Rob Hubbard - AY UP! October 18, 2017 06:00
"Rob Hubbard - The Official Reference" will contain the most detailed look yet at the timeline and content of Rob's releases on the ZX Spectrum 128 and Amstrad CPC (AY-3-8912).
The project also contains remixes of various tunes on this page, some by Rob himself, and a whole bank of unreleased Rob Hubbard tunes not tied to any chip (being synth-based recordings prior to 1985 career or high quality recordings from his career after 1988. The remix albums are based on the music rather than the sound of the SID.
To get you in a Hubbard mood, I decided to blog on this to highlight the fact that Rob was a multi-platform composer. Sure, he's most well known for this C64 work, but that doesn't take away the fact that his music was meaningful to excited game players on other, more British, platforms!
So, here's a symbolic Z80 takeover!
Let's fast forward through time, from the days when Rob was programming C64 in his back room, to when he was programming multiple computers from his back room!
The Pre-Driver Years
Before everything became more organised later, ports of music between machines was haphazard: there weren't many people writing audio drivers on multiple platforms, to it was basically "who was available". This is how this happened:
The Amstrad version on the other hand, has an excellent port of the tune. Not perfect but a lot better than people would have expected since Rob wasn't involved. Well done DJL! (though this version does skip the whole extended guitar solo bit, which is understandable - it progresses straight to the "Keystone Kops" bit at the end).
Magic Knight Tyme
In the early days when Rob was directly involved with a tune, he had to provide sheet music instead because he couldn't provide a driver. Such was the case with Knight Tyme, the sequel to Spellbound, which had Rob Hubbard music but in a much more basic form than usual.
It's rather strange that this was released much later on the C64 but by that time it had acquired completely different music from David Whittaker.
Still in the Magic Knight series, Rob's Spellbound music was also put into the Spectrum Spellbound game, but bits of the bassline were (accidentally?) timeshifted by a beat to provide a very different listening experience to the C64 version in places:
The Amstrad version had the same problem:
... something which was later corrected by a person or persons unknown in a demo or crack afterwards...
Very nice. Well done that person!
Tarzan Driver Mania
In October '86, David Whittaker and Rob joined forces and swapped drivers: David got Rob's Atari 8-bit driver, and Rob got David's Z80 one: which is why subsequent Rob Hubbard pieces on the ZX Spectrum 128's AY chip sound more Whittakery than you'd expect.
The first tune Rob did with this driver was Martech's Tarzan, which feels faster and more Russian than the C64's moody, filtered version of the same tune (a cover from the 1960s Tarzan TV show, the one with the famous yodelling).
This version wouldn't sound out of place in Tetris.
Dragon's Lair II
Dragon's Lair II was the next one Rob tackled, and it was a big job.
His ports of his own tunes sound faithful and snappy. Unfortunately, then they were put into the game...
... where the speed was... variable.
The Amstrad version also based on the Z80 driver escapes that:
Rob tried to make his drivers as compatible as possible so that he could copy note data from one machine to another to ensure maximum consistency.
A decent flyer from Cascade, this had great Rob music on the C64. But it's obvious from Rob's records and from the end result that Rob wasn't involved in the Spectrum port.
It's entirely possible that by the time they came to do the Spectrum port, Rob was too busy, or their budget was busted, but we don't know for sure.
The Amstrad version didn't have music at all, but this exists, remixed for the Amstrad CPC by SuTeKH/Epyteor. Very nice.
Deep Strike on the C64 had a great rendition of John Williams' theme from the Steven Spielberg box-office flop "1941". What's odd is that Rob did port this to the Spectrum and Amstrad... but it never appeared in the game. Memory issues? Copyright issues? Time issues? We might never know, though we'll try and find out for the book.
A fan favourite and a rollicking listen.
While not having the grittiness of the C64 version, it had a poppy, funky charm of its own.
The sharp-eared can hear extensive use of David Whittaker's favourite drum and arpeggio sounds, which makes this Rob Hubbard tune almost like a David Whittaker one.
One interesting fact about this is that the C64 version was finished two weeks later than the Z80 ones, which implies either a need for the Spectrum version first, or more time needed for the C64 version: which then shipped without music or sound.
It didn't sound much different on the CPC, but the name "Maz Spork" is magic.
Also, hi Clive!
"Monty Game" (Auf Wiedersehen Monty)
When Rob and Ben were composing this (and even up to the point that Gremlin were invoiced), they had no idea what the game was called. Rob of course did the Z80 ports, which seem to be regarded as something of a high point in classic AY music, helped by the fact that the game was a reasonably big seller.
Interesting that the Amstrad CPC version dispenses with the drums, resulting in a much less raucous sound.
(and changes the title for French release!)
Nemesis the Warlock
Based on the 2000AD character, the magnificent "Nemesis the Warlock" for Martech, was a strong enough composition to be compelling on any platform, especially when ported accurately by the composer. Although the Spectrum version of Nemesis seems to jump right into the tune and not do the extended intro of Rob's, which used Dragon's Lair II style drums.
Nemesis remains a strong favourite of Rob's (and remixers) to this day.
The music for "Hydrofool" was never ported to the C64, but appeared on the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. It followed a couple of weeks after Nemesis during what remains a staggering period of productivity for Rob in 1987.
A recent cover by legendary composer Allister Brimble as part of his "The Spectrum Works" really brings out the uniqueness of this Z80-only tune.
The whole album is well worth a listen.
Virgin Atlantic Challenge ("Virgin Atlantic Flyer")
Around this period Virgin was commissioning Rob to do C64 and Amstrad versions of a theme for "Virgin Atlantic Flyer" (released as "Virgin Atlantic Challenge"), but a Spectrum version was never made: a missed opportunity for a serene tune that Rob later turned into a piano classic.
So... chill, dude :)
Another missed opportunity was Rob being commissioned to do music for Durell's "Chain Reaction": on the C64 this was a Jean-Michel Jarre cover of Zoolook, and was invoiced in May '87, but there's no evidence it was ever used. Maybe the licencing people got them? I'm surprised they got away with it in the C64 version if I'm honest! (perhaps they didn't?)
The Spectrum 128 version of IK+ was delivered to System 3 shortly afterwards, sounding as usual more like a David Whittaker tune than a Rob Hubbard one. The tune sounds bugged in places: possibly a programming glitch during integration?
Next up for Rob was converting the arcade tunes for Spectrum, Amstrad and C64 for the Capcom game "Trojan", which was never released, but the Spectrum version of which was recovered from Clive Townsend's Microdrives.
Next up was "Wolf": and if you haven't heard of it, you might have heard of the name it was released under: "Thundercats".
Elite rebadged the game "Wolf" to take advantage of their newly acquired licence. Rob finished the Z80 versions a month before the C64 version, which makes this one of the few multi-platform Rob Hubbard games that was ported from the ZX to the C64, and not the other way round.
... and the Amstrad, where there continues to be confusion over whether it was Whittaker or Hubbard... (spoiler: it was Rob).
This proved to be Rob's final outing on the Spectrum, just as Thundercats on the ST was his last tune before leaving for a new career at EA in the United States that lasted from 1988 until 2001.
So, were you a Rob Hubbard fan without realising it? Check out Project Hubbard for more: it's not just for C64.
Thanks to Clive "Saboteur" Townsend for the Speccified image :)