Wow, would you look at that? Not even two days after our last interview, and we’ve already got another one ready to go here on Gaming Reinvented! It’s certainly a quicker turn around than before, and we hope to keep it up going forward from this point on.
And we’re not getting lazy with the choices either. Nope, because today’s interviewee is someone a little different from the others we’ve talked to in the past. You see, they’re not just a gaming YouTuber or game developer.
They’re both at once, with videos both showing amazing custom Super Mario Maker levels and game design insights all on the same channel.
And so, let’s talk to him, and find out exactly what it’s like creating these amazing levels in Nintendo’s level editor!
Starting with a bit of personal background. Who are you?
I’m Ceave, I run a Mario Youtube channel with a special focus on Mario Maker.
And where did the whole ‘Ceave Gaming’ brand come from anyway? I don’t see a website called that anywhere online…
Yeah, there is no website because Ceave Gaming didn’t exist before. I started uploading videos to the channel and didn’t really expect anything, so the brand for the channel developed over time. I wanted to have the thumbnails of the videos to be very similar so that it’s possible to tell that a video is by me just by looking at the thumbnail, and I wanted the thumbnails to feel like the vids are creative so I came up with this drawing style which makes the thumbnails look consistent.
Either way, how did you first get into gaming anyway?
Hm, that’s hard to answer for me. I grew up with video games around me, my older brother got a Nintendo 64 to release when I was about 6 years old, and since then I’ve always been playing games.
What about your first Mario game? Your videos show you’ve played games all the way back to the N64 era at the least…
I believe the first Mario game I ever played was Super Mario Land for the original game boy in all its brick sized glory. No idea how old I was when I first played it, but I do remember that I wasn’t able to make it past the second stage, and that I thought my father was a Mario god because he was actually able to beat the first boss. The first Mario game I really remember playing was Mario 64.
Still, onto Mario Maker now. What was your first thought on the game, when you realised that yes, Nintendo was making an official Mario level editor?
Honestly, I wasn’t really that excited at all. I was a little bit disappointed with my Wii u at that time and didn’t follow Nintendo’s announcements as close as I do now. I just stumbled over the news that the game was coming somewhere on reddit a couple of weeks before release. The concept really interested me, but I wasn’t super hyped or anything. The only reason I got the game at release day was that I happened to be really bored that day and saw that it was the day Mario Maker released. So, I went out and bought it.
When you did play it, what were your initial reactions to the whole thing?
I really liked it. It was something along the lines of, wait a bullet blaster bounces on top of a spring? How cool. Wait, I’m able to put a spring into the blaster? Awesome! I was just really excited how many ways there were for the different objects to interact with each other.
Had you ever made your own levels before then? Like say, with tools like Lunar Magic or Super Mario Bros X?
Yeah, I’ve been toying around with such tools since I’m old enough to use them. I put hundreds and thousands of hours into the RPG Maker as a kid. I believe I started using it when I was eleven. When I was a little bit older I started to toy around with the game maker and I have spent even more hours in front of this tool. It blew me away as a teenager that there was a tool that allowed anyone to make games! I’ll probably never forget how excited I was when I finally understood what switches and variables were as a thirteen-year-old and I was finally able to make a treasure chest in RPG Maker that only rewarded its content the first time when opened!
And when you did start to realise the possibilities Mario Maker had? When did you realise these complex machines could be created via the level editor alone?
The first time I really realized what an enormous potential the game had, was when I tried to create a puzzle stage and noticed that a firebar ignites a Bob-omb. Then I toyed around a little bit more with it and noticed that every fire source ignites Bob-omb. Lava Bubbles, Fire that Yoshi spits, Burners… even Cheep Cheeps that fell into lava! So, it’s possible to put a Lava Bubble into a Bullet Blaster, and then to block the Blaster from shooting. But once Mario found a way to get the Blaster to shoot, this Bubble could ignite a faraway Bob-omb to open a door. That’s some really cool stuff!
Above: Super Mario Maker is clearly a ‘systemic’ game, as defined by Mark Brown’s above video.
Talking of those machines, how do you come up with them? These Rube Goldberg like devices for doing things like detecting Mario’s power up status or whether he’s collected any coins seem like they take a lot of careful thought in the design process…
It’s actually surprisingly easy! There are certain tricks possible in Mario Maker, and new ones are found constantly. Like we know how to test for Mario’s vertical position, we know how to count when a room is loaded, how to test if Mario is wearing a power up, how to close a door once Mario walked through it, how to randomize stuff and so on. Most of these things can be wired together. So, if we want to create something really crazy all we need to do is to add tricks together. For example, we can create a level where Mario has to survive three minigames in a row, the minigames are chosen randomly, Mario always returns to the previous room but minigames he already played become deactivated and there is a hidden mushroom detection contraption that counts up to three and opens up a secret exit if Mario never took damage. Such a level would be almost impossible to design from scratch, but if we know all the tricks from before it’s suddenly really easy!
In fact, they remind me of programming, in a very rudimentary sense. Did you have any experience with programming before building Super Mario Maker levels?
Yeah, I have been programming for fun since I first started using game maker and I have studied computer science for a couple of semesters, so I’m familiar with most basic coding concepts.
How do you decide what to make in the game anyway? Is it purely a matter of you wondering “is that even possible?”
It’s a mix of a lot of stuff. Sometimes there’s just something I always wanted to create, sometimes viewers ask me if I could look into something, sometimes I just stumble over a really cool concept while playing a level and want to try how far this can be pushed and sometimes I just believe a certain idea would get tons of clicks on YouTube if I find a way to pull it off.
Either way, no one’s perfect, and I’m guessing you’ve had a few cases where your ideas don’t work out here too. Do you remember any instances where you had an interesting idea for a Mario Maker ‘gimmick’ and then realised it just wasn’t going to work the way you expected it would?
I spent way more hours than I’m willing to accept, trying to create a Tic Tac Toe game in Mario Maker. Then there was this time when I tried for a whole weekend to recreate Tetris, which hasn’t worked out … yet. Oh, and a two player Mario Party stage is also surprisingly difficult to implement!
How about the opposite? Any creations you’d consider your favourites here?
Yeah, the randomized roguelike stage is probably my favourite!
What about Mario Maker creations from other authors you think are really impressive? Do you have any examples of those?
There are so many of them! All the stages that were featured in the 2YMM event were incredible! I remember one of these stages played heavily with Mario’s momentum when jumping off of moving objects. That was such a great stage! Then there are the level of the week levels in the Mario Maker reddit, most of them are incredibly well done as well. Not to mention all those really talented guys that just put out some awesome levels, without anyone really taking notice. I stumbled into so many great stages when just browsing the bookmarking site!
Still, Mario Maker’s getting on a bit now, and I’m sure many people agree it’s time for a sequel or updated version for Nintendo Switch. What do you hope such a game would have?
Phew, there is a lot that I want a sequel to have! First of all, better playing and filter options for online play. While the Mario Maker editor is really well done, the play side of things is really lacking. Additionally, I also want them to add new items to the editor. I actually care less about which items they add, but more about that these items keep interacting with everything else, and have a lot of potential uses, beside their obvious use.
I would also love to have more options to build logical functions. The most important things missing are probably two state blocks, or some simple way to make a certain block appear and disappear that isn’t a p-switch. Such a block is all that is missing in order to create actual computer circuits. Oh, and they really should make the items limitations less draconian. 100 enemies simply aren’t enough.
Above: Super Mario World’s ‘On/Off’ switches plus switch blocks would fill the role Ceave mentions.
