Tim Follin is the acclaimed composer of Ecco The Dolphin, and most recently he recreated the cult feel, sound and cool factor of 70's TV classic Starsky & Hutch for Empire Interactive's game release of the same name. Tim's sounds can also be heard as far back as the late 80's in The Sentinel, Bionic Commando, Ghosts 'n' Goblins and Equinox. We caught up with the funkmeister to discuss his experiences working on this hot property.
M4G: Given that your career goes all the way back to the heady days of the speccy, how much value do you feel a game music composer has now compared to then?
Tim Follin: Certainly a lot more than it did - at least I can tell people what I do at parties now without them walking off laughing. But I still think it confuses people. The general perception of bands and artists is that they produce just one type or style of music, it's easy to identify a style with the artist. So the idea of writing music-on-demand and changing your style to suit is I think met with general scepticism. They presume it can't possibly be authentic, and to be perfectly truthful it probably isn't a lot of the time. Musicians generally aren't rewarded for being heterogeneous (yes, heterogeneous...).
M4G: What's changed since Bubble Bobble?
Tim Follin: Apart from the Labour party and the size of mini rolls, for me the lack of seriousness - it's all too serious these days! As soon as you have bills to pay you take the source of your income a lot more seriously, which is something I'm not very good at. I just can't take game music that seriously. I don't know why, but I can't. Probably not a sentiment shared by most M4G readers, so maybe I should keep my mouth shut...
M4G: No doubt you grew up watching Starsky & Hutch...Was then, this project more daunting than usual?
Tim Follin: I didn't find it daunting initially, I was looking forward to it, but when it came to it I did find myself floundering a bit trying to pin down the right sort of style for it. I kept wanting to do sleazy funk, but it had to be faster - proper funk is too slow for a driving game, which is why I ended up with the sort of 'techno/funk' style (so I read in a review recently!) Something eventually clicked into place though.
M4G: So which were you in the playground, Starsky or Hutch?
Tim Follin: I liked Starsky, but then Hutch always got the women, so... Difficult choice! I didn't play Starsky and Hutch in the playground anyway, I was always too busy trying to break out of school...
M4G: Which classic 70s funk bands, if any, have you been listening to?
Tim Follin: Funkadelic, James Brown, I always liked the funkier Stevie Wonder stuff, even some Earth Wind and Fire, in fact come to think there's too many to list - everything sounded funkier in the 70's! Probably because they didn't have sequencers and tons of completely useless equipment designed to make creating music so easy it practically writes itself - and sounds like it.
M4G: What do you prefer to work with, an audio PC set up or real musicians?
Tim Follin: Real musicians. Not that I have the opportunity to. In reality I work with an audio PC set up. But I'd give it all up tomorrow if I could make a living playing in a real band.
M4G: What instruments do you play?
Tim Follin: Piano was my 'first' instrument, then acoustic guitar, bass and electric guitar, bit of violin, bit of penny whistle, that sort of thing. I always thought about learning to play a good lead instrument like the sax or flute, but I never got round to it. One day....
M4G: What's wrong with the state of gaming today?
Tim Follin: No idea. I don't generally play games anymore. I find that they compete with things like 'going to the pub', which is usually preferable.
M4G: Who do you consider to be 'The Man' in gaming audio?
Tim Follin: Of the musicians I know I would say it would have to be Richard Jacques (ask me how many I know). I think he's writing mainly for orchestra now, but he puts a frightening amount into everything he does and puts me to shame! But in general, at the risk of sounding arrogant and ignorant and offensive, I'm really not interested. I don't regard it as a competition, people do what they do, some people like it some don't. This whole idea of the 'top person' or the 'best' or the 'top ten' is just for little kids who've usually never actually created anything in their lives. People who are intrinsically non-creative come up with all sorts of useless, random categorisations of other people's work. Trying to put things on a scale is a very silly exercise - the only thing you ever have to ask is 'do I like it'. I listen to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon probably once a year, and I listen to a lot of other stuff a lot more often, but I don't think the Pink Floyd is less good because of it; it's not worse and it's not better, it just has its place. My ex-boss used to sometimes say to me 'really put everything into this one, make it your best stuff', as if the rest of the time I was thinking 'I know, I'll make this a 4 out of 10 job'.
M4G: How closely did you work with the game developer on this project?
Tim Follin: Quite closely to begin with, but after we came to a workable style they left me alone and we didn't discuss it. I don't know whether that was a good or a bad thing - I think the producer(s) liked it and apparently the games designers and most of the guys and gals in the office didn't hate what I was doing, but I didn't get a huge amount of feedback, so I've no idea what they thought really. But the game didn't require a great deal of 'musical synchronisation', so that made it easier.
M4G: Do you prefer plenty of their input or none at all?
Tim Follin: I always like to hear criticisms, but they have to start from a stand point of 'it's OK but...' rather than 'it's crap', since 'it's crap' doesn't go anywhere, whereas 'it's OK but...' has possibilities, and they're usually along practical lines like 'that bit's too quiet' or whatever. Valid criticism is practical criticism, and it's only practical as long as I can do something about it!
M4G: What kind of music in games drives you crazy?
Tim Follin: Most music in games drives me crazy. I always turn it off and just have sound effects if possible. Actually that's not true, I usually like orchestral music in games and even turn it up if it's good. You can listen to real instruments over and over and still hear new things in there, not to mention the fact that it sounds 'human' and so is inherently more 'listen-able'. I'm getting to despise synthesised music with a real passion actually. I sometimes think that it doesn't even matter how good the composition is as long as it's being performed live by musicians.
M4G: Do you feel you and your peers are taken seriously by development houses?
Tim Follin: Not remotely. Well, maybe my peers are, but I'm not! They certainly don't pay a serious amount of money.
M4G: Is it true that you also wrote a few games back for the spectrum? If so, what made you quit developing and go with the music?
Tim Follin: I just wasn't so interested after the novelty wore off. Also once games started getting bigger I could see the headache of pulling it all together and getting endless bug reports and having to deal with the artists and designers and producers and sound guy (me) and all of it, and I just thought 'screw that for a game of soldiers', in not so many words. Programming really isn't a very rewarding job, as far as I can tell. Not surprising really that most programmers have the manners of autistic gibbons.
M4G: How do you feel when you see people playing the games that you've worked on? Ever get the urge to go over and say: "Hey, I wrote the music for this!"?
Tim Follin: If it ever happens I'll let you know!
M4G: What projects are you working on now?
Tim Follin: Nothing at the moment, I was working on a game for Zed Two, but they haven't spoken to me for months. Offers welcome!