Category Archives: Composers

Composers: H. Kingsley Thurber


Who?  H. Kingsley Thurber is an example of a composer lurking in the backgrounds of the video game industry.  His output was not prolific, his music was… well, you’ll see – but he did exist and he did produce quite a few soundtracks.  I bet you’ve never heard of him!  This guy has rubbed elbows with many famous composers over the years.  Let’s find out who!

I now present for your evaluation the next focus of this entry into my Composers series:  H. Kingsley Thurber.

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Composers: Bun Bun (Yasuaki Fujita)

Yasuaki Fujita’s career as a composer started with a baby… and man in a blue helmet.  As an in-house composer for Capcom, Bun Bun spent most of his career crafting sound effects for numerous titles and overseeing various sound production teams as production manager.  His legacy, however, lies in the composition of one single theme.  Let’s explore the career of Yasuaki Fujita, another composer who should be on your radar.  Let’s see why!

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Fidelity Concerns: “Hip” Tanaka’s Dr. Mario, Part 1

This is Part 1 of my 2 part series on the music of Dr. Mario.

In 1990, Nintendo released Dr. Mario for both the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Nintendo Game Boy.  As we know, the both of these systems use different audio instructions (Ricoh 2a03 for NES/Fami and the custom Sharp LR35902 for the Game Boy).  So what challenges did Tanaka face when moving his soundtrack across these two platforms?  Let’s take a look.

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Composers: Kenji Ito

(credit:  Kenji Ito’s Official English Website)

Kenji Ito’s legacy lends itself to many poorly received releases in the US.  Oddly, he is a very well liked and well-known composer in Japan.  You may have never knowingly heard his music.  However,  you’ve probably heard his arrangements (this and this) for Super Smash Bros Brawl.  He should be on your radar.  Let me show you why.

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Composers: Tim Follin

As one YouTube comment states about Tim Follin, “He really knew how to crank up the 2A0E to 11.”  And he totally does.

Tim Follin was mainly active during the Commodore 64/ZX Spectrum/NES era of gaming starting in 1985.  These were more limited boards in terms of simultaneous sounds and productions.  He officially retired in 2006 but still programs and composes.

He received no formal musical training though he did attend music college in England for a semester.  He got his start because his older brother Mike was programming for the ZX Spectrum system.  Evident in his music is his influence by progressive rock (mainly YES) and his love for the composer John Adams (as he states “the only minimalist stuff I’ve heard which struck a chord with me”).

Honestly, I can’t say much more about the composer as his music speaks for itself.  Let’s take a look at some tracks:

(credit: Otouto72)

Yes, this is quite primitive music.  Still, Follin is able to unlock some of the best that the ZX Spectrum 128k model has to offer.  There is a lot here considering this sound module is MUCH weaker than even the 2a03 from the NES.  For the game Star Firebirds, Follin arranged and adapted Stravinsky’s Firebird for ZX Spectrum engine.  I wish I could find a copy to play for you but I feel like the previous track showed depth.  If I find it, I’ll post it.

(credit:  explod2A03)

This is his music for the NES game Pictionary.  Yes, THAT Pictionary.  I think his approach is hilarious.  Honestly, since Pictionary itself really lends nothing to music design, writing any kind of music would probably fit the mold.  By writing a solid rock track, it really lends something to this boring, slow NES port of the board game.  Notice all the techniques he uses.  He’s very heavy handed with sampled sound and uses the NES DCPM very often.  It produces small sampled drums sounds which are far more pleasing than the usual noise channel sounds.

(credit: PlinthYT)

So imagine what happens when you give a guy like this the ability to work with the broad spectrum of sounds provided by the Sega MegaDrive/Genesis.  Notice how he creates a guitar effect and sound with the limited resources and channels.  It’s quite masterful.  I love the broad swells he’s able to produce with the chords (a feat which I’m told is very complicated to pull off using that chip).

(credit: clov56)

Using the full capabilities of the variable SFC/SNES soundboards combined with stereo sound, Follin (et al) is able to bring us one of my favorite video game tracks from my youth.  This track plays during gameplay so imagine playing baseball and just flat out rockin’ out.  I love the organ and guitar sounds he was able to create.  It’s like “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” meets Jethro Tull.  The game itself?  Just ok.  I used to play this game ONLY for the music.  Looking back, that says a lot.

Later, as he grew as a composer and discovered John Adams, his music took a very different turn.  We start to see less progressive rock and more minimalism.

(credit:  MonsterCondo)

This is a beautiful track.  I find it hard to believe this is the same composer… but it is.  There’s a certain level of touch that he develops.  It’s not just WHAM HIT YOU IN THE FACE anymore.  In an interview, Follin stated that much of the time when he was composing for ZX Spectrum and NES, he had no frame of reference for the game.  He was just told to compose.  This lead to his tracks (such as Pictionary) which don’t necessarily fit the game.  He spent a lot of time testing the limitations of the old hardware as opposed to really viewing and imagining the games.  For games such as Ecco the Dolphin:  Defender of the The Future, Follin was a complete part of the development and execution of the game.  The result is music that follows the atmosphere of the game and is not just some kind of show off piece.

(credit:  VGMhalloffame)

Lemmings.  His final work was Lemmings for PSP/PS2.  Tim Follin was approached by Psygnosis/Rockstar North to provide the soundtrack.  Lemmings has always been known for it’s quirky selection of classical music and rock tunes as BGM.  The result is a cutesy and somewhat ironic soundtrack that follows your poor Lemmings as they attempt to make it from one side of the screen to another in colorful, dangerous environments full of traps which usually ends with disasters and exploding.  Follin, however, provides a much different view of Lemmings.  His soundtrack examines the suffering of the Lemmings and their incredible journey through dangerous landscapes to reach their goal.  As someone who has played, helped, and killed millions of Lemmings in my life, I enjoy this minimalist approach to a timeless game.