Outside of Mario Maker, you’ve also started making more videos about other Mario titles too, like Super Mario Odyssey. Do you feel it’s a fantastic game that lives up to 64, Sunshine, Galaxy, etc?
I love it!
What moments have you really enjoyed in said title?
The movement and the exploration. Just having these open and interesting areas, tons of ways to move through them and something to discover under every rock was a ton of fun for me!
Any areas you feel Nintendo could have improved things there?
There is always room for improvement but there isn’t a single thing I would say they really messed up. A couple more stages would have been really cool, but that’s probably a little bit much to ask. The only areas that might have needed a little bit more work are the separate platforming challenges. A lot of them are really uninspired and they never even come close to the creativity of the platforming levels in 3D world or Galaxy 2.
One thing you mentioned in a recent video was Mario Odyssey’s bosses being better because they didn’t require you to slow down and play as ‘passively’ as in past Mario game boss fights. But the idea of a boss you can constantly keep attacking and fighting at your own pace isn’t too new, as seen in Mega Man, Contra, Castlevania, Cuphead etc. Did you enjoy the bosses in these types of games more than in the Mario ones?
Yes, I did, but the comparison isn’t fair in my opinion. Those are games that have shooting or dedicated combat mechanics. The real challenge is how to create an engaging boss without combat mechanics. Only jumping. That’s something very few games managed to pull off. Odyssey found a way to have more of a real fight against the Broodals, and didn’t use the old attack phase, defence phase trick. That made them really stand out in my opinion. Another game that did this even better than odyssey is A Hat in Time. The boss fights there the best ones I’ve ever seen in a platformer!
Above: Some awesome bosses from A Hat in Time.
And talking of other games and series… any others you really like, outside of Mario?
There are tons of them! I play pretty much anything that isn’t a first-person shooter. I love Minecraft, I adore the Souls games, The Witcher 3 is great, all main Zelda games are awesome, there are so many great indie games, like Celeste or Hollow Knight or Factorio. I love the Mario games, but there are so many incredibly well-done games out there that manage to be enjoyable even if they feature no plumber at all, it’s amazing!
Still, onto the YouTube channel side now. What made you start up a channel anyway?
When I got the game, I spent about three weeks creating a seven-level long Zelda game in Mario Maker and discovered a lot of cool tricks while doing so. I was really proud of these stages! Then I uploaded the levels, and no one played them. That was super frustrating! So, I was facing two options: Either accept my defeat like an adult, or order a capture card, make a couple of videos showcasing a couple of the tricks I used in those stages and try to get some of my viewers to play the stages. I did the latter.
Did you expect it to become as popular as it has, or your videos to get tens or hundreds of thousands of views each?
No. But to be fair after a couple of months of doing videos I realized that there are actually a lot of people that really want to see weird Mario Maker tricks, and it allowed me to take this channel more serious.
What advice would you give others looking to get into the video creating game anyway?
Just upload a video and see what happens!
Finally, what plans do you have for your channel and work in future? Any new types of videos you plan to make, or other games you plan to create content about?
There will definitely be more Mario Maker, there is still soooo much potential in this game! Other than that, I plan on doing a look back at the design of all the Mario games, I want to give the toy con garage of Nintendo Labo a shot, there is the new game of the creators of little big planet coming out this year, called dreams, which I want to review at least. Maybe we’ll even take a look at the level creation in detail. Other than that, I do plan to take a look at some interesting design aspects of a couple of upcoming switch games and I really should try to get this Tic Tac Toe level to work!
And you know what? We really think you can do it. Seriously, if you can create things like randomised roguelike levels, trick items, no coin levels and direction gimmick levels in Mario Maker’s level editor, then the possibilities for it certainly seem wide enough to make a puzzle game like Tic Tac Toe or Tetris possible here. But hey, whatever happens we’re sure it’ll be impressive none the less. Good luck there Ceave! As for us? Well we’ll be back later with another interview, hopefully with someone else in either game development or YouTube video making. Hopefully you enjoyed the article, and we’re interested in any feedback you leave on it here in the comments or social media. Bye for now!
Over here at Gaming Reinvented, we’ve talked to no shortage of popular YouTubers over the years. There’s been our interview with SidAlpha, where we discussed consumer advocacy and the gaming industry as a whole. There’s been our series of interviews with retro gaming enthusiasts like Top Hat Gaming Man, Slopes Game Room and Guru Larry. And well, where music is concerned we’ve not exactly been slouching with the interviews there either, with BlueJackG and Loeder being just two of the individuals interviewed on our site.
But for whatever reason, there’s one YouTuber we somehow haven’t interviewed yet.
Namely, SwankyBox. Known for his videos on Mario theories and Nintendo mysteries, he’s been close enough to the site that we’ve actually done collaborations with him before, like this one on Mario’s grandfather or this other one on the portrait ghosts in Luigi’s Mansion.
Yet that’s never included an actual interview. We’re not sure why (maybe we just had too many others on our plate at the time), but we never interviewed him until now none the less.
Well, until today that is! Because now our exclusive interview with SwankyBox about gaming, his YouTube channel and how to start a successful YouTube career is ready to go. So, if you’re interested in it (or want to know some tactics to make your channel more successful), keep reading!
So, let’s start with the usual questions here. For the benefit of our readers, who are you exactly?
Howdy! My name is Bradley Burke and I run the YouTube channel SwankyBox.
And where did your channel username come from? Why SwankyBox?
So, the name SwankyBox came about because I wanted a funny name and a “container” of some kind. The box being the dumping ground for the random content. I tried a few different names all shaped around boxes but most were already taken. When I first started, SwankyBox was designed to have multiple people on the channel. I started out doing funny skits, but ultimately, I let the channel die out. This was back in 2012 and the main issue was that I didn’t have enough time to focus on YouTube. When I rebooted the channel, my alias was actually something different. I eventually just became the channel name though – SwankyBox. Nowadays a lot of people just call me Swanky.
Either way, what made you get into this YouTube malarkey anyway?
I’ve always been super into YouTube. It came out when I was in high school and I fell in love with it interesting. It wasn’t until later in life when I decided to pursue it as a career.
How about gaming as a whole? What was your first game?
I’ve always been a gamer. My first game was Super Mario World I believe. Since then I’ve been hooked!
Did you try anything else online before your YouTube channel kicked off? Like writing, podcasts, game design, etc?
In high school I was an avid game designer. I spent a good 3-4 years working on a game that never came out. However, I learned tons of things while doing it. It was a great learning experience.
Still, onto the video content now. As most people know, your main focus seems to be mysteries in video games. What inspired you to make videos about them?
When I was younger, all the kids at school would talk about the games they played at lunch. Because we didn’t all have access to the internet, rumours would circulate based on our game experiences. We’d talk about gaming mysteries and things we’d do in the game after we finished. I remembered discovering an invisible bridge in Bomberman 64 that no one else knew about (and honestly, it wasn’t well documented at all even prior to my 2015 video on it). I think that’s what shaped the desire to revive those topics in games, and to pursue mysteries in modern ones.
And how do you choose what ones to make videos about anyway? Cause the N64 era had tons of strange things in the backgrounds of its levels and areas, and you could probably make a few hundred videos about every mysterious background element in Super Mario 64 alone…
I started with the games I played the most. I had fond memories of certain things I tried to accomplish but couldn’t within the games, and from there I branched out. The fact that there are endless possibilities when it comes to gaming mysteries is kinda cool. I pretty much consider myself someone who studies digital worlds!
Are there any times you planned to make a video on something and it didn’t work out? Like, you didn’t have enough to say about it?
