Aside from using original hardware, trackers are arguably the most authentic way to write chiptune music today.
Over the years, DefleMask Tracker established itself as a clear favorite among the chiptune community. Let’s take a closer look and find out why people love it so much.
What is DefleMask Tracker?
DefleMask is a specialized music tracker application. It’s designed specifically for creating music that emulates classic gaming console sound chips. In other words, you can use it to create authentic-sounding music in the style of the Sega Genesis, NES, GameBoy, and more.
It’s cross-platform. So you can get DefleMask for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, Android, and even Raspberry Pi.
I’ve personally used it for Windows and Android.
How Does DefleMask Work?
DefleMask simulates the sound chips found in retro gaming consoles and synthesizers to create authentic chip music. It even offers some sound design tools to help you create unique instruments for your tracks.
You can select your desired sound chip and work within its limitations and capabilities.
To write music, you arrange individual patterns on a grid-based interface. Each pattern represents a set of musical notes and commands that control various aspects of the sound.
What Consoles Does DefleMask Emulate?
As of this writing, DefleMask supports the following eight consoles:
- Sega Genesis — Also known as the Mega Drive in Europe and Japan.
- Sega Master System — Plus the FM sound unit found in later consoles.
- NES — Also includes the VRC7 and FDS expansions.
- GameBoy — The good ‘ol GameBoy.
- Commodore 64 — DefleMask emulates both the SID 6581 and SID 8580 variants.
- PC-Engine — Known as the TurboGrafx-16 in the USA.
- Yamaha YM2151 — Used in various arcade cabinets.
- Neo Geo — Only available in the full version. It’s not supported in the Legacy edition.
Exporting Music to WAV, VGM, and ROM Formats
One of DefleMask’s best features is the ability to export your tracks as WAV, VGM, or ROM files.
WAV files can be played in just about any audio player. You can also upload these files into your DAW for further editing.
Then there’s the VGM file type. This is the format that vintage game consoles use to play their music. This has multiple uses:
- Play your music on a compatible VGM player like RYMCast.
- Use your music for homebrew games made for classic consoles.
- Mod existing games to include new music made with DefleMask.
So theoretically, you’d use these files to play your music on actual hardware.
Same goes for the ROM format. You can export your music as a basic ROM file and play it through an emulator.
DefleMask Pros & Cons
There are many upsides to using DefleMask. That said, it’s not so friendly to beginners.
- Accurate emulations of classic and obscure consoles
- Imposes console limitations for authentic-sounding tracks
- Export music as either WAV, VGM, or ROM formats
First of all, DefleMask offers some of the best emulations of classic sound chips around. They capture a lot of the subtleties and imperfections of the original consoles.
Plenty of trackers and VSTs emulate mainstream consoles like the NES, C64, and Genesis. But it’s less common to find chiptune software that emulates stuff like arcade cabinets, TurboGrafx, or Neo Geo. Seeing those consoles is a welcome delight!
And like I mentioned above, exporting music in VGM and ROM formats is also wonderful to have. I’m sure it’s an especially useful feature for indie game developers and modders.
- Steep learning curve
- Workflow is slower than a DAW
- No MIDI output
Trackers in general aren’t as straightforward as a MIDI sequencer. DefleMask is no exception.
If you’ve never used a tracker before, prepare to be overwhelmed when you first open it.
At first you’ll ask, “What the heck even is this? An Excel spreadsheet?”
You can’t just rush into it and start recording tracks like you can in a DAW. You’ll need to take your time to learn all of DefleMask’s features and establish a workflow.
But even after getting used to it, I’ve found my output with DefleMask is much slower than with a DAW.
Either way, you will need help getting used to DefleMask. I’d recommend watching this fantastic tutorial by Inglebard Gaming on YouTube.
The other major drawback I see is the lack of MIDI support. While you can input notes using a MIDI controller, you can’t import or export any MIDI files from your project.
It’s a shortcoming that most trackers share. I don’t fully understand the technology behind it, but I’d love to see DefleMask support MIDI in the future (if possible).
DefleMask Tracker Alternatives
Other trackers have appeared over the years. Each one has its dedicated fans.
A popular tracker that mimics the Nintendo Entertainment System’s RP2A03 sound chip and its various expansions. It’s kept alive by a dedicated fanbase as an open-source project.
MilkyTracker is an open-source tracker for writing music in MOD and XM formats. It’s essentially a recreation of the FastTracker 2 program made for MS-DOS computers back in the ‘90s.
Is DefleMask Tracker for You?
Even with the learning curve, there’s something undeniably satisfying about creating music with a tracker. Any chiptune enthusiast should at least give DefleMask a look.
I’d also say it’d be useful for working game composers to know. The fact that you can export songs as VGM files makes it compelling for game devs and modders.
But if you’re not willing or have the time to learn a new piece of software, you might want to stick with a DAW.
Try the Legacy Version of DefleMask Tracker
The full version of DefleMask is cheap as is. Just skip your next meal at McDonald’s and you’ll have the money for it.
But if you only want to dip your toes, you can always try the legacy version for free.
Find More Chiptune Software
There’s a wealth of other plugins and applications available for writing chiptune music. We’ve put together a list of the best chiptune software you can find right now.