main index




Topical Tropes

Other Categories

TV Tropes Org
Chip Tune
Chiptunes are songs — or song data — usually designed to be played back by a specific sound chip with limited capabilities. The sound is often associated with early Video Game and computer systems, though many early synthesizers also often contain similar (or even the same) sound chips. While the term may apply to old or antiquated hardware, it is not specifically exclusive to game music or old songs. Many have repurposed game hardware, and even the sound chips contained inside, to build inexpensive instruments or synths. Nowadays however, chiptunes are only used by stylistic choice.

So, while some might consider Chiptunes to epitomize the overuse of synthesizers typical of Eighties Synth Pop, other listeners consider them a way of demonstrating the composer's mastery over a limited electronic instrument, and likewise many of those composers enjoy that challenge. Fans and composers of the genre will be quick to point out that the resulting sound is the entire point of writing such tunes. Like any music played by a computer, Chiptunes are mathematically perfect, and it's probably a combination of this perfection with a touch of nostalgia that their fans love.

Chiptune music is a widespread genre, beloved by many on the Internet, but hasn't really reached mainstream status yet. Despite that, Electronic music in general has been heavily influenced by Chiptunes (mostly classic ones from Video Games in the 80s), and in recent years mainstream music has shown more and more Chiptune influence. It has reached a point that truly distinguishing between chiptunes and some subgenres of electronic music such as Techno is becoming increasingly difficult.

An interesting quirk of Chiptunes is that they come out either sounding awesome or like crap, and there is generally no middle ground. And on the listener side, well, you'll either think it's great, or you'll think it rubbish. On the other hand, though, depending on what kind of listener you are, you may also think it doesn't interest you OR it has one flaw among the other awesome aspects of composition OR the Capcom's monkiers have become too old and such, so decide for yourself!

Another interesting quirk that chiptunes share with General MIDI is that they can be stored in numerous native formats that take up very little space. A full song can be stored in around 10 kilobytes, compared to perhaps 10 megabytes for an MP3 file. This makes them the ultimate in bandwidth friendly music, particularly if you are stuck on dial-up Internet.

A distinct sub-genre is Keygen. Keygen arose out of a simple way to show that someone had devised a program to generate a key for an illegally downloaded program, and the music came as a form of signature. However by its very nature as existing as a bonus rather than a form of music, it's less known, though its influences (namely a much more flowing style and slurred notes) have noticeably seeped into the mainstream chiptune scene.

And lastly, if you have 20 year-old hardware, fear not! By their very nature, chiptunes are designed to be replayed on something old. Even replayers that emulate the sound chips tend to require very little in the way of resources. It should be no surprise, because of this, that Chiptunes (especially in tracker form) have long been a staple of the Demoscene and continue to be so to this day. Thus, a lot of chipmusic is available online for free.

As with most nerdy fandoms, many camps of chiptuners and chiptune fans have emerged:
  • Extreme purists that are only interested in writing or hearing music specifically reproduced by the sound chip in question (or maybe an emulator for that chip). Examples: music written in LSDJ on a Game Boy, or NSF / SID files written in a system-specific tracker (to be replayed by the system or at least some plugin)
  • Somewhat-purists that at least want to write or hear music that is possible on the sound chip in question. Examples: MOD/S3M/XM/IT (tracker) files utilizing carnal knowledge of a specific sound chip. Sometimes also referred to as "Fakebit".
  • A more extreme version of Fakebit, which utilizes chiptune sounds but pays no mind to what is actually possible on a sound chip. Sometimes also referred to as "riptunes". Examples: improper use of the Triforce MIDI plugin, "8 Bit Remixes" made with GXSCC that are very popular on Youtube, or compositions designed to simulate two consoles running at once.
  • Composers or bands that utilize chiptunes as one of the many elements in their music. This can range as using sound chip in combination of a rock guitar to using only sound chip except drums.

A word of warning before you go hunting for Chiptunes: the good ones tend to be Ear Worms.

Notable and/or popular chips used in chiptunes and example systems:

Programmable Sound Generators (PSGs) are often known for their simplistic wave forms:

A more primitive design predating all these is Atari's POKEY chip, found in Atari 8-Bit Computers, Atari 5200, various Arcade Games (some of which used special dual-core and quad-core versions) and some Atari 7800 cartridges.

More modern sound chips are based on Pulse Code Modulation (PCM)

Many Yamaha FM synthesis chips are known for a warmer and/or fuller sound. Tend to be less popular then PSG because of complexity:

Notable artists that are at least somewhat chiptune in nature:

Doctor WhoElectronic MusicCrunkcore
Chinese Sibling TerminologyAdministrivia/Useful Notes Pages in MainCinco De Mayo

TV Tropes by TV Tropes Foundation, LLC is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available from
Privacy Policy