Let’s Interview: Donkey Kong Country Soundtrack Remasterer Jammin’ Sam Miller!
As anyone who grew up in the SNES era likely knows, the Donkey Kong Country games have some of the best video game music of all time. Indeed, thanks to the hard work of people like David Wise, Robin Beanland and Eveline Novakovic, the games have been the source of all manner of beloved songs, including Stickerbrush Symphony, the DK Island Swing and Fear Factory, among many others.
However, listening to these songs at their original quality level is not exactly an easy task. Thanks to the SNES’ console limitations, the samples used had to be compressed to fit the ROM space available, and thanks to Nintendo’s reluctance to release video game soundtracks to the public, higher quality versions weren’t exactly easy to come by.
Fortunately, that’s where today’s interviewee comes in.Known as Jammin’ Sam Miller on YouTube, he’s been hard at working remastering the Donkey Kong Country series soundtracks for years now, and has posted all manner of fantastic reworks of the same on his channel. Such as this high quality version of the Gangplank Galleon theme:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XaEJ_1sDvdY
Or this amazing near perfect quality rendition of the Stickerbrush Symphony tune:
And that’s just the start. From Fear Factory to Krook’s March, Bayou Boogie to Cavern Caprice, he’s covered and redone dozens of the series’ songs over the years, all of which sound incredible to listen to as a result.
So in today’s interview, we’re gonna talk to him about them, see how he remasters said songs, and learn for ourselves exactly what’s involved in reworking such an amazing series of soundtracks!
Starting with a bit of personal background. Who are you anyway?
Personal background? Hmm, let’s see…
I grew up in the middle of nowhere in Louisiana USA and the Donkey Kong Country games were some of the few games I had as a kid. So I really latched on to that, including the music and everything, and ended up being that kid who was obsessed with it. You know, that kid who’s obsessed with that one thing.
Eventually downloaded FL Studio (which is a piece of music production software) for my laptop since there wasn’t much to do out here in the country, and began teaching myself music from there. I started off making remixes of the songs from the Donkey Kong Country games, and went from there.
Either way, I then went off to study film at university (not music, since I was already teaching myself and wanted something different), then moved to New Orleans where I started the [DKC Remix] project. That’s where I am now.
Ah okay. So given you’re self taught, what was the hardest part about learning to create music?
Well, I sucked and I knew I sucked. [laughs]
But I guess it was just learning to get a grasp on how the notes worked together you know. I didn’t really know what a scale was, I didn’t really know much of anything so the toughest thing was getting everything to sound good.
Because you know, when you’re a kid you don’t care/remember what was hard and what wasn’t, and you’re all just like “I’m doing this thing”. I’d just show people these terrible things I’d made, and wouldn’t care that they were terrible.
Yeah, that’s always the way when you’re starting out. Still, I guess you never played an instrument or joined a band while in school?
Oh no. I did absolutely nothing in school. I was just kind of a sheltered child, so that’s really why I just latched onto the Donkey Kong Country series. I didn’t really know any pop music, in part because my family was very heavily Christian and Christian music was all we really listened to.
But I latched onto that game.
I also didn’t really like school much either. I hated being there, and just wanted to go home and play games with friends, you know?
So you didn’t have much experience with pop music either? Yeah, I was in that camp too.
You never really clicked with it?
Yeah, most popular music tends to be pretty lacklustre as I’m sure you know, but I live for those few songs every generation that really hit the nail on the head and do something great. That change music forever.
Well, I can give you one example from each generation. In the 60s there was the Sound of Silence by Simon and Garfunkel, in the 80s there was Africa by Toto or In the Air Tonight (those are both really good). In the 70s I would say maybe Cashmere, not really sure. But in the 50s there was My Way by Frank Sinatra and then in the 90s Zombie by the Cranberries was a really great one too.
Any songs like that from the modern day?
In the 2000s there was Cry Me a River and in the modern day I’d say Uptown Funk is a really great song.
Back to games now. Did you play anything other than the Donkey Kong Country series?
