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Old Jun 9, 2017, 06:34 PM
AmigaSam AmigaSam is offline
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Default "How many bits?"


Is there an expert of old videogame music?

I love many of these old soundtracks, but I'm quite confused about their technical side.

Everybody knows that SNES and Mega Drive (Genesis) had a 16-bit sound system. NES was just 8-bit.
Despite being a 16-bit machine, Amiga also had 8-bit music (this was quite a surprise for me, since it sounded incredibly ahead of its time).

What about PC games? ("Doom", "Day of the Tentacle", "Command and Conquer", and so on...)

"The Secret of Monkey Island" is quite a mystery too. I know it was initially released on floppy disk, with 8-bit midi music ( ), but after two years it was released again on CD-ROM, with an improved sound ( ).
Was this a 16-bit soundtrack or just an extremely efficient work on an 8-bit system (in the Amiga-style)?

Last edited by AmigaSam; Jun 9, 2017 at 07:57 PM.
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Old Jun 10, 2017, 03:27 AM
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_if _if is offline
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Much like with game consoles themselves, it stops making much sense to think of game music in terms of bits after a point. People refer to SNES and Genesis music as being "16-bit" simply because that's how those systems were marketed, but in actuality the music is (and the systems are) more complicated than that. It's quite late where I am, so I'm gonna try not to spend an hour writing this post, so I'll go mostly from memory and someone can correct me if I screw anything up.

The SNES takes 4-bit instrument samples and mixes them together with a separate, dedicated 8-bit CPU at a bit depth of 16 and a sampling rate of 32 kHz. So... is it 16-bit music? Is it 8-bit music? Is it 4-bit music? Shrug. Doesn't really matter. As you can see, each one is correct in some sense (although calling it 8-bit just because of the CPU makes the least sense to me). As I recall, the standard FM sound chip used in the Genesis is 8-bit, but a later revision used 9 bits.

The bits you're talking about usually refer to the CPU of the system, but the number of bits refers to something separate in audio. The bit depth defines the number of bits dedicated to every individual sample of the digitized waveform and this affects the total number of possible volume levels the sound can be. Audio CDs use 16 bits and 44,100 samples per second. Despite the PlayStation being a "32-bit" system, its audio output is the CD quality 16-bit/44.1 kHz. PC games could (and still can, of course) have different music formats, like playing CD audio tracks off the disc, lower quality streamed audio to save on size or processing power needed (like Command & Conquer, which used 4-bit, 22.05 kHz audio), or MIDI. MIDI is just a format that specifies basically "this instrument plays this sound/note at this time" and the rest is often left to whatever method you have for MIDI playback. Different operating systems or sound cards might have different instrument sounds and playback quality. I don't really know much about The Secret of Monkey Island, but Wikipedia seems to say the CD version used standard CD audio tracks, and your link sounds consistent with that to me.

And the number of bits used in whatever piece of hardware handles sound doesn't really tell you much about that system's actual sound capabilities. Essentially, this whole bit war business is an over-simplified and outdated marketing thing.

Last edited by _if; Jun 10, 2017 at 03:31 AM.
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Old Jun 11, 2017, 02:58 PM
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Datschge Datschge is offline
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Slight correction for SNES: The sample compression for instruments is a form of ADPCM which is used till this day, the 4-bit in this case doesn't refer to its dynamic range (which is 16-bit) but just its degree of compression. Also while mixing one bit is actually never used, so SNES audio output is effectively 15-bit.
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