markknight

Entering the world of videogame music composition

Let’s move back deeper into history again. 1992 was an important milestone for you as a musician. You were hired by a big and successful studio that developed games across many platforms. You are also known to arrange music for the Amiga port of Wing Commander, which had an excellent original soundtrack that I can easily backtrack in my memories. Perhaps even because of the fact I gave the game another complete playthrough not long ago. Was this the very first game you worked on?

It was the first full game I worked on. I wrote one track for a game before that: Guy Spy and the Crystals of Armageddon. Wing Commander was my first proper gig, I suppose, and it saved me in some ways because I had left college. I’d been turned down to do music technology at university because, and I quote, “Classical musicians can’t deal with music technology.” So, I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I was 18 or 19 years old, not going to university. I ended up filling out a form to do management training at one of the national supermarkets when Mindscape phoned and asked me if I was interested in working on Wing Commander. I think I really got the gig because Richard Joseph was the composer that normally worked for Mindscape, but from what I understand, I undercut him by about 50 percent. So I got the gig by being cheap [laughing].

But it was a way in. It was only a freelance job, a contract job. But very, very close to the end, the development manager at Mindscape – a guy called Richard Leinfellner, who was a successful Commodore 64 programmer that worked for Palace Software and did games like Barbarian and Barbarian 2 – called offering me a job. And Mindscape was only based around about ten miles away from where I lived in Brighton, so it was extremely lucky really. I’d send disks to as many games developers as I could find the addresses for back in those days, and luckily the one that was closest to me offered me a job.

That’s something I have heard from other interviewees; being locally close to a studio helped them to land an amazing career. Now, let’s talk a little bit about methodology. Could you elaborate a bit on the process of music arrangement as opposed to original music composition?

Yeah, normally an arrangement is taking the themes of a piece of music. It could be creating another piece of music using those themes and using those chord progressions.

I remember going through the video with a stopwatch, making timings as to when different scenes came up

Like in a standard remix?

Yeah, but this this type of arrangement was literally, we’ve got this music and we want to hear the same music on this completely different platform with a completely different set of features and functions that it can or cannot do. So Wing Commander was quite a difficult one really, because obviously you had the MT-32 or the LAPC-1 versions of the music which was 24 channels of General MIDI. Obviously, the Amiga is four channels, with whatever memory the programmers are going to allow you to install the samples.

I had an Atari ST and an Amiga at that time. Martin Galway – the extremely well-known Commodore 64 musician – was working at Origin at that time, so he sent me the PC MIDI files on a PC disk which luckily the Atari ST can read. So I’d have them loaded into Cubase on the Atari, which was sitting on top of my Amiga, in fact – you’ll find a photo somewhere on the internet of the room that I use for that. And then it was just a case of me playing the MIDI files over and over in small sections and then kind of copying the note data in. But obviously I had to choose the most important parts of the music to reduce down to the four channels, of course being mindful that one of the channels was also going to have to be used for sound effects as well. I think we had a memory limit; I think it was around about 200K for the title tune, but went down to around about 120K, or something like that, for the rest of the song data. So rather than using the module format – which would have meant that you’d have to load the samples every time you had a different piece of music – we kept the samples resident in memory and just loaded the small song data. This allowed us to kind of keep the interactivity that the PC version had on the Amiga as well.

It was it was fun to do, it was interesting, it was difficult. I think, for me, the biggest letdown was that I didn’t have a very good sampler and the synthesizer that I had to make the new sounds wasn’t the best. Certainly, the samples in the Wing Commander soundtrack aren’t as good as what they could be these days, but that’s what I had at hand at the time so that’s what I used.

That was an excellent soundtrack. I played the Amiga version first back in time and even with those limitations, it was still very good sounding traditionally better than PC version in the end.

Yeah, I mean Origin did a good stab of it with with their games. I remember the Strike Commander soundtrack on the LAPC-1 was phenomenal, and by that time, they were programming their own sounds on the LAPC-1 as well. I had a Roland D-10 at the time, which had the same synthesis as the LAPC-1.