Well, I had a few. I had Glover for the Nintendo 64. Not sure if you’ve ever heard of that. It’s a great game with some great music.
Yeah, I’ve heard of it. It’s a great game, and rather underrated overall
Oh yeah, nobody really knows about that game. It’s very underrated, and I can’t praise the music enough.
I also had Yoshi’s Island, that was a really fun one too. The SNES one with that annoying crying baby [cue Baby Mario noises].
Had some of Koji Kondo’s best music too.
The only other one I had was Oracle of Ages. That one’s a really great game too.
3 good games. Those are the good ones I had.
Are you planning to make remixes/remasters for all of them?
Well, it’s a different process for each system. So Yoshi’s island would be possible, but not Oracle of Ages. Not sure what would go on with the Game Boy one.
Any favourite songs outside of the Donkey Kong Country soundtracks?
Outside of DKC, some of my favourites include the Legend of Zelda theme (which is really great), that Bowser’s Road from Mario 64, and some of the Yoshi’s Island tunes. But yeah.
Yoshi’s Island has some great music, doesn’t it?
Have you heard the soundtracks for Mario + Rabbids or Smash Bros Ultimate yet?
Mario + Rabbids? What’s that?
Heard the new Smash Bros game has some good DKC remixes though. What is the series up to now anyway? There was Melee, then Brawl, then Wii U, and Ultimate… is there Ultra coming out?
No, Ultimate is the latest game
Did you know Grant Kirkhope returned to compose a Banjo-Kazooie remix for Smash Bros Ultimate?
Oh nice. So he came back and was like “I’m gonna do my own remix for Smash?”
Indeed. There were quite a few DKC songs there too.
Yeah, I heard they did K Rool’s theme from the first game right? And then the one from the second game?
Then there was Stickerbrush Symphony at some point? That was Ultimate right?
Nah, that was from Brawl. Still, what were your thoughts on Ultimate’s remixes anyway?
The final boss remix from the first DKC game felt like there was a mariachi band going full swing. It was very nice, but it was like “trumpets? Where did this all come from?”
I really liked K Rool’s theme from DKC 2 in Smash Ultimate as well.
You mean Crocodile Cacophony?
Oh yeah, I love that one.
Either way, as far as DKC was concerned, the game’s all had very different soundtracks. So what did you think of them?
The first one was more experimental, where they were trying lots of different things. Given David Wise is very much into swing music, there’s a lot of that in there, as well as a lot of jazz. It’s an island theme after all, so you’re gonna get a ton of tropical stuff like that.
Then Donkey Kong Country 2 had a very specific theme of pirates which are Irish in nature, so you had a lot of Irish jigging and all that. At the time, David was also listening to a lot of [name] and Prokofiev (don’t know how to pronounce that) and so a lot of Russian influences were found in his music there as well.
And the third one I would say had a Rugrats vibe to it, what with the Kiddy thing going on./
As you may know, DKC 3 GBA replaced the whole soundtrack with a new one by David Wise. So which do you prefer? The SNES game’s one, or the GBA one?
I like the original SNES game more, since you can’t get those bass vibrations on the GBA. That’s why they composed a new soundtrack for the latter version.
There are tracks I like in that version, but most of the time it just didn’t hit home for me because I’m so used to the Super Nintendo.
I think Dave was in a similar situation. He too was more used to composing for the SNES, and the GBA one was a bit unfamiliar overall.
Additionally, I also feel like the SNES games had more of an influence from the Stamper brothers and Rare’s management, since the brothers were pushing more for that creepy music, while today it seems game developers want all their music tracks to be all super upbeat and happy.
And I find that to be a bit cheesy at times. I definitely gravitate more towards the darker soundtracks.
Caption: This music is just PERFECT for a chase involving a giant bandsaw, right?
What about your thoughts on Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze’s soundtracks?
Well, I don’t own a Switch so I haven’t played Tropical Freeze. But I have played Returns all the way through, though its music didn’t stick with me like that in the SNES games did.
