Rob, you have recieved a lot of fan mail from people all over the world with praises of your old work. It must be great to get comments like that!
Yes it is always nice to hear those comments. During the mid 1980's I had no idea what this would lead to. It was very suprising that a computer music culture developed.

How much music experience did you have before you started to do computer music?
I had a lot. I started playing at age 7. I started playing in bands when I was at school and later went to music college.

What did you do before your C64 carrer started?
I was always a musician, working in bands or clubs and doing arranging or transcription work.

Tell us about the first years on the C64.
I started learning the C64 in 1983 and wrote some music educational software. I then did a game that was never published as the company went bankrupt. After that experience I was fairly good at machine code programming. Most people liked the music I did in the game and so I decided to just do the music and sound. The first games were Thing on a Spring and Action Biker. Back then I thought that this computer stuff was a passing trend that would last a year or two. I had no idea how it would grow into the business it is today.

From where did you get offers to do work? Did you at one point use Compunet?
Initially I made a mailing list and sent them all a 'flyer' - that is like an information sheet offering to do work. It took many months before anyone made me any offers of work. After I did a couple of games I started getting lots of work. I got to know many of the guys through sending demos through the post and talking on the phone. I did use Compunet for a while too.

The early days must have been a lot of fun...
Yes it was a very exciting time to be involved in the early days of computers and software. There were no rules and you could do anything you liked. The audience was more of a hobbyist than they are today, and all the developers tended to know each other. The industry took many years to mature and develop into the mainstream entertainment that it is today. I am very lucky to have been around and working in the old days, as it was a lot of fun.

What kind of contracts were written and how much could you influence them?
We really had only a word of mouth type of contract, that agreed on a price. After the first 6 months I could pretty much call my own shots.

Was the income from your computer work good enough to live on?
Yes it was possible to make a very good living in those days - certainly a lot better than just playing music. I was working very hard, 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.

How could a typical composing day look like?
I would start work at 10.00 AM and work till 4 PM. I would then sleep till 5.30 PM. I would then eat and watch the news on TV and start working at 7 PM. I would finish working at 4.00 AM.

How long did that last? I mean, you got to have some free time as well.
It lasted from 1983 to about 1988. I really had very little personal time and holidays.

By working at home, did that give you the peace and quiet you required?
Well, you have to let people know that when it's time to work, you don't want to be disturbed. You get more freedom working at home and you don't have a commute either.

Working this hard must have left you quite unimaginative sometimes. At that point, where did you search for inspiration?
Well this is very true and happens to everyone. Sometimes the pressure of having to get it done really makes you write good stuff. Sometimes ofcourse the ideas dry up. I had 3 ways to work. Sometimes I would write directly with the C64 by poking bytes using a machine code monitor. Sometimes I would write using a pen and paper. Other times I would sit at the keyboard and play until the ideas come out. If everything fails then you can get inspiration from existing music or CD's.

How did the working progress on a game soundtrack look like? Were you able to see a preview of the game so you could do adjustments if necessary?
I would make a business trip to visit the companies and look at the early demo's of the games. I would talk to them about the game - things like the time period, characters and mood setting. After we agreed on direction, I would then write the music. Most of the time I didn't have to make any changes. A lot of the time there simply wasn't any time to make changes.

During your most active years, 1985-87, did you recieve any offers from companies to work in-house?
Yes I had a few offers, but they wouldn't pay what I wanted.

But still they hired you.
I worked for them only as a contractor.

Sometimes it seemed like the game companies hired you because they knew people would buy a game you'd done music for, even though it (the game) was really really bad.
I don't know, maybe they did... It's not really for me to say. There wasn't a lot of people doing music and SFX and writing all the code in those days, so there wasn't much competition.

After seing a finished game with your tune in it, did you at times feel like "these guys have no idea what they are doing in terms of product quality"?
Yes it sometimes happened, but you have to realise that publishers have to ship games and therefore it becomes a business decision - for example to release the game for christmas or before someone else ships a similar game.

One of your strengths was that you were able to make the compositions sound like there were more than three channels used. The SID was very limited, what techniques did you apply to?
Most of it was simply done by multiplexing the three channels. If the lead line has two beats rest, put a fill or some effect in there. Other techniques were based on what you could do every VBlank interrupt, creating those warbling chord effects etc.

Martin Galway thought that your strength was to make tunes/parts without a drum beat. W.A.R., Dragon's Lair 2 and Thanatos are examples of just that.
Well, disagree. My strength was always in arrangement, melody and harmony.

