Mark Knight: Chapter III

Finally, there is Theme Park World. That’s interesting from a few different perspectives. If you go to the Wikipedia page of the game, you can see that you are also credited as a composer along with James Hannigan and the legendary Richard Joseph. Could you clarify that a bit?

I didn’t do any of the music on Theme Park World. Ah, the only thing I did on Theme Park World musically was when they did the intro video. They wanted to use the track ‘Love Rollercoaster’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. The record label wanted a quarter of a million pounds to license the track. So, I was asked to write a piece of music that sounded a bit like ‘Love Rollercoaster,’ which my boss wrote the lyrics to. I did some sound design work, but not composing.

Thanks for clarifying that.

It’s a weird one, and it also stems back to what I was saying about me and my boss having a very awkward relationship. I was the in-house composer at Bullfrog so I should have done Theme Park World. But he told me that I had to pitch to get the job against external composers, which I found weird, because he’d been so positive about what I’d done on Dungeon Keeper 2.

I just turned around and said, “I’m not pitching for my own job, therefore get someone else to do it.” I didn’t want to be part of it. I wasn’t going to pitch. I thought it would have been a very awkward situation, if I had pitched to do the music for a game by a company that I was employed to do the music for and then wasn’t given it. I think that would have been really awkward.

Well, that makes sense..

So bizarre.

Nevertheless, you won the BAFTA award for the sound design eventually, correct?

Yeah, I mean, again, I wasn’t one of the main sound designers. Richard Joseph and Rebecca Parnell were the core sound design team on the game, and they were external, they were brought in to work on it. Then I did some work on it, Adele Cutting did some work on it, a guy called Matt – the studio guy – did some work on it.

With Theme Park World, we had this PC game back in 1999 or 2000 with what you would consider a massive amount of sound – all the roller coasters, all the kids, there was a lot of sound in that game. Then we were bringing it out on PlayStation 1, I think it was. The PlayStation 1 sound chip has 512K of compressed memory – so, effectively, 1.5M. So, I was given the job to get the PC version working on the PlayStation, hopefully trying to make it sound as close to the PC version as possible. I think I was given that task because that was my background; working on Amigas and Super Nintendos and all that with stupidly small amounts of memory. I was the right person to do that side of the job. So yeah, I still say that I won a BAFTA, because I was part of the team and I’m very proud that we made that game sound how it did.

In the early 2000s, your name gets connected for the first time with F1, and racing gaming in general, under the EA banner, where you moved permanently from writing music to sound design. Could you shed some light onto those transitional years and what it was like to work for EA?

Well, it was no different because it was the same people [laughing]. The people at Bullfrog were people within EA. Back when I started at Bullfrog, there were two teams. There was an EA team and there was a Bullfrog team. The EA team were working on things like Football Manager and the Bullfrog team were obviously doing Dungeon Keepers and whatnot. But when they merged, especially for sound, the sound people on the EA team worked on the Bullfrog stuff and the people on the Bullfrog sound team worked on EA stuff. There was no difference there.

After Quake, I think, I worked on a game called Shocks – or did I? No, that was later on. I know I didn’t do the first F1 game, and there must be a reason why I didn’t do it, but I can’t remember what that reason was. I guess I was working on Dungeon Keeper, because that was around ‘99 and the first F1 game came out in 2000, so it would have been worked on in ‘99. Then Harry Potter came up and the lead sound designer on F1 said that she’d like to work on Harry Potter and I didn’t want to work on Harry Potter. I had absolutely zero interest in working on Harry Potter. I’ve been an F1 fan for as long as I can remember, so that seemed to be the best fit for me, to go work on F1.

I infamously took a Mazda MX-5 out onto one of our big motorways with microphones on it and started doing skids

As obvious as it might sound, I’d still like to know what exactly was the sound designer’s bread and butter on a racing game? What does it entail?

Yes, so obviously, the most important thing is engine sound [laughing].

Maybe if you try to compare it to your earlier work…

I didn’t do any composition at all – just sound design – because it was EA Sports and they licensed the music on the F1 games.

Could you tell me a bit about your work as a sound designer?

I’d say that I was a pretty basic sound designer. When I started in the industry, composers did sound design as well. But, to be honest with you, sound design then was having a library of sound effects on 60 to 70 CDs, and a really thick book of an index of what was on all the CDs. You’d try to find the right sound on a CD and sample it and put it into a game. There really wasn’t a lot of design involved. So, I wasn’t really a sound designer. But what I did have was the ability to get things to work in small amounts of memory.

On Formula 1, Adele Cutting worked on the first game, so there were crowd sounds, surface sounds, engine sounds. It was my job to then just keep that going and to improve what was there. So, for example, we had one engine recording – an Arrows engine – which I think Adele had the opportunity to record in a warehouse because they were going to blow it up. Then it was my job to to use this one recording to try and make unique engine sounds for the other teams and for the other manufacturers. It was a lot more implementation like, okay, how’d you make grass surface sound? How’d you make a tarmac sound or skids sound? etcetera.

I infamously took a Mazda MX-5 out onto one of our big motorways with microphones on it and started doing skids [laughing] just to record them. I remember the driveway at the Electronic Arts campus had a big gravel area, so I was driving up and down there doing handbrake turns in this little MX-5 recording the sounds. It suited me very well because it was real-world sound design, rather than creative, and that’s the thing that I enjoyed. If I’d been put on Harry Potter and had been asked to make a load of spell sounds, I would have been very stuck.

It’s changed now because I’ve done a lot more of that sort of thing and a lot of the sound design work I’m doing now is very creative. But back then, my sound design skills had been recording off a CD and implementing it. My music writing had been writing a piece of music from scratch, but the sound design wasn’t so much from scratch. It was a big learning curve for me then, which actually took way longer than the time that I spent at EA to keep on learning. It was very much do things by numbers, as it were. I don’t think there’s anything, in any of the F1 games that I worked on for EA, that stands out as being that great. I did it to a reasonable ability, but nothing great. I think it’s taken me a few more years since then to actually hone my sound design skills, as it were.