From software technology to hardware sound devices
Let’s be honest. There is more to the classic arcade experience than just the coin-operated fun that was meant to gather people around a certain box and compete against each other on a very addictive game. But the whole concept of the arcade – with bright lights and a solid sound system – was to flood the senses with sensory stimuli for that over-the-top arcade experience. And with the evolution of the arcade came the demands for better audio speakers that modern gamers seek today.
The early versions of arcade background music and soundtrack were based on simple but catchy melodies to match early sound synthesizer technologies. Music was initially played via analog waveforms: cassettes and phonographic records. But these kinds of music players were prone to breakage with use, which obviously happened a lot back in the day.
The solution was to play music using digital means: using electronic chips to convert electrical impulses to analog sound waves with the help of a speaker. 1920’s Coney Island amusement park was home to some of the earliest coin-operated fortune telling machines that gave rise to the coin-operated pinball machine. Sega’s 1969 Duck Hunt was a worldwide hit, literally and figuratively, and is one of the earliest electronic arcade games that featured sound effects, which was also volume controllable. But Tomohiro Nishikado’s 1975 arcade game Gun Fight was among the first to use this method in playing the games iconic chiptune.
Initially, Nintendo, Sega, Game By, and Atari used 8-bit synthesized electronic music produced by vintage computers to run their sound effects. This is mainly the reason why the beep-y kind of sound we associate with vintage arcades today. In 1980, Rally-x was the first to feature a digital-to-analog converter for sampled tunes, which was then followed by the first speech synthesizer featured in Stratovox. A turning point for the gaming industry was the introduction of FM (Frequency Modulation) synthesis for providing more realistic sounds than the previous modes.
But the capacity to record music with any number of instruments and play them freely – something we enjoy today – came with the rendering quality and available space on a CD. Developers knew that with high-quality sound came the demand for higher disc space and more powerful processors and had since shifted the change in arcade gaming towards that direction.
And the range of possibilities for listening to your own music or choosing to turn off the sound effects depends on the users. The choices of the user is an important aspect of today’s gaming experience, as the gamer can choose between games in one platform and choose the music output they want, from headphones to megaspeakers. Play Wii’s Super Mario Galaxy on console or Bet Fair Arcade‘s The Amazing Spiderman on your PC and use the Audio-Technica gaming headphones to really feel the thrill of playing high-tech arcade.
The beeps of vintage arcade cabinets may be long gone but with the technology today and the advances for gaming and listening to music, you can bet your coin there’s going to be more.
By Travis Miller
Travis Miller writes guest web content for various sites promoting the historical appreciation of everyday objects and having a better view of the world around us.