Song of the Day: Hell (from Terminal Velocity)

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Video game soundtracks have progressed through a number of obvious “eras” over the years. We started with simple beep-beep-bloop soundtracks, progressed to three- or four-channel chiptunes, then to FM synthesis MIDIs, wavetable MIDIs… and eventually we ended up with the enormous diversity we have today.

One very distinctive era of game soundtracks was that of “tracker” music, or “modules.” Tracker music uses simple, highly-compressed samples arranged in an almost “mathematical” manner to create music that has a very “digital” feel to it. The samples can be pitch-shifted to play tunes, so a piece of tracker music is just as flexible — if not more so — as MIDI and chiptune music. The only payoff is that because the samples originally needed to be so heavily compressed — several pieces of tracker music could fit on a single floppy disk — sound quality inevitably suffered somewhat.

Once everyone started playing games on PCs equipped with hard drives and CD-ROM-based consoles, however, the space issue ceased to matter so much, so the technical necessity to use tracker music for “digital” soundtracks was no longer there. That didn’t stop some developers from deliberately using the distinctive lo-fi techno sounds of tracker music in their games, however — and one such example can be heard in the track above, which is from Terminal Reality/3D Realms’ 1995 game Terminal Velocity. Enjoy!

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