Interview with Allister Brimble
Allister Brimble is what you call a seasoned Tracker musician from way back. He has composed music for games since 1988 on the Commodore 64, Amiga, Nintendo 64, Playstation and PC just to name a few. Today Allister is working as a freelance for his own company Console Audio where he produces music and sound effects for some of the biggest titles on the Gameboy Advance. The list of games he's composed music for is ridiculously long and totally impressive. Allister has also been a beta tester for MED practically since it started.
How did you get into writing computer game music?
After I'd started experimenting with sound on my Spectrum 128, I bought an Amiga and joined up with the Public Domain software company, 17 bit software. The Amiga was great and allowed me to write my first real tunes. I sent my first composition, done on Aegis Sonix to 17 bit and they liked them so much that they published them on one of their PD disks.
I had a lot of good comments back and this gave me the confidence to go on and write further tunes for 17 bit.
After a while I decided to send out some music demos to various games companies. After many attempts, I finally landed my first project with Codemasters software (A football game). Soon I managed to win the Thunderbirds project from Grandslam. My really big break came when 17 bit set up a fully fledged games company called "Team 17 Software". I went on to produce some of my best music for them, such as Project X and Alienbreed.
What hardware and software do you use?
That very much depends on which machine I am writing for.
For Gameboy Advance music, I use MED for the PC and SoundForge for sampling. On the hardware front, I have several synthesizers along with a Creamware Pulsar 2 soundcard which acts as a mixing desk.
MED is also great for Gameboy Colour games as I can recreate the gameboys synth sounds with MED's synthetic editor.
What influence has MED had in the composition of music for games?
I have to admit that in the Amiga days I used Protracker rather than Octamed and I learnt to write music on that.
However, MED has come into its own for me for formats such as the Gameboy Advance where I have to write music in a small number of channels. It's really easy to see where you have gaps in the music that could be used to give the impression of further sound channels.
I wouldn't say it's influenced me in any way, but rather is a great tool that works in the same way as the old Amiga trackers but in windows.
Do you compose all your music using a Tracker like MED?
I use it for Handheld formats only.
For other formats such as PC, PS2, XBOX etc I would tend to use a MIDI sequencer such as Sonar or Cubase VST as these tunes require a lot more real time playing which no tracker can cope with, especially when you want to play in large chords with very loose timings.
Can you please indulge us the general process you go through in creating a song and perhaps some of the tricks and techniques you use in creating your music?
After deciding on the style of music, I start to think about the instruments. I try to create a full set of new samples for the tune before I even start writing it. I find the samples then give me ideas for the tune.
When I'm using MED, I'll quickly lay down a drum track first to give me a click track for timing and then perhaps add a bass. I then improvise the melody over the top, entering the notes in real time record mode. Finally I'll start adding the backing chords which almost write themselves given the bass and melody.
The secret to a good track is a strong melody, so I really work hard on the tune until I am 100% pleased with it.
What advice can you give to people who are interested in getting into the computer game music industry?
Make sure your demo's are as good as your favorite tracks in other games before you send anything out. There's no point sending out demo's until you are confident they are as good as anything else out there.
Don't assume you will be able to write music for all formats. Handheld formats require very special skills, such as those learnt in the Amiga 4 channel tracker days. In addition to these you need to have a fair amount of programming knowledge to be able to get your tunes onto the console itself.
I recommend, that anyone new to games music starts with the CD formats first.
You could join a games music guild such as G.A.N.G ( www.audiogang.com ) - There are many useful tips here and you can talk to other game musicians on their forums. Joining fee's are normally around $100.00
What is the process for publishing music for games; does a developer contact you requesting a particular style of music or do you create songs first perhaps and then offer them to developers for inclusion in a game?
A developer contacts me first requesting a style. Often they change their minds AFTER I've written the music which can be most annoying !
Do you have to have any programming knowledge to create music for games or do you simply provide the song in a particular format like MP3, WAV or MOD?
For GBA, it's best to know some programming which will help you get your music onto the GBA. There is often some work to be done in either C or assembler - not writing code but editing parameters etc and generally understanding what is going on at a code level.
For most formats, music is supplied at CD quality WAV's. Since WAV's can be streamed in these days, MOD's are not needed.
What steps do you suggest someone follow to get their music noticed and considered by a game publisher/developer?
