Another groovy CZone exclusive interview from Kenz and Waz.
From a small set of tunes from Mastertronic budget games, to sprawling epics such as the title theme from 'Ghouls and Ghosts', Tim Follin quickly established himself as one of the premier musicians on the Commodore 64 (amongst a host of other formats). Commodore Zone finally caught up with him and so quicker than two shakes of a lamb's bottom (huh?! - Ed), Waz and Kenz went into reminiscing mode and immersed themselves into 'I remember this game' mode. So without further ado, here is Tim ... Take it away!
Kenz: Where were you born?
In the North West of England.
Kenz: What musical training did you have?
One year at Sandown music college in Liverpool (1986). I learned a lot, but not from the lecturer.
Waz: When you first started composing on the C64, who were your favourite C64 musicians?
I didn't have any favourite musicians. Coming from a 'real' music atmosphere, I didn't even regard the person who wrote computer music as a musician! I thought of myself as the guy who did sound effects making up some tunes.
Waz: Were there any particular 'real'
music artists which inspired you when you created a tune? (A lot of the 70's
progressive rock influences seems to creep in some of the tunes, such as Deep
Purple's 'Smoke on the Water' at the start of Led Storm..)
I can hardly call anything I did inspired by anything. Of course, the music you listen to is going to come out in the tunes you write. During the period I was writing C64 and Amiga music, I was listening mainly to Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin and John Martyn.
Waz: How did you join the programming team Software Creations? (I recall them hiring Peter Clarke for a lot of their earlier tunes and it seemed to me you joined just at the time Peter was working at Ocean, producing the music for Ocean Loader v3 and Tai Pan.)
My brother Mike had joined while I was at college. He had needed some music for The Sentinel, which he was writing on the ZX Spectrum, and he obviously asked me to help out. I used a four-channel routine I'd written. On hearing it, the manager of Software Creations, Richard Kay, offered me the position of musician, which I took after leaving college in the Autumn of 1987.
Waz: I went past the old building Software Creations were based in recently - any memories of working there?
None what so ever. It's a total blank.
Waz: This question is directed at all Commodore Zone interviewees - who is your favourite babe?
I don't have a favourite babe.
Waz: How about any favourite films, television programmes, books etc?
No favourites. Children have favourites. You should ask, What TV have you been watching lately or What films did you like recently. The answer to the last question would be John Boorman's The General, which I thought was the best film I've seen this year. TV is all rubbish. Apart from Father Ted, but the guy's dead now, so that's the end of that. Books? I haven't read anything for a long while. I spend far more time writing than reading. It's therapy!
Kenz: What was your first commercially released C64 tune?
I have no idea. It might have been Raw Recruit.
Waz: Were there any favourite C64 games that you enjoyed playing?
The only games I ever played were written by Steven Ruddy, the main programmer at Software Creations. He also wrote the music drivers for the C64 and the NES. I haven't seen him for a long time, but he was certainly one of the most easy-mannered programmers I've worked with. And 'easy-mannered' isn't a phrase I'd use around most programmers...
Kenz: You were extremely brave when it came to using filters on the C64 and your music always seems to sound good when played on any sort of C64. Did you rigorously test your tunes on various SID chips or was it a big fluke?
We had an assortment of C64's, but I came to the conclusion that they were all broken apart from one, which I used. I knew that if I kept the filter low and rumbley, it would sound more or less the same on each computer.
Kenz: You produced music on most (if not all) the 8-bit computers. Which was the best (and worst!) machine to work with?
The best was the C64, the worst was the Spectrum 128K and the ST (for their door bell chime AY chips).
Waz: Was there anything about the C64's SID chip which you either liked or did not like?
I liked the fact that it made an analogue sound. I didn't like the fact that it only had three channels; it should have had a lot more. The noise sound was hopeless as well. And the filters should have been integrated into the chip properly. Does anyone actually know who designed the SID chip? Where is he/she? (It was developed in the early eighties by Bob Yannes at MOS technology - Ed).
Kenz: When you wrote your tunes for games did you compose them in advance on a MIDI keyboard or suchlike or just write them directly on computer?
I typed them into the source computer, using a word processor. I really was that stupid. I found that I had to distance myself from real instruments in order to write chip music, mainly because I wouldn't have done any work at all if I'd had any real instruments near me.
Kenz: Which of your C64 tunes are you most pleased with?
Ghouls and Ghosts is the only thing when I look back which begins to remind me of how I felt and thought at that time. All my C64 music sounds like nonsense to me now, but Ghouls and Ghosts reminds me that I was investing at least something into it at the time.
Kenz: Any that you weren't happy with?
Almost everything. I don't worry about it though ...
Waz: Any reason for using the 'Shake and Vac' advert music as the Agent X II level complete theme?
None. Tight deadline probably.
Kenz: Was Peter Pack Rat the only C64 digi tune you did? If so then weren't you a big fan of digi tunes?
Digi means using samples I presume? Well it was a pain in the backside if I recall. It was limiting and sounded ham-fisted mixed with the SID. I didn't have any sampling equipment either.
Waz: What about Psycho Pigs UXB? Although the tunes were cute, did you feel that the sexist advertising campaign sold any more copies (or got in the way of sales) of the game so that you'd have more people listening to your tunes?