Though I did play Yooka-Laylee.
How does it compare to DKC on a musical level?
It compares quite well. They had some good tunes in Yooka-Laylee.
But it didn’t capture the same vibe as DKC did. DKC 1 and 2 had this really specific vibe to it, in part because of the influences drawn from EDM music and everything was really mixed in that way. The droning bass was a major part too, if you listen to some of those tracks it just fills the room.
And those games also unused very unorthodox samples as well. All that put together just created a vibe I’ve never heard anywhere else, not even in the later Donkey Kong Country games.
Okay then. I think you’d probably like the Tropical Freeze soundtrack to be honest, David Wise returns to compose it and it’s a lot more stylistically similar to the older games than Returns was.
Yeah, I’ve checked out the soundtrack for Tropical Freeze, and I like it a lot.
What are your thoughts on the songs in the Donkey Kong Land soundtracks? Personally I think they hold up pretty well even on an 8-bit system with limited capabilities…
Well, it’s hard to get past the whole Game Boy = 8-bit thing.
But one DK Land song I really enjoyed was the temple tune. That was a great tune that Dave took and remixed, and I really enjoyed it.
That and Ancient Lake from Diddy Kong Racing. That’s a favourite of mine.
Yeah, Diddy Kong Racing has a fantastic soundtrack, and one I suspect many people don’t know is from David Wise…
I think that’s the game they took Dave off of Donkey Kong Country 3 to go work on.
He also did a game called Tengami as well as Snake Pass and things like that.
Do you ever feel disappointed that companies like Nintendo, Rare, etc don’t sell their soundtracks anywhere? Like iTunes?
Yeah. Because if they did, if they genuinely did try to capitalise on it, they could probably make some big bucks off it.
There’s definitely a market for these songs, via all the people who grew up on their legacy products and who’d listen to the soundtracks for them now.
So why do you think they haven’t done that yet? Any theories?
Well, my friends showed me the Spyro remaster recently, and how the soundtrack was kinda not similar. So perhaps it’s tough to follow up those things, and some companies don’t want to touch all that because they don’t feel people are going to be satisfied either way.
Let’s talk about your remasters specifically now. How did you get started with them anyhow?
Well, I found this thing called SPC Tool, like an old DOS program from the 90s. If anyone watches my livestreams, you’ll see I use that a lot, since it reads the SPC soundtrack and lets you see everything that’s going on. You can see the channels individually, you can see the pitch, you can see the volume. Everything that’s happening in the soundtrack is something you can see.
More importantly however, it allows you to save the audio files. That’s because the instruments are stored in the game as a recording of a single note, and the software plays that note up and down to make a tune. This tool lets you save these as wav files, and use the instruments wherever you want.
That’s what led me to create a Donkey Kong Country soundfont, which is like a set of virtual instruments so to speak. And that’s what then gave rise to everything else.
Okay, nice. But how did you get the samples in their original quality, given they’re compressed in game?
Yeah, you have to find the original ones they had when doing the soundtracks, but you don’t need to find the original machines, since a lot of this stuff is digitised and can be found online.
Either way, I asked Dave for a list of what he used to create the soundtrack, and I found those machines, which led me to the relevant samples.
That’s awesome! Reminds me of a similar project we’re working on at Wario Forums, where we’re trying to reconstruct the original songs from Wario Land 4 in the same way…
Yeah, it’s a fun way to do things, hearing everything again in high quality.
Must be useful to have the original composer to speak to when doing this stuff, right?
Going off what you were saying about the Wario Land 4 project not having composer contact, that was a problem with some of the DKC samples as well. Some of them came from a devkit included with the Super Nintendo, as shown by ActRaiser 2 having the same horn sample as Donkey Kong Country did.
However, you can’t really get in contact with anyone who worked at Nintendo back in that era, so it’s difficult to find out what was included in it.
So that was kind of a wildcard for the project too.
How did you get samples affected by that issue then?
