Worked on games from 1986 to 2000, has been working on toys mostly since then (4 years in house at Fisher price), and the occasional game. Edited dialogue for a few AAA titles (Velvet assassin, Drakensang), did some voice acting (Ghost Pirates of Vooju Island, Neverwinter), some Gameboy titles, Batman Rise of Sin Tzu, Splinter Cell Pandora, and King Kong. Last few years, I did Dark Quest on mobile (a hero quest clone), and last year got consumed by Horizon Chase (a retro styled remake of Top Gear) – can’t praise HC enough, one of the funnest gamesI’ve played in years, and as it was like the 13th driving game I’d worked on, I got to go crazy with the soundtrack and basically write whatever I wanted..
When Horizon Chase PC & PS4 versions release this year, I will be joining a very exclusive group of composers who have composed on video games across a 30 year time-span. The only other person I’ve found to achieve that is Koji Kondo.. I’m sure there’s one or two others, but I think I might be the first Westerner. (scary huh)
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Interview by Peter Ward
Thank you for this interview, it is an honour for me to interview such a talented musician from the game industry…. Thanks Pete, good to get to talk to you 🙂
What did you want to do for a career when you were at school, and what was your first job?
I really WANTED to write music for computer games, and at the age of 15, I got my first game soundtrack published, sadly, it wasn’t very good, and was critically panned. After that I decided I should probably have a back up plan, and ended up becoming an apprentice engineer for Rolls Royce making airplane engines. That got super boring really quickly, so I joined a computing training course, which was supposed to take 2 years to do. I completed it in 6 months and was asked politely to GTFO. After that I started going to college to get a degree in computing, and around then some of my friends had started making games, so I got involved doing the soundtrack for that.. This time the magazines loved the music, and I was “Back In the Game”…
When did you realise you wanted to get into the game industry, and how did it happen?
I was around 13/14 years old.. I had been messing around with sound on computers, my little spectrum and a borrowed BBC/B, when along came Rob Hubbards synth sample. Between that, Galways Comic Bakery & Ocean Loader, and Ben Daglish’s work. I think most will agree, those are some pretty inspiring composers. I wanted to do that. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.
Eventually after the first 2 games, one of our friends had an interview set up with a company called Catalyst Coders from Portsmouth.. They had decided they were going to open a Glasgow office, and were looking for staff..
“ask them if they want a composer..” “and ask if they want an artist too..” (my buddy chipped in).
They did.. and that’s how it started.
I understand your first Computer was a ZX81. Would you say this was your favourite computer?
Oh hell no.. What an awful piece of hardware.. Wobbly ram packs, POS keyboard, even the power supply would overheat if the cat curled up next to it, BUT… it had potential.. and it was such a great entry point for so many kids. Learning to write basic, making your own games. That led to a Spectrum, and then C64..
You have a very impressive CV, working on many platforms. Which was the easiest to work with, which was the most challenging, and what kind of challenges were there?
While I was at Imagitec, we came up with the idea of a unified data structure. This would allow us to develop music across all platforms at once (with minor tweaking to the music instruments), this gave us a huge advantage over most developers. My favorite was the Amiga.. I LOVED being able to use samples. It really levelled the playing field when it came to composition. Up until that point, the complexity of your instrument sounds were tied to your music driver. So to suddenly have access to “almost any sound”, was huge for me.
You have worked for some great companies such as Ocean and Gremlin?
Like I said, Imagitec developed music drivers across all major platforms, so just as people would contract them to convert games from one platform to another, we started composing and converting music to other platforms for people to. Imagitec had a close relationship with Gremlin & Ocean up until Nightbreed the RPG got canned. I moved on to Ocean after Imagitec as Gary Bracey really liked the music I had written for Nightbreed.
Was it easy to fit in at Ocean and Gremlin? Who was the first person who made you feel welcome at these companies, and are you still in touch with them?
Gremlin would contract Imagitec to do audio for their games after Ben left. The programmers at Gremlin were always great, and we were so poor at Imagitec, going to Gremlin felt like going to Buckingham palace.. They had enough chairs for everyone. Artists generally weren’t completely suicidal. Ian Stewart was always nice. I really respected him for what he had achieved growing the company from a games shop to a development house.
Ocean on the other hand.. I joined them just before they moved offices from the crypt to the boat like offices at the quays’. For me personally, this was quite the “going to mecca” moment. To sit in the same dungeon Galway had worked in. Gary Bracey has and always will be a rock star in my eyes, he made me feel super welcome, and when we moved into the new offices, having your own office, all the hardware and software support you could need, it was amazing. It really felt like you were playing in the premiere league. We even had a network so the audio guys could share files ! This was cutting edge stuff !
What is the funniest and/or most frustrating thing that happened to you at Ocean and Gremlin?
@ Gremlin, I remember being out for dinner with one of the dev teams one night when some drunk guy came in shouting at the staff.. One of the taller Gremlin guys just got up and lamped him so hard he went flying out into the street. We’d worked too hard that week to put up with any shit. J
Most frustrating.. Probably the Top Gear Snes Instrument samples.. At the time the only way you could make instrument samples on the snes was to use some 25 grand sun work station, which of course nobody had in the UK. So we had sent a few disks of amiga samples off to Kemco in Asia asking if they could convert them.. Obviously nobody over there had an Amiga, so they sent back a floppy disk with a few REALLY generic instrument samples. Those were the only sounds we had, so we had to run with them.
@Ocean. I had been talking with Gary Bracey about getting a band involved in doing the soundtrack for a game.. He walked into my office and I was listening to “Mrs Fiend Goes To Outer Space” by Alien Sex Fiend while I was playing the latest demo of Inferno from D.I.D.. “that’s pretty cool… who is that ?”
