I am interested in recreating chiptunes in a NES (8 bit) style

A google search has shown that the original NES had 2 pulsewave, a triangle, noise, some sort of sampling channel and that emulations of these sounds can be obtained from various VST instruments such as triforce. What isn't so obvious to me however is finding out how to manually emulate what the nes could do with these sounds using midi.

My question is what level of control did/do nes programmers have over the sound chip and for each element how can it be emulated (preferably using midi).

The sort of thing I want to know is Is there pitch bench, amplitude envelope etc.

Also if anyone knows how to reproduce specific effects such as the faux delay effect often heard on nes tunes that would be great too

5 Answers 5


Who knows if it's still available, but there's a cartridge that allows MIDI control of an NES…that should certainly allow you only what the developers had: http://www.wayfar.net/0xf00000_overview.php

  • 1+ there is some great info on there
    – Willbill
    Dec 8, 2010 at 12:19

I recommend checking out FamiTracker, for a much more raw, and direct method of programming the NES. Using that for a bit will give you a better idea.

It is my understanding that each game production company made their own tools and assemblers so they weren't bashing out raw bytes in memory to achieve what they wanted. I'd imagine this is why certain companies (Konami comes to mind) had really similar patterns in their music. (Of course it is also possible that the same folks did game after game.)

  • +1 I have been doing just that I will compile a specific answer from my findings
    – Willbill
    Dec 11, 2010 at 17:26
  • IIRC companies tended to have their own common tools and in many cases the same folks did game after game.
    – Max Strini
    Jan 31, 2011 at 2:26

Check out programs like Nanoloop or LSDJ on a Gameboy or emulator to get a feel for how the limits of the chip shape the way people write for it. You have amplitude and filter envelopes ranging from instant to a few seconds. I believe the hardware enables pitch bending as well if the software supports it.

For me personally the biggest feature of the "NES sound" -- other than the filtered square wave -- is the use of rapid arpeggiators to get around the limited polyphony. On the Gameboy, the noise channel is monophonic, one synth channel can do chords (of up to 4 notes) and the remaining two channels are monophonic but arpeggiated.

If, for example, you replace a quarter-note chord with sixteen 64th notes arpeggiated over the same 3 or 4 notes, I bet that will already start to sound "videogamey" to your ears.


"faux delay" is pretty simple, you can just repeat the notes at whatever delay interval you want with descending velocity. Pulse waves and a noise source are really where it's at if you're looking for "video gamey" sounds in my opinion. Playing around with the pulse width will give you many timbres. It's very fun and inspirational to limit yourself like this! Especially these days where we have way too many possibilities.


Hey! I don't know much about how the early consoles worked. But if you're interested, here's a VST plugin you could have a look at. It's called the Magical 8-Bit plugin. It might give you an idea or two somewhere. You could also hook this up to a midi controller, I'm sure?

I downloaded this a while ago, but since then the site has changed to japanese. Here is the link -> http://www.ymck.net/magical8bitplug/index.html. If you use Google Chrome, it will translate the page for you.

  • This isnt really what I'm after. I'm more interested in finding out how to program a suitable soft syth authentically
    – Willbill
    Dec 8, 2010 at 12:16

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