WRITTEN BY Tess Fournier


Jeff wrote a blog post about designing retro game audio using BFXR a while back, and since then I’ve frequently used that tool when I need to create interesting and nostalgic 8-bit game audio. Recently, however, I heard about an alternative tool called ChipTone, so I decided to check it to expand my toolbox a little.

Chiptone is a free web-based sound design tool created by SFB Games. Currently it offers a synth and a sampler, although the SFB Games site explains that a vocoder and a sequencer are in the works for future release. Today I’m going to focus on the Synth tool. To be honest, ChipTone’s Synth works similarly to bfxr, (which makes sense since Ton Vain - ChipTone’s creator - sites bfxr as an inspiration), but I still think it’s enough to be a useful additional tool.

There are 8 “Generators” or presets that resemble various old-school game actions (Coin, Zap, Jump, etc) and you can cycle through different versions of each by clicking on them.

After selecting a Generator, you can alter the sound with numerous parameters, and in my opinion, this is where ChipTone really shines over bfxr. The user has a lot of control over the adjustments, and there is so much you can do at this stage, so let’s break it down a bit:


The wave, frequency and amplitude boxes

The Wave Box is pretty self-explanatory: you can cycle through different waveforms. If you like the sound of a generator but would like a little bit of a different tone, you can cycle through these options to find one that better suits your needs.

The Frequency Box alters pitch. You can use the “freq” knob (or the keyboard below) to adjust the overall pitch. The “speed,” “accel,” and “jerk” knobs all adjust pitch over time in different ways. Basically, if you want that nice powerup or powerdown sound, these are for you.

The Amplitude Box allows for adjustment of the amplitude envelop, and length.

WAVE FREQ and AMP Boxes.png

The effects boxes

The effects boxes are where your designs can get really interesting. These are 9 distinct effects you can add to your sound, and they can be turned on/off to your liking. Each box has a set of its own parameters that you can adjust. I won’t go into each and every one of them, since that could take up a lot of your time (time you could be spending have fun with ChipTone on your own), but trust me in that they can really add some cool qualities to your sound. On top of all this, you also have the option to rearrange the signal flow of 5 of these 9 effects boxes, which gives you even more design options and a higher level of control.


the mastering/export box

The Mastering/Export Box allows you to compress, adjust the volume, and adjust the EQ of the final design. Also, it gives audio quality options (you can choose between 2 sample rates and 2 bit rates) and has a window to view the waveform of your finished design. Finally, this box contains the “SAVE .WAV” button, which you can click on to export your finished design.


The top menu bar

The Menu Bar at the top has a few additional functions worth mentioning:

The Randomize Button, which does exactly as it states - it randomizes all parameters. If you’re at a loss as to where to start, hitting this button a few times until you find something you like might be a good jumping-off point.

The Mutate Button, which finely adjusts parameters of the sound you’ve created. This is a nice button to press if you want to make a series of very similar effects. You could make a whole library of varied beeps that all sound like they belong in the same family.

The Save/Load Setup Buttons, which allow you to save all of the parameters you’ve adjusted, in case you want to stop working and come back to where you left off at a later time.

The Undo/Redo Buttons which do exactly as you would expect


ChipTone currently works as a flash plugin on the SFB Games website. I had a lot of fun playing around with it and I know it will come in handy the next time I need to create some game sounds within the animated shows I work on. It’s pretty cool, and I definitely encourage you all to check it out!

Note: If you don't see Chiptone at the top of the SFBGames.com page, be sure to click the red Adobe Tab, authorizing Flash to run.

Know any other cool ways to make a retro 8-bit sound? tell us about it in the comments below!