Frustrating… We had several synthesizers at Ocean, but there were 3 composers.. and sometimes you just needed more synths.. This of course would lead to nefarious early morning incursions where you would go in early just to snarf an extra synth out of one of the other composers studios. This of course led to harsh words, people telling on you to Gary, and the occasional “if you so much as put a finger on that synth I’ll break your arm…” . The uphill struggle of getting the exact sounds you wanted for your tune can never truly be appreciated.
What is you most favourite music you worked on while at Ocean and Gremlin?
Gremlin – I think my favorite was Lotus 2. The idea for the title tune came to me in a dream. I just walked into the office that day and cranked it out in a couple of hours.
Ocean – TFX It was supposed to compete with Strike Commander which had this wonderful interactive soundtrack by Nenaud Vugrinec. So it was written to be quite interactive. I don’t think it was ever implemented quite as interactively as I’d written it, but when I wrote it, I was very proud of it. It really came together well, and the lead guitar sounds on the MT32 came out perfectly. I worked with Nenaud later at Origin Systems. He’s a brilliant composer, we still tease each other about whose guitar sound is best on the MT32..
I understand you have worked on many formats, which was the easiest to create music on, and which was the most complex?
Amiga.. I loved the tracker interface. It was just so quick and clean, and at any point you could always see EXACTLY what was playing on any channel at a given time. The most complex.. the MT32 was definitely very complex, but we had some custom software written to allow us to create instruments for it which was absolutely superb.. Les Long programmed that. Personally though.. any of the FM synthesis chips were a nightmare for me.. I still to this day haven’t got my head around FM synthesis.. the end result sounds like shit, and the whole process of creating anything on it feels like banging your head against a desk repeatedly. Fuck FM Synthesis..
Although after about a month of playing around I think I managed to get a reasonably acceptable powerchord sound for TFX adlib version.
The music I remember most is in the Monty Mole games; I have fond memories and I feel the music soundtrack is an integral part of the game. Did you play the games to get a feel for the music you were going to create?
I never really got a chance to play the games. Occasionally we would, but really not very often.. Who doesn’t remember Monty Mole.. Those were classic games. I only feel embarrassed that my contribution to the legendary series was a “dancey” version of Hubbards theme.. I have to say in my defence though, that was what I was told to write.
Can you please educate us as to the process you would go through when creating music for a game?
These days – I try and get to see some stills or videos of the game to get a feel for the pace of the game. Other than that you read the description they send VERY carefully. Then it’s just a matter of trying some ideas out, flying them past the dev team and seeing what flies and what crashes and burns.
What advice would you give to somebody trying to get into the game sound industry?
Take up programming instead.. it’s far more profitable. Failing that.. Make a lot of varied demos and send them to everyone..
What inspired you to release Horizon Chase CD?
People kept asking me to. So I did a limited release of 100 signed copies. You can still order unsigned ones If you desperately want a CD.. The digital version is on limited release at the moment, complete with remixes from some amazingly talented composers & remixers, as well as the 3 winners of our hugely successful remix contest.
Do you plan anymore albums in the near future?
As this year marks my 30th anniversary of composing game music, I was contemplating a “best of”, and for some years now I have been sitting on what I believe is the ONLY copy in the world of Oceans “Epic” CD rom soundtrack. Composed by myself, Dean Evans, and Keith Tinman. As that’s spent 23 years hiding away it seems a shame to not release it as I think it was quite ahead of its time, and certainly for me personally, I was really proud of it at the time.
I understand that you are now about to launch a Kickstarter for Dark Quest 2, please enlighten us?
Indeed. Fans of Hero Quest, Space Crusade, Xcom & of course Dark Quest 1 will be pleased to hear Dark Quest 2 is pretty close to being finished. We were going to launch via Kickstarter so we can gauge interest, and fund some goals, like multiplayer support and a dungeon editor.
Tell us what you are currently working on (if different to your Kickstarter)?
Rumor has it that a certain driving game might have some extra music for some of the conversions.. Dark Quest 2 still needs several pieces written, and of course there’s the Video Games Live orchestral arrangement of Top Gear.
I enjoy some modern games but feel more love for the smaller teams of the past. I feel the fun factor has gone in modern games and are more like movie productions; games can be bug ridden now as patches can be made. In the past we didn’t have updates and in-app purchases. What is your view of our industry now?
I’d agree with that.. Some of the modern games I’ve bought are just horrendously bug ridden. Obviously there’s no real way for a company to test every possible PC configuration, so I can understand why that problem exists.. We also don’t have levels that are impossible because they had to ship the game and didn’t have enough time to design all the levels..
The way I look at it.. Games like GTA are the shining example of what games should be. They give you a great amount of entertainment per dollar spent. The storylines are superb, and every attention to detail is there. Every “but what if…” catered for.. To me.. That’s what gaming is all about.. it’s FUN…
Here are some questions about retro games:
My favourite computer was my Amiga and 2 of my favourite games were Cannon Fodder and SWOS 🙂 and my favourite console was the Megadrive. Do you have a favourite?
Not Sensible soccer ? I did the Amiga conversion of that..
We played a TON of Kick Off 2, and Lotus. As for favorite console.. We could never afford a console at the time, so I’ve always been a fan of PC gaming.
What is your favourite retro game?
Horizon Chase J I love it.. it’s just so simple, so fast paced, and just fun..
Do you still game on the current consoles? If so which is your favourite game?
I have been known to take a week off work every time a GTA title ships..
Whats the worst game you have ever played?
I think there’s to many for me to pick one singularly..
Finally what game or feature would you like to see on Retrogamesmaster in the future?
I think what you are doing is great.. I enjoy reading the interviews and hearing what the other veterans are up