I definitely have a lot of scripts that are half finished or were shelved. Sometimes I just lose interest in the topic or sometimes I run into a hurdle. One of my latest Kirby videos sat as a draft for about eight months simply because I was trying to figure out some math that wasn’t possible to solve. I eventually came back to the script to take a different angle.
On the opposite end however, which of your videos are you most proud of and why?
Hmmm… For starters, my Mario and Link Swap video. It was an intense feat for the time and it was a milestone video for my channel. Funny to say that people have now turned the idea into a reality with mods.
I’m also really proud of my first Night in the Woods video. I don’t know what it is, but I really liked how it turned out. It was the perfect balance of reflecting + mystery + animation.
What games do you think you might cover in future here? Could Super Mario Odyssey be a focus? There are certainly questions raised by the kingdom brochures, like the one for Culmina Crater…
I actually should be paying WAY more attention to Super Mario Odyssey. I have it and have played it, but honestly, the older games still steal my attention more easily. I’m a sucker for nostalgia I guess. I definitely want to give Super Mario Odyssey, and even Breath of the Wild, proper coverage eventually.
Outside of mysteries, you also seem to have gotten into the habit of making videos about interesting things caused by hacks and codes in games, like the Galaxy videos on your smaller channel. What inspired that?
I don’t think it was so much “inspiration” and more so that’s just how I used to play games. I commonly gave my discoveries away to other people because I normally didn’t have any use for them on my channel. But, since I wanted to take a more unscripted approach, I’m now going back and documenting all the discoveries I’ve made in games by either hacking, glitching, or just changing the order of things and how they happen. I have a list of about 90 – 100 ideas to go through still!
And heck, do you feel this genre might be seeing a bit of an uptick in popularity recently? Cause it seems like ‘go out of bounds with hacks and see what interesting stuff you can find’ has become the focus of a lot of channels recently, as have hack experimentation videos in general…
I think people like to see things reinvented. If you have a favourite game and played the crap out of it, having someone pull back the curtain and show you things that you can’t normally accomplish catches one’s eye. I think the next wave of online entertainment for games is focused around that and meta games within video games. Challenges, if you will.
Ever worry these videos might not be possible for many games now, given the decline in AR codes and homebrew scenes on some modern systems?
I definitely think modern titles will have a lot more difficulty associated with them. Very recently even Action Replay Central’s website went down, and with it, the online archive of codes. I first tested an AR years ago on Super Mario Sunshine and LoZ: Master Quest and fell in love with it right away. It’s honestly interesting because I think the younger generation today, even if born during the time of the GameCube, may have not even known about Action Replay.
It’s really odd to think about. With old archives dying off online, some of these things will fade into obscurity. I know for a fact a good chunk of Resident Evil 4 codes were lost very recently and I haven’t been able to find them again anywhere.
Never the less, onto a few YouTube questions next. Did you ever expect your channel to reach nearly 160,000 subscribers?
I don’t think many YouTubers think of their channels reaching such a large number. Knowing 160,000 people liked my videos enough to follow me is pretty surreal. I always had dreams and aspirations, and I certainly put in the work for it, but still it baffles me when I step back to think about it. I feel pretty blessed and fortunate.
What do you think causes a channel to succeed on the site anyway? Is it the subject matter, the person running it, luck or a combination of a bunch of factors?
It’s definitely a combination. Compelling content that has a unique twist + likeable personality + properly optimizing your content. Compelling content will get you noticed, a likeable personality will keep people coming back regardless of topic, and optimizing your content through your title, tags, and description will keep YouTube circulating your content around. Luck plays a role, but more so I consider it a spark that ignites the fire you’ve already built. You still have to build it in anticipation for that spark though. People “blow up” on YouTube because they’ve already done all the groundwork prior to having a chance at success. That’s why they grow so fast once it happens.
Do you ever see any great videos by channels that don’t get enough attention? If so, what are some examples?
I was inspired to write it because when I first started out I had no one to go to for help. Online resources for pursuing a career path on YouTube kinda sucked at the time. Even today they don’t fully guide you in the right direction. Now that I’ve found success and answers to the questions I had, I see the next generation of content creators struggling with the same things. So, I decided to write the book I wish I had when I started. It’s designed so that someone can pick it up and learn everything about being a YouTuber. That way they can focus on the fun stuff instead of sweating all the things that come with the territory.
And well, what do you think the future holds for the service in general? I know some people are saying Google’s recent practices are hurting it quite a bit, so do you ever see a world where another service overtakes YouTube as a platform for video creators?
I think Twitch will eventually build out its site to be more in line with static uploads, and eventually match YouTube completely. Twitch certainly has the edge due to Amazon Prime integrations, but in the end, I think both platforms will still thrive. There are certainly hurdles on YouTube but I’m still extremely happy with the platform, despite my Twitter rants sometimes. It’s growing and I’ll certainly continue to grow along with it.
What about livestreaming? Do you think pre-recorded videos may lose out to them in future?
Livestreaming offers something pre-recorded videos cannot. It’s like the hangout sense you get from a Let’s Play or something but amplified. I don’t think they will ever overtake pre-recorded videos, but both are important for growing. You get major personality points with your audience for interacting with them in real time.
People who aren’t having kids are having cats. We wanted to build a channel from the ground up for both the fun of it and for the research of it. The cat channel was grown in a bubble so that I could remember exactly what it felt like to be a struggling creator. Someone who has no chance of being shouted out but has to grow and fight their way to success. Most YouTubers who give advice on “how they made it” often are speaking from a point that isn’t really valid anymore. The platform is always changing, and what worked in the past won’t work now. So, we used it as a learning opportunity so that I could actually understand the current day dilemmas of content creators. I then used that for the book.
Also, I love cats. Who doesn’t want a cat YouTube channel?
And for that matter, what’s it been like working on that channel? Has it been different trying to get traffic to a channel about cat toys compared to one about video games?
It’s like 100x more difficult. The Pet vertical on YouTube is in shambles because it’s dominated by stolen compilations that accrue insane amounts of watch time. It’s definitely more difficult than I thought it would be, but we’ll still keep pushing forward. We’re taking a mini break on the channel for the time being so I can work on some online training courses for the book, but we’ll be back at it soon enough!
Either way, what are your plans for the future here? Are there any more channels you plan to set up in future? Do you have any interest in changing the topics SwankyBox covers at some point?
My plans are really to focus on SwankyBox Live this year. SwankyBox is at a point where I just need to keep feeding it, whereas SwankyBox Live is a place where I can rediscover my gaming passions and be innovative. Because of the unique type of content on SwankyBox Live, it’s honestly super exciting to watch it grow.
So, there’s the two gaming channels, the pet channel, and there’s also an animation channel my fiancée started recently. So, between us, there’s four channels – so we’ll certainly be busy!
Finally, what advice would you give someone starting out on YouTube with a new channel?
Oh gosh… I’d say list out your passions. Write them out and if you think you want to pursue YouTube, think about which passion you wouldn’t mind doing full-time in the future. Would you get tired of it in a year? Maybe that’s not the right angle then. When you’re making your content, think of how you can make it different than what’s out there already. Add a twist, mix things up, and experiment. Don’t just try to be someone who already exists. You’d be doing yourself a disservice then.
And you know what? We agree with him 100%. Remember, YouTube in 2018 is nothing like it was in the days of yore. Whereas before quality standards were lower and marketing was a less of necessity for success, the site nowadays has become a business venture with millions of creators all fighting over that elusive audience and those often-blocked ad pennies. It’s a hard world for the little guy starting out, and one that’s only going to get harder to compete in as time goes on.
