The History of Video Game Music on Cartridges and Analysis of Analogue X Hyderdub’s Mega SG

The History of Video Game Music on Cartridges and Analysis of Analogue X Hyderdub’s Mega SG


What if I told you Analogue released a new
limited game system with an original cartridge that could impact new releases on the Genesis,
and nearly no one is discussing it? This is Retro Impressions Analogue Hyper Dub. First up, a bit of history. If there’s one thing you may not be aware
of regarding video games and myself, it’s my passion for the music included in them. For multiple decades now, I’ve dreamed about
a passthrough video game cart that would allow the user to access the music on every single
game for the Genesis, essentially turning games into standalone music albums. It’s something that’s never been realized. However I’m far from alone in my love of
chiptunes as evident by the numerous video game soundtracks seeing a physical release
on vinyl and other physical mediums, including cassette. So while my idea hasn’t come to pass, there
is a small and dedicated group of individuals who’s passion for the hardware has resulted
in a continuous stream of new music for various abandon home systems. Even smaller yet is those who chose to release
this music in physical cart form. All accounts of the first dedicated album
on a physical cartage point to Alex Mauer, who released two albums on the NES in 2007. Vegavox was a solo affair, while Color Caves
featured Phlogiston. Even if you’re not familiar with this scene,
the name should sound familiar. Alex Mauer seems to have fallen off the face
of the earth after a very public dispute over money she felt was owed her for work on the
Game Star Mazer. Instead of going after the company itself,
Mauer issued manual takedowns and copywrite strikes against every single channel who played,
reviewed, or discussed the game. Within two weeks her actions had resulted
in over 100 unique channel stikes. The biggest creators on the platform, including
Total biscuit, Sid Alpha, and Jim Sterling quickly signal boosted the issue, but it remained
a mess for months. The situation only ended only after Lenard
French joined the Star Mazer Developer Imagos Softwork’s legal team and issued a restraining
order against Alex Mauer, which blocked her from issuing any more DMCA takedowns. Alex would ultimately lose the case by not
showing up to court and disappeared from the internet in 2017. The whole point being, She’s rather well
known for the wrong reasons though she’s also the pioneer of an obscure music medium
that appears to be growing in popularity. In 2017, Mauer was becoming more well known
for the right reason with another highly anticipated release scheduled for the NES which would
never come to be as she withdrew from public life canceling all projects following the
Star Maizer debocle. So while the NES and Game Boy continue to
receive the largest share of physical music releases and remain the systems 99% of people
think of when discussing new music on old hardware, the Mega Drive is starting to make
major waves. The first known release was Today by Australian
artist Freezedream in 2010. Not only did he pave the way for future releases
on the Genesis, he continues to be active in the Mega Drive chip tune scene. His second dedicated Mega drive release is
coming nearly one decade later in the form Tanglewood the Original Soundtrack Cart due
out in 2020. A number of projects have come and gone usually
without any press or fan service and quantities so low, they are sold out by the time word
reaches those who don’t live and breath this stuff. Notable albums for the Mega Drive include
Catskulls Various Artist album, YM2017, which also received a vinyl release, Future 2612
by Dead, and Technoptimistic by Remute. I think it’s safe to say that of all albums
released on cart form, the Genesis has the two best known of the bunch with YM2017 and
the hugely popular Technoptimistic, which is available via third party stores such as
stone age gamer. So with 2019 closing out and around a half
dozen albums released on the Cartridge Formate, the Genesis ended up with the final one for
for the year. In order to get this album, you’re required
to purchase a Mega SG Hyper Dub Limited Edition, which runs two hundred and fifty US dollars
plus shipping. This is limited to 1000 units, but it’s
still in stock as the making of this video. One thing you’ll notice right away if you
own the Standard Mega SG is the difference in box size and unique label. The form factor remains the same, though the
HyperDub is housed in a smoke grey translucent shell that’s absolutely gorgeous. The branding is quite sharp as well, making
it much more visually pleasing in comparison to the standard unit. The Hyperdub comes with a matching controller. One unfortunate bit about this is the inability
to get a matching set as it’s only available with the console, and the package only comes
with one controller. When the Genesis 8bitdo controllers launched,
I wrote a review in which I expressed my displeasure and frustration with it. In my opinion, it was unusable. Thankfully, the controller has seen updates
that have largely addressed these problems resulting in a controller that I now feel
is worth owning. In fact, I have a Mega Dive 2 hooked up to
a PVM used for testing games in my definitive analysis series, and this is the controller
I use with that system. Now I don’t want to get to off track here,
but my main controller is the Joyzz by Krikzz. It’s a perfect wireless replica that feels
high quality and performs better than anything else on the market, but at twice the cost
of the 8bitdo. As Todd Gill pointed out in an article on
Retro RGB, the difference in latency between the two is under a millisecond, so most likely
not enough to notice. Prior to holding this new 8bitdo controller
in my hand, I felt the Joyzz was the best looking controller ever produced for the Mega
Drive. While I still prefer it, I’m shocked at
what a little translucent plastic and branding can do for the desirability of a product. I couldn’t be happier to own this and fully
recommend the 8bitdo to those considering it. The final thing of note in the box is the
cartridge itself. An exclusive limited release album containing
various artist titled Konsolization. The cart contains 11 songs and is of interest
for other reasons I’ll get to in a moment. So while we are at it, we might as well compare
the boot screen of the standard Mega SG to the Hyper Dub. I didn’t expect much, but I think this is
a nice touch. When you put in the cart, you’re greeted
by a very simple menu and rather boring background. You can select songs, pause, play, and adjust
the volume from your controller. While I’m not going to play the songs for
you, I can say that it’s shockingly clear…. Maybe too clear. So I was wondering if the Mega SG was doing
something special real hardware couldn’t replicate. It turns out it’s not. This cart plays in a Genesis, 32X, and Genesis
Two without issue. So how exactly did we end up with 11 tracks
of audio that are clearly producing a sound we’ve never heard using original hardware? A hint lies within the cartridge case itself. If you look at the back, you can clearly see
a micro sd slot with custom branded card. It makes me think that it’s Analogues intention
for the curious user to take this apart and explore. So that’s exactly what I did. Popping the SD card in a computer revealed
all the songs are included were in 16 bit wave formate. At this point, I hopped online and saw Catskull,
the creator of the YM2017 genesis album, was also looking this thing over and had discovered
some very interesting information. If the user replaced the card with a clean
one containing the same file names but different tracks, the Genesis will play them. In fact, up to this point, the music you’ve
been listening too has been captured using a real Mega Drive and this cart. The music? It’s all from non-Sega Genesis releases. So how exactly is this possible? To fully understand what’s going on here,
it’s essential to understand the Genesis Sound capabilities. it contains two sound chips. The Texas Instruments SN76489 was included
as part Sega’s drive to maintain backward compatibility with prior hardware. The SN76489 is contained in the SG-10000,
1000-2, Mark III, Master System, Genesis, Pico, and all handhelds Sega would produce. This chip is capable of four channels of audio,
three square wave tone generators and 1 noise generator. The Genesis also contains the Yamaha YM2612. The chip was capable of six channels of sounds
or ten in total when com bind with the SN76489. When using the YM2612, The user had their
choice of six channels of FM synth sound or they could replace the sixth channel with
an 8 bit Stereo digitized sample. Of course space limitation at the time meant
this feature was sparingly used, though there are notable examples as all voices use this
channel as did some music tracks, the most notable example being McDonalds Treasure Land
Adventure. So back to the Hyperdub release. It appears that it’s a fairly standard cart
with the audio being streamed to the PCM via the Mico SD. In other words, the console is doing all the
work utilizing the channel capable of playing samples to handle the information stored on
the SD cart. No FPGA, no special chips, just more storage
allowing for an albums worth of music at the highest quality possible using the genesis
chipset. I imagine it’s a discovery that will open
the door to more complex cartridge based music projects down the road. A few things to note before I wrap things
up. The cart seems to have added noise when used
with a 32X. Also, if you do get your hands on this and
decide to experiment know that it’s a bit temperamental. I had to get Catskulls assistance to resolve
a problem I was having after switching out tracks. The final bit is that the menu is hard codes,
so the track names will always remain the same regardless of what you replace them with. That’s if for now. I’ve left links in the description so you
can check out the Hyperdub, Catskull who makes games and other hardware, and Freezedream’s
new Tanglewood OST project. Until next time, thank you for watch Retro
Impressions.

18 Comments on “The History of Video Game Music on Cartridges and Analysis of Analogue X Hyderdub’s Mega SG”

  1. On the Genesis/Mega Drive, it's possible to add external sound chips to the cartridge, but never got utilized in any way or form, except for the 32X, and a cartridge that allows you to play Mega CD games from an SD card. I think this is what it uses, due to the noise interference issue you mentioned with the 32X.

  2. Nice man! I got one too, and recently I was asking around about if anybody know how to get an album loaded on a Sega cart, but it basically dead ended. Also my normal Mega SG does have a startup sound, maybe I'm on a newer firmware? Dude amazing video and detail, I was thinking of doing an unboxing but (cough) this should be the gold standard!! Great work!

  3. Well at least you don't do videos on the Georgia Guidestones and the prime listeners minds to go for an armed revolution.

  4. Good to know that it isn't strictly YM2612 chiptunes. I was interested, but now I'm not. I don't want a Genesis cart that plays WAV files. That isn't interesting to me.

  5. You might want to look into Chris Sievey and the song, Camoflague for the ZX81. Which I believe was the first ever song released in a game format. Sievey is also the guy who went on to play Frank Sidebottom.

  6. I would like to purchase one of these carts to show my brother, do you know where i could buy something like this Jenovi? I really admire you and your work brother. And i dig your appreciation for the 32X. It really was a great piece of hardware, just not enough polished games to really show folks what it was capable of. I bet even today ppl would be impressed. I wish they would make homebrew games for it to give an idea of some of the things it can do well. Any info would be greatly appreciated, i subscribed to your channel a few months back and love your work man. Keep it up brother, and Merry Christmas to you and your family

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