As a kid, my family inherited a lot of furniture from relatives. We once got this huge console record player/stereo system. It was about the size of a coffin and had a large lid (also not unlike a coffin) and was used in my family as an end table catchall for pictures, doodads, and other random knick-knacks. I actually didn’t even realize it housed a stereo unit inside of it until one day when I kicked the edge of it and the lid popped up an inch or two. I cleared everything off the top and lifted the wooden lid. Inside was a large, recessed stereo radio, an 8-track tape slot, and a fully functioning turntable. I looked behind the unit to see if it was connected. It wasn’t, and the gap between the wall and the unit was too small to reach a hand down to plug it in. Eventually, I shoved the gargantuan contraption away from the wall and hooked it up.
I turned it on. A very loud, deep fuzz crackled out of the speakers. There was no antenna, so I couldn’t get any radio reception. My mom had some 8-track tapes, but I didn’t know where she kept them. Records! I had records! So I pulled out my Mary Poppins record. What? You didn’t have a Mary Poppins soundtrack on vinyl when you were a kid? Puh-lease. I set the record to play and was hit with some of the deepest, richest tones I had ever heard. Ok, it wasn’t very clear but it was loud and hit you in the gut like Dick Van Dyke never could before. And this thing got LOUD. It was about this time my mom came in to tell me to turn it down a bit. So I did, a bit.
Eventually, I had to put it all back together, close the lid, put the quilt back on and put all the crap back that was on it before since there wasn’t really any place for these things, which is why they ended up there in the first place. I began to push the console back up against the wall and upon inspecting the back panel, I noticed two RCA IN connectors. I may have been only 9 or 10 but I knew wires, connection types, and the basic laws of conductivity. This means I could theoretically plug anything with an audio out into this machine. First thing I try? My NES.
The NES was capable of stereo sound, but it only had one RCA audio out which I think was essentially split mono. This would be the red RCA connector on the side of the box. The yellow one carried the video signal if you were routing it to a TV with RCA inputs. So I cleared the top of this wooden sarcophagus again, grabbed the longest RCA cable I could find and routed the NES to one of the two input jacks. Turned the contraption on. It had a warm hiss of its own. Turned the NES on, pop! Bzzz! And for as much detail as I’m adding here, I can’t for the life of me remember what game was in there at the time. I want to say Castlevania but it could have easily been Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers.
“You hear that new Rescue Rangers joint?”
At any rate, those musty speaker boxes attached to the “end zones” of the console pushed out such a loud, warm sound. A sound I had never heard any game machine emit or any entertainment center reproduce. Not only did these simple bleepy bloopy compositions feel heavy and larger than life but it had a tangible quality to it as well, no doubt due to the high noise floor we’d be dealing with here. These noises became songs, these songs became identities – the world of music and gaming were meshing for me and I couldn’t look back. I couldn’t bear a quiet game, nor could I play one very long whose compositions were lacking or otherwise offensive to the ear. All of a sudden, everything mattered.
Subsequently, I became obsessed with hooking up other devices to the wooden console after learning more about wire splicing and custom adapters. I hooked up Game Boys, Game Gears, Commodore 64’s, musical instruments, microphones… if it had audio out, I was running it through this machine. I ultimately smuggled the console into my room for future experiments in NOISE.
It was a turning point for me. Game music could sound great! Game audio is important and impacts a player’s perception and immersion. I think it was at that point that I was on a collision course with gaming and sound as a career, but I didn’t know it quite yet.
Tony Porter holds a degree of science in Audio Engineering with extended studies in Game Development. He is currently an audio engineer at n-Space in Orlando, FL and has produced or managed audio for numerous games such as Skylanders Giants (3DS), Square/Enix’s Heroes of Ruin, the portable Call Of Duty series for Activision, and the BAFTA nominated Great Big War Game, among dozens of other titles across all platforms.