So, don’t leave your career to chance, check out some tips from someone who actually knows what they’re saying and how to build a successful channel. For someone new to YouTube, it’ll likely be the best investment they’ll ever make.
As for the rest of us? Well, we hope you enjoyed our interview, and we recommend you check out SwankyBox’s videos on Mario theories, Nintendo mysteries and cat toys today. Or tell us what you think of the interview over on Gaming Latest or our social media channels.
Here at Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed quite a few people involved in creating famous video games.
We’ve interviewed Tomoya Tomita, the composer for Wario Land Shake It and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. We’ve interviewed Randy Linden, the person responsible for porting Doom to the SNES and making the Bleem emulator in the PS1 era. And well, when it comes to YouTubers and fan game creators, we’ve interviewed dozens of them by this point. From Kaze Emanuar to SKELUX, from Source Gaming to the Lonely Goomba, the list of interviewees on the site is something to behold.
And today? We’ve got another great interview for you. Yep, it’s a full-blown interview with Grant Kirkhope, the composer responsible for such hits as Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle and many other games alike. So, if you want to hear what it was like writing music for those classics (or just what kind of crazy things nearly gotten in Mario + Rabbids), keep reading, or watch the video interview below:
Cause this is gonna be one hell of an interview…
So, let’s start with the obvious backstory question first and foremost. How did you get into composing music for video games? What made you want to get into this field?
It was completely by accident. I’d been in rock bands as a kid, and that’s all I ever wanted to do. I went to music college (the Royal College of Music in Manchester) in 1980, did a four-year classical trumpet degree and when I left I went back to playing rock bands.
Then my friend Robin Beanland announced he’d got a job. I was surprised, no one I knew got a job. He went off to work at Rare to write music for video games.
A year soon went by, then he said “You know Grant, you’d been on benefits since you left college, why don’t you try to do what I do?”
I said “I don’t know, I’d failed all the exams at college and only passed the last year by the skin of my teeth since I didn’t understand harmony at all. So, I bought some new gear, composed some music I thought I’d be good in video games and sent some demos to Rare. I didn’t get an immediate response, but a few years later I got a letter from them saying to come down for an interview, and then got the job.
Either way, your first major project was Donkey Kong Land 2, a port of Donkey Kong Country 2 for the Game Boy. What was it like converting the music from the SNES to the Game Boy?
It was tricky. In that time, Rare did all their Game Boy games in hex, no MIDI file or anything. I was like “how the hell am I going to do this?”
So, Dave Wise came across and showed me how it worked (very quickly) on my first day, and it was really hard. I actually said to Robin “I’m going to have to resign, this is too hard, I can’t actually do it”. However, he said to ask Dave back tomorrow and write down every step that he tells you to do. So, I did this, wrote down every step-in order (like number 1, press Alt 4, number 2, type this, etc) in real parrot fashion and then I kind of understood it then. Heck, I quite enjoyed it in the end, and thought it was quite fun to get the music to work on the Game Boy.
So yeah, I liked it in the end, but the start was super scary.
Indeed, it actually worked out really well. The music sounds incredible, especially given the limited technical capabilities of the system.
Yeah, a lot of people like that. A lot of them talk about Stickerbrush Symphony on the Game Boy, which amazes me. It’s Dave’s music, it’s just me trying to make it work on a Game Boy. Dave should take the credit really.
True, but you did the technical side and got it working.
I suppose, I get that. But he wrote the music.
Either way, I guess you moved onto Project Dream after that?
Well, I did the Game Boy, then I moved to GoldenEye straight after that.
What was that like? Did you have any rules or restrictions from the movie company about what music you could use?
We had free reign then, which is quite bizarre. They’re very protective about the Bond license these days.
So, Graham Norgate was doing Blast Corps and GoldenEye and once he’d beaten Blast Corps, he asked whether I’d be interested in working on GoldenEye.
I said “Are you joking, I’d love to do it”. So, I did Game Boy in the morning, GoldenEye in the afternoon, that was the agreement.
In answer to your question, we were told we could use the Bond theme as much we wanted to, and it was fantastic for me. I mean, I love Bond.
Hence, we brought a CD that contained all the music from the Bond movies, so I listened to them and tried to piece it altogether. It was brilliant trying to piece it altogether, great fun.
Hmm, seems GoldenEye in general was a project the team had quite a lot of free reign on…
Did you work on any other games between GoldenEye and Banjo?
No, that was it. I just worked on GoldenEye, then one day Tim Stamper (who was the boss of Rare) and Greg Mayles (who was the lead designer) showed up and just said “could you please play your GoldenEye music”
I was like “alright, I’m gonna get fired because they think it’s crap”. So, they sat listening, I played the tunes and then they said “right, you’re gonna come work on Dream with us”
To which I was like “yeah, that’s fine, just need to finish on GoldenEye” and they were like “no no, you’re finishing GoldenEye right now”.
So, I moved to the barn where the Dream team was and started working with them.
Talking about Project Dream, it changed quite a lot in development didn’t it? What was the idea behind the music before it became a Banjo game?
Yeah, I never worked on the SNES, just the Game Boy and N64. So originally it was gonna be on the SNES, then just about when I switched to Dream it got switched to the N64. It was going to be a very Zelda like open world 3d exploration game, then I just changed to Banjo.
Okay. How did you come up with the audio direction for Banjo-Kazooie?
I thought that Banjo-Kazooie were very odd characters, being opposites (like Banjo’s a bit dumb and Kazooie’s a bit snazzy and sarcastic) so I tried to get the music to match that.
I hit on the idea of this tritone thing. It’s the furthest point in a musical scale, so I wondered if I could work it in somehow.
At the time, I’d been listening to quite a bit of Danny Elfman, and so that kind of gave me the idea for the direction here. I just stumbled upon it really.
And as it worked well, I just used it through both of the games.
One of the songs quite a few people remember is the Gruntilda’s Lair theme from the original game. What was the thought process behind this one? Like how it’s inspired by the Teddy Bear’s Picnic song? Or how it faded into each area as you went to it?
I just wanted to find something really kooky that summed up Gruntilda. I guess the bear thing worked into the idea because Banjo was in the adventure, so the two aspects meshed well and you got a plodding along, witchy tune that summed up her (Gruntilda’s) character perfectly.
So, I just wanted to find something that was a memorable tune that really matched the characters again.
Another thing people like and remember from the series is how you take a single tune from the level, and subtly remix it based on where you are and what’s going on in the level. What was the inspiration behind that?
Yeah, we did the whole channel fade thing. When I first got to Rare, Greg and Tim were very keen for me to play the Lucasarts games (especially Monkey Island) since they loved said games a whole lot. And in the early Secret of Monkey Island games, they had that channel fade thing working like in FM synthesis; not quite MIDI files but just using the FM chip on the sound card. They loved how it worked with the IMUSE system and said they’d love that to work in Banjo. So, when you wander around, the music would change (same tune but a different arrangement based on the area).
That meant I had to work out how to make that happen, figured out how it’d sound in my head and then have the coders figure out how to get the software to support it afterwards. Hence all the music for one level would be in one MIDI file, and different channels would play to change the feel of the song in different areas.
Have you seen any of the remixes of these songs on YouTube?
Yeah, it’s awesome. Usually when people remix my stuff, it turns out better than my version. Least most of the time!
It’s also super flattering people want to do that to my music really. I never dreamed that’d ever happen to me, so I love when people do arrangements of my work. They have some really good ideas too.
