|Welcome Martin! Let's
go all the way back to the time before you started to
make computer music. What music experience did you have?
My dad is a music teacher and tried to get me to learn
all sorts of musical instruments. I had lessons on flute,
violin, clarinet and piano, but the only one I really
picked up on was piano, and not even in a big way. I really
regret not learning more at the time now.
Talk to us about the first active
years, when you got your first computer, when you started
your music programming etc.
In 1982, at the age of 16, I got involved with my school's
(one) computer room, which had a ZX81, a VIC20, a TRS80
Mk 2, and about 3 Commodore Pets. I do remember causing
the VIC20 to make sound using BASIC. My parents were not
able to provide the cash for such an expensive gift and
my dad was a bit of a Luddite when it came to computers
so I had to work to get the money for my first one, which
was a Sinclair Spectrum 16K. I didn't really do much with
that, I broke it after 7 days in fact. Told Sinclair it
broke by itself and got my money back!
It was at school that I realized I could get the BBC Micro
to play tunes by lining up the notes as numbers in DATA
statements. Additionally, the BBC's operating system is
laid out such that you can easily convert BASIC programs
to assembly language. I proceeded to do so. Then I got
a job writing software at the age of 17 (one year after
starting from scratch!) - it was a pretty low-paid one
though. Writing music and sound-effects for the BBC machine
for a company run by the "Micro User" magazine
company. With this money I was able to buy a Camputers
Lynx, a 48K Z80 machine. I was able to learn Z80 real
good from that thing.
I continued to improve at school on the 6502-based BBC
machines and in May of 1984 at the age of 18, I showed
my wares to David Collier at Ocean Software while selling
a friend's BBC game to them (that friend ended up working
at Rare Ltd). They said they liked the music but the BBC
wasn't a big market, so they lent me a Commodore 64, cassette
deck, assembler software and that famous tome the "C64
Programmers Reference Guide" and told me to "get
cracking!" (which does NOT mean breaking into other
people's software by the way). I initially thought of
the C64 as a bit primitive, due to its operating software,
but I soon learned that the best set-up for games is a
lot of RAM and some great chips, and the C64 easily excelled
You got more or less immediate contact
with Ocean when you started off. Is that the reason why
we never saw a demo from you?
Yes, I was pretty much in the commercial side of it from
the word go. I never got a modem. Telephone calls cost
money in the UK you know! I was never interested in cracking
or swapping software, I was (initially anyway) more interested
in creating new material & content. I did ONE demo
though, it was a version of Rob Hubbard's COMMANDO music
(the high-score tune), of which I put the only copy on
a floppy disc and sent it to my biggest fan at the time,
Barry Leitch (who is now a successful composer in the
industry, by the way). Barry lost the disc!
So, Ocean liked your stuff and you got employed. What
They had me programming the C64 version of "Match
Day". I was a programmer, technically speaking, so
they couldn't have me simply as a "musician".
But this only lasted six weeks. I was always too busy
for 3 or 4 days here, 5 or 6 days there doing the music
on other games, so the C64 "Match Day" stuff
was going really slowly. Once I had finished on "Roland's
Rat Race", which took a month, they agreed to suspend
my tasks as a programmer and my employment as game sound
guy began. C64 "Match Day" itself was put into
suspended aniumation as a project, only to be woken up
a year or two later with some other programmers (who didn't
do a very good job, but then again I think mine wasn't
going to turn out very well). When I see today's soccer
games like FIFA etc., I always think back to my days worrying,
trying to figure out how C64 "Match Day" could
be done and still not look like crap!
| Ocean used to have
about 50 employees, where 20 of them were programmers.
That means that a lot of games were produced! It could
take up to three months to develop a game and then some
more time to get the cover, manual and such, finished.
You must have worked under a lot of pressure sometimes.
Yes, in fact that was the reason I quit, they refused
to find help for me. I had 5 games ahead of me sometimes.
Did this fast producing result in
Ocean bringing in some freelance musicians to do music
for some of the games like Cobra by Ben Daglish and Mag
Max by Fred Gray?
Yes. Can't remember Ben Daglish being featured on any
games during my tenure there though, maybe that happened
after I left.
He did the C64 music for the same
Cobra you made music for on the Speccy.
Really? I can't remember seeing "Cobra" on the
C64. I wonder how it turned out.
What was the deal with Imagine?
Ocean bought Imagine and started to release stuff for
both companies. Why??!!?
So they could release similar games but not confuse
the public! Say they had a football game in development
and an outside house comes in offering another one - one
that's really good and they don't want to let anyone else
sell it. They couldn't release them both under the Ocean
label, right? No-one would know which one to buy. But
if they put one out under Imagine and one out under Ocean,
the public doesn't realize they're from the same company
and think they're choosing between two games that are
competing with each other in the market. A win-win situation.
Do you agree with me that Ocean some what played it safe
by releasing a game of a popular movie or TV-serie, like
Top Gun and Miami Vice? And do you think that some of
those games sold on their name without being that great?
