Let’s carry on. With the Mindscape era behind you, you were suddenly a free agent. Before you moved to a new dry harbour, you were hired to remix and rearrange a soundtrack for a PS1 port of FPS cult classic Duke Nukem 3D, called Total Meltdown. Interestingly enough, your version of the soundtrack is much more electronica-driven and some of the added material drifts off heavily from the original. For a PC gamer, it would be almost impossible to connect it with Duke at all. How come you chose this avenue?
I know. Another interesting little point with that is, if you can imagine Wing Commander should have never really run at all on Amiga, just like Duke Nukem should have never run on a PlayStation. It’s the same programmer, Nick Pelling, who did Wing Commander and Duke Nukem, which is why I got the gig to work on it.
So, in answer to your question, we felt that Duke Nukem on PlayStation would sell better in Europe than it would in America. So, the idea with the music was to try and make it a little bit more European-centric. I kind of ditched the whole rock thing, because I don’t think Europeans would have got it so much. Obviously, the Americans didn’t really get what we did on the PlayStation version. But it really was kind of down to thinking that we’re going to sell more units in Europe than we are in the States, so let’s gear the soundtrack a bit more towards those sort of customers. I don’t know if you know of something called Marmite, which is a spread that you put on toast, made from yeast extract. The famous saying with that is, you either love it or hate it. I’d say that with the Duke Nukem: Total Meltdown music; you either love it or hate it.
It was a shame, it was very disappointing what happened at Bullfrog
Honestly, as a PC Gamer myself, who has not played PS1 games, when I listen to it, I completely forget that I’m listening to a Duke Nukem soundtrack. That said, I must also admit that it is a very enjoyable piece of electronica in its own respect, even when listened to separately.
It’s interesting because it’s now been modded, so you can download the music and use it on the PC version. I had nothing to do with the mod pack, but it seems to have been quite requested at some points, and people wanted to have that music in the PC version of the game as well. That’s quite cool.
Not long after, you found a new home at Bullfrog. The three titles you worked on there made up the final chapter of the renowned ‘90s studio, but ended, like many others, in the EA cemetery. They were Populous: New Beginning, Dungeon Keeper 2 and Theme Park World. Did you join Bullfrog before or after Peter Molyneux left to form Lionhead?
He’d already left, unfortunately. Quite a few people had by that stage, which is a real shame. Bullfrog was a company I really, really wanted to work with. One of the reasons that I wanted to work for Bullfrog was because of their composer, Russell Shaw, who I still have an immense amount of respect for. I thought the stuff that he did on earlier Bullfrog games was absolutely stunning and he had a fantastic way of melding sound design with music. It wasn’t until after I’d started in the first week when Russ replied to my “I’m really, really looking forward to working with you and learning from you,” with “Well, you’d better learn quickly then, you’ve only got a week, because I’m leaving to go to Lionhead!”
Nobody told me that I was employed to replace Russ, but even so – it may be just for my own ego – I still like to think that Populous 3 and Dungeon Keeper 2 were still pure, proper Bullfrog sounding games. I am very proud to have worked on them, to be honest with you. Again, both soundtracks were styles of music that I’d never really done before, which I like. I like the challenge of doing something completely different and seeing what happens. Luckily, probably due to more luck than talent, both of those soundtracks seemed to go down pretty well.
It was a shame, it was very disappointing what happened at Bullfrog. The last Bullfrog game that we actually worked on was porting Quake III over to the PlayStation 2, which is completely not a Bullfrog thing at all. But that’s what EA made us do. Then everybody was moved over to the EA banner and was given a choice to work on Harry Potter or Formula 1.
Let’s talk a little bit about the soundtracks you made for Bullfrog. Your Bullfrog debut on Populous is a very atmospheric and moody piece of music with ethno elements. It’s also quite short, totaling just 25 minutes. Dungeon Keeper 2, in comparison, is really big, spanning over 70 minutes of music.
It’s the Bullfrog behemoth [laughing]!
I still think that Dungeon Keeper 2 is the best soundtrack that I’ve written
I can hear a lot of dynamics in there. I can hear elements of your previous works, but overall, you accomplished something very different. The music does not stick to one genre or theme, but drifts from a variety of suspenseful motifs through to fast-paced electronica and even some fierce drum and bass elements.
