Mark Knight: Chapter II

Well deserved! I didn’t play Liberation back then; I only revisited it recently. But I’d like to share one special memory with you: my very first time hearing your music, which I still remember quite well. It was during the summer of 1996. We still had Amiga at home. CD audio in PC games was still not as standard; the majority of tunes were still made in MIDI format and I was so proud that Amiga still sounded generally better. That fateful afternoon changed it, however. My neighbour and friend, who belonged to the Windows PC caste, invited me to play this new CD-ROM game on 486DX 66 MHz machine. What struck me first was the hi-fi wav-format music coming from these grey plastic-classic Genius speakers. It was utterly astonishing – catchy, dark and uncanny. We would spent many afternoons playing this brilliant-sounding strategy game. Shortly after, my father sold our Amiga and bought my first PC, a Pentium I. I assume that you probably know which game I’m talking about, right?

Ahh, I probably do, yes. We’re talking about the Warhammer: Shadow of the Horned Rat game!

Oh yes! I even borrowed the CD to play it on my father’s standalone hi-fi system, although it only had three or four CD audio tracks and rest were still MIDIs. I just played them over and over again. It was an immaculate dark fantasy soundtrack to me. I even added those tracks to our D&D tabletop sessions playlist. Then Dark Omen came and that sealed the deal for me; that was the ultimate go-to dark fantasy theme.

I’m glad you mentioned Dark Omen, because if you’d only mentioned Shadow then I’d have to completely ruin all your concepts of the music. On Shadow of the Horned Rat, I wrote the intro and the title tune, because I was doing other things at the time and I actually really struggled with Shadow of the Horned Rat. I think – no, I’m almost 100 percent sure – that I gave James Hannigan his first game job to work on Shadow of the Horned Rat.

there are videos on YouTube about all this; it’s like, ‘Sing me a Marvel theme or sing me a DC theme,’ and they’re like, ‘Well, no, I can’t, because it’s just musical noise

On Wikipedia, he is credited with the PS1 version.

The music is the same on PS1 and PC. I think I might have done a little bit of work on the MIDI files that he supplied to me, but I would say, aside from the intro and the title tune, pretty much all of Shadow is James rather than myself. But what it did do for me, as well as get me out of the shit [laughing], was set me up to do Dark Omen, because I had something to refer to, I suppose.

Listening to all of your available music in one go, I started to notice a pattern: subtle repeated motifs and elements here and there. For instance, there are bits in Liberation that I knew from Dark Omen, etcetera. Are you aware of that? Would you say that you have developed some sort of signature sound?

You have to point that out at some stage, cause I’m probably utterly oblivious to it. But yes, I mean, certainly with stuff that I’ve been doing a bit more recently, I can hear, oh, okay, yeah, I got that from here and I got that from there. Or I’ve got a particular process or an instrument, which I kind of copy and use all the time because I like it. So, it happens all the time, but I’d say that more than half of the time I’m not aware that it’s going on. The worrying thing is when you’re doing it with other people’s music and you come up with an original idea, which actually isn’t; you’ve just stolen somebody else’s melody.


Now, since you know my passion for this specific masterpiece, I must ask the inevitable: which muse kissed you to create this, a little underrated, magnus opus? Are you a Warhammer fan, did you have any solid footing in dark fantasy, or was it something different entirely? I am not an overzealous fan of the Warhammer universe myself, but I still feel it is an almost perfect theme for this world – the ultimate go-to Warhammer music. The latest Warhammer sound, in comparison, is just plain fantasy-generic, if you ask me.

Inspiration, yes. I mean, I wasn’t a Warhammer fan and I never played the game, but by that point, I was listening to film music a lot more. You can probably pick out Basil Poledouris and his Conan [the Barbarian] tracks.

Aw, there you got me! That’s one of my favorite soundtracks of all time and explains very much that uncanny feeling I mentioned before.

I love it. It’s a stunning, absolutely stunning work. Then there’s also John Carpenter and Halloween, the piano motive really stands out for me and I wanted to have something similar, and whilst it’s not a Horror game, I felt it worked really well with the general orchestral sound I was after.

That’s perfect, because Conan‘s soundtrack landed on the same D&D playlist as the Warhammer one.

I’d love to go back and do another one. I think, in a lot of ways, game music and film music have intertwined so much, and the problem with film music these days is that there’s nothing memorable. Obviously, you’ve got people like John Williams, who will always be amazing. But there are videos on YouTube about all this; it’s like, ‘Sing me a Marvel theme or sing me a DC theme,’ and they’re like, ‘Well, no, I can’t, because it’s just musical noise.’

I finished the Dark Omen soundtrack too early. I was made redundant because I’d done the job

Let’s, let’s stop it here, cause…

I am ruining another question…

Yeah, exactly [laughing]. Let’s finish the Warhammer question. Both soundtracks are rich with samples and instruments. Atmospheric synths and strings are weaved into memorable melodies and shaped by a very rich mixture of percussion. I cannot praise it enough, especially in Dark Omen. As I mentioned already, it serves as this uncanny gateway to the perfect dark fantasy epic.

That’s the perfect way of putting it!

Yeah, those are the kind of thoughts I get [laughing] after having listened to it for so many hours – the themes are deeply ingrained in my mind. What method did you use to record such a complex piece? Did you play some of the instruments live, perhaps?

No [laughing]. It’s kind of embarrassing, you’re gonna show me up to be a fraud [laughing]. I mean, the Conan stuff was a big influence, especially in the title track. You know, all the trills at the beginning are absolutely stolen from Basil’s soundtrack. But the thing is with Shadow really, I cocked up, I didn’t get it. I’m not an orchestral composer, or certainly wasn’t back then – and even now, it’s debatable. But at least doing the title track and the intro set the scene for how the game should sound and then James went off and did an awesome job on everything else. And, let me say, that then gave me something to carry on with and I think it also gave me a bit of confidence. I had zero confidence with Shadow, I think, again, because I didn’t have any experience writing orchestrally. I’ve never had any tuition in composition, which anybody who has been trained to be a composer can probably tell straight away with my music.

But certainly James completing the Shadow soundtrack gave me more confidence because I had things to listen to. There were ideas there that I could kind of work out what he was doing, why he was doing it and then come up with the same sort of ideas myself. So, that made the whole process a lot easier. In fact, so much so that I finished the Dark Omen soundtrack too early. I was made redundant because I’d done the job and I think Mindscape were aware that they were going to be closing down development, so there was no reason not to get rid of me early. They shut down the company before they’d finished the game. Then EA bought it off Mindscape and kind of rehired most of the people who worked on it to get the game finished off under the EA banner.