Yes, although Ocean were the leaders in working in that
side of the business. Look at any kid's videogame store
and you'll find tons of licenses. Ocean were the first
to explore that. You can say that it was bound to happen,
but still, being at the company that was doing it first
gave us a great buzz. We were still allowed to create
original games, basically.
Remember the Ocean office from 1986?
Describe how a typical day looked like.
Complaining about the heat in my office! (no A/C) Complaining
about the pay! (low) Making tea, hanging around having
fun, playing my music loud on the stereo, playing arcade
games... those were the days!
There must be some good stories
from this period you can share with us. Let's say when
you were in Ocean's coffee room, at the computer shows,
meeting other musicians etc. Give us the highlights!
The highlight is that I was able to walk around shows
without being mobbed, unlike Rob Hubbard, because I had
strived to keep my photo out of the mags, but Rob's was
all over the place. Once people found out who I was they
would follow me around, like in a pack.
What did people say about your compositions around
Well, just read the reviews of the time! I was in hog-heaven.
My ego was larger than Zaphod Beeblebrox's.
The most famous people I remember
being responsible for Ocean's games are Dave Collier,
John Meegan, Allan Shortt, Zach Townsend (picture) and
Stephen Wahid. How were these guys to work with?
Yes, those folks are all good friends of mine. They were
great fun to work with. Mr. Townsend, I only worked on
one project as I recall (I think "Game Over")
but the others I had a long relationship with. All professionals.
Do you mean that you're still in
contact with them?
Not all of them, it's hard to keep track of everyone you've
ever known in your life you know! But I always look them
up when I visit my family in Manchester. I have actually
kept in touch with Jonathan Dunn more than anyone, even
though we never worked together directly.
Touching the surface of other people
you've worked with in the past, tell us about these, just
He's bald now! So I have heard anyway. He was a hot programmer
who was not good at keeping schedules (but then again
Good programmer who ended up doing all the cassette mastering.
Bill & Tony convinced me to stay up overnight with
them finishing "Hunchback 2" on a cold night
in November 1984 so they could get their bonuses! (I didn't
get a cut of those bonuses though... HEY!) I had never
been up overnight before and it was a new experience,
especially since I had to get to college the following
Super-hot programmer who I always felt like getting down
on my knees Wayne & Garth-style and screaming "I'm
not worthy! I'm not worthy!".
Very beautiful and talented artist, actually. I always
went to pieces around her 'cos I was such a geek. (still
We didn't really work together too much, he started right
around the time I quit. Apart from drinking a lot of Boddington's
with him the only thing I can remember about him was giving
me advice on how to shave my beard.
Again, we didn't really work together since he was a newer
guy who started after I left I think.
Can't remember Karen unless it's a girl from Denton Designs
- in which case she was fun and did nice graphics (Denton
Designs came out of the old Imagine and were ahead of
Ocean in the development model - they actually staffed
up pretty majorly with artists).
Again, his name is familiar but SORRY MAN I JUST CANT
REMEMBER YOU! You are talking about 10 years ago don't
forget! I can only remember that was in front of my nose
in those days.
Great guy, my main inspiration for my current working
practices and motivation/drive. He lost his own motivation/drive
for working at Origin actually, and is now simply enjoying
An old schoolpal, we hung out with Chris Roberts and this
other guy who has disappeared from view, Paul Proctor.
All super-hot programmers (those guys, not me). I remember
Kevin, Paul & I were only one chapter behind the teacher
in the computer studies class! We took that stuff totally
seriously, learning machine code and all that. I wonder
where Kevin is, eh? Write me an email some time, why don't
The man himself, always adept at whatever he tries. Didn't
get on with him when we were in school together actually,
we only started to work together once I had left school.
We have shared our common interest in fantasy, sci-fi,
movies & action since then. I got his first games
published - when Ocean bought the Imagine company name
to use as a label, they badly need some games to launch
it. All they had was a half-finished "World Series
Baseball" that they had acquired from the defunct
Imagine, which David Collier was finishing off. So I mentioned
my friend Chris who was trying to sell his game "Wizadore"
to Ultimate Play The Game without much success, and Ocean
decided to pick it up. DESPITE it being on the BBC, which
was the popular school machine in the U.K. but not really
popular in the games market (the Spectrum and C64 ruled)
- but like I said, they badly needed games for the launch,
so they had to ignore that! (Ordinarily they would have
been less interested in a BBC game.) Chris was later contracted
to do the "Match Day" conversion on the BBC
since they were trying to get this super-successful game
onto as many platforms as they could. After doing a few
games with Superior Software Chris told me he was leaving
for the U.S. since his dad was taking a job there, so
I thought I'd never see him again. He was trying to squeeze
something akin to "The Gauntlet" on the C64
by this point, something which we all thought was crazy,
but after a lot of squeezing he managed to put out "Times
Of Lore" (I remember I squeezed the code & data
for 25 sound-effects into 923 bytes - not bad, eh?). My
my, I've written quite a lot about him, eh? I'll leave
the rest for my $million-plus scoop in the tabloids...