It's much more tricky these days than it was for me. As mentioned before, I had 17 bit software to help give me an audience, and 4 channel Amiga music was all that was required. These days, you just have to be bloody good ! You'll need to build up your synth equipment slowly and practice for several years before you are able to produce the sort of quality that can be found in today's best selling games. When you're up to standard, send your demo's on CD around to "The software development manager" to as many games companies as you can.
You might consider setting up a page on MP3.COM to allow others to listen and comment on your music.
Have you had any troubles with game publishers/developers in the past regarding pay or deadlines?
I was never paid for my work on Casper GBA or Planet Monsters GBA. The developer went bust, but the publishers still released the games and refused to pay anything.
What are your favorite platforms to produce music for and why have you moved your concentration of work to the Gameboy Advance?
My favorite platform would have to be any console or computer that can play CD quality audio. Then there are no limitations. However, my main skill is in dealing with the limitations of certain formats like the GBA. I have a certain knowledge, from the Amiga and C64 of how to make good music in 3 or 4 sound channels and this helps. The GBA actually only has 2 sample channels, half the amount of the Amiga's. Therefore, you have to split those channels up using the CPU, just like Octamed did on the Amiga to make 8 channels. The more channels you use, the more CPU time is used and the games you are writing for will suffer from slowdown problems. There is also the problem of the GBA's little speaker. It will not play bass sounds at all, so you need to EQ all your samples to sound like a tinny radio before you can hear them on the speaker !
We haven't seen you on the MED mailing list for a while and your name pops up now and then (today for example!), just wondering if you still have interest in the development of MED Sound Studio?
To be honest, I haven't seen many messages on the mailing list lately ! I'm still a BETA tester and am currently helping Ray out with a couple of problems. I'm really looking forward to V2 and believe this could allow MED to compete with many of the pro. audio package out there costing many times more !
What projects are you currently working on and can people purchase CD's of your music?
I'm currently working on Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 for the PC and Colin Mcrae Rally 2 for the GBA.
You can download some of my tracks from www.mp3.com/AllisterBrimble
Also, I have two CD's available direct from myself for A310.00 each. Please send an email to Allister_Brimble@Compuserve.com for ordering details.
Thank you for your time Allister!
Check out the games Allister has composed music for (Phew!):
007 Racing (Playstation), 102 Dalmations (GBC), 1st Division Manager (Amiga/Atari ST), Abomination (PC), Alien Breed (Amiga/PC), Alien Breed 2 (Amiga), Alien Breed Special Edition (Amiga), Alien Breed Tower Assault (Amiga/PC), All Terain Racing (Amiga), Alladin win 95 (PC), AMOS (Amiga), Apache Gunship (PC), Arcade Pool (PC/Amiga), Assassin (Amiga), Assassin Special Edition (Amiga), Attack of The Clones (GBA), Big Run (Amiga), Bignose bounces back (Amiga), Bignose freaks out (NES), Bignose the Caveman (Amiga), Body Blows (Amiga), Body Blows Galactic (PC/Amiga), Boo! (SNES), Boomerang Kid (NES), Bubble & Squeek (Amiga/CD32), Bubble Bobble 2 (Playstation), Cannon Fodder (SNES/Megadrive/Jaguar), Captain Dynamo (C64), Carmageddon (GBC), Casper (GBC/GBA), Chicken Run (GBC), CJ in the USA (Amiga), CJ's Elephant Antics (Amiga), Colin Mcrae (GBC), Colin Mcrae Rally 2 (GBA), Colonization (Amiga), Cool Bricks (GBC), Crash Dummies (Amiga), Crazy Bus (PC), Cubix (GBC), Cut Throats (PC), Death Stalker (Amiga), Descent (MAC), Descent 2 (MAC), Dizzy (NES), Dizzy down the rapids (C64/Spectrum/Amstrad), Dojo Dan (Amiga), Doom (GBA), Dragon (SNES/Megadrive/Jaguar), Driver (Playstation), Driver 2 (Playstation), Dukes of Hazzard (GBC), Dungeon Master II (Amiga), Eggomania (GBA/Gamecube/X-BOX/Playstation 2)Extreme Ghostbusters (GBC), Fantasy World Dizzy (Amiga/Atari ST), Fastfood Dizzy (Amiga/Atari ST), Flintsto(NES), - burger time in bedrock (GBC), Fohlen Felix in gefahr (GBC), Frontier (Atari ST), Full Contact (Amiga), Gangsters (PC), Ghosts and Goblins (GBC), Glover (N64/Playstation), Goal! (Amiga/PC/Atari ST), Grand Prix Manager 2 (PC), Grand Prix Simulator (Amiga), Gremlins (GBA), High Heat Baseball 2002 (GBC), Hot Potato (GBA), Hunt For Red October (Amiga/Atari ST/Spectrum/Amstrad), Hydrosport (Playstation/Dreamcast), Impossible Mission (SNES/GBC), Impossible Mission 2025 (Amiga), Indy Heat (Amiga), Italia 90 (Amiga), Italian 1990 (Amiga), Italian Job (PC/Playstation), Jedi Power Battles (GBA), Jet Riders (GBA), Jimmy Whites Qball 2 (PC/Dreamcast), Jimmy Whites Snooker (Sega Megadrive), Kamikaze (Amiga/Atari ST), Kingpin (Amiga), Lawnmower Man (SNES), Linus Spacehead (NES), Lionking (Amiga/PC), Liverpool (Amiga), Lucky Luke (GBA), Magical Drop (GBC), Matt Hoffmans Pro BMX (GBA), Mean Machines (C64), Miami Chase (Amiga), Mig Soviet Fighter (Amiga), Monster Trucks (PC), Mortal Kombat (PC/Amiga), Mortal Kombat II (Amiga), Mr Tuff (SNES), Murray Mouse (C64), Nitro Boost Challenge (Amiga/Atari ST), Noddy (Amiga), Obelix win 95 (PC), Olympics 2000 (N64), Overdrive (Amiga), Panic Dizzy (C64), Pinochio (SNES/Megadrive), Planet Monsters (GBA), Plexu (Amiga), Prince of the Yolk Folk (Amiga/C64/Spectrum/Amstrad), Pro Bassball simulator (NES), Pro Boxing Simulator (Amiga/Atari ST), Pro Soccer Simulator (NES), Project X (Amiga/PC), Rampart (C64), Rat Attack (N64/Playstation/PC), Renegade Racers (Playstation), Road Rash (GBC), Road Riot (Amiga/Atari ST), Road Runner (SNES/Sega Gamegear/Sega Master System), Robin Hood Legend Quest (C64/Amiga), Robocop (GBA), Rockstar ate my hamster (Atari ST/Amiga), Rollercoaster T. Loopy landscapes (PC), Rollercoaster Tycoon (PC), Rollercoaster Tycoon 2 (PC), Screamer (PC), Sensible Golf (PC), Sergeant Seymour Robocop (C64/Amiga), Seymour goes to Hollywood (Amiga/Spectrum/Amstrad/C64), Slicks (C64), Slightly Magic (Amiga/Atari ST/Spectrum/Amstrad/C64), Spacegun (Amiga), Spellbound Dizzy (Amiga/C64/Amstrad/Spectrum), Spellfire the sorcerer (Amiga/Atari ST), Startrek 25th Aniversiry (Amiga), Stephen Gerards Total Soccer (GBA), Street Racer (SNES), Subwars (Amiga), Super Loopz (Amiga), Super Seymour (Amiga/Atari ST/C64), Superfrog (PC/Amiga), Superman (GBC), Terminator 2 (GBC/Amiga), Terries big day out (Amiga), The Lost Vikings (Amiga), The Sword and the Rose (Amiga/Atari ST/C64), Three Lions (PC), Thunderbirds (Amiga/GBC/GBA), Tilt (Amiga), Time soliders (Amiga), Tin Head (SNES), Titeuf (GBC), Tom & Jerry (SNES), Tony Hawks 3 (GBC), Toobin (GBC), Toy Story (SNES/Megadrive), Treasure Island Dizzy (Amiga), Ultimate Bodyblows (Amiga/CD32), Vrally 3 (GBA), Whacky Darts (Amiga), Wild West Seymour (C64/Spectrum/Amstrad), Wonderland (Amiga), World Cup Striker (SNES), World Cup Striker Japan (SNES), Worms (SNES/GBC), Worms 2 (PC), Wrath of Earth (PC), XCom Enemy Unknown (Playstation), XCom Terror From the Deep (PC), XXX (GBA), Zeewolf (Amiga), Zeewolf 2 (Amiga)
Websites to check out: