Whenever someone mentions anything associated with 8-bit music, everyone thinks about video games. This is an obvious thought to come since one of the most popular mediums for 8-bit music was indeed the video gaming industry all throughout the 1980s,1990s, and even in the early 2000s, until everyone started using the devices which offered higher storage capacity like CDs. Mp3 music also came about somewhere during this time and ended up transforming the way we listen and perceive music overall. Toi Genesis (with the launch of Sega Genesis Mini), Commodore 64s, and Nintendo’s Game Boys of those generations were very happy utilizing these 8-bit tracks to decorate their already fun gameplay. However, do we still utilize these sounds anywhere in the world right now? They may not be the most quality music one can bring to create the cacophony of emotions while listening, however, the intrinsic value of memorabilia is always on our doorsteps and creates a very interesting vibe in the hearts and minds of listeners.
Here’s a small experiment, try remembering the soundtrack of your favorite AAA title. It will certainly be glorious in your mind and bring back some memories but humming your favorite Super Mario Bros or The Legend of Zelda’s soundtrack will be so much easier in comparison. This is due to the simplicity of 8-bit music. It wasn’t the best quality of music, it was the most memorable one. It is also worth noting that these games have had decades to embed themselves in our minds and hearts while others, in comparison, have less. It also depends on the game. Some have very high-level soundtracks while others are a bit more forgettable. I’m pretty sure that every Dark Souls player remembers the music playing when they entered the arena of Gwyn, the Lord of Cinder. This piece of absolute art was developed by non-other than Motoi Sakuraba who subsequently created more soundtracks for other “soulsborne” games as well. So nostalgia is a big part of it and we should not overlook this side.
It’s not all dead though. A lot of companies are still picking up the 8-bit genre to supplement their more relaxed gameplay. A new trend in Australia suggests that a lot of new Aussie casinos in 2020 have been implementing 8-bit music into their games. With today’s statistics, almost 15% of all new casino games are utilizing this playstyle with the addition of older more pixelated artistic styles. So, at least something good comes out of this gambling industry.
Unfortunately, today not a lot of other companies utilize 8-bit music. This is due to the fact that newer, graphical games just have a very different vibe to them. Thinking about Mass Effect 1 and the final battle against Harbinger or better yet the “Hold The Line” speech from Captain Kirrahe with 8-bit music on top of it just brings me out of the whole atmosphere and puts a huge smile on my face due to the funny nature that the situation is transforming into – instead of an obvious emotional experience. It would still be extremely funny though. Wouldn’t it be fun if someone remade the whole game with just 8-bit soundtracks playing all of a sudden?
“I’m Commander Shepherd and this is my favorite Super Mario music on the citadel.”
What Makes 8-bit Music Memorable?
What is an 8-bit music?
To be as frank as possible, 8-bit music is named after the 8-bit sound processors older gaming devices came with like Atari 2600 or Commodore 64. Instead of actual instruments being recorded and transferred into digital 8-bit was synthesized using the computer chips themselves. Due to this, 8-bit music is limited by the very small amount of sounds the sound chip could play. In the case of Commodore 64, this was only 3 notes at once. Keep in mind that not only this had to include the soundtrack but the actual gameplay noises as well. Every time Mario would hit something or jump there goes one of your 3 notes. Not only this but when by today’s industry standards the AAA companies have probably hundreds of developers with separate teams working on sound, graphical design, and programming older ones were created by a handful of people working on everything at the same time. This means that these 8-bit musical tones were composed not by musicians but programmers themselves.
Apart from all of the previously mentioned, the people behind these beautiful video games had to keep in mind every bit of information since the storage was extremely limited. Due to this, 8-bit music was inherently very repetitive to keep as much space as possible for graphics and processing tasks.
A lot of the upbeat pop hits usually are sitting at 120 beats per minute mark (BPM). The fast-paced nature of the older 8-bit games, fortunately, sat really well with the higher BPMs. For reference to understand how fast these tracks were, Mega Man II’s main theme is sitting at whopping 160 beats per minute!
The lack of storage space, limitation of the hardware, and the lack of professional composers meant that the 8-bit was very simplistic in nature. Funnily enough, this is exactly what older games were – simple in terms of overall gameplay.
Outside of the Gaming
8-bit music has inspired a lot of fantastic underground musicians all across the world. One of the most popular ones in the UK being Gamerdisco, first appearing back in 2010 way after the 8-bit music genre was popular. Other artists like Chipzel and Anamanaguchi, have reused the Super Hexagon soundtrack a couple of times with the addition of using an NES cartridge as a limited edition item containing unreleased tracks. Then we have indie-electro Crystal Castles who are literally named after a video game on the Atari called She-Ra’s castle.
In conclusion, this article has been one of the most enjoyable pieces to write. With a huge dosage of nostalgia and enjoyment after remembering beautiful video games of the past. While researching many might also come across some of the artists they have not heard about before, like Anamanaguchi, for example.
Overall, 8-bit music has come a long way. It did its part in the past and has served its purposefully. It has filled our childhood with beautiful memories and understandably has inspired a lot of newer artists. If anything, it is a huge monument to the creativity the older generation of game makers had.