Ah, me ol' mate The Grest. Comic Bakery was the only game
he completed at Ocean. He left when "Street Hawk"
was in its final stages after months of delays. I had
done a ton of work on that game and no-one has heard it.
Colin & I keep in touch still, he writes business
How did the working progress on
a game look like from idea to finished product?
From a music point of view I basically made a list of
tunes we would have in the game. Then I got started! The
programmers would figure something out in their heads,
What kind of directions did you
get before you started to compose?
None, really, in fact I can't remember ever being "directed"
while at Ocean. I had all the control, basically 'cos
I think they were saying "if it ain't broke, don't
fix it". Actually I did have some pointers sometimes
but they were usually due to legal restrictions that Ocean
had agreed to in regard to the musical content of movies,
which is sometimes licensed separately.
In an interview for Happy Computer
in 1986 you said: "Our development system at Ocean
is more than top secret, because it's the best!".
Except from that you had two C128 computers connected
to each other, what was the big secret?
The REAL story was that we were getting help from
Space Aliens. We just couldn't tell the press, there would
have been a panic in the streets. The Space Aliens helped
us optimize the software for game production.
If you say so..:) Listening to your
compositions makes me not only think about the amazing
sounds and melodies, but also the arrangements. What techniques
did you apply to when creating music?
I just did the best I could, man! I was no expert at arranging.
In fact getting the confidence to compose my own work
in the first place was a big hurdle, I was kind of shy
at it initially. I just tried to make sure all 3 channels
were getting used. A couple of techniques allowed it to
sound like more was going on, like fast arpeggios, and
And what was it in your music-routine
that made it possible for you to get those great sounds?
I mean, the quality is awesome!!
Thank you, I tried hard to allow myself to change the
properties of a note once it had started. This allowed
pitch bending and so forth. It was pretty primitive though,
once I publish all the source files (soon), you will see
how much hard work went into it all!
When you ran out of ideas, what
did you do to get the inspiration back?
Listened to my favourite artists of the time, played on
the keyboard at work, played my old tunes! It was hard,
Tell us about the Origin years.
It's was more hands-off. I was less involved with music
than I used to be. There were those that had composed
for longer than I had and were simply better at it than
me, for example George Oldziey. I can't get that "orchestral
sound". All my music is minimalist, I think it's
because I learned my trade on the SID!!! In the future
I think there will be an outlet for my style though, we'll
have to see.
I became more involved with dialogue, which simply didn't
exist in the 80's. From scriptwriting, to directing actors,
to editing the dialogue later and processing it to get
a good clear sound in the game.
At Origin you got involved in game
programming again. Credited additional coding in "Times
of Lore" together with Chris Yates and Ken Arnold.
The additional coding thing on TOL, yes, I remember I
wrote a part of the game code that rotates the axe graphic!
Quite trivial but it was left in so I was honourably credited.
I credited Chris Yates because on "Wizball"
he rewrote my keyboard reading software with something
much better than what I had, and I used it on every game
after that. I think that's what it's for, although they
did visit Origin while I was working there on TOL so maybe
he did something additional, I can't remember. Oh yeah...
he gave me a random number generator (used to select guitar
riffs in the title music). I am not sure what Ken Arnold
was credited for. He was Origin's resident audio guy at
the time (1988).
Why was Digital Anvil built up?
Electronic Arts, who owns Origin, wouldn't give Chris
(and by implication the team) the flexibility we needed
to produce the kind of games we wanted to. Several new
game ideas got canned. The Wing Commander feature project
is a case in point, they weren't interested in doing it
there. So we all left. We just secured the rights from
them do to it ourselves and we're working on it now (for
December 1998 release), because that's what we wanted
to do. I understand one of the other games that was canned
is one that we may acquire to complete later. It's about
doing what we want. Origin employees are faced with such
projects as Ultima Underworld 3, Privateer 3, Wing Commander
6, Ultima 9... Can you see a pattern there?
Tell us who's employed and such
In addition to all that corporate blurb on the web site,
all the best staff from the Strike Commander, Wing Commander
and Privateer teams all moved over to DA to continue making
kick-ass space fantasy games. In addition, Tony Zurovec
and the best of the Crusader team moved over here, and
they're still into guns, explosions & carnage, except
that this time it involves cars too, something we're all
Do you come up with all the game
and movie ideas yourselves or are you cooperating with
someone outside the company?
We come up with all the ideas ourselves, except of course
the Wing Commander feature project which is based on the
time period/universe from the Wing Commander 1 game (which
we came up with in the first place, so go figure). For
actually creating the feature films, we dip into the huge
freelance talent pool that exists in Hollywood. The producer
of the Wing Commander feature film, for example, is Todd
Moyer, who co-produced "Time Cop".
to the second part of the interview