My Favourite Game
The guitarist and synth virtuoso talks cardboard programming and how Intelligent Systems sustained his former band
Chvrches’ Iain Cook on Advance
Wars and pretend programming
Best known for being one-third of Chvrches, Iain Cook is also an established composer for film and TV, a record producer, and has plied his craft for Les Tinglies, Aereogramme and the still-active The Unwinding Hours. Despite these commitments, he’s found a way for music and games to coexist.
You’re a prolific composer of film and TV scores, but no games yet. This is true! It’s something that I’m quite surprised hasn’t come up over the years, given the people I know who make videogames; it’s something I’d definitely be interested in. But I’m not really that keen on doing a film-score-type thing… I’m more interested in the things indie developers are doing these days – doing something a little bit different, and finding ways to make music and videogames work together, rather than just a layer of Hollywood-style backing group music. That’s often the case, especially with big-budget videogames, getting big composers like Clint Mansell and Harry Gregson-Williams to do these blockbuster games. Obviously, there’s a place for that, but it’s not really advancing the art form in any way. I think if I was to get involved with videogames, it would be something that was a bit smarter and a bit more inventive, but don’t ask me what!
You thanked Intelligent Systems and Advance Wars in Sleep And Release’s liner notes. What was that about? Back in the early Aereogramme days, the tours were pretty gruelling, because we were playing small venues that weren’t sold out and there was really no budget. We were lucky enough to have six-week American tours, though. But the thing that really held the band together, I guess, was that we all had GameBoy Advance SPs with copies of Advance Wars, Tetris and Mario Kart. And we just played and played and played during the six-to-tenhour drives every day. Advance Wars was something that we really bonded over and we played it obsessively. I was shit at it, by the way! Actually, there were a lot of videogame samples on that record that we, er, didn’t disclose for copyright reasons! It probably doesn’t matter any more. I’m not saying there is, but there might be samples from Defender, Q*Bert and Silent Hill 2. There might not be, of course.
While we’re on the subject of classics, when did you get into games? I suppose it was probably either seeing some older guys playing a Space Invaders cabinet at the local community centre a long time ago, or when a friend of my dad’s lent us an Atari 2600 and I played Combat. Those two things I remember really clearly. After that, the earliest memory I have is when I got my ZX Spectrum in 1983. I remember being so obsessed with the idea of owning one that, before Christmas, I got my mum to give me the manual so I could read how to program in BASIC! I had a big cutout picture of the rubber keys from Your Sinclair that I would practice on. The first thing I did was to program music on it, so I guess there’s a kind of symmetry in there.
Would you say videogames sparked your creative side, then? It probably did, come to think of it. I’d been going to piano lessons since I was about five or six, so there was always music around me, and I was always involved in it in some way. But it wasn’t until I got fed up with videogames and picked up a guitar at about 15 that I realised that music was something I really wanted to do, rather than something that had been forced on me! I loved Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, and I taught myself to play guitar from there. But then, at the end of the SNES era, I got back into videogames again when I realised that the two could coexist!
“There were a lot of videogame samples on that record that we, er, didn’t disclose for copyright reasons”
And which game is your all-time favourite? It’s really hard to pin it down, but it’s definitely a toss up between Mario Kart and Street Fighter… Specifically Mario Kart: Double Dash on GameCube and Mario Kart DS, and Street Fighter IV on Xbox and all the iterations thereafter. But if I had to choose one, I would say it’s probably Street Fighter. I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours playing that game. I don’t know why it’s grabbed me in the way that it has. I played a lot of Super Street Fighter II when it came out on SNES, but then I went away from it for a long time. I just feel that in IV, everything’s come together. Everything they’ve added has worked – the Focus thing worked, the Ultra thing is a bit broken, but that’s kind of part of the fun. And it’s just really well balanced.