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Game Development Productivity Web

Some Great Retro Music Tools Died With Flash. Now What?

After a history nearly as long as the internet itself, Adobe finally discontinued support for Flash after December 31, 2020. Now Flash content is actively blocked, and users are strongly encouraged to uninstall their players and plugins.

Some veteran game devs and content creators are dropping an ‘F’ in the chat—early Flash tools provided an environment to learn the fundamentals of game development, key-frame animation, interactive content design, and more. Even after free and open-source development options flooded the maturing web, loads of Flash content endured. Beyond the games and cartoons now old enough to make us nostalgic, numerous developers created tools in Flash that are still every bit as desirable as they were years ago.

Flash and retro-inspired music tools were a natural fit. A good Flash browser tool kept bloated software off the desktop at a time when hard drive space and good applications to use it on were in much lesser supply. A good web-based sequencer allowed retro devs to create perfectly era-appropriate tunes without installing or learning overkill digital audio workstation programs.

I found the last tune I composed in the browser before Flash died—a loopable one-minute track for a little demo I made for friends using PulseBoy (no point linking to it).

For you, dear reader, I’m collecting any tool for game dev audio anyone wants to send me. I’m happy to update this list forever. What do you use? What are you looking for? Comment, share, and enjoy.

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Game dev audio tools to check out

GarageBand (iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions)

https://www.apple.com/mac/garageband/

Let me kick things off with a large and unwieldy option, just because it helped me ship my first game a lot faster without extra cost. GarageBand is maintained by Apple with free versions available for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Serious users can move up to Logic Pro (for around $200) if you’re trying to reach full recording studio status. Between the base applications and the free instrument packs I found, I didn’t need to do this to produce what I believe was a solid soundtrack for my game.

While I do have some music theory training and play percussion and stringed instruments, I believe a determined user could download these apps and figure it out without that level of expertise. If you want to, you can configure a set of instruments in GarageBand and largely have the software compose random music for you. I certainly didn’t go that route, but I gladly used its smart chord and progression-building tools to help me quickly build out melodies and establish themes in my tracks. GarageBand offers different virtual instrument interfaces on each device, so I actually ended up using my phone, my tablet, and my MacBook to compose my soundtrack. Listening back, I would make some improvements, but I’m still very pleased with what I did in under a week’s time.

Bfxr

https://www.bfxr.net

If you’ve ever searched for a quick noise generator for a project, particularly in the game jam world, there’s a good chance you’ve heard about Bfxr. If not, Bfxr is a great sound effect tool that lets you customize some sliders and controls and it spits out a sound. Adjust and repeat until you have something you like. What it lacks in elegance, it makes up in pure, fast sound effect magic.

Bfxr’s biggest downfall is that it won’t help you with music. Then again, it never set out to.

Bfxr is a spiritual successor to Sfxr, a tool directly created for the jam community.

ChipTone (h/t Paul Nicholas)

https://sfbgames.itch.io/chiptone

Kicking off the community recommendations, Paul Nicholas sent over ChipTone, a free tool under active development by Tom Vian. ChipTone appears to offer great generator preset buttons (like coin, jump, boom, etc.) as well as the wave, frequency, amplitude, and key settings you need to get precise in your SFX work. When the forthcoming sampler is done, ChipTone looks like it will have it all.

ChipTone has downloadable Windows and Mac versions available at Itch.io.

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BeepBox (h/t Paul Nicholas)

https://www.beepbox.co/

BeepBox is a web-based sequencer meant for sketching and sharing melodies. It makes cool use of your browser URL—it updates as your song changes. When you have something you like, just grab the URL and share it as you please. The editor also features tools to import/export, shorten those fancy URLs, and embed a track on an HTML page.

John Nesky maintains the project and offers an offline version, source code, and a method for playing BeepBox songs in JavaScript projects.

1BITDRAGON (h/t Paul Nicholas)

https://1bitdragon.itch.io/1bitdragon

1BITDRAGON is a simple sequencer and melody creator capable of doing the composition work for you. Within minutes (there are good videos of this) a user can pick out instruments and patterns, mix them to their liking, and create decent, fairly natural-sounding tracks in electronic and chiptune styles. The tracks I listened to would be great additions to a wide number of game projects, videos, podcasts, etc.

1BITDRAGON is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux for $20 or a higher price of your choosing.

Bosca Ceoil (h/t Paul Nicholas)

https://terrycavanagh.itch.io/bosca-ceoil

Paul Nicholas submitted Bosca Ceoil for consideration, created by Terry Cavanagh—who is also responsible for my beloved Super Hexagon—but I can’t give it the official recommendation unless it’s updated. This is out of concern for poor Terry Cavanagh who is currently being lit up in his own Itch comments about compatibility issues with MacOS and AdobeAIR.

Users who can use the program seem to love it, so don’t be shy about checking in to see if there’s a new version when you read this.

WaveBots Editor (h/t Paul Nicholas)

https://krasse.itch.io/wavebots-editor

WaveBots Editor is a one-click music and SFX generator for Windows. This type of tool has been a time-honored tradition since much earlier Windows days (when it was a stunning achievement) and it’s nice to see this sort of application development live on. This one has some clever features including PICO-8 export and stinger templates.

WaveBots Editor is a name-your-price Windows exclusive available at Itch.

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By Todd Mitchell

Todd Mitchell is a US Midwest-based independent game developer and freelance writer. He's the author of Inside Video Game Creation, the founder of CodeWritePlay, and host of the GameDev Breakdown podcast. Follow him on Twitter @Mechatodzilla.

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