I have really fond memories of the Sega Genesis system, which is strange because we were a humble, middle-class one-console (SNES) family and I only played it at the neighbor kid’s house. I have fond memories of playing Herzog Zwei and eating pizza all night in my friend’s dank basement. Lately, I’ve been wanting to explore the possibilities of composing chiptunes with the Sega Genesis’ Yamaha YM2612 FM chip. If you don’t want to read my rants, skip to the bottom for a quick list of what you need to downloaded to get started.
I thought I’d share my journey since it’s been a long and somewhat frustrating one. Right off the bat, I’ll tell you there are tons of options, the Sega Genesis and Master System use FM Synthesis, which tons of modern synthesizers support. You could technically create the same sounds with some of FL Studio and Logic’s native synthesizers, but it might not sound exactly like the Genesis itself.
The Genesis could also play samples. This is how most games did their drums. The super crunchy bitsmashed little samples are kind of what defined the sound of the 16-bit Sega era in my mind.
For now, I haven’t investigated native trackers – the Genesis equivalent to LSDJ might be out there somewhere but I don’t even have a console, so for now, this article is about how to get started fakebitting some Genesis sounds with some degree of realism within a DAWS like FL studio, Logic Pro or Cubase. It’s a long road to getting truly authentic, but I thought I could at least help people get started.
My goal was to be able to compose in MIDI, not learn another tracker program. If you want to do that, you’ll want to get TFM Music Maker or the very comprehensive DefleMask. It’s actually pretty easy and similar to LSDJ and Famitracker, but I just wanted to compose in a familiar environment and end up with everything in my DAWS at the end.
Using Digital Audio Workstations to Play Back Genesis Yamaha Sounds
Check out my Battle Zone Alpha track, which I created with these tools.
VOPM – This is a pretty simple VST that emulates the Genesis’ Yamaha FM chip. You can build your own instruments by fiddling knobs, but if you’re not familiar with FM synthesis, it can be time consuming and difficult. Here’s a tutorial if you want to try it from scratch.
Getting Instrument Sounds from a Game Rom
One thing that I wanted to do right away was pull instruments from existing songs I knew on games I liked, sounds from Sonic and Earthworm Jim came to mind. There are two ways to get these loaded into VOPM.
Using the Gens KM Mod and a Neo Geo tracker called MVSTracker MD, you can dump a Yamaha channel from a running ROM and then load it up into MVSTracker, which has the same exact values and settings as the VOPM VST, then you just put the two side by side and set the VOPM VST settings to match the instrument you pulled from the game. This thread explains how to do it.
Fortunately, some wonderfully generous person took the time to pull all the instrument settings from almost any game you can imagine and put them into a format that VOPM can import. This can save you some serious time!
VOPM runs great in Cubase LE and FL Studio and I’d imagine it’ll work anywhere else you can load a VSTi. This is how I get my bass, pad and lead sounds. It’s not quite as perfect as I’d like, and I still haven’t dipped into automation, note bends and other things, but I imagine that can all be done through MIDI commands with VOPM.
I kind of feel like sampling things is cheating, but this is the quickest way to get some Sega Genesis sounding drums going within your DAWS. Just load these samples up into the sampler of your choice and you can get that classic drum sound. There are also tons of vocal samples, orchestral sounds, rock guitar bits and other things that you can use to get that classic sound.
One thing you’ll notice right away is that VOPM outputs at rather low volume levels. I bounced each track to a WAV and then loaded them all up into the DAWS and do a little EQ’ing and leveling before proceeding with normal mastering steps. Anyways, you may not be the 16-bit master by the end of this, but you can get some classic sounds without learning a new tracker from scratch. Have fun!
Quick Download Cheat Sheet
- VOPM – Use this to make the melodic instruments, it’s a VST that loads up in your DAWS
- VOPM 2612 Org’s Game Instrument Bank – If you want a bass line from a certain sonic level, you can import it from here into VOPM.
- Mixer P and Friends Sega Genesis Drum Samples – Load these into the DAWS Sampler VST of your choice and use your MIDI drum patterns.