Well you just have to look around and see what machines were popular at that time and try to get the samples from that. But yeah it’s tough.
What does David Wise think of these remasters anyway?
I haven’t personally sent them to him, but I think someone did, and I think he listened to them there. Think he liked them on Twitter.
(and that was only an old one he listened to)
Awesome! Rare’s composers have to be some of the nicest people in the industry, don’t they?
Absolutely. Dave’s a super nice guy, you always see him on Twitter talking about stuff and he’s always polite to everyone and super professional. And then Grant is always nice as well.
I think he actually participated in a metal remix of one of his songs too. There was a video of it on Youtube.
Yeah, they always seem to get really involved in fan projects like this, don’t they?
Yeah. And in that video at the end he [Grant] was like ‘get the F off my lawn’ and I found that hilarious.
I think David Wise also remixed of his songs too…
Yeah, it was the credits theme in DKC 2. He then came on the DKC 3 album and did the elephant run remix too.
Like for DKC 3 GBA.
What are your thoughts on those OC Remix songs anyway? You been keeping up with them?
Well yeah, I’ve been keeping up with the OC Remixes that come out, and while I still listen to the Serious Monkey Business album and feel there have been some other good ones there, most of the time I feel that the mixes there are too synthy. Every now and then though there’s a good one.
Yeah, I do feel some of the remixes there miss the mark a bit. For instance, all the Mario 64 Bowser’s Road remixes I’ve heard seem to only cover the intro part…
Oh, that’s a great song. I love that song.
But do they just keep going with that ‘nah nah nah-nah’ part? The four note intro?
Well that’s just sad man. You gotta cover the whole song, it’s a great song.
Have you been promoting the better remixes you’ve heard?
Definitely, I’ve been posting some remixes on my channel. Funk Fiction did a really good Aquatic Ambience remix a while back, that I’ve included there.
Oh, in those playlists you create, right?
Yeah, I think I have a playlist of songs that inspired the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack, good remixes, stuff like that. There are a lot of great remixes out there.
Any other neat DKC fan works you’ve seen?
Not sure if you’ve seen it, but there’s one guy who’s an animator, and he reanimated the Lockjaw’s Locker environment in 3D. And he did such a fantastic job with that. It was so beautiful.
Everything down to the filters used in the video were so great. It was especially impressive given that usually when people reanimate characters in 3D it doesn’t come out right,
What have your favourite songs to remix been so far?
As far as the ones I enjoyed the most? Well I really can’t say. A lot of the really more involved DKC 2 tracks were really rewarding though. Hot Head Bop was really fun to do. Lockjaw’s Saga was really rewarding to hear in that wide stereo kind of setting. They were all a lot of fun.
Do you feel you’ve improved a lot over time?
Yeah, all those old restorations are like relics now. Some people are still commenting on them like ‘this is so amazing’ and I’m listening to that and going like ‘urgh, no. No’.
I can definitely see how I grew over the years. I can see how I grew over the years of doing this.
Have you been fixing up those old tracks?
Yeah I have been. When we couldn’t find the samples that we needed to one of the tracks that everybody wanted, we… I would just go back and fix up some of the old ones that aren’t doing too good.
I think one of those I’ve uploaded a new video to YouTube for, but most of the time I’ll just update the sound files in the download instead (so when they download the full track list, they’ll get a newer version).
Unfortunately, quite a few channels have been stealing your work and reuploading it themselves on YouTube. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, some people were telling me about that, and I was just like ‘eh’
I think back then when I started the project I wasn’t uploading to YouTube, I was just putting the tracks on Twitter, and then someone found it and was like “Oh, I can upload these and get a bunch of subscribers off that”. So they did, and I think that person still has more subscribers that me.
But I’m not really too upset about it. I really just want to keep making these and don’t really care how much recognition I get.
Yeah, seems like TerraBlue right?
Yeah, there were a few people doing stuff like that, but they haven’t really done anything since. Or at least I haven’t heard about it.
Either way, what do you think about how popular your remasters have gotten? Are you happy to see people like them?
Yeah, I’m very impressed about how everyone’s taken to them. I think someone did an article on the restorations, and people started picking it up.
Of course, as I find more samples and am to do the bigger songs more people want, that gets more attention too.
Have you seen the popular r/Nintendo post about them?
A Reddit post? I haven’t seen anything on Reddit.
You don’t use Reddit much?
Yeah, haven’t been getting into the whole Reddit game very much. Been mostly posting on Instagram, Twitter and stuff like that.
Oh yeah, GoNintendo, that’s the site that did the article that was on my restorations.
Either way, has this newfound fame helped your channel enough to let you work on it full time?
I don’t know about full time, at least not with this project. Because there are a lot of copyright issues, since it is the actual song, But in the future, I’ve always wanted to do original music, and record me creating it in the same way as the livestreams I do right now. Could be like Bob Ross the Joy of Painting but with music. Like, let’s sit there and put a happy little drum right there.
So I guess one of your main goals is to compose your own video game music then?
Absolutely, one of my biggest goals is to be a video game composer. Because the niche vibe that the Donkey Kong Country soundtrack for Super Nintendo created I feel in some special way, and want to bring that to new games cause it’s a forgotten art form. It really did something special that nobody else picked up, and I want to bring that to modern games. I think people would really like that.
How about other mediums? Have you considered composing music for any of those?
Like film soundtracks? Yeah I’ve been composing quite a lot of soundtracks for films by my little circle of friends and indie filmmakers I’ve found here in New Orleans and in college.
Do you have any favourite film soundtracks?
As far as film soundtracks go, the one for Psycho was great. That, Pirates of the Caribbean and Star Wars would be my three favourite film soundtracks.
Any reasons why?
I really like those soundtracks because they had a theme, just like the Donkey Kong Country series soundtracks did. If you talk about Psycho, you have all these crazy violins going at it. For those that have seen Psycho, it really has a motif to it. It doesn’t just do strings and drums and everything that everything else has, it has a style that you could pick out and identify even without having watched the movie.
Same for Pirates of the Caribbean, they have this orchestra/Irish blend going there. And for Star Wars, they have those big brass ensembles that you can recognise immediately.
I think that’s one of the things I really like about the Donkey Kong Country series, they really created a style for it that just so recognisable.
Don’t most movie soundtracks have a theme?
No, most movies don’t. Every once in a while you do get one with a great motif or style.
However, most movies just stick to piano and strings. I can’t tell you how many times I go into a movie and there’s nothing but an orchestra. Yes that’s what everybody wants you to do, but that’s not my style man, and I don’t work just piano and strings and drums and stuff.
No, I’ve gotta break out, that’s what the Donkey Kong Country series taught me. So I try to use different instruments and styles and work all that into it to make it as interesting as you can.
Huh, interesting. Do video game soundtracks have similar issues in your eyes?
A lot of games these days are just doing the same thing as movies, just doing all that orchestra stuff. A lot of the time I’ll just go on Steam, see the same kind of indie RPG with the standard ‘epic’ soundtrack score and be like “Nah dude, I want something different”.
So you want your music to have a different style?
Yeah, it should have a lot of different instruments and different influences come together. For instance, I’m actually scoring a kung-fu parody movie right now, and I’m really getting into all the Chinese instruments and things like that.
So whatever you do, it should either have, if not a pop influence, some kind of cultural influence and be rooted in a different kind of culture of music based on what the game demands at the time. Whatever kind of theme you have in your game, you should really pull that out and get to work on what the world/music sounds like.
Seems the idea of a main theme is super important to you where music is concerned. Do you have any other thoughts on good video game music composition?
Actually, I thought about doing an album because I was thinking about how older game soundtracks were influenced by the limitations of the console. When Dave composed a soundtrack for the Super Nintendo, he had a set amount of instruments that could be used for the game. And so that created a motif in of itself.
So I thought to myself, what if I could come up with a concept for a story or a game and then just create a soundtrack like that. Like an album as if I was composing for a game and used the same instruments and motif, as that could get me practice for composing for an actual game.
Limitations breed creativity, as we say in the business.
Like with the Donkey Kong Country series soundtrack?
Yes, in the case of that, they were working with what little space they had, so they had to find instruments that’d work well under the compression that the game was putting on them, and they had to have very few sounds too.
So would you say video game soundtracks were better then?
Not necessarily. After all, how many great games did we have at that time? It was kind of a different era really, because back then, only really big studios could make games. But I’m sure there were quite a few video game music pitfalls back then too.
Yeah, quite a few of them didn’t exactly use the soundchips for those consoles to their full capacities, right?
Exactly. Some of those Super Nintendo soundtracks certainly didn’t go all out with the music, they just played the sample and that was it.
But the software used then was very restricting. I mean, when Dave was working on the Donkey Kong Country games, he had to literally input every single bit of data by hand. Like the volume, panning, the pitch, etc, and at every different moment too.
So it took something like 5 weeks to finish a single song. Hence most people didn’t want to really mess with it all that much.
Makes sense. Still, you heard about some of the custom SNES songs people are making for ROM hacks of games like Super Mario World? Or the MSU1 chip, that lets you use MP3 music in SNES games?
Yeah I sort of heard about that, how they mod the game to make their own sort of game. And I have a friend who’s really into these video game soundtracks, and would compose songs under SNES limitations just for a fun exercise.
Also, you said you could create MP3 music on the SNES?
Yeah, via the MSU1 chip. You heard of it?
Actually yes. Ever since I started the project, I’ve had somebody talking to me about how they’re gonna put this on an MSU patch, and asking for a FLAC versions of the songs.
That’s how I started exporting my project files in FLAC too, so people could do this MSU1 thing.
Sounds great. You gonna test out how your songs sound in game?
Sure, once I’ve finished the soundtrack and handed it off to the guy making the patch, I’ll definitely download then said patch and see what it’s like hearing the remastered soundtrack in the actual game.
And then what? What do you plan to work on after these remasters are complete?
I want to work on my original music. Get a few original game style tunes out there to show the style I’m going for, and what I see in the Donkey Kong Country series that I’m trying to bring to new games. I haven’t really honed my skills enough to be able to say “this is what I’m trying to do”.
I do have it in my mind, I do have the vision of it, I just haven’t been able to hone that skill.
So I think the next project, once the DKC one is done, is when I’ll really go to town on making original music, since I’ll pretty much have had the training for it. That’s what this whole DKC remaster project is really about, training me to mix music effectively so I can go and make original tunes.
I’ll also livestream the process of creating these tunes, so people can learn how to create music themselves. Perhaps people will get into creating music when they realise just how you can do by just going and working on it.
So you’re planning to move away from remixes?
Well, I don’t really want to get tied down by anything. Don’t get me wrong, remixes are great and a good way to see how far you can stretch a theme, but I don’t really want to get too tied down with anything like that. Not even music as a whole actually, I want to be get into film as well.
At some point I want to make my own original games too, by getting a team together and saying “hey we can make a game”. I have a lot of things I want to do.
Whether I’ll get time for them or not… I don’t know. But they’re on the chopping block for sure.
You’re interested in game design? Do you have any ideas for games already?
I do actually. There’s a game I really want to try and create.
Basically, you heard of LittleBigPlanet? It was such an amazing game and I loved how it took everything that was done for platformers and making it so you can build them yourself. Like you can make your own games in the level editor, and you can do so much with that.
So I’ve developed my own game concepts, but haven’t really found anyone to make them a reality. Part of that was me not really having time to devote to that, but at some point I really want to create my own games based on these really wacky ideas.
What’s your experience with programming anyway? You tried out any commercial engines like Unity?
I actually started creating a game in Unity, and what I had to do to create really good stuff with LittleBigPlanet 2 prepared me for the programming I had to do. It’s really not a lot of math, it’s more like logic.
Yeah, programming isn’t as tough to get to grips with as people think. Plus even a bit of programming knowledge can let you create interesting things…
Absolutely, and that ties into how limitations breed creativity. Like these things you’re learning about the system and how it works can inform you and give you new ideas. Like “okay, maybe this doesn’t work, so we’ll work around it by doing this” and then that’ll give you another idea.
I downloaded Unity and tried to create what I was thinking of for a game, where you controlled a bus in space. It was a 2D game and you had a thruster on the front and back of the bus, meaning you could only go forward and backwards. So you couldn’t steer and had to intentionally crash into things like asteroids and meteors to change the bus’ trajectory and get you where you needed to go.
I tried to make that in Unity and it was certainly tough. But I’m still working on it, and attempting to get people together to actually make it a reality.
Huh, you weren’t kidding when you said you had some original game ideas. Still, that’s a really novel idea for a game, and the space theme definitely seems like it’ll allow for some neat gravity mechanics, doesn’t it?
Oh yeah, gravity! Gravity is working!
Yeah, there are a lot of possibilities. One idea I had was a planet that was spinning around in orbit abnormally fast, and you’d have to get around it due to how it’d constantly be slapping you around. So you’d have to try and get wherever you needed to go without hitting that planet.
I also had a part where you’d wander into a giant pool table and there were aliens hitting pool balls at you. The balls would have these weird symbols on, and be shot at you the entire time.
So the game has a flying bus interrupting an alien pool game. That’s certainly one hell of an original idea, isn’t it?
Yeah, I’ve definitely got enough of them.
Still, here’s hoping it’ll get made. It could be a really interesting game!
Hopefully you’ll see it come to fruition at some point.
Have found someone to create the graphics for these games? Cause getting the right graphics for a game can be one of the toughest parts of making it…
Yeah, that’s a big difficulty because I’m a designer guy and an audio creator, not visually or artistically gifted in any way.
This makes it challenging to present it to people in order to persuade them to work on the project.
Do you think it’s tough to get good art if you don’t know how to make it yourself/have friends who are good at that?
Definitely. Especially when you don’t have money.
RPGs certainly seem like one of the more common genres for indie game developers, don’t they?
Oh yeah. I think that’s like everyone’s go to game genre. We want to make a game? Okay, RPG. There you go.
To be fair, I guess most games rely on some pretty safe concepts and genres, don’t they?
Oh yeah, right. I think people are just like “Hey, it could be fun to just make a game”, so they’re just gonna go with it. And there’s nothing wrong with that too. It’s like, you can do that.
But that’s the downside of that, of having a system where anybody can make a game. Is that if anybody can make a game, you’re gonna also have quite a lot of pretty uninspired stuff.
Still, the system works its way around that. If something is good, it will get found if it’s marketed right.
You still have the same amount of games being made by a big company, the only difference is now they also have the indie market. That’s just kind of a thing that’s on the side, I don’t feel that has killed the big corporate industry in any way.
It’s certainly made game design and development much more accessible to the public, hasn’t it?
Yeah, and that’s a beautiful thing. If somebody wants to make a game they can.
Either way, you’re interested in game design, music and film making? Do you worry you may be spreading yourself to thin?
It’s a blessing and a curse that I’m not a gamer, music producer or filmmaker. I can’t really get too deep into one community because if I do so, I don’t know what anyone’s talking about. But I can also stay shallow in all three of those communities and talk a little bit about that. Like the guy who just comes around sometimes.
Having my feet in a bunch of different communities expands my mind way more. However, it also means I’m merely taking what I need from each community, and that has its own implications too, both good and bad.
I think that’s why sometimes you’ll get people who don’t know anything about music who’ll create something great because their mind hasn’t been trained to think a certain way. Because of that, they have a unique perspective on it so to speak.
Yeah, makes sense. I remember Nintendo wanting people who weren’t already die hard gamers for that reason, since experience in other fields and a lack of it in gaming can lead to some unique perspectives…
Absolutely, that’s a really good strategy.
People tell me “Oh, you want to be a game composer? You’ll have to know a lot of game soundtracks”. But I’m like “No, I don’t. I just have to have a unique perspective on something”
It does help to know the medium and its trends, but as far as actually composing goes, the only thing to know is that you have a medium where you’re controlling a character inside a story or world and have to decide what that world sounds like. That’s really all there is to it.
What do you get inspired by?
I get inspired by everything. I just look for things to inspire me.
However, I can’t seem to compose for the Mario style games, since they’re too detached from reality. I felt Donkey Kong Country had more varied environments and that they felt more realistic, helping me to suspend my disbelief. And if I can suspend my disbelief in a gaming world, I can do better with it.
So Mario’s wacky fantasy stylings make it difficult for you to feel like you’re part of that world?
Yeah. That’s why I couldn’t get into those games, because I was like “Okay, all these objects in the world don’t look like they go together”. Like the pipe, bricks and background in the original game. “I don’t know where I am, so I found nothing I could ‘latch onto’ with that”.
I do know of the Mario theme and music, but I couldn’t get into the games due to not really having a sense of the world.
Could Super Mario Odyssey help there? That game certainly makes its kingdoms feel more like actual places rather than random obstacle courses…
That’s the one with the city right?
Because I saw a trailer for that, and I could have sworn I saw Mario running around in what looked like New York or something, you know what I mean?
Yeah, it’s got a kingdom called New Donk City.
New Donk City? Okay.
Yeah, I would definitely be interested in trying that, cause that looks like something they’ve never done before. Not sure what compelled the people at Nintendo to try something like Odyssey, but we need more ideas like it. Stuff they haven’t done before.
You may want to check out stuff like the Mario RPGs, Luigi’s Mansion and Wario Land games too. Those are Mario based, but have a bit more of a cohesive world.
Yeah, I’ll have to check that out. I think what makes the best games is where it’s detached from reality (cause I don’t care about the likes of Red Dead Redemption or Call of Duty), but still returns there in some way. It’s like abstract vs non objective art; non objective art is completely detached from reality while abstract art is detached from reality but still gives us a general sense of it. I think that’s where the sweet spot for everything lies.
It’s definitely the case for the Wario Land games, where the ideas are wacky, but the level concepts are also a bit more grounded than Mario levels as a whole. Would you be interested in checking it out?
Yeah, send me some links to that, I’ll have to check that out.
Did anything else make DKC feel more grounded to you?
Donkey Kong Country was also way more conscious of the colour scheme it had going on. Because Mario kinda had a bunch of different cartoon colours, with his shirt being red, jeans blue, pipes green etc and while I liked the vibrancy, I felt there should have been a colour scheme going on.
Meanwhile in DKC, the jungles had all these yellows and greens, the water was blue and brown (or the coral was brown and green anyway), it was a lot more consistent. And I’m very picky about stuff like that.
Well, may as well start wrapping this up now. So first up, were you on any Donkey Kong Country related forums in the past?
Editor’s Note: Based on a quick bit of research, his DKC Atlas account seems to be called BlueTronic instead. He made a topic about his soundtrack restorations here.
But that was a while back. I also got banned from DK Vine at some point too.
Okay then. Guess you’re not a big forum user?
Finally, did you enjoy the interview?
Yeah man, I had a lot of fun. It’s always great to talk to people in the video game community about things, and learn new things about all the games I might like.
Thanks Sam. It was great speaking to you about your channel and music remasters too. They’re absolutely fantastic from what we’ve heard of them, and based on the likes, comments and articles about them, it’s clear the internet agrees too.
So here’s hoping they get you many more fans and subscribers in future, as well as encourage the likes of Rare and Nintendo to actually make their music available at their original quality level as well.
Still, what did you think of the interview? Did you find it interesting reading about Jammin’ Sam Miller and his YouTube career? What about his thoughts on game design and music as a whole?
Tell us your thoughts on the matter in the comments below, or over on the Gaming Latest forums!