Cool. Still, favourites now. What’s your favourite song in the Banjo series?
That’s tough that one. I guess my favourite’s probably Mad Monster Mansion.
Talking of Banjo-Tooie, did your music change direction a bit when you moved from Kazooie to Tooie?
I don’t think so. I just tried to keep that same feel in Banjo-Tooie. It’s just a continuation really.
Okay, some may have gotten slightly darker, and having boss battles at the end of every level meant I got to remix every level’s song in that style. But it was just a continuation really.
Are there any songs you wish you’d done a bit differently?
I do get asked that a lot, and honestly no. I’m a really bad polisher, and am really bad at going back at changing things. My first idea is usually the only one I have, and if that’s bad, I’ll just start again. I don’t like messing around with stuff, I just make a mess of it and it just gets worse really.
So, no, I wouldn’t change any of the music I’ve written in my entire career. It’s all worked out great.
Donkey Kong 64 now. What was it like composing music for that game? Obviously, you had a lot to live up to given the great soundtracks in past games.
Yeah for me I guess I was doing Banjo-Tooie, DK 64 and Perfect Dark at the same time…
Jesus. That sounds tough.
I know. It was a hectic time that was.
So, my main thing was to try and keep DK different from Banjo-Tooie. Wanted to make sure it didn’t sound the same.
And in general, I always thought DK was a darker sounding game. David Wise’s Donkey Kong soundtracks are amazing, but they are quite dark. So, I felt I made DK 64 a bit darker than Banjo, with the toy factory level being quite haunting and the spooky level being quite haunting too. That and Gloomy Galleon.
I really tried to keep it slightly darker than Banjo.
You certainly did that well with the Mad Jack boss theme!
Oh yeah, I love that one.
Onto Perfect Dark now. What was that like? Was it like composing for GoldenEye?
I thought that was different. It was more electronic. The X-Files was very big, and I kept thinking of that and Blade Runner when composing. I mixed orchestra and synth back then, and I tried to make it as good as I could. I really enjoyed working on it really.
Perfect Dark was a great game in general too. Great story, great team, great fun to do. So that was something different. Fun to do something that wasn’t a jolly platformer.
Either way, Rare soon moved off to Microsoft. So what kind of songs did you like composing in that era?
Grabbed by the Ghoulies was great fun. I mean, haunted house games are great fun to do because of their atmosphere. It’s spooky and comical. So, it was good to do that.
But I guess the high point for me was doing Viva Pinata. That was the first time I got to use live orchestra, so it was a proper 100-piece live orchestra in Prague. That was spectacular to get to do that. Utterly brilliant.
Yeah, it was certainly a great game that one. Wish more people had played it to be honest.
Yeah. I think people loved it, but they also thought it was a bit cute. But it’s not cute, it’s actually pretty deep when you get into it. Hard to get it to work properly.
That seemed to be an issue with quite a few Rare games in the Microsoft era didn’t it? They were great fun, but their style was perhaps not the best for the Xbox’s audience…
Yeah, I think Banjo-Kazooie Nuts & Bolts suffered from that. You know, if you think about it now, Nuts & Bolts is a bit of a predecessor to Minecraft because you can build what you like.
I think with Nuts & Bolts though, the issue people had was that it was a Banjo game more than anything else. If it was a new IP like Minecraft, I think people may have looked on it a bit more fondly.
But Banjo was always a platformer series, so people were a bit hesitant to play a spinoff which was totally different to that.
I think you’re right about that. If it was a new IP, it would have gone down a lot better.
Still, the visuals and music were nice, and the storyline was well written…
Yeah, when my son was young (he was born in 2002), so when we went to America he was starting to play games. And him and his friends really loved Banjo Nuts & Bolts. That was their favourite. When his friends came to our house, that was the one game they wanted to play because they didn’t know about the first two Banjo-Kazooie games and just got engrossed in building vehicles and seeing what they could do with all that stuff. It was funny how that’s the way it was.
I think Microsoft missed the boat there. They didn’t realise that little kids who didn’t know Banjo would love that kind of game.
Interesting that. Seems Nuts & Bolts could have been what Minecraft is now if Microsoft had marketed it carefully enough.
Still, did anyone Rare ever think maybe insulting the original Banjo series in the game’s story may not have been the best idea?
That’s the style of Rare’s humour right. That was all part of their way of doing things. That was how it was in Banjo-Tooie and Banjo one, so I think we wanted to keep that same irreverent humour in because it’d lead it all together.
And did you have any involvement with Banjo-Kazooie Grunty’s Revenge on GBA?
No. That was Jamie Hughes. Jamie Hughes was a guy who started at Rare after I’d been out for quite a while and he was in charge of putting all that together. So, he did all that.
Do you think he managed to match the feel of the previous Banjo games with that game’s soundtrack?
Yeah, I think Jamie did a great job. I like Jamie, he’s a good guy.
What made you move on from Rare anyway?
I just became unhappy with Microsoft; didn’t like the way they were running the company and I just felt my time was over.
Like, I love Rare. I thought I’d be at Rare for the rest of my life. I absolutely adored it with the Stamper brothers and family there. Loved working for them. They’re just fantastic guys and they have great ideas for games.
When they left, it just lost all its magic to me. It just wasn’t the same place any more, and I just wanted to leave.
And when you did leave and become indie, how did you decide what projects to…
I didn’t do that straight away. I moved to Baltimore and worked at  games and made that game Kingdoms of Amalur Reckoning. So, I was still a staff guy then.
After that I became a freelancer.
And when you become a freelancer, you need work right? To make money to pay your bills and all that?
But yeah, I was pretty lucky. First game I touched was Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion…
That was a really good game!
I loved working on that. I’ve got a friend of mine called Jamie Taylor who’s an audio guy from Britain who went to live in Australia, and he was working at Sega Australia. So, he was working at Sega Australia, and said “Grant, I’d love you to work on this game” so I agreed.
It was fantastic working on that game.
I can imagine. What was it like working on it, trying to reimagine the game’s soundtrack for a new era while keeping the feel of the original intact?
Yeah, I wanted to make sure it all fit well. I’d written some original tracks and used some tracks of theirs, so I wanted to make sure I was very true to the original game with them. Cause everybody loved that game.
However, I also wanted to add a bit of ‘me’ in there, so it was a fine line to walk overall.
But I was happy with the way it turned out. Honestly, you never know with those things. You’ve just got to wait to see how people will receive it when they play it, and I tried super hard to be respectful to the original music. Then for the pieces that were new, I did my usual stuff.
So really, I was super careful about all that.
Yeah, you did a good job with the Castle of Illusion soundtrack. Did you have any favourite songs?
God, it’s hard to remember that now. It’s quite a long time ago.
Erm, I can’t remember. It’s so long ago I’d have to get it out and listen to it to answer that.
But I really did enjoy all of it, and it was a great experience working on the title.
Either way, after that you worked on quite a few 3D platformers, like Yooka-Laylee, A Hat in Time, Lobodestroyo and what not…
Yeah, they asked me to do it. Sometimes I get asked to do guest tracks, and I sometimes do them and sometimes not. That’s because sometimes it feels like people they can just get me in to write a track to get more money off Kickstarter, and I don’t agree with that.
I’ll do it if it’s a genuine love of the music I write or what not, but if people try and use me to make money, I don’t really like it.
But Lobodestroyo were great guys, and also doing Yooka-Laylee was great too. Those were my old friends with back on Banjo at Rare, and it was great to work with them again.
With Yooka-Laylee, obviously you tried to get something similar to Banjo there, but what did you try and do to make it stand out from its inspiration?