Yeah, it’s like gothic drum and bass in parts, isn’t it [laughing]? Each track was around about 20 to 25 minutes long and they were interactive. So, I wrote the music of a mind that you would be able to branch between the different levels – I’d written little branching bars. Then we had some software – I think it was called Pathfinder – which allowed me to link all the bars together and say, if this happens, go here, if this happens, go there, etcetera, etcetera. So, certainly the atmospheric side of things was me trying to kind of emulate what Russell had done in Dungeon Keeper 1, but then add a bit of me in to the mix, twist it up a bit. Russell had already introduced that concept with the dark Rock vibe for the intro of DK1, so I did the same with a more electronic sound for DK2’s intro – and then of course incorporated that into the rest of the soundtrack.
Indeed, a lot of the instrumentation – a lot of the sounds like the choir clusters rising in pitch and some of the percussive sounds – were basically reused from Dungeon Keeper 1. Russ had done a lot of the work on a Kurzweil synthesizer, which I then had and continue to use even now, but I liked the idea of modernizing it somehow. I still wanted it to be Dungeon Keeper, but I wanted it to be Dungeon Keeper brought a little bit more up to date in terms of the soundtrack. I can’t remember who I had a conversation with to discuss this, because I think if I had discussed it with most Dungeon Keeper 1 people, they would have said, ‘No, don’t do that!’
That leads me on to my next question. Did you have total creative freedom on those projects?
Yeah! Less so, I’d say, with Populous. I think the brief was that it needed to be ambient and ethnic-sounding and, at some point, when you fight, some drum loops or some percussion loops would be brought in. With Dungeon Keeper, I worked on the intro first and I had a storyboard. In fact, I’ve got a video of me talking about it on BBC News. I had a handwritten storyboard which I could then use to get a rough idea of the highs and the lows of what was going to happen in the intro.
For some reason – I think it was probably because I was playing around with what the Kurzweil could do, loading in drum loops and distorting them and just really fucking them up basically, which you couldn’t do in most samplers. In most samplers, you could play the sample and you had a basic filter, with which you could kinda change the sound – predictably. But Kurzweil could completely and utterly mangle sound. So, I was mucking around with that at the same time and, for whatever reason, it went drum and bass. I mean, I don’t listen to drum and bass. I don’t like drum and bass, but for some reason, it kind of worked. So we did that for the intro and it was like, okay, now we’ve got in-game tracks.
I think the brief really was that we need five levels of music; it needs to start off ambient and then the fifth level is fighting. So, because I already used a bit of a D&B drum loop in the intro, I guess it was easier to say that the final level of the in-game music would be the same sort of thing – high-paced drums. But I obviously didn’t want it to sound stuck on. Like, here’s a soundtrack, let’s stick on something at the end which sounds completely different. So, I was careful to kind of build it up in a way that what you heard in the fight music consisted of elements that I’d introduced earlier in the more ambient side of it.
I still think that Dungeon Keeper 2 is the best soundtrack that I’ve written. It may not be the best sounding in terms of mix by today’s standards, but I remember my boss with whom I didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things – in fact, most things. He said to me that, with the Dungeon Keeper 2 soundtrack, he couldn’t imagine it being better – whatever ‘better’ means. He couldn’t imagine anybody else doing a better job than what we did and that, for me, was a big win. Because, the two of us, in any opportunity we had to put each other down in a negative way, we kind of did. But the Dungeon Keeper 2 soundtrack he received very positively. I love it and again it’s a bit weird, it’s a bit strange, but I’d love to do another Dungeon Keeper.
Indeed, for War for the Overworld – that’s another game which uses Dungeon Keeper as its influence – I approached the developers and said, “Well, you know I wrote music on Dungeon Keeper 2 and I can see that you’re basically making this game as a bit of a Dungeon Keeper homage. I’d be interested in working on it.” And they were interested up until the point I mentioned money and then the conversation just went. But, I’d really love to do another Dungeon Keeper. I don’t think it’ll ever happen. I think they sold the rights of the Dungeon Keeper IP to a Chinese company after their flop of a mobile game. That reminds me, a few years ago, I wrote the soundtrack for F1 2017, and there’s a subtle hint to DK2 in that.
Then perhaps another future Warhammer game…
Well, I’d love to go back and do those sorts of things. I think it would be easier for me because I’ve already set my own level, I’ve already set my own themes, and it would be brilliant. Like I mentioned earlier with what I’ve learned; go back and expand it, yeah!