Many people discard video game music as mere background noise, but I've found that some game music is truly brilliant. For instance, the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country has some mesmerizing ambient songs, and Chrono Trigger has a huge assortment of techno-orchestral pieces.

In the olden days, the only way I could listen to this music was by actually playing the game on the SNES. Now, thanks to the joys of emulation (and despite some poppycock from Nintendo that "all emulation is illegal") there is a much more comfortable solution: SPC files, little 64kb (64.5kb, to be exact) dumps of the SNES sound core.

SPC files are still a rather unnatural medium for listening to music, and I'd much prefer to have the songs on a CD. Here's my method; it's admittedly rather twisted, but it worksforme.

First, assuming you have a ROM of the game (of which you already own a physical copy, right? -- SNES carts are dreadfully cheap now, so just suck it up, spend the five bucks, and don't be a lamer... I don't condone piracy) and an emulator capable of saving SPC files, rip the songs you're interested in. My emulator is ZSNES, but Snes9x has a SPC save function as well and is also an excellent choice. Whatever you use, the results are essentially the same. It helps a lot to have a sound test screen in the game, as you'll have to play it otherwise to get to all the songs. (Not that there's anything wrong with that...)

Next, since SPCs are nearly impossible to deal with in their native states, you'll need to obtain a program to convert your freshly dumped tunes to a more suitable format. AFAIK, the only program that offers such a function is OpenSPC, which automagically converts the SPC data to an Impulse Tracker module. Being a Linux user, I naturally have the Linux version of OpenSPC, which works thusly:

> ospc -l -i foo.spc

... creating a file "foo.it". Of course, most game music loops ad infinitum, so you'll have to listen to the song and cut it off manually. No problem, because a single loop is generally short. Four minutes is usually plenty; just leave a bit of room to fade out later.

Thirdly, open the .it file that OpenSPC created with Modplug Tracker. I'm saying MPT because it offers actual reverb, which is fairly important for some SNES music. Some songs sound disturbingly flat without a copious amount of reverb (the DKC cave music, for instance) so you'll want to turn it on. Go to View -> Setup -> Player and switch on the reverb, turn it way up toward "high", and pick one of the presets. It might take some fiddling to find the best setting for the song (I think I finally went with "Stone Corridor" for the cave music, rather than the somewhat obvious "Cave"), but after a few songs it should become easier to pick a good-sounding preset. While you're at it: switch on the auto gain control, noise reduction, and bass expansion, and set the resampling mode to "high quality". The more adventurous types might want to play with the equalizer settings as well. (Needless to say, if you're doing this, the equalizer should be on! ;)

Now it's time to write the .wav file. Go to File -> Save as Wave, and pick a filename. On the Wave Convert dialog, make sure the Normalize Output checkbox is OFF (I'll explain why in a moment) and hit Save... watch the progress bar tick by, and then...

Last step (besides actually burning the disc, but that's beyond the scope here) - open the .wav in your favorite audio editor, take a look at the ending, and trim/fade to taste. Most songs will probably need at least a small fade, but this is all a matter of preference. Those looking to make a more "professional" sounding CD will likely want to limit and normalize the songs, but since these files were all created from the same source, the volumes should all be similar enough as they are. For this reason, normalizing the output in MPT would actually be a bad idea: the quiet songs are really supposed to be quiet.


A sizable number of games have original soundtracks available -- DKC and CT both do (the latter being a three-disc set IIRC). The mixing and post-processing are, needless to say, much better quality than can be produced with an emulator and SPC ripper, and the "real" discs may even come with some neat extras. If you like the music to a certain game enough, your best option is undoubtedly to purchase the original soundtrack on CD if one is available. Try searching Google for "(name of game) OST CD". It's a good idea to look before you roll your own to spare yourself from going through this process unnecessarily, like I did ;)

Alternately, if you'd like to hear something completely different, you might be interested in getting some remixes, for example from http://www.ocremix.org/. Many of these songs are well worth the time they take to download, and I suggest any game music aficionado take at least a short look at this site and others offering similar wares.

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