The day the 2D died

I spent this past weekend at the Funspot Arcade, soaking in the experience and environment of Eighties digital entertainment. With so many classic games drowning each other out, it wasn't the best environment to appreciate the sounds of these retro games. But the soundtrack to an upcoming PC game captures all these experiences with a single song.

Web sites like Overclocked Remix offer new variations on familiar tunes, such as the Tetris theme used in Computerworld's editorial podcast. But there is another genre, "chiptune", which creates entirely new music using retro, synthetic instruments, such as a Game Boy or Apple II sound chips.  I first heard of chiptune group 8 Bit Weapon when they were interviewed on the ChatterBox radio show. Seth Sternberger and his crew regularly lug their vintage computers to live performances around the world and have gained the attention of major publishers, who have now contracted with the group to provide the soundtrack to media such as the King of Kong movie and an upcoming video game that capitalizes on the history 8 Bit Weapon employs.

Reset Generation is an action-puzzle video game that aims to appeal to fans of classic console games. It purposely incorporates as many cliches and tropes as possible: the art of Scott Kurtz (of webcomic PVP) brings to life characters that include plumbers, hedgehogs, scantily-clad princesses, and more. Other than being described as a cross between Rampart, Worms, Ataxx, and Bang! Howdy, I cannot get the gist of the action these archetypes engage in, as no gameplay footage has been released — but the soundtrack has.

8 Bit Weapon's original tunes for Reset Generation has been released for free, courtesy IGN. I downloaded the entire ZIPped collection and let it sit in the background of my iTunes shuffle — until the 25th and final track came up and stopped me in my own tracks.

This bonus track is not in the game but was recorded as a favor for the publisher, Scott Foe, who took Don McLean's "American Pie" and rewrote the lyrics.  The song is now laden with references aimed at the classic gamer, alluding to, but without directly naming, such great games from our youth as Metroid, Joust, Paper Boy, and Pitfall.  The synthetic sound adds to the experience: "I vocoded the words with the main melody for the back up vocals, and sang with my real voice for the lead with pitch correction (a lot)," wrote Sternberger in an email to Computerworld.

This single, "2D Died", is available from the game's official site in ZIPped format or in the following player:

Up until the release of Reset Generation (the PC version of which will be free; for mobile devices, it'll run you $10-$14 USD), the publisher's Web site features a quiz, challenging your knowledge of classic gaming.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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