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So you wanna make chiptunes?


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Preamble: This is a reference consisting of links to applications and the basics of creating chiptunes in their native format(s). .mp3, .ogg, or other streaming audio formats will not be discussed in this guide.

First up, probably the most popular:

*.NSF, the Nintendo Entertainment System's emulated sound format. Supported by ChipAmp.

Vital Stats: 2 squarewave channels, 1 triangle wave channel, 1 noise channel, 1 DPCM channel. Various expansion chips exist with various benefits.

There are three decent options for this file format, FamiTracker, MML+MCK [warning: moon language] and eKid's s3m->nsf utility.

Famitracker pros and cons:

+Easy-to-use tracker interface

+dedicated NES instrument editor

+can create multi-song *.nsf files

-Still early in development

-No expansion chips supported [yet!]

MCK pros and cons:

+greatest control over sound

+support for all expansion chips

+you basically write the song in notepad

-you basically write the song in notepad

-it's in bloody Japanese. You'll need to ask RushJet1 or someone else for help because I sure as hell can't figure it out.

s3m->nsf pros and cons:

+write a s3m in modplug tracker, screamtracker, or something else that writes .s3m and probably has a nicer interface than famitracker or actually HAS one unlike MCK.

+comes with NES samples made by mv :3 and you can use them in other programs like Renoise or FruityLoops

+update! Now with VRC6 support. Suck it, Famitracker!

-doesn't have as good control over sound as the other 2 options.

*.SPC, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System's emulated sound format. Supported by Chipamp.

Vital stats: 8 PCM channels [kind of boring isn't it?], 64k of sample memory. SPC files being chiptunes is arguable due to the sounds being 100% sampled but most people consider them chiptunes regardless because of the "oldschool sound."

There is only one option that I know of for *.SPC creation, and that's eKid's XMSNES utility. You'll need Modplug Tracker, FastTracker 2, or another tracker that creates .xm files to be able to do this, but it's not so bad. Here is an example song, "artificial sweetener" by funkyfish & raina.

filetypes to cover in the future: .sid, amiga formats and early PC formats [adlib, etc]

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*.VGM, the Sega Master System and Mega Drive/Genesis' emulated sound format.

Vital stats: 6 Channels for FM synthesis, 1 for samples. I think.

This is a relatively new format to compose for. There is a tracker for the MVS which uses the same sound chip, and you can try it if you want but it's not very useable.

The best way to make the cool Megadrive tunes is to use TFM Maker, which is similar to modplug tracker and easy to use. Comes with demo songs also which make it easy to figure out quickly.

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If I didn't already know all this, I'd probably find it very helpful. I don't think I ever understood how to use xmsnes and I also hate all manner of trackers (except famitracker, which I, for whatever reason, like). Also, I never understood how to make instruments in TFM maker. FM synthesizing is really cool but I don't understand any of it. Maybe there are excellent tutorials on the matter. Xmsnes could use GUI though. I'd make one myself if only I understood how to use the program. Then again those who are nerdy enough to want to make their own spc's (not that that's any less nerdy than wanting to make your own nsf's) are probably fine with typing weird commands in a command window.

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  • 3 weeks later...
You can make entire tracks with Quantum 64s while having more versatility than trackers.

Okay...

1) Wrong

2) This is a thread about making chiptunes in their emulated formats, not mp3s. Should I make the text larger?

2.5) Quantum 64 barely sounds like a SID, the description even says "It is inspired by Commodore 64's SID soundchip but it definitely is no emulation." I use it a lot and it IS a nice free synth but see 2)

3) killed it

4) I really need to write about some more formats

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  • 1 month later...
  • 9 months later...

Alright... so... I'm a noob. I looked over your guide, and it's exactly what I'm looking for... except... no direction is given for Mac users. I've toyed around with chiptune creation before on my Mac... so I know it's possible... but I have no idea where to find the tools to do it. I just downloaded a host of apps that you posted a link to, and I'll update my post if anything yields a result.

Any help would be great.

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I'm not a mac user and neither are most chiptune artists :P

I suppose you could get MilkyTracker and make chiptunes that way [either the classic modscene way or sticking to limits of the NES, or SNES if you wanna use the XMSNES tool]

Also, news update, little-scale is working on a MIDI-capable genesis [!!!] so whatever controls midi in OSX will be able to control a genesis when his project is done.

Also also wow I forgot about this guide hahaha. incomplete just like everything else I'm working on at the moment.

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I'm not a mac user and neither are most chiptune artists :P

I suppose you could get MilkyTracker and make chiptunes that way [either the classic modscene way or sticking to limits of the NES, or SNES if you wanna use the XMSNES tool

Thanks for the tips. Being a Mac guy doesn't really help when I'm looking for obscure tools. haha

Anyway, I found the thing I was looking for... and that is Bob Rost's toolset "nesmus" in conjunction with nesasm. http://bobrost.com/nes/resources.php It's not the prettiest way to make things happen, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

Just wanted to share it.

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  • 7 months later...

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