I think with Yooka-Laylee, the very first track I wrote (the jungle track which they put on Kickstarter), I wanted to make sure that had all the bits from Banjo-Kazooie rolled into one. For the rest of it… well hopefully I’m a better composer than I was back then, so I tried to keep the best bits from 1 and 2 while adding some new stuff to mix it up.
And what was it like working with David Wise on this project?
Erm, me and David have been friends for a very long time, so it was very easy to divide up the music here, and it was obvious which bits would be Dave and which would be me here. Don’t forget Steve Burke did music here too.
So, we all had a bit of a chat about it, and it was just obvious that since it was in a Banjo style, I should handle the majority of the music. However, for the next games Playtonic do, Dave might do more or Steve might do more, depending on the type of game.
But yeah, because it was a very Banjo like game, it was very easy to work out the bits I should do and the bits Dave should do there.
Another one of the memorable bits about Yooka-Laylee was the story, which seemed very much like it was poking fun at the Microsoft buyout (Hivory Towers buying the smaller company, Capital B being the villain, sucking out literature for profit, etc). Was this a deliberate choice by the company?
Oh yeah. Remember, some of those guys left well after me, and went through the whole Kinect Sports thing. So, I guess they weren’t happy about that.
Mario + Rabbids now. What was it like working on the music for a Mario title like this?
That’s like spectacular. I never dreamed I’d get to touch anything like that. I mean, Mario’s the best-known character in the world, probably next to Mickey Mouse. To get to work on a game with him was just unbelievable.
Also, the team in Milan and Paris are just such great people. Like, I had really good fun with those guys. I talked for two-three years about doing another game with them. We’re all best friends now.
So, having Davide Soliani (who I’m great friends with now) working me has been such a great experience. It’s been a really amazing process. And I think that’s one reason why the game is so great. Because the people in Milan and Paris were so respectful of getting to touch Mario, everyone worked so hard to make it the best it could possibly be. Because you know, you don’t want to be known as the guy that breaks Mario, right?
You can really feel the passion in that game cause of how hard everyone worked on it. It was a real labour of love from start to finish.
Yeah, the humour is especially amazing there. It’s almost like Rare wrote it…
Yeah. That’s because Davide is such a massive Banjo-Kazooie fan. He wanted to give me the project because he loved the Banjo games so much that he wanted to get that same feel in Mario + Rabbids. To get that same sarcastic humour in there.
Let’s not forget the language barrier either. I mean, they’re Italians, so it could be quite hard for them to understand some aspects of the series, and so they did a fantastic job considering all that.
They love that kind of slightly irreverent poking fun at people humour like in Banjo, and that’s why I was on the project. Cause they love Banjo so much.
And hey, talking of irreverent humour, we all immediately fell in love with that Phantom song. The one where he mocks Mario in the form of an opera sing and all that. What was it like working on that tune?
Yeah, I mean, Davide wanted to have an opera song in a game for 15-20 years or so. He just never had the budget to do it.
So, the minute he had the chance, he said he wanted to get an opera boss in the game.
A lady called Christina Larva wrote the lyrics, and I then just put the music together. And well, I had to demo the song with me singing!
Oh god… That must be have been hilarious!
I know. What’s more, originally there was supposed to be an opera version, a rap version and a metal version for the three parts of the battle. But at the end of the day, we decided those versions didn’t work very well, and we couldn’t quite get act two in either. Cause yeah, act two was recorded, but it was animated. That might turn up at some point on a soundtrack or something. Who knows.
But yeah, that was super great fun to do.
Act 2? Isn’t that the one where he says you haven’t hurt him very much and you should be ready for his greatest hit?
Yeah, that’s right. It is in there, but it wasn’t in the game cause we didn’t have time to do it.
So back to the rap song for a bit now. How would that have been represented in the game?
I think the Phantom was going to wear a leather jacket for the first metal act…
A metal jacket?
Yeah. Still, I did write it, it’s all done. It just never got recorded.
Because the idea was to get the opera singer (Augustine, I forget his full name) to do the rap and metal version as well. So, he had the same voice. But they never got that far, they just didn’t work very well.
So, we decided it’d be better if we kept it entirely as opera. But as I say, if those recordings still exist, the ones with me doing it… I hope they’re never released cause they’re awful. But it was good fun.
Do you think there’s a chance someone (like you or Ubisoft) might post them on Twitter one day? Perhaps for a bit of a laugh?
Well I guess Ubisoft could release the songs in a month or two.
Even the lyrics would be nice to have…
Yeah, I don’t think it’s out of the question. I think they’ll just do it for a laugh someday just to take the piss out of me, eh?
It’s probably better than you think it is…
Eh, it’s all good fun. I don’t mind really.
The final boss song is also really amazing in Mario + Rabbids too. How did you come up with that one?
Well, we looked at the [Mario] games and thought that Bowser has never really had a theme really. In all the Mario games, there’s never been anything that’s consistent there.
So, we thought that I should to try to write a theme that would fit Bowser. So that’s what I tried to do. I tried to keep the same theme and make it as big as I could. But Davide getting saying “Bigger, bigger, bigger, more choir!”, so when I started the game I didn’t realise it’d end up being so epic.
It’s a really gigantic, epic theme, and you don’t think Mario games are going to end like that. It starts off pretty jolly, and ends up pretty dark. So, with darker themes comes darker and bigger music, and I was just also trying to come up with a memorable theme Bowser might use in the future too. I don’t know, but that was my plan.
Sounds rather Galaxy like!
Probably better than Odyssey’s final boss theme (though that’s great too).
Well, everyone’s got tastes right? The way I wrote it was that it was right for Mario + Rabbids, and that it might stick to Bowser in future.
On a less positive note, one game that your name was associated with that got a bit of controversy was Fur Fun. They pushed your name quite a lot on Kickstarter.
That’s the thing, I get contacted all the time by people saying they’d like to use my music in their game, and I always say “Yeah, I’m interested, what’s it all about”. So, I said that without really knowing what it’s about it, it got to the point it was something I didn’t really like and I said “Sorry guys, I don’t think I can write for this. It’s too close to Yooka-Laylee”.
I just felt something wasn’t right about this project, so I just backed out.
However, I should have paid a bit closer attention to that at the start. That was a big mistake.
Ah well, everyone makes mistakes at some point. So, are there any other interesting games you’re working on at the moment? Like other indie titles or what not?
Well, I’m working on stuff right now. But you know, it’s games you just can’t talk about.
I mean, I am doing the DLC for Mario + Rabbids right now, but everyone knows that. Still, it’s great fun, especially given it’s DK. It’s great fun doing music for a game with DK.
Will it have any references to DK 64? Like how the Rabbid Kong theme was based on Jungle Japes?
And if Nintendo ever contacted you about a 3D Donkey Kong game (like Donkey Kong 64 2) would you be interested in composing for it?
Of course. My job is to write music and I really enjoy it. When people ask me to do great projects like that, you can’t turn things like that down. It would be such great fun to do.
Doing Mario + Rabbids with Davide has been a great experience, and I’d never turn down anything like this either. As long as I’ve got the time to do it, it’s the best. It’s so good.
Yeah, David Wise did Tropical Freeze, maybe you could do a Retro made 3D Donkey Kong game!
I have to admit, I do think that DK needs another 3D outing, so maybe Nintendo or Retro Studios might do it one day.
But erm, I think I’d like to see another DK 3D game, it’d be great.
Think there’s a possibly Playtonic Games might make one in future?
