A roundtable on writing retro tunes in modern times.

As any self-respecting subscriber of the Gaming Historian knows, one national survey conducted in 1990 found that more American children could identify Mario than Mickey. That sounds about right to this writer, who was one of those children.

What truly astonished us, however, was witnessing firsthand how your average Japanese child could still sing most every note of the over- and underworld themes from Super Mario Bros. even in the year 2021. How did composers from the 8-bit era—who had to share precious cartridge space with everything else that makes a video game—manage to paint such memorable tunes with a sound palette typically laid out with perhaps only a couple of monophonic (one note at a time) square waves, a single monophonic pseudo-triangle wave, some more-or-less random noise, and maybe a horridly degraded audio sample or two?

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