I have no idea what you're talking about here. I only vaguely
remember Psycho Pigs UXB; I only remember doing one Benny Hill tune for it.
I do vaguely remember something about the advertising campaign, but it's all
a big brown smog now I'm afraid.
Clever advertising or just plain sexist? You decide!
Kenz: We've just been listening to the your fab Bionic Commando music, any stories or memories about that? How come you dropped a bit of the Star Wars music into the level 2 tune? (and it just had to be better than the awful music in the American version! - Waz.)
I remember doing Bionic Commando after listening to other people's music for the first time. I tried to copy it, thinking I would be sacked unless I started doing something contemporary. It won that year's Golden Joystick award, probably for that reason. I then gave up trying to be contemporary. Star Wars? I don't know. It fitted. It's all just random. I thought that was obvious!
Kenz: How long did the Ghouls 'n Ghosts title tune take to produce with all those intricate sounds?
It took a few weeks I think. The best thing about working at Software Creations was getting to spend weeks doing very little. Then again, I got paid very little for it, so...
Waz: Continuing from the last question, how did you feel when Robin Hogg devoted virtually his whole review comment to just the music in Zzap! 64?
I was very flattered. I still have those reviews somewhere. I can trace my disillusionment with computer-based music back to the day we (Software Creations) stopped making games for the UK. I don't recall getting any foreign magazine reviews. When you're a paranoid, insecure cynic like me, you need reviews just to keep you sane. To think, I never even thanked him for it!
Waz: Puzznic brings back fond memories for me due to the cute themes playing whilst trying to finish the game. Were the themes conversions from the arcade version?
I think Geoff did Puzznic (he's right too - get those credits changed! - Waz.) Most of the conversions had themes stolen from the arcade machine; it was usually in the contract. You can hear a lot of the major themes from Ghouls and Ghosts in the arcade version, you know.
Waz: Did you feel gutted when you'd produced a soundtrack for a game, and the game never saw the official light of day (such as Body Slam by Firebird)?
I know an artist who has been working in the industry for just a few years less than I have, who has had a freak amount of bad luck with getting his work released, despite his work being infinitely better than the standard. He should feel gutted. Looking at it that way, I've had a freak amount of things published. I've been lucky.
Waz: Any interesting stories or anecdotes on any of the themes you produced? (such as Rob Hubbard composing the Commando music overnight at Elite!)
I remember composing Black Lamp overnight. I had to have it finished for the following day. I took my work equipment home because I'd sat at work all day staring at a blank screen. I only had the tune idea at about ten o'clock in the evening, and sat up all night in my bedroom writing it. It sounds like it if you listen to it!
Kenz: How did your amazing Spectrum music routine (Agent X, Chronos, Vectron etc.) come about? How did it work and was it easy to compose tunes for the Speccy?
It was very difficult to compose tunes for it, basically because if you played high notes, the lower ones went flat, so you had to adjust all the other notes all the time. It worked by using five of the Z80's operators (C, D, E, H, L) in a loop, which were all counting down to 0. When they hit 0, I'd make a click at a certain volume (governed by the delay between switching the speaker on and off) and reset the operator to it's original value. Every so many cycles of the loop, I'd jump out to change notes and things. To keep the speed up, it used self-modifying code, which meant that the main loop could just have simple commands like 'set H to 110', while the code outside the main loop changed the code inside the main loop by writing over it with the new values. The only drawback was that it sounded like a vacuum cleaner with nails stuck in it (Hehe! - Ed).
Waz: Do you have any fond memories of the C64 magazines such as Zzap! 64? If so, does anything in particular stick out?
I have to confess, I don't remember much about it, apart from my reviews! There's loyalty for you.
Kenz: You seem to come from a musical family, what are Mike and Geoff Follin up to at the moment?
Mike is currently working on Quake 2 for the PlayStation. I think he may be leaving the games industry in the not-too-distant future, however. Watch this space. Geoff has just finished teaching full time at a primary school near Watford, but is about to become a professional supply teacher. He's still interested in music, and is probably going to spend some of the summer concentrating on a particular musical project he has been trying to get around to for a while.
Waz: What do you think the future holds for computer game soundtracks? For me personally, the feel is lost when you can just slap in an already released track (like they did with the UK release of Gran Turismo).
Slapping in an already released track is pretty useless, I agree. But I hold out some hope that in forthcoming console formats, and hopefully with the increasing need to break away from repetitive style-typed games, music will eventually come into its own within the field. I believe there is more scope for a musician in this media than there is in the vast majority of modern films. Writing film music is something of a holy grail for a lot of people. I can't see the attraction any longer. I spend my time these days writing stories and writing music; the best of both worlds!
Waz: Do you still have a C64?
No. I've never owned a C64 actually.
Waz: Would you ever consider composing C64 music again? There is an audience out there who would love to hear any new tunes that you produce, believe me!
I think probably not, though I did do a Gameboy tune recently, for the quick cash of course. You know, if someone's got the readies, I'll give it a go! (Wahey! Any eccentric millionaires out there willing to pay Tim to pump out some more C64 tunes? - Ed).
Waz: Finally, do you have any message you wish to send to C64 owners who still love your music?
Thanks for listening! I bet you're all male though. And what's the use in having male fans? God help me...
© Commodore Zone 1998