My Favourite Game

The award-win­ning film and videogame com­poser on Speed­ball glo­ries, slap-bass so­los, and the joy of Taito’s Chase HQ

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Com­poser Daniel Pem­ber­ton on slap-bass so­los and Chase HQ

Daniel Pem­ber­ton is an Ivor Nov­ello-win­