8-Bit Symphony: The Mighty Norman November 24, 2020 22:19
We're honoured that the mighty Paul Norman not only allowed us to do his stuff for orchestra, but came all the way from the US to see the concert in Hull and meet the fans. A true legend!
What's not that well known is that he also gets around in his helicopter, rescuing characters from his games:
(illustration by Steph Abbott from the forthcoming 8-Bit Symphony: Second Half CD booklet - support the Kickstarter!)
Here's Paul critiquing your helicopter flying:
So, let's look at Paul's work in 8-Bit Symphony: First Half.
First of course: Forbidden Forest - the Granddaddy of survival horror games.
We have two videos to go with the amazing audio from 8-Bit Symphony Pro: First Half - one with games, and one with people.
These videos are both from the Blu-ray currently available as an add-on with the 8-Bit Symphony Pro: Second Half Kickstarter. Don't forget to 1080p if you can!
.... and of course, we also did Aztec Challenge: which Paul Norman turned from an OK 2D game into a nailbiting 3D one. Again, we have a game video and a performance video! Don't forget to 1080p if you can!
I'd write more, but with Paul, the music does the talking!
However, if you liked all this, you really need to catch up on 8-Bit Symphony - and the best way to do that is (until December 6th) to support the 8-Bit Symphony: Second Half Kickstarter - it uses Kickstarter add-ons so you can get:
- The downloads, CDs and Blu-rays for both projects
- Other rare and signed items
- Stuff you might have missed from Project Hubbard, Project Sidologie and Back in Time Symphonic Collection.
The EAvolution of Rob Hubbard - part 4 October 21, 2017 18:03 1 Comment
The EAvolution of Rob Hubbard - pt 4
Project Hubbard: 1992-mid 90s. The Road Rash years... and Sherlock Holmes.
This article is sponsored by Project Hubbard, The official Rob Hubbard Kickstarter, 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 2 of this series of blog posts here.
Read part 3 of this series of blog posts here.
As Rob got more senior within EA and they hired more people, over time Rob was gradually assuming more of a management role: supervising other musicians, making top level creative music decisions, evaluating technology, and participating in IASIG (Interactive Audio Special Interest Group, an industry body).IASIG and Rob were trying to define standards and come up with solutions for interactive or adaptive music and audio. Unfortunately, Rob remembers that "... the advent of licensed bands and music stopped all efforts in its tracks.".
This list is limited to games Rob composed music for: the ones that he just did sound for don't appear. There were a lot of ports of Populous (see Part 2 for the Amiga version) during this time, so let's cover those.
The ones Rob did were the PC...
... ah, CGA. How I (don't really) miss you.
... and now for the posh DOS version (MT32)...
Rob also did the Sega Genesis port:
But he did none of the other ports, which I'll list here for completeness.
Sega Master System: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I9CrGvLgAm8
PC Engine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DqVH_ggrC8M
Populous MT32: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHSSlAlKVCM
C64: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BGCpOGSgHSU (tech demo)
Road Rash (1991)
Road Rash is probably the most famous Rob Hubbard tune on the consoles, and it originated on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis. Some of the music in the game was by Michael Bartlow, though the title track was definitely by Rob.
A playlist of the OSTs is here if you're interested, but Rob confirms that two in-game tunes are his:
... and a very good guitar remix...
The Mega Drive's smaller brother the Master System also got a look in with the conversion handled by Probe, and the music was ported by Matt Furniess, for a satisfyingly chippy version of the tune. Some of the heavy metal feel is gone of course, but... square waves!
The Game Gear version sounds pretty similar, and was also handled by Matt.
The Game Boy Color version was ported by the also-mighty and Project Hubbard-related Allister Brimble in 2000.
I wonder who converted it for the Game Boy...?
Oh, OK, it was Ocean :)
I don't have confirmation, but given Jonathan Dunn was Ocean's Game Boy musician at the time (for instance, he put the Comic Bakery theme into Jurassic Park), I think that would be a good educated guess.
Road Rash really was a who's who of C64 talent... programming not on the C64!
Desert Strike: Return to the Gulf (1991)
While Rob contributed music to this game, he wasn't responsible for the title screen music, not the music on the Amiga.
However, he did do these:
Opening (Part 1) - 1:26 - 3:12 in this video. It's VERY reminiscent of Lightforce.
Opening (Part 3) - 3:46 - 5:11 in this video.
Mission Briefing 3 - 9:51 - 11:24 in this video.
Ending Theme (Hail to the Chief) - 13:19 - 14:55 in this video.
Staff Roll - 14:55 - end in this video.
SNES-wise, he wasn't credited, and it seems only one of his tunes was ported.
Here's Opening (Part 1):
While the end tune was still "Hail to the Chief", it was a different arrangement to Rob's.
Team USA Basketball (1992)
And so, another sports franchise was enabled by Rob...
Rob seems to have charmed fans whereever he went:
That last comment sounds _awfully_ familiar to SID fans!
Road Rash 2 (1992)
A Mega Drive/Genesis-only release this time.