Well as long as they’ve got enough to get the license from Nintendo! Anyone can get the license from Nintendo, it all depends on whether Nintendo will let them have it.
Ah, just curious whether Playtonic could become the next Rare…
Yeah, I think they could be. They could certainly do it, they’d just have to let Nintendo give them the chance.
On another note, would you ever be interested in porting music again? Like you did for Donkey Kong Land 2 back in the day?
It’s quite good fun, and you do learn things from another people’s music. You learn how they’re different to yourself, how they treat harmony, etc.
So, I’m up for anything really. As long as it could and I get the chance, I don’t mind.
And would you be interested in Smash Bros at some time along the line?
Well if they asked me, I’m sure I wouldn’t say no!
Wonder if they’ll use Mario + Rabbids songs in the next Smash game?
Yeah, I wonder. You never know, do you?
It’d be neat to see those songs remixed…
Yeah, I get that.
Have you ever considering composing for any projects outside of games?
I did a movie last year, it’s called the King’s Daughter and has Pierce Brosnan in it. And I’ve done a few shorts as well.
So, I’m certainly keen to do something movie stuff.
Also, I’ve just written my first full on concert piece, which is called Kirkfeld. It’s a trombone concerto. There’s a guy called Ian Bousfield who’s probably the best trombone player in the world, and we’ve been friends for a while, so he asked me if I’d write a piece of music.
I said I’d give it a go (having never written for the format before), and wrote this kind of trombone piece that he’s playing on his trombone tour right now. Japan, England, he’s been on a bit of a world tour playing it. Been amazing really.
My first bonafide concert piece!
Hmm, maybe I could get some more people interested in this concert. I’m sure all those gaming sites would love to talk about a concert Grant Kirkhope is involved in writing music for…
Wow, that sounds great! However, did you hear about the new Mario movie that’s coming soon? Would you want to write for that at some point down the line?
Yeah. I would love to write for that, it’d be my absolute dream. To be the composer would be fantastic.
It’s by Illumination isn’t it?
I would love to do that then. If there’s any way I could do it, I would. It’d be fantastic fun.
It’d certainly have a great soundtrack if you were responsible for it!
Well yeah, but I just feel like… you know, I know Mario inside out and I’ve already written for live orchestra, so I could do it easily. So, I’d love to work on it. It’d be a great project to work on.
And have you ever considered working on other Nintendo Ips? Like Zelda, Pokemon, etc?
Yes. My favourite game of all time is Zelda a Link to the Past. I love that game and I love the music in that game, so you know, I’d love to have a go at working on a Zelda game. But it’ll never happen.
But it’d be fun to do a Zelda game, since I love that stuff so much.
Well you never know! Breath of the Wild certainly changed up the feel of the series as far as music is concerned, so you getting to work on the soundtrack for another game wouldn’t be too unbelievable…
Over the years, a lot of people have remixed your work and posted their remixes on sites like YouTube. So, are there any remixes or covers you think are really good?
Eh, don’t be too harsh on yourself! Your original music is fantastic, and their covers and remixes are fantastic too!
Glad you like it.
Moving on now, what games have been the most fun to compose music for so far?
That’s really hard to answer. Like, I’ve liked working on all the games I’ve worked on, I really do. But I guess the first Banjo is special in my heart. Also doing Mario + Rabbids was amazing and I guess Viva Pianata too, that was a great one to do as well. But I’ll say those three probably right now, it may change but I really enjoyed all the music I’ve worked on. I’ve been so lucky to work on the projects I’ve gotten to work on. It’s been a real lucky ride.
Are there any other games you feel more people should listen to the soundtracks to?
So that was mostly synth with a bit of orchestra mixed inside, it was more Perfect Dark really. So, I guess I’d like more people to listen to that. I really enjoyed doing that one.
Do you have any favourite composers outside of your own music? Whether they’re in the video game industry or another form of media?
I guess video game wise that’s a tough one, but movie wise it’s John Williams. He’s a great one. Like, I’ve listened to his three Harry Potter soundtracks over and over. They’re my textbook that I learn from, he’s such an amazing composer.
And I guess Danny Elfman too. So yeah, I guess those guys.
Either way, that now concludes our interview. We hope you liked it, we certainly tried to discuss every game Grant Kirkhope was involved in over the last few decades or so, and managed to find out quite a bit about the development for games like Mario + Rabbids in the process. Who’d have thought the Phantom originally had a genre switching song? That Donkey Kong 64 was meant to be darker than Banjo-Kazooie? Or that Davide Soliani wanted to have an opera song in a game for many years?
Not us, that’s for sure!
But still, what do you think? Tell us your thoughts about the interview and everything revealed in it via the comments below, social media or the Gaming Latest forums…
And remember to check out Grant Kirkhope’s website and social media profiles too. They’ve got tons more samples of his work, including songs from games most of the internet hasn’t even heard of! Thank you, and good night!
Well, it’s interview time again here at Gaming Reinvented! Yep, after a few weeks of not posting anything, we’re back talking to all kinds of industry figures about their experience developing video games. We’ve got developers, composers, YouTubers… heck, we’d go as far as to say 2018 could be the best one yet for Gaming Reinvented’s interviews.
So, who is he? Well, have you ever played that port of Doom for the SNES?
Messed around the Bleem emulator on PC (before Sony sued the company behind it)?
Or perhaps even tried out Dragon’s Lair back on the Amiga?
If so, that’s Linden’s work. He’s been involved in tons of games over the years, on every console from the NES to the Amazon App store, and shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
So, relax, pull up a chair and settle down for part 1 of our in-depth interview with Randy Linden about his experience working in the gaming industry! It’s going to be great!
Starting with a bit of personal background stuff. Who are you? Can you tell us a bit more about yourself?
I’ve been a programmer for 35 years now: my first published title was an almost-unknown game called “Bubbles” for the Commodore 64 similar to the arcade classic “Centipede,” but other titles I’ve worked on are probably more familiar: Dragon’s Lair for Amiga (the first time full-screen full-colour animation was streamed from floppy discs on a home computer) and DOOM for the Super Nintendo.
Above: Dragon’s Lair on the Amiga was one of Linden’s first games
My latest project is “Cyboid”, a full 3D FPS that’s like “Quake” and runs on Amazon Fire devices (TV Stick, TVs and Tablets) and Android devices (Tablets, Phones, TVs and SetTop Boxes.) Cyboid has single player, split-screen two-player and multiplayer online for up to eight. The game runs well, even on low-end hardware like the Fire TV Stick.
What about your gaming history? How did you first get interested in video games?
Our school received a Commodore PET, one of the first available computers worldwide and we were allowed to book time on the machine to learn how to program, although most of us used it to play games!
The system used cassette tapes for storage and there were two or three games that changed my life: Space Invaders, Adventure (the classic text game) and Lords of Karma, but it was an adventure-style game where you could save your progress by entering the machine-language monitor and typing in a command which saved out the block of memory with the game variables to tape — when you wanted to continue playing, you loaded the game, switched tapes and then loaded your saved state and then ran the game.
Were there any you remember fondly from that time?
