The EAvolution of Rob Hubbard - part 2, 1989-1990

Posted by Chris Abbott on

The EAvolution of Rob Hubbard - pt 2

Project Hubbard: 1989/1990, Bye Bye SID, hello PC - and Rob hits the Amiga. 

If you want to be nice to Rob _and_ hear amazing C64 pieces played with a huge orchestra for CD, back 8-Bit Symphony Pro

This article is sponsored by Project Hubbard, and gives an idea of the kind of topics we will cover in the associated book "Rob Hubbard - The Official Reference" - except with more supporting interviews and facts.

The definitive MT32 soundtracks from some of these games should also be on "The Rob Hubbard archive" album on "Project Hubbard Standard".

Read part 1 of this series of blog posts here.

Read part 3 of this series of blog posts here.


By 1989, Rob had his feet under the table and finally had the opportunity to visit the Commodore Amiga, as well as continuing his PC work.

Corporately, EA's main platform was now MS-DOS, with the Tandy 1000 downplayed, though chipmusic versions of Rob's PC tracks were still being produced (even if the game was never actually released on that format).

It's notable that there are no EA SIDs on record programmed by Rob in 1989/1990. It's kind of sad that while Rob left detailed instructions for the use of his C64 driver for future programmers when he left the SID, no one picked up that baton.

So, Budokan and Ski or Die both had C64 releases, but they weren't programmed by Rob: they were programmed by Pablo Toledo of Dro Soft S.L (Budokan) and Dave Warhol (Ski or Die).

Here's Dave being interviewed about it in the Retro Game Audio podcast, ep 9.  He's talking about the NES version which was, as usual, programmed by Ultra.

So, in all cases, the original tunes for the MS-DOS port upon which everything was based were by Rob. As with Skate or Die, the NES tune seems to be a port created by Jun Funahashi.

It seems that at this point Rob was being used as the main musical source of material, but was getting too busy to be able to port all of the versions of the game: he was also enjoying the luxury of more than three channels on other platforms, such as the Roland MT32 and Adlib, though he still found time to create chipmusic on the Tandy 1000.

Imagine being a composer freed from the musical restrictions of three voices, and being able to use a proper musical sequencer (albeit with a loss of control over sound design).


In 1989, the world was a very different place sonically.


Chiptune vs FM/Wavetable

By this time, Rob had graduated to composing music for the AdLib and the new MT32 sound module, and taking advantage of the huge increase in the number of channels.

It's interesting to see how the various sounds aged during the intervening decades. To many, the sound of the SID is still fresh.

This may be because the original PC platforms were consciously trying to be "real" instruments, but were only approximations. Technology has improved immeasurably since then and so we know a low-quality emulation when we hear one.

However, the classic subtractive synthesis chips were never made for emulating real instruments and so they had their own unique style.

This means that raw chiptune has not fallen into the uncanny valley of "trying to be something but not quite getting there" that FM synthesis and early wavetable synthesis did. Though of course, fans of Adlib have every bit as strong a retro experience with Wolfenstein and Doom than C64 fans have with Sanxion.


Budokan: The Martial Spirit (1989)

MS-DOS (1989), Amiga (early 1990), Sega Genesis (late 1990), Commodore 64 (1992), ZX Spectrum (1992), Amstrad CPC (1992), MSX (1991).

The lack of a Rob Hubbard SID version of the Budokan music is explained by the 2-3 year gap between the MS-DOS version and the 8-bit conversions: the 8-bit conversions were subcontracted out and Rob's C64 code had been deprecated: it was simply easier to get the subcontractors to port the tune, especially since all the 8-bit platforms were nearing the end of their useful life to big companies like EA.

The PC version supported the CMS, Adlib and MT32. Once again it's the MT-32 that represents Rob's original vision for the piece best.

The Amiga version is obviously missing some twiddly bits, and is slower and heavier.

With the Genesis, the limitations of the platform become more obvious: while the arpeggio is there, the drums are gone and the sounds are thin. It's also Amiga-speed rather than PC-speed.

The C64's music was ported by Pablo Toledo:

You can't help wondering what it had sounded like if Rob had done it with his samples driver for big huge drums like on the Amiga.

 For a nice overview of the Amiga/C64/CPC conversions, have a watch of this:

 The ZX Spectrum and MSX versions obviously share a lot of DNA, and perhaps a title tune was too much to hope for.

 Fun fact: at this point, EA started giving names to their title tunes: the title of the Budokan intro theme is "Point of Focus".


Indianapolis 500 (1989)

DOS (original, 1989), Amiga (1990/1991)

... and the title tune for Indianapolis 500 is "Braking Hard".

