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Part 3: Getting Editable Music

In order to edit video game music, you need to get it into a format you can edit. Not all video game music is easily editable, and it tends to vary by system.

Almost all video game music falls into one of two categories: sequenced or streamed. This refers to the two primary ways music can be stored within the game data and played back.

Streamed music is stored as an ordinary music file in the game data, such as an MP3 or some similar format. This is pretty easy to understand, but it also generally means the song is not editable, unfortunately. It may still be possible to do a mashup or melody injection, or get creative with sampling, but it does limit what you can do. An experienced musician may be able to reconstruct the entire song in order to edit it, or transcribe it in order to arrange it in a different soundfont (remember, you've got to transcribe it yourself), but this is much more difficult and requires a great deal more skill. Still, if you're not there yet, it's something to shoot for.

The other type, sequenced music, is not stored as a regular audio file like MP3, but rather as a sequence of notes which the game plays in real time. Many old games did this back when data storage was very limited, making the use of streamed audio prohibitive.

If a song is sequenced, then it is in theory editable. Different game consoles have different sound hardware, though, and store and play sequenced music in very different ways. There are tools which can extract sequences, soundfonts, samples, and synthesis settings, but they don't exist for every system, and the ones that do exist don’t always offer 100% compatibility with all games on the system, or 100% accuracy.

Note that wherever possible you should use a soundfont extracted from the game itself, not a fan-made soundfont you found online. These vary wildly in quality.

Rips tend to be easier on some platforms than others, though this varies by game and by the ripper’s individual skillset. In rough order from easiest to hardest, it goes like this:

DS ➔ N64 ➔ GBA ➔ SNES ➔ Genesis ➔ NES ➔ GB/GBC

If you’re familiar with tracker software, then SNES and NES will be a bit easier for you than for others, as there are more tools for exporting SNES and NES music to trackers than there are for exporting them to MIDI.

Here's a breakdown of how to rip some of the most common game consoles:

Nintendo DS (NDS)

Nintendo 64 (N64)

Game Boy Advance (GBA)

Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES)

Sega Genesis/Mega Drive

Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Game Boy/Game Boy Color

PlayStation 1, PlayStation 2, Capcom CPS1, CPS2


Individual games