I hope you really enjoyed this post.  I will post some interviews I found with Tim Follin in the future.  He has a lot to say about the game music industry.  Happy New Year to everyone!

Runic Games Q & A with Matt Uelman

Matt Uelman has been a favorite composer of mine for years.  His catalog includes Diablo and Diablo 2, as well as World of Warcraft.  Recently, Matt Uelman collaborated with Runic Games to bring us Torchlight.  His soundtrack to the game is stellar and evokes everything necessary to bring the world of Torchlight to life.

But this should not be a surprise to anyone who knows Uelman’s work: his music has always been understated but unforgettable.  The nostalgia of each of the Diablo games are easily invoked just by listening to Uelman’s tracks.  From the first time your Warrior stepped into Tristram in original Diablo to the vicious battle your Assassin barely survived to defeat Baal in Diablo 2:  Lord of Destruction, Uelman’s works were there invoking the darkness of the unknown and the taste of victory.  The world of Diablo and the music of Uelman are intertwined and inseparable.

Possessing the same sensitive and immersive qualities as his works for Diablo, Matt Uelman’s music for Torchlight does not disappoint.  He developed his music  based on the various demos of the game he had access to and was therefore able to fully understand “the world” of Torchlight.  The results of these efforts are tracks that fit the flow, character, and integrity of the game.  Here’s an example of his excellent town theme for Torchlight:

(credit: )

Just… a perfect track.  His dark melodies are ponderous and bold and juxtaposed beautifully by his 12-string guitar’s haunting harmonics.  His grand dynamic swells and increasingly deep strings tell us of a tumultuous time in the history of the world of Torchlight.  Well done, as usual.

So you’ll have to imagine my excitement when I foundd out that Uelman would be brought back to score Torchlight 2!  I’ve been monitoring the Torchlight 2 website for some time as Runic Games has been posting “sneak peeks” of  their upcoming sequel to Torchlight in anticipation of E3.  To my delight, I discovered that one of these “sneak peeks” involves a comprehensive interview with Matt Uelman.  This article provides wonderful perspectives to a very underrated composer as well as insight into video game music creation/recording process.  Please check it out here.  It is a MUST READ for anyone who is a fan of the man and his work.

As a reward for reading this artcle, I’ll leave you with perhaps Matt Uelman’s most iconic track:

(credit: )

As one keen commenter on this YouTube video points out:  I stayed awhile and listened.  Hope you did too.

Composers: Koichi Sugiyama, Part 1 (Dragon Quest 1)

Many of what we know about video game music today was influenced by Koichi Sugiyama.  Here’s some exceedingly brief background information.

A classically trained conductor, Sugiyama graduated from University of Tokyo will full honors in 1958.  After a brief stint in broadcasting, he shifted his focus to composition, writing many movie and anime sountracks.  In the 80s, he was contacted by Enix to work on Dragon Quest for the Nintendo Famicom (aka Dragon Warrior in the US).  His career took off and Sugiyama, at age 79, is still composing game music today.  There’s so much to talk about when it comes to Sugiyama, I’d rather split it up into a couple blog posts.  I’m very excited to get to his orchestral contributions rather than bore you with his life story (though it is really fascinating).

That being said, Sugiyama is credited as being the first game music composer to have his works arranged and composed live.  In 1987, Sugiyama arranged and conducted his music from Dragon Quest II at the first “Family Classic Concert” series (performance by the Tokyo City Music Combination Playing Group on August 20th, 1987).  He has since then participated in many other orchestral game music concerts as a conductor and arranger.

(A wiki aside:  the wiki for Koichi Sugiyama is horrible- I’ll highlight all the errors soon enough.  For one, it says that he released Dragon Quest 1:  Symphonic Suite on CD in 1986.  Right… considering I took two seconds to google this and found that the CD was released in 1994.  Plus the fact that Sugiyama hadn’t written the music to Dragon Quest II yet so… how would he know it was to be called Dragon Quest 1 ?  Bahhhhhhh!!! Reference here.)

Okay, let’s listen in on a track of his original Dragon Quest music and orchestral arrangements:

(credit:  )

This is the “battle theme” from the game.  It’s effective and epic in its own regard if simplistic.  I spent many hours listening to this (and being frustrated).  It never got old.  Here’s Sugiyama’s orchestral version from Dragon Quest I:  Symphonic Suite:

(credit:  )

As you can see, there was… considerable orchestration done here.  This (I BELIEVE) is Sugiyama conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra.  It is a live recording (hence the really bad french horn clam at around 0:18).  What is fascinating is that it was largely cited that Sugiyama wrote orchestral arrangements first and then “dumbed” them down to fit the sound limitations of the Famicom.

What is interesting to note is that Sugiyama has re-recorded many of these tracks 12-15 times making alterations, orchestration changes, etc many of which are recent and actually of a better quality.  There is a large amount of misinformation I’m finding on the exact releases of his works and their original forms.  It could be assumed that perhaps his works in the 80s were released on LP (a Japanese friend of mine confirmed that he did indeed own Dragon Quest LPs.  I’ll have to look into this).  I’ll have to research this.  At any rate, this has been Part 1 of an introduction to Koichi Sugiyama.  Comments welcome.