The style on your songs was changing over the years. Was that something that came naturally?
The early tunes were very simple and safe. Later on it seemed that people wanted more complex adventurous music and that developed into a computer music cult scene. I think that later on some of the music went too far and became incoherent.

Was that the case with the music in Wiz? It has some really obscure parts and weird turns.
Wiz was more of an attempt to do something with a mystical magical quality about it. I think other tunes were more weird - Knucklebusters, Bangkok Knights and I, Ball.

Knucklebusters title screenDoes the mood in the songs some what reflect your personal mood at the time of making? So when doing Knucklebusters, you felt weird?
No, I never let my personal mood affect the music - I'm paid not to do that. The truth is of course that sometimes it was very difficult to be not affected. There was a lot of pressure to always try to do something new and different and not sound like just another 'Rob Hubbard Tune'. Wiz was a genuine attempt to be different. After a certain amount of success, many people turn against you and start to dislike everything you do - after all SID was very limiting!

People turned their back on you because of that? For an example?
Well, there was Wiz and a few others. Thrust was not very well received. I certainly don't have a problem with any of this, it's perfectly natural.

How often did you re-program the music drivers?

I did change the music driver code fairly often to either add or delete some features, bearing in mind that your code had to be as quick as possible. Sometimes I optimized for space (code and data) and sometimes for processor speed. Later on I added the ability to play samples - you could do that on a title screen, but never in the game.

Talking about samples, you worked quite a lot with that at the end of your C64 career (Jordan vs Bird, Kings of the Beach etc). Was that the natural next step to create a new dimension to your C64 composing?
Yes. I did write a driver that could play 2 samples plus SID, but never used it on a game.

Tell us about the people you worked with in the past. Who was important for your career?
The first people I remember were the Thing team. Jason Perkins. There were a lot of people at Mastertronic that I worked with including the Darling Brothers. Archer was great to work with. I became a good friend with Gary Liddon from Zap and later with Sanxion. David Whittaker and I became good friends and we used to pass jobs to each other. Barry became a good friend. Martin was also a good friend and later worked for Origin. Steve Bax was a great guy who I worked with on GoldRunner. I also met Yak and nearly worked on one of his games. He was always a hero on the C64. Tony and Ben from Gremlin were great to work with. John Twiddy was someone I worked with and got to know. There are just too many names to mention...

Simon Nicol.
Well, not to be forgotten: Simon Nicol (picture). You two cooperated on Crazy Comets and the follow-up Mega Apocalypse. What kind of relationship did you two have?
Simon and I became good friends and I used to visit him in the south of England. After the first Comets, Mega Apocalypse was very well understood. We basically just did a sequel.

Any special memories you can tell from the old days?
During 1987 I was approached by a major record producer who wanted me to do a single. His main mixing engineer had heard my stuff on the C64. It was very scary meeting this guy and talking to him and thinking about the possibility of becoming a famous recording artist. As it turned out the legal and copyright technicalities prevented it from happening and I took the job with EA and moved to the USA.

When did you start working for Electronic Arts?
It started in 1987 and I finally made the move in early 1988. I had always wanted to go to the US (ever since I was a kid) and was really attracted by the high technology of Silicon Valley. At the time EA was making by far the most interesting products and I was eager to learn.

What was your first job for them?
The first thing I did for EA was Skate or Die C64.

It's going really well for EA today. Why do you think the company has become so successful?
When I joined EA there were only 200 employees. I have seen EA grow from a small computer software business to a world leader it is now. I think EA has some very smart people working for them. They control all their own distribution worldwide and are always looking for new territories to sell software like Korea and China. EA is also good at being one step ahead of what is happening and generally does good products.

You didn't compose music while you were there. Correct?
Well, it was more technical direction and management of audio. These days product development is huge - sometimes there are 30 - 50 people doing one title. We also localized our games into many foreign languages. I still did some programming.

The composing techniques must be very different from the old days because now there are so many more posibilities.
In the old days you had to do everything, code, music composition, sound effects. Today we use many people to do these tasks. It is now getting easier to use traditional composers to write MIDI music and create Red Book tracks for CD-ROM games. In other ways the music is more restricted than it used to be - big production titles tend to be conservative in nature.

If you compare working as a freelancer and as an in-house musician, what's the positive and negative things?
If you work freelance, you have more individual freedom with your schedules and holidays. The bad news is that nothing is certain - you might not get paid or the work might dry up. If you work in-house you get a regular pay check but give up some of the individual freedom.

» Continue to the second part of the interview

» Get his music - from C64 to Atari ST to Speccy and more!

Softography - not only the C64 stuff.

» Scans - exclusive scans of the original music scripts!

» Back in Time - pictures of Rob from this event.

» Interviews