrier)

Was going to pursue the topic of PayPal but got an amazing e-mail from Lawrence Power, a painter living in Berlin who has been telling me about video game soundtracks. Lawrence has just set up a website with tracks from Space Harrier in Arcade, Sega and Nintendo formats, available here.

When Lawrence first told me about video game soundtracks we ended up standing on the U8 platform at Kotbusser Tor while I said WOW WOW WOW and train after train pulled in and pulled out until at last the last train pulled in and it was not possible to go on.

Lawrence's e-mail is in fact the second installment of a saga whose first installment should have appeared on the blog weeks ago. I think it is possible for the reader to start in medias res, though, and if Installment 2 appears now Installment 1, when it appears, will be encountered first by later readers. (What follows is an excerpt from an e-mail which Lawrence resent later with additional interpolated comments, here formatted in blue.)

rant-time. ...

ahem, so here we go...

seems every 2 weeks there are some MAJOR developments in my video game
music knowledge, or lack thereof...
these are some news from the past few weeks.

I have recently got approx 800 new soundtracks from an online acquaintance
who was so nice to share his collection with me.

Those titles are from games which were playable on a series of Japanese
home computers, meaning home computer as in Commodore (not yet PC era~
1981-1982), which are called PC8801, and PC9801, manifactured by NEC, a
japanese computer company.
This doens't seem like much news i know, but the fact is that even though
this system was not popular in the western lands (or even available?), it
was probably one of the most popular systems in Japan at the time, even when
the Nintendo's Entertainment System (NES) arrived(1983 in Japan, 1985 in

What this means is that many, many games were actually released on the
PC88 or 98, and later "ported" on other consoles.
Again, not a big deal I suppose. Well, depends how you look at it.
It could be some sort of deal, and here is why I think it is, musically

Let's go back 20 some years, and say a video has just come out on a system
called the PC88 (call it "Game X" for example).
This game, has a soundtrack, composed by a musician who when/if credited
is usually referred to as a "sound engineer". Call this person " Composer

A few years later, a westerner kid gets a new game console (the NES for
The kid then gets a "brand new" game called "Game X" to play with.

If the kid in question becomes interested in the game and the makers of this
game, this kid will basically be thinking that the people who "ported" the
game unto different consoles are in fact the original creators...and until
this kids looks it up, well, that's that.

The work consisting of "translating" a game from one system to another is
usually called "porting", and music is ported as every other aspect of the
original game.

This is where i am getting confused. the original musician did create the
original music.

Of course, but the porter, even though usually keeping the essence of the
original soundtrack, sometimes changed little parts and added effects or
simply had to make certain decisions because the sound chips in both
machines were different.

If a machine or robot would have ported the games automatically, then
there would be no ethical or artistic questions.

[I love this. HD]

But when somebody has interpreted a musical piece, it will usually change,
and in most cases, well some people will give artistic credit to this.

SO, getting the original PC88-98 soundtracks are for me like hearing the
"original-original" music compositions. But maybe not, maybe the PC88-98
are also ports of an earlier arcade machines for examples...

I have a small collection of arcade sound tracks, and so far, from the
release dates, the PC88 titles seem to be older, so it maybe
that we have found our Ethiopia, but you never know.

I decided to do a little musical comparison and put the experiment online,
I'll do more from time to time, to act as examples following my rants.

The musical piece in question is from an arcade game called " Space
Harrier", developed in 1985 by the AM2 team of Sega inc., (Japan).
The music programmed in the original arcade machine was composed by Hiroshi

For my test, I chose the song called "Main Title" (or sometimes "Main BGM"
The comparison is between the original arcade version, the Sega Master
System port and the Nintendo Entertainment System port.

Click here for the little
website with mp3's.

The game was very popular in arcade halls, hence the decision was made to
port the game unto many different systems.
Wikipedia counts 16 adaptations of that game to other systems, so 16 ports
made on 16 different systems even though i personally suspect more.
Each port had music coded to play during the game of course, but usually
by someone else than Miyauchi, depending on which developing company got
the contract for the specific system.

The soundtracks usually have all the of the original songs, but the
versions are all slightly different from one to another.

Is it due to the limitation of the sound cards operating in the different
systems, or were those personal decisions made by the porters?
Or was it a little bit of both?

So today my question is: should the original composer be recognized as the
rightful owner of the original and all subsequent versions of the musical
compositions, or should the musician porting the pieces also be credited as
"porter", or "interpreter"...or however you are supposed to say this.
This I find really interesting because usually, every musician who wishes
to interpret a musical piece gets some sort of merit for his/her adaptation
of the piece in question. In the "real" music world...when it comes to
"sound engineers"...I don't know, and I suspect not many people care either.

OK, now the emulation scene info:

one article I always liked is "The History of
by "the Scribe"
it is maybe a little dry, but the facts are there, if you ever have a rainy

also, there is the Wikipedia definition of Console

that should at least explain a bit ;)

[I love this. I have never played Space Harrier but I still love it. Entry 1 will be posted later. HD]

1 comment:

"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

so those bands that cover the old original Nintendo songs are "the Advantage" and "the Mini Bosses"- it only took me 6 months to remember that...