Here's a nice comparison of the various PC modes including beeper (leaving out the Tandy):

While it left barely a trace, there's one video I found of the game running using the Tandy chip, which shows a very nice 3 voice version of the tune going on.


The Amiga version (as usual, it seems), followed later.

Spirited title theme, but it's not surprising that the output from PAULA couldn't compete with an expensive external hardware module (MT32).

When EA released a sampler CD in the mid-90s, it was the MT32 versions of the themes that were put on it.


Populous (1989)

The game that made Bullfrog, Rob's Amiga music was a bona-fide classic.

Like all of his contemporaries on the Amiga, Rob had to squeeze as much music into the game as possible, since he was contending with the developers for memory space as much as on the 8-bit platforms.

Still, Rob was thinking orchestrally throughout. And, as if to prove it...

Mmmm, orchestras. (in this case, the Tokyo City Philharmonic). Now you can understand why we can to give Rob's music the London Symphony Orchestra, starting with 8-bits and moving outwards.

There were ports. There are always ports.

Acorn Archimedes, Atari ST, FM TownsMS-DOSGame BoyMac OSMaster SystemNEC PC-9801PC EngineSega GenesisSharp X68000SNES


Lakers vs. Celtics and the NBA Playoffs

MS-DOS (1989), Mega Drive/Genesis (1991)

Continuing a trend for complicated names that will have annoyed the heck out of people running games databases with small "game title" fields, we have what I will call "LvC". The title refers to a rivalry between these two Basketball teams. 

Initially a PC-only release, and ported to the Genesis/Megadrive later.

Thanks to Laurent Andrivot for recording MT32 PC soundtrack for us!

 The Genesis version is fondly remembered, but the title tune is markedly different to the PC iteration.


 And of course it's easy to forget that were were in-game tunes too:


Ski or Die

Amiga (1991)NES (1990)MS-DOS (1990)C64 (1990), PC Engine (1990) reviewed in Joystick magazine issue 5.

From this point in EA's history, it was common for the MS-DOS version of the game to be the reference original: presumably both for marketing reasons (the MS-DOS market was huge) and technical reasons (open platform, good ecosystem of developer tools).

Of course, PCs without sound were extremely common, so had to adapt even to the lowest common denominator:

 Loving that pitch bend.

Here's how it sounded on Adlib (this recording is via the Adlib emulation on a Soundblaster 16).

.. and on the MT32...

Impressive, but the hardware required was out of the budget of many.

Now we've covered the PC versions, let's see what the Amiga was doing (the first reviews of this version appear in the middle of 1991: I wonder what the delay was?)

The C64 version appeared by the end of 199, with Dave Warhol porting Rob's tune, but not with Rob's sample driver, which seems like a bit of a missed opportunity.

as did the NES, though since the port came from Konami, it's likely someone else did the port. They did a good job though.



688 Attack Sub (1989) 

MS-DOS (original)
Amiga, Genesis, NEC PC-9801

Realistic simulations are one of the genres that age more badly than most, for the same reason that Adlib music aged badly: because it was hitting the limitations of the technology and those limitations obviously moved over time. 

This game was well received at the time, though, so let's have a look at the MS-DOS version, in this case, the Adlib version.

Again, you can hear Rob thinking much more orchestrally here.

 If anything gives a clue as to how the SID might have sounded, it's the Tandy 1000 version, addressing the SN76496 sound chip. Dramatic!

Here he's using PCM samples to do the chords. This might have been more problematic on the C64 for memory reasons. I'll leave the last word to SeattleMatt1976 on YouTube:

Rob Hubbard mania: not just SID!

Of course, the definitive version of this music will always be on the MT32, and we will be making sure that it appears on the Rob Hubbard Archive Album in Project Hubbard.

So, what happened to the Amiga version? Initial viewings on YouTube indicate that there wasn't any title tune! Ran out of space? There's a story there you can be sure we'll look into in more depth for "Rob Hubbard - The Official Reference".

Meanwhile, the Genesis/Megadrive version sounded like this:

This difference is explained by the fact that 688 Attack Sub was licensed by Sega of America in 1990, shortly before EA began publishing Sega games for themselves, which seemingly meant new music unrelated to the PC version: possibly because EA didn't have a Sega driver, or possibly because given the Tandy's reliance on samples for chords, that the tune was too ambitious for the Genesis at that point in time.

Join us next time when we return to cover the 1990/1991 period, including "The Immortal", Skate or Die 2, Low Blow, John Madden Football, PGA Tour Golf the evergreen Road Rash, and Desert Strike, where we try to find a tune in it that Rob actually wrote!

See you next time.

1 comment

  • Cool stuff, great article! I could only dream of an MT32 back then…

    LaLa on

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