 

1993 was the year Commodore presented their last big trump to the scene, the Amiga CD 32. Their transition into 32 bit and CD-ROM also meant more support for a proper HQ multi-channelled music and sound format. You were one of the first to embrace this format and your epic soundtrack for dark cyberpunk title Captive 2: Liberation is a truly unforgettable piece that stands out even today. What do you remember about working on this masterpiece and the technological leap as a whole? Also, where did you draw your inspiration for the theme?

Okay, I’ll answer the second question first, in that I didn’t [laughing]. Originally, even though it was on the CD32 platform, we were going to write all the music in Tracker. I’ve still got the tune, or tunes, that I came up with for that. It was obvious quite quickly that we didn’t want Liberation to sound like a demo, so we took a very quick decision to move over to CD audio. I had the intro as some kind of video file, which I can’t even remember what I could play it on now. I remember going through the video with a stopwatch, making timings as to when different scenes came up and writing some notes as to what was going on. I did it at home and the reason was that, when I started at Mindscape, they didn’t have any equipment for me to use. So I brought in my own equipment. I think at the time I had a Korg O1/W workstation. They gave me the Atari, but in terms of music or sound-creating modules and synths, I just used my own stuff.

One day, one of the programmers came into my room, spilled coffee on my synth and walked out – he didn’t even tell me. When I turned around to go on my keyboard, there was coffee all over the bloody thing. “What’s going on?,” I said to my bosses. “Enough’s enough, my equipment’s going back home now and you’re going to have to buy me stuff.” That obviously wasn’t budgeted for. So, with Liberation, I wrote the music at home, because I’d taken my equipment back home [laughing], cause I couldn’t write any music at work. And I did it. I did the intro over two days, I think it was, and of course at home I didn’t have the video, I only had the notes that I’d written. You can probably tell me how I wrote it as much as I can tell you how I wrote it. It just came out as it did. I wasn’t a huge film score fan in those days. I didn’t really have anything to refer to. It just came out as it did and luckily it was really well received.

I remember the one magazine, which was a Commodore-only magazine, they absolutely gushed about the music and my ego just went boom

The in-game stuff was a little bit easier because I did use some source of inspiration for that. A guy called – you’ve probably heard of him – James Hannigan, he is a very successful game soundtrack composer now. Well, back when I started at Mindscape, James wasn’t working in games. He was sending his demos out to people and there was a track of his demo reel which I really liked [laughing]. It was very percussive. I can’t remember a lot about it now, but I remember listening to his track and thinking that something in that sort of style would work quite well for the in-game stuff of Liberation. So, I kind of used one of his demo tracks to steer me in the right direction for the end-game stuff, which I think by that time I was doing back at work.

The evolution of Mark’s working spaces from Top-Left: his bedroom in early 90s, setup at Total Meltdown mid-90s, EA office in 2002 and finally his home studio in 2015

We got all the music written and Mindscape bought me an E-mu Proteus Orchestral and another Korg O1/W, so I had one at home and one at work. Then they came up with this idea that we needed to record the music at a studio in London. So, we went to Andre Jacqueline studio with a floppy disk [laughing] with the Cubase data on. I had a really bad cold at that time, but we spent an evening getting the music up and running – and they didn’t have Proteuses, they had Emu Emulators. . They had the proper bloody samplers there, but the end result didn’t work. I think that’s literally the fault of trying to do everything in a single evening.

So, I ended up re-recording the stuff myself to be used in-game, because to my cloth ears it sounded better anyway. But yeah, I never expected Liberation – certainly from a music point of view anyway – to be as successful as it was. For me, it was a case of write this music and go on to the next game – until I started seeing reviews. I remember the one magazine, which was a Commodore-only magazine, they absolutely gushed about the music and my ego just went boom. I spent all my teenage years reading Zap 64 and that sort of thing, and reading all the positive comments about Rob Hubbard’s music and Martin’s music. I never expected to get in a magazine and have the same sort of positive comments written about something that I’d done.

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markknight

Mark Knight: Chapter II

Let’s move back deeper into history again. 1992 was an important milestone for you as a musician. You were hired by a big and successful studio that developed games across many platforms. You are also known to arrange music for the Amiga port of Wing Commander, which had an excellent original soundtrack that I can easily backtrack in my memories. Perhaps even because of the fact I gave the game another complete playthrough not long ago. Was this the very first game you worked on?

It was the first full game I worked on. I wrote one track for a game before that: Guy Spy and the Crystals of Armageddon. Wing Commander was my first proper gig, I suppose, and it saved me in some ways because I had left college. I’d been turned down to do music technology at university because, and I quote, “Classical musicians can’t deal with music technology.” So, I didn’t really have anywhere to go. I was 18 or 19 years old, not going to university. I ended up filling out a form to do management training at one of the national supermarkets when Mindscape phoned and asked me if I was interested in working on Wing Commander. I think I really got the gig because Richard Joseph was the composer that normally worked for Mindscape, but from what I understand, I undercut him by about 50 percent. So I got the gig by being cheap [laughing].

But it was a way in. It was only a freelance job, a contract job. But very, very close to the end, the development manager at Mindscape – a guy called Richard Leinfellner, who was a successful Commodore 64 programmer that worked for Palace Software and did games like Barbarian and Barbarian 2 – called offering me a job. And Mindscape was only based around about ten miles away from where I lived in Brighton, so it was extremely lucky really. I’d send disks to as many games developers as I could find the addresses for back in those days, and luckily the one that was closest to me offered me a job.

That’s something I have heard from other interviewees; being locally close to a studio helped them to land an amazing career. Now, let’s talk a little bit about methodology. Could you elaborate a bit on the process of music arrangement as opposed to original music composition?

Yeah, normally an arrangement is taking the themes of a piece of music. It could be creating another piece of music using those themes and using those chord progressions.

I remember going through the video with a stopwatch, making timings as to when different scenes came up

Like in a standard remix?

Yeah, but this this type of arrangement was literally, we’ve got this music and we want to hear the same music on this completely different platform with a completely different set of features and functions that it can or cannot do. So Wing Commander was quite a difficult one really, because obviously you had the MT-32 or the LAPC-1 versions of the music which was 24 channels of General MIDI. Obviously, the Amiga is four channels, with whatever memory the programmers are going to allow you to install the samples.

I had an Atari ST and an Amiga at that time. Martin Galway – the extremely well-known Commodore 64 musician – was working at Origin at that time, so he sent me the PC MIDI files on a PC disk which luckily the Atari ST can read. So I’d have them loaded into Cubase on the Atari, which was sitting on top of my Amiga, in fact – you’ll find a photo somewhere on the internet of the room that I use for that. And then it was just a case of me playing the MIDI files over and over in small sections and then kind of copying the note data in. But obviously I had to choose the most important parts of the music to reduce down to the four channels, of course being mindful that one of the channels was also going to have to be used for sound effects as well. I think we had a memory limit; I think it was around about 200K for the title tune, but went down to around about 120K, or something like that, for the rest of the song data. So rather than using the module format – which would have meant that you’d have to load the samples every time you had a different piece of music – we kept the samples resident in memory and just loaded the small song data. This allowed us to kind of keep the interactivity that the PC version had on the Amiga as well.

It was it was fun to do, it was interesting, it was difficult. I think, for me, the biggest letdown was that I didn’t have a very good sampler and the synthesizer that I had to make the new sounds wasn’t the best. Certainly, the samples in the Wing Commander soundtrack aren’t as good as what they could be these days, but that’s what I had at hand at the time so that’s what I used.

That was an excellent soundtrack. I played the Amiga version first back in time and even with those limitations, it was still very good sounding traditionally better than PC version in the end.

Yeah, I mean Origin did a good stab of it with with their games. I remember the Strike Commander soundtrack on the LAPC-1 was phenomenal, and by that time, they were programming their own sounds on the LAPC-1 as well. I had a Roland D-10 at the time, which had the same synthesis as the LAPC-1.

 

1993 was the year Commodore presented their last big trump to the scene, the Amiga CD 32. Their transition into 32 bit and CD-ROM also meant more support for a proper HQ multi-channelled music and sound format. You were one of the first to embrace this format and your epic soundtrack for dark cyberpunk title Captive 2: Liberation is a truly unforgettable piece that stands out even today. What do you remember about working on this masterpiece and the technological leap as a whole? Also, where did you draw your inspiration for the theme?

Okay, I’ll answer the second question first, in that I didn’t [laughing]. Originally, even though it was on the CD32 platform, we were going to write all the music in Tracker. I’ve still got the tune, or tunes, that I came up with for that. It was obvious quite quickly that we didn’t want Liberation to sound like a demo, so we took a very quick decision to move over to CD audio. I had the intro as some kind of video file, which I can’t even remember what I could play it on now. I remember going through the video with a stopwatch, making timings as to when different scenes came up and writing some notes as to what was going on. I did it at home and the reason was that, when I started at Mindscape, they didn’t have any equipment for me to use. So I brought in my own equipment. I think at the time I had a Korg O1/W workstation. They gave me the Atari, but in terms of music or sound-creating modules and synths, I just used my own stuff.

One day, one of the programmers came into my room, spilled coffee on my synth and walked out – he didn’t even tell me. When I turned around to go on my keyboard, there was coffee all over the bloody thing. “What’s going on?,” I said to my bosses. “Enough’s enough, my equipment’s going back home now and you’re going to have to buy me stuff.” That obviously wasn’t budgeted for. So, with Liberation, I wrote the music at home, because I’d taken my equipment back home [laughing], cause I couldn’t write any music at work. And I did it. I did the intro over two days, I think it was, and of course at home I didn’t have the video, I only had the notes that I’d written. You can probably tell me how I wrote it as much as I can tell you how I wrote it. It just came out as it did. I wasn’t a huge film score fan in those days. I didn’t really have anything to refer to. It just came out as it did and luckily it was really well received.

I remember the one magazine, which was a Commodore-only magazine, they absolutely gushed about the music and my ego just went boom

The in-game stuff was a little bit easier because I did use some source of inspiration for that. A guy called – you’ve probably heard of him – James Hannigan, he is a very successful game soundtrack composer now. Well, back when I started at Mindscape, James wasn’t working in games. He was sending his demos out to people and there was a track of his demo reel which I really liked [laughing]. It was very percussive. I can’t remember a lot about it now, but I remember listening to his track and thinking that something in that sort of style would work quite well for the in-game stuff of Liberation. So, I kind of used one of his demo tracks to steer me in the right direction for the end-game stuff, which I think by that time I was doing back at work.

The evolution of Mark’s working spaces from Top-Left: his bedroom in early 90s, setup at Total Meltdown mid-90s, EA office in 2002 and finally his home studio in 2015

We got all the music written and Mindscape bought me an E-mu Proteus Orchestral and another Korg O1/W, so I had one at home and one at work. Then they came up with this idea that we needed to record the music at a studio in London. So, we went to Andre Jacqueline studio with a floppy disk [laughing] with the Cubase data on. I had a really bad cold at that time, but we spent an evening getting the music up and running – and they didn’t have Proteuses, they had Emu Emulators. . They had the proper bloody samplers there, but the end result didn’t work. I think that’s literally the fault of trying to do everything in a single evening.

So, I ended up re-recording the stuff myself to be used in-game, because to my cloth ears it sounded better anyway. But yeah, I never expected Liberation – certainly from a music point of view anyway – to be as successful as it was. For me, it was a case of write this music and go on to the next game – until I started seeing reviews. I remember the one magazine, which was a Commodore-only magazine, they absolutely gushed about the music and my ego just went boom. I spent all my teenage years reading Zap 64 and that sort of thing, and reading all the positive comments about Rob Hubbard’s music and Martin’s music. I never expected to get in a magazine and have the same sort of positive comments written about something that I’d done.

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Mark ‘TDK’ Knight

Born: 8.1.1973
Nationality: British
Role: Composer & Sound designer
Studio: Sonic Fuel
Previously:Mindscape, Bullfrog, EA & Codemasters
Known For: Captive II, Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat & Dark Omen, Dungeon Keeper II, F1 2015-2017

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