Sure! Here are a few of my all-time favourites:
Space Invaders (Commodore PET) was a virtual clone of the classic game, but all done in 6502 assembly instead of BASIC
Parsec (TI99/4A) because it improved on the classic “Space Invaders” with unique alien graphics every few levels
Xevious (Arcade) was a vertical scroller that had pseudo-3D graphics and had hidden objects you discovered by bombing the ground below
Venture (Arcade) had a bunch of “rooms” with unique monsters which required different strategies to defeat
Dragon’s Lair (Arcade) used a laser disc to show a video instead of using graphics — the controls and timing was all pre-programmed, but the animation was awesome
Lode Runner (Commodore 64) had unique gameplay and tons of levels
Forbidden Forest (Commodore 64) had great graphics and one of the best sound tracks on the C64
Frantic Freddie (Commodore 64) also had an awesome sound track
Sword of Sodan (Amiga) because of the massive animated characters (as tall as the full screen), a programming achievement at the time
Metal Gear Solid (PlayStation) had awesome gameplay, great graphics and sound, tons of challenges and unique gameplay throughout
Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64) for the real 3D graphics and immense levels
DOOM (PC) a “hall of fame classic” that introduced network gameplay to the world
Quake (PC) another true classic that brought 3D to PC all done in software
And how did you get started in video game development anyway? Did you want to make games from a young age?/
I was always fascinated by arcade games — the graphics, sounds and gameplay — much more than winning, and that drove me to play more and more so I could see what the next was like!
The first game I wrote was called “Barriers” on the Commodore PET — it was really simple: a vertical wall starts at the left side of the screen and moves to the right where there’s a space ship you control. You can move all around the screen and shoot a laser to blast a hole in the wall as it’s moving closer. If you make a big enough hole for the wall to pass by without touching your ship, the next wall was a little bit faster.
Over time, my programming focus changed to projects which presented unique technical challenges, often in the category of “that can’t be done” for various reasons (hardware, software, CPU speed, memory, etc.)
Onto your game development history now. What was the first game you ever created? Did you work on anything interesting before Datastorm for the Amiga?
When the Commodore 64 was released there was a bundle that included the monitor, computer and a desk to put everyone on. My mom bought me that one year for my birthday and I wrote my first “professional” game called “Bubbles”, a clone of the arcade classic “Centipede.” — I say “professional” because it was actually published by a company and I was paid for it!
There was a start-up company in Toronto called “Syntax Software” that had just released a game called “Cyclons” which was available at the local computer store. I looked up the company and the owner’s name was “Randy”, so I knew fate was calling! So I called the owner and arranged a meeting. I worked at Syntax part-time for a few months doing various programming jobs and eventually demo’d “Bubbles” … and the rest is history!
How did you get involved with Visionary Design Technologies anyway?
VDT was a start-up that I founded and ran from my mom’s basement — VDT’s first title was “Dragons’s Lair” for the Amiga.
I had always been fascinated by “Dragon’s Lair” and one day I started calling companies which sold arcade games to track down the laser disc from the game.
I rented a laser disc player and used the “Sunrize Industries” digitizer to scan some of the images — the digitizer used coloured filters and required three passes for each frame of animation.
Eventually I contacted the company which made the digitizer and told them about the project … They sent a prototype of their next-gen digitizer which could scan images much faster and didn’t require any filters. Many years later, another company was started by the same owner of “New Horizons” — that company is “Roku” — cool, eh?
What about Sullivan Bluth Interactive Media? Seems like quite a jump going from Datastorm to Dragon’s Lair here…
Actually, Dragon’s Lair was done about a year before DataStorm — and Sullivan Bluth Interactive Media was founded after they saw a demo of Dragon’s Lair.
Dragon’s Lair was one of those “impossible” games that I knew was possible on the Amiga because of its unique hardware capabilities — the game required took a huge amount of work, but it achieved a milestone for gaming and home computers in general.
Here’s something interesting: The game requires six disks to fit all of the graphics and sound data, but the entire program is only 8K bytes — yes, eight kilobytes total!
Here on Gaming Reinvented, we’ve interviewed all kinds of creators in past interviews. We’ve talked to game developers working on fan games and indie titles, such as Mushroom Kingdom Fusion, Super Mario 64 Last Impact and Soul Reaper. We’ve interviewed YouTube personalities like Guru Larry Jr, SidAlpha and The Lonely Goomba.
And then we’ve even talked to a fair few artists here as well. Like SmithyGCN or Teslagrad’s art director Ole Ivar Rudi.
But today we’re talking to someone with a bit of a different role. Someone who you may have heard about from playing Wario Land Shake It, Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World.
Yep, this time we’re talking to ex Konami and GoodFeel composer Tomoya Tomita! It’s quite the interesting interview too, covering everything from Konami’s work practices to the development process for Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Wario Land Shake It.
So, if you’re interested, here it is. Here is our exclusive interview with Wario Land Shake It composer Tomoya Tomita!
First things first, a quick personal question. Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? Who are you?
I was involved in video game sound production for a long time. My oldest work is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III for the NES, whereas my newest works are Yoshi’s Woolly World on Wii U and Poochy and Yoshi’s Woolly World on 3DS.
My roles have included creating not just music, but also sound effects, voice recordings and managing the projects with sound programs all in one.
Before then, I played in a band as a student. I usually played drums, but sometimes I played the guitar as well.
After that, I had a hobby of making music with a synthesizer by myself. I was entirely self-taught here.
And how did you get started with video games? What was your first console?
I wanted to make music my work, and luckily found a job at Konami. I was first in charge of Game Boy games, then moved to MSX and then found myself working on Nintendo systems.
Are there any particular games you’ve really liked over the years?
I like so many games. If I had to choose, Half-Life, Skyrim and Gears of Wars were favourites. Horizon Zero Dawn was excellent too.
What games did you think had amazing soundtracks?
It’s an old story, but Solstice on NES was shocking.
How did you get interested in composing music for games?
I started out by free playing guitar. I think that was the first time.
Did you ever want to use your music skills for other media? Like say, film soundtracks, TV soundtracks or just as a musician selling CDs?
Of course, I’m interested in all of them. Someone please introduce me! 🙂
Actually though, I’m currently making music alongside Tara Dion, a musician based in the UK.
Onto the games industry side now. How do you first get started composing music for video games?
First, I will try to understand the project
Then I’ll check the artwork of the character and the background.
I imagine what kind of sound is ringing there
And I will make a prototype of music and sound effect
Then discuss the direction of the sound with the director
It seems you originally started at Konami back in 1988. How did that come about? How did you get a job as a composer at the company?
At the time, Konami published recruitment articles in music magazines. I came across one when looking for work, and got a job through one of those articles. I may have been lucky there.
What was it like working there? What was it like working on games in the Castlevania and Goemon series?
Nooo! It was very tough working there. The working environment was the worst.
We stayed at work almost all day, with Goemon’s production being especially tough every time. The days went on so long I could hardly go home.
I don’t want to recall it. 🙂
Either way, you eventually moved over to GoodFeel to compose music for their games. What inspired that move?
During the last few years at Konami, I wasn’t working in sound production any more. So, I decided to leave Konami, and join the company founded by the Goemon team.
Was it very different working at GoodFeel compared to Konami?
Yes, because the sound staff was me alone. I managed to control everything myself
This meant I was able to work very freely, with any long meetings, and was able to use all the time for sound production.
Once you were there, it seems like your first project was composing music for Wario Land Shake It. So, what inspired the soundtrack for that game? Was there a certain feel you were going for?
I was nervous, because I hadn’t composed music for a long time. But once it began, it was a fun job. The music tools had evolved, and I enjoyed using them.
It was also the first game you worked alongside Minako Hamano on. How did you two decide what songs each of you would be composing?
I didn’t work with her. Nintendo sent three songs over, with a note on one saying “This is Wario’s song”. I think that was the song she made.
Ed’s Note: We confirmed that the songs Nintendo sent over were Stonecarving City:
As well as the theme for Wario’s garage played in the intro.