The Little Book of Sound Chips

Interview with Chris Abbott by Peter Ward

Click here to purchase the book

Please tell us about yourself and experiences.

I had a very minor game music composing career in 1988, started remixing Commodore 64 music in 1994, released a CD with Rob Hubbard in 1998, followed by more, Did my first live event getting many C64 composers back together in 2001. Continued with CDs and live events until 2007, then resumed in 2015 with Back in Time Brighton, Project Sidologie, Back in Time Symphonic Collection, Project Hubbard, two FastLoaders projects, and then the two 8-Bit Symphony Pro Kickstarters where with Rob Hubbard’s help, we brought C64 music to an 80-piece symphony orchestra. Now I’m writing a book, because I ticked pretty much all my remix boxes!

What got you into writing books about retro gaming?

I’ve always been a bit of an amateur lecturer and a historian. One of the reasons I started the whole remixing thing was to preserve SID tunes (I didn’t see HVSC coming!). And getting C64 music to orchestras and sheet music makes it much more historically robust.

I got interested in sound chips other than SID by the work Rob Hubbard did on other chips and decided it would be interesting to write a book about it with a friend of mine (Andrew Laggan) who has a historical bent and a love of multi-platform retro. I started writing, then decided to add coin-ops, which proved to be fascinating. Once we had a list of 88 chips to check out, I got to work on the write-ups. MAME was an invaluable resource for this.

How long has it taken to research for the new book?

I was researching the chips as I did the write ups, which took about two months. That covered the material for all four volumes.

What is in the new book to get us retro fans to hand over the cash?

A ton of new and fascinating information about sound chips and video game music, with volume 1 along containing over 400 music reviews of notable games along with QR codes/hyperlinks linking to YouTube. The book is written in an accessible way so that you don’t need to be technical to read it: quite a lot of the stories are about people, not technology. Pioneers, business decisions, fun facts, and gossip. Stories. Also, the front cover by Toni Galvez is great art (the chips named on the cover are in the book!) and the book layout by Ian Flory is beautiful.

This is a book where there’s interesting material on every single page, and you can listen to anything referenced in the book.

It’s also in four volumes based on the dates the chips were released: 1977-1981 (the heroes of this are the Atari VCS/8-bits, the Spectrum, Amstrad, ColecoVision, BBC, the Namco WSG in Pac Man and the VIC-20. Lots of other stuff). Second volume (1982-1986) covers the SID, the Amiga and all the YM2151 games such as Out Run and Marble Madness (volume 2). Volume 3 includes the SNES, PC Engine and the Mega Drive along with amazing arcade games , Adlib gaming and a load of fascinating arcade chips from Yamaha, and volume 4 covers everything from 3DO to Xbox.

There’s also amazingly clear explanations about sound generation. And the pictures are beautiful and took us ages to grab.

How long have you been writing books?

This is my first book, but I’ve also been working on a book about Rob Hubbard’s work and career. I’ve done a lot of writing over the years for magazines, booklets, ad copy, etc. But never a book.

What is your first gaming experience?

Boot Hill in the arcades when I was 7. The music in that was hysterical (it used a discrete circuit square wave generator so it’s out of scope of the book)

My favourite computer was my Amiga and console the Megadrive do you have a favourite?

My heart will always be with the C64 and the Atari 8-bits.

What is your favourite retro game?

You always remember your first, which was Preppie on the Atari. In terms of games I played the most, Infocom text adventures of Alter Ego. I usually namecheck IK+, Paradroid and Wizball which all feel amazing to control.

My favourite retro game of all time though is Paper Mario Thousand Year Door on the Nintendo Gamecube.

Do you still game on the current consoles? If so what’s your favourite game?

I’m usually too busy on the supply end of retro, but there’s a lot of great games I’d like to play if I had the time. There’s a lot of retro-inspired stuff on the Switch, from Mario Games to the lovely games Andy Roberts of Thalamus is putting out now.

What’s the worst game you have ever played?

For the book I had to look at a lot of games and a lot of emulators. The worst game was on the COMX35 computer, was written in BASIC and gave an error as soon as you ran it. The worst functional game… well, there’s probably too many to mention. There’s an awful Mario clone on the Epoch Super Cassette Vision where the music sounds like Satan did it.

Finally what game or feature would you like to see on Retrogamesmaster in the future?

An article on games designed by Satan? Or, a nice article on regional 8-bit computers would be good. I’ve loosely covered it with the COMX35 and the Luxor ABC80, but there’s a good story there about the different experience Eastern European and Middle-Eastern teenagers had in the ‘80s and early ‘90s.