Youtuber "CloudTheLastSoldier" says it best: "This theme is fucking awesome. It truly makes me want to get on a motorcycle, whoop some ass, then ride away. Would be cool if someone did a guitar cover of this."
Rob did the title tune (above), the Arizona theme...
The Lost Files of Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Serrated Scalpel (1992)
Sherlock Holmes marks a return to classical orchestration for Rob: it had long been a passion (albeit one constrained by technical resources), but here he could indulge himself with a wonderful collection of themes (composed specifically for the MT32). In fact, there are so many Sherlock tunes, they deserve their own blog post.
But here's the title (Adlib/CMS(?) version).
... and here on the MT32 in all its glory.
There was a ton of great music for this game in it.
Experience it in real-time with this walkthrough playlist.
IMG International Tour Tennis (Sega, 1994)
Occasionally Sega would go begging to EA for talent...
Sherlock 3DO (1994)
And, since Rob was the King of 3DO soundtracks around this time...
Shockwave: Operation Jumpgate 3DO (1994)
An add-on to the original Shockwave, it dispensed with the orchestral stuff, and gained this rather spiffing Zimmer-esque track suite from Rob.
...and later on, Rob's reach extended to the PS1, thanks to this game and PGA Tour Golf 96.
Madden 3DO (1994)
Wikipedia missed this one, but Rob confirmed he was the composer.
Fanfares, and rocking action, unfortunately ruined by actual gameplay.
PGA Tour Golf 96/486 (1995)
PS1 - Rob's only game on the Playstation 1 except for the port of 3DO Shockwave Jumpgate.
486 (PC Version)
"Most of my time later was spent out sourcing music and arranging dialog talent and setting up sessions. And sitting through technical design review meetings."
He left EA in November 2001 to return to the UK. The next game he was asked to provide music for was "Era of Eidolon" for Nokia in 2004 (unreleased, but will appear on Project Hubbard).
Rob-tari - Rob Hubbard on the Atari 8-Bit and ST platforms October 20, 2017 06:00 6 Comments
"Rob Hubbard - The Official Reference" will contain the most detailed look yet at the timeline and content of Rob's releases on the Atari 8-bit machines (POKEY) and Atari ST (YM2149)
The "Project Hubbard" 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. The remix albums are based on the music rather than the sound of the SID and can be enjoyed by all.
The first three Rob tunes that made it onto the Atari were The Last V8, Action Biker and One Man and his Droid on the Atari 8-bit (A8) range. While Last V8 had some charm, the results weren't really Rob.
Not Rob's implementation.
This neither. Also, it gets the tune wrong.
This is the weirdest music choice ever made in porting Rob Hubbard music and seems to be taking the piss out of the Finders Keepers music, but getting the piss-take wrong. It's clinically strange, and not very pleasant. Oh, how I wished this had the real music.
For a short while, Rob was king of the 8-bit fighting game themes! His debut on the A8 platform was "Ninja": written concurrently with the C64 version, but the Atari A8's hollow, echoey, quite hard-edged sound complements the echoey feel of the game. It even makes the room feel bigger!
It was a bit of a weird decision to make the music play only when he isn't fighting though. I guess players could just stand still to listen.
International Karate (A8)
Rob made a real splash on the Atari platform with a port of his International Karate C64 music™™, composed six months earlier.
This and Ninja were the first time I heard and saw the Atari 8-bit doing something that I thought could only be done by a C64. Mind. Blown.
There are two different versions of the Warhawk theme on the C64: The "Proteus" version (Warhawk was originally called Proteus, which was also the developers' name) lacked the long, echoey intro of the released Warhawk theme, and had a shorter structure.
The Atari 8-bit version is based on the earlier Proteus version, kicking straight into the melody. It's impressive how the ring-mod effects have survived without there being any actual ring-mod, though the POKEY chip's naturally metallic sound might have something to do with that.
Rob's first outing on the ST was one of his most famous, and of course reused his most recognisable tune from "Human Race" on the C64. The AY sounds gave it a plaintive nature, with a slightly different emotional tone to the C64 version. Very much a Sci-fi remix.
David Whittaker took over for Goldrunner II, kind of keeping it in the family!
Rob was no stranger to strategically re-using tunes, and here his seminal "Thalamusik" gets an Atari 8-bit rework: quite a challenge, but with triumphant results.
It's fascinating to hear how Rob himself solved the problem of implementing unimplementable bits of the original without gutting the tune. I especially like the rhythm breaks. Luckily the metallic nature of POKEY sounds and the beefy noise waveforms help beef up the tune where lesser waves might have failed.
Jet Set Willy (A8)
The last tune Rob did on the Atari 8-bit (though David Whittaker used his driver to continue his legacy!) was also one of the strangest choices: a platform-specific original track for a very old game (Jet Set Willy) that pre-dated his SID career.
However this happened, we should be glad it did, since Rob himself loves this tune, and it's a classic. If I was guessing, the fact that it's Tyne Soft doing the conversion, and Rob was local probably went a long way to explaining this!
Jupiter Probe (ST)
The ST was honoured to have an original track by Rob specific to the platform: a real badge of honour shared with its Atari 8-bit brother's Jet Set Willy.
Largely overlooked by Hubbard fans on other platforms it's sci-fi funky.
A month after Jupiter Probe, Rob delivered the ST port of Warhawk...
This time, the full track was implemented. As usual with Rob porting his own work, surprises were minimal.
At around the same time as Warhawk, Rob had finished his "Thrust" port.
As with the C64 version, the SID-FX-heavy intro was dispensed with to get to the tune more quickly. A very satisfying transition. It's a pity Spectrum and Amstrad CPC owners never got this version.
The honour of being the last tune delivered as a freelancer before moving to EA, this port of his Spectrum/Amstrad versions was as thorough as you'd expect.
Given the wildly variable nature of C64 filters, Thundercats was a variable-quality listen on the SID: and a lot more predictable here!
And so Rob went to Electronic Arts... and left Atari behind.
A much more detailed version of this article will be in "Rob Hubbard - The Official Reference".
Thanks to Jochen Hippel, the story for Atari ST fans doesn't end there...
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 EAvolution of Rob Hubbard - part 2, 1989-1990 October 16, 2017 13:23 1 Comment
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)
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)
... 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.
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.
Lakers vs. Celtics and the NBA Playoffs
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
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)
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.
The EAvolution of Rob Hubbard - part 1, 1988 October 12, 2017 20:34
Part 2 is here
Project Hubbard: 1988: Rob Hubbard hits EA with a bang. And sports. C64, Tandy 1000, Adlib, NES.
Rob Hubbard was the king of music in EA games from 1988 until the mid-90s when they started licencing music... and covered Commodore 64, Amiga, NES, Tandy Jr, PC, 3DO and even MSX.
"Rob Hubbard - the Official Reference" has a section devoted to his career at EA, and some of his archive album also covers this.
Much of his work was overlooked by SID fans (though not Skate or Die!), so here's some YouTube videos for "What Rob Hubbard did in 1988!"
Do you love Rob Hubbard? If so, give something back: let's send him to Prague to record amazing C64 tunes with an 85-piece studio orchestra which you can enjoy on CD and in digital glory in your own home...
Skate or Die
The original theme was composed in August 1987, but it wasn't until Rob joined EA fully that he wrote the drivers for addressing the Tandy 1000-series, which used a variant of the Texas Instruments SN76496 sound chip also featured in the BBC Micro, the IBM PCjr and the TI-99/4A (and which was a competitor to the much-loved AY-3-8910).
As we know, a combination of factors led to Europeans becoming used to a much slower version of Rob's guitar-laden intro tune than Rob intended on the Commodore 64.
This is confirmed by listening to his Tandy version, which is fairly speedy. The speed makes sense given that skateboarding activities aren't known for their sluggish pace. Note that the Tandy version also has the 4-bit PCM samples. I guess this proves that not having a bug on the SN chip was no hindrance to doing samples, something Rob proved later on the NES with Skate or Die 2.
The samples seem a lot more polite in this version.
Skate or Die did see a NES release, and Rob's tune covered (without guitars) by Kouji Murata.
This video's comments also contain the first NES vs C64 flame war I've seen between grown adults!
If there had been an Amiga or ST version, it probably would have looked and sounded similar to the Apple IIGS verson:
PC owners not lucky enough to own sound hardware still got some funky pitch bending on the speaker version:
The ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC ports had no music.
Wikipedia mentions Atari ST, but it seems there was only a demo on that platform (although there was conversion activity through Codemasters/Kinetic).
Jordan vs. Bird: One on One
Otherwise known as "One on One 2", this was a sequel to one of EA's most successful early games. The title music to the first game was "The Entertainer", so this music was a big step up.
Highlight of this game was pulling the basket down. The game was also on the Apple II, one of EA's main platforms of the time.
So, the sequel was much better specific, with another sample-based Rob Hubbard track, and a lot better graphics.
In these days, EA was still cool enough to let the programmers take credit for things on the title screen.
The Tandy version manages to capture much of the spirit, thanks to reuse of the samples made famous in the C64 version, which were actually recorded on an Amiga.
Digitised photo FTW!
The NES version was programmed by RARE, and as you'd expect, doesn't share the soundtrack.
Hmm, not a huge fan. Sorry.
Kings of the Beach
Or, "VOLLEY" as Rob's source code directory put it.
Quite interesting that there's some Hockey stuff in here. What to make of that?
The C64 version. You can almost feel the breeze. Rob says this was based on a Soca band called "Arrow".
The Tandy version is quite chipper, too.
... and an Adlib recording surfaced too, from the MS-DOS version.
One thing's for sure: one of those YouTube commenters doesn't like the programmer very much.
The Adlib version sounds like if there was an extra level in Wolfenstein 3D that only had a party in it.
The NES version didn't have Rob's music, being programmed externally.
I'm kind of biased, but I preferred Rob's.
Powerplay Hockey: USA vs USSR
Shades of Shockway Rider here, though Rob says the guitar is missing from this.
There's some random gameplay footage here:
This was only released on the Commodore 64. I wonder why? Maybe we need a Kickstarter...
Click here for Part 2: 1989, with all the joys of Rob, including Populous.