A few weeks ago, we featured Aidan Lawrence’s awesome VGM Player. It’s a device which can play VGM (video game music) files directly on the hardware — using the same chips that were originally in the Sega Genesis and Master System. Retro video game music and sounds hold a special place in many of our hearts: Yoshi’s gulping sounds, the boss battle music from Sonic, and you could probably even start humming the Super Mario Bros. theme music on command right now.
What made these classic sound effects and music so great wasn’t rich orchestration or high-fidelity sound, but rather their simplicity. That simplicity was a direct result of the hardware limitations of the time. It’s easy to take for granted now that we can reproduce the full range of sound digitally, and on pretty much any device. But, this wasn’t always the case. In the early days of video games, the sounds you heard were created using hardware chips, and the sounds they were capable of producing were relatively limited.
When we last featured Aidan’s VGM Player, he already had it working nicely using an ESP8266 connected to the chips Sega originally used in their consoles. The YM2612 was a frequency modulation synthesizer from the Genesis, and the SN76489 was a simpler chip found in the Master System (as well as other early consoles and home computers). Now Aidan is back with version 2 of his VGM Player, and he’s made some key improvements.
The biggest change was switching over to a Teensy 3.5 in place of the ESP8266, which gained him a lot more GPIO pins (so he could ditch the shift registers), additional speed, and more memory. A 7.78 MHz full-can crystal oscillator was used in place of a programmable oscillator. Previously he was using three different power supplies, but he switched over to a single 12 volt unit and just steps the voltage down when required.
Finally, he added an OLED display to show track information (which turns out to be fairly tricky to pull from a VGM file), and SD card support to store lots of music. The new version is a bit tidier, and a lot more powerful. We’d like to see the VGM Player 2.0 packaged up in a nice enclosure, but we may have to wait for version 3.0 for that!