It’s late at night and you are playing an NES action/platformer and you died. Again. You have Zero Continues. “Retry”?
You can download an mp3 of Zero Continues here.
No NSF this month. See the technical breakdown below for the reason why.
This Month’s Song Process
This month’s song is a failure. It’s a failure to execute the prompt, it’s a failure to get the kinds of sounds I wanted out of the Wavetable Synthesis channel, but ultimately it’s a failure of creativity. It’s my failure though, so I’m simultaneously pretty disappointed with it and also fine with where I landed after a few weeks of working on it.
The Loud Prompt
My initial vision was a song that was similar in mood to the opening title screen splash from Contra, and the first level’s music. I wanted something driving, fast, and aggressive with sampled low-bitrate and very short “Konami drums”. I mentally envisioned a lot of loud open 5th chords because it’s hard to resolve a chord with only 3 voices and they are also used in a lot of guitar rock.
The Loud Wavetables
I opened up a new file and set the system to NES+FDS (Famicom Disk System) Expansion. I thought it would be a baby step toward adding more sound texture to the piece as the FDS offers a new 6th channel of wavetable synthesis. Wavetables let you draw more or less arbitrary waveforms and play them back at a given frequency. This gives you many more options for timbre than you have with the square and triangle channels on the NES.
I’m not really happy with where the voices ended up. I use the wavetable channel for the baseline underneath the main chorus (this actually sounds pretty good) and the plucky lead voice in the bridge (which is the one I’m not super happy with). I know that you are technically able to modulate the wave channel with another waveform which will open up a huge amount of ability to change the sound but I wasn’t able to figure it out. Maybe for another month.
Unfortunately, Deflemask only outputs +FDS expansion files as .vgm format files so my “Gambi” NSF player on my phone doesn’t accept the file format. Me having an NSF file at the end of the month is something that ultimately only matters to me, but it’s a huge amount of my intangible fun doing these songs, so that was another thing that didn’t work out this month.
Actual Songwriting Process
I wrote the initial few bars as an intent to be part of the verse or chorus structure and they ended up being more of an initial intro. I struggled mightily throughout the first few weeks of the month just trying to get some chords to line up in a way that sounded like a powerful chord progression into a rock solo.
I played around with the drums and got the PCM samples sounding how I wanted to though. Technically DefleMask uses CPU-based sampled sound instead of DPCM sampled sound so they sound a bit better than they would if Konami was implementing this track in the early 90s, but I think it is close enough. Also having the added texture of the noise channel being almost exclusively used for the high-hat and splashes simultaneously with kick or snare makes a big difference without the song sounding “too good” for NES.
I tried to move the fast baseline in and out of a melody, but it was ironically “too loud” to be a melody. It wasn’t hummable, so it was just too much.
Finally, I came up with a rhythm for the chorus that I really liked on a bike ride and implemented it. The rest of the song kind of came together after that.
When You Play Yourself, You Plagiarize Yourself
As part of my process, I create demos that I listen to during the day, making dinner, driving around town and it helps me listen to the song and see if something needs to change. I went out to pick up a take-and-bake pizza for lunch this week and when I was sitting at a red light I realized that the melody of “Zero Continues” is exactly the same as “Purple Motown” from last month. The melody’s first bar with the “1 2 3+ 4+” rhythm is exactly the same in both songs. The melodic intervals are also the same. Like, you can hum “Purple Motown” on top of this track and it fits precisely.
I had ripped off my own song from last month.
An extremely odd realization to say the least. I sat with it for the last few days and ultimately decided that the song was basically done and it was mine regardless and it is kind of an interesting artistic experience. I’ve heard and read lots of stories about musicians accidentally writing covers of another band’s song they had heard on the radio but I didn’t expect it to happen to me as an amateur.
I’m hoping October will be a clean slate and I won’t write the same song again. No more continues.