8bit Sound Fx From Scratch

Old school lo-fi 8bit style sound effects are very distinctive and recognizable, and there’s literally dozens of sources that you can grab them from. 

From a synthesis standpoint they're actually simple patches that reflect the limitations of the hardware from that era but they also showcase the genius of those programmers that tried to squeeze every single bit of expressiveness out of those chips.

That’s why when tasked with designing some 8 bit arcade sounds I decided to recreate the whole process to try and come up with cues and effects that sounded legit and could pass muster but at the same time were original and not just straight ripped off samples.

I used the Mutable Instruments Edges eurorack module as the base of a custom modular synth system. Edges is loosely based on the architecture of the NES audio chip and is an honest attempt at recreating the classic tones of the 8bit era. It's a digital sound source which uses clock subdivions to generate its ones and pushes them out through a raw 12-bit DAC output to generate its tones. While the technical specifications of this system pale against today's CPUs and DA stages they actually make it better suited at the task at hand, which is to sound pretty bad, gnarly, but in a very specific and awesome way. I also used only a couple of modulation sources, 1 envelope and one LFO, as that's what was usually available at the time.

Imposing limitations can indeed foster creativity, and it also gave me a lot of appreciation for the artistry involved in getting all these different tones from this very limited palette. Combining an envelope and and lfo will yield those kind of stairstep modulations that lead to those very distinctive 'spring-like' tones.

All things considered, this approach is probably going a little overboard, but I really quite enjoyed diving into this rabbit hole and the end results sound legit to me but still quite original sonically and not immediately recognizable as belonging to one of the great classic games of the '80s.