For video game loving kids of the early 1990s, few things will bring you back to childhood quicker than the music of Super Mario World or Donkey Kong Country. Even more so than its 8-bit predecessor, the 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) is full of iconic scores and sounds. And YouTube video essayist The Nerdwriter just released a fascinating exploration of how the music for Super Nintendo games was made. It’s a pretty technical video (Nerdwriter definitely earns his moniker on this one), but it also effectively conveys just how much artistry and creativity went into creating those iconic Super Nintendo soundtracks.
While the original Nintendo console only had five dedicated sound channels, the Super Nintendo had eight, as well as a sampling system that allowed artists to load in noises and sound effects from instruments of their choosing. Though it was a big improvement, the system still had only a tiny amount of space for sound designers to work with. Each game was limited to 64 kilobytes of audio RAM, or about 100 times less than an average three-minute mp3 song. Yet as Nerdwriter points out, “Limitation breeds creativity.” And Super Nintendo composers and sound designers managed to do a lot of incredibly impressive work with very little RAM space. In particular, Nerdwriter highlights renowned video game composer David Wise, who created the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack. For players who have taken the game’s score for granted as they struggle to hop over barrels and swim through underwater caves, Nerdwriter will give you a whole new appreciation for Wise’s masterful work.
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