YouTuber The 8-Bit Guy (real name David) is an expert on early computing and early gaming systems. Last time, David took us through the workings of old-school graphics, and now he’s teamed up with YouTuber The Obsolete Geek (real name Rob) with an explainer on how sounds and music were produced by these early computers.
The first home computers, including the Apple II, had “beeper speakers” that communicated directly with the computer’s CPU. The speakers could be used to create more complicated tunes, but this presented a problem: it would take up all of the CPU’s runtime, leaving no space for the computer to run anything else.
To remedy this, computers added a dedicated sound chip. In order to make sounds more complex, the sound chips had to be able to handle multiple “voices.” David uses some old Casio keyboards to illustrate this concept: basically, the number of voices is how many notes can be sounded simultaneously. Additionally, if the different voices could produce different wavelengths, creating different sounds, the music could be that much more complex.
David and Rob go on to isolate the different voices from some early games and show how it all comes together. Watch on for a fascinating look at how early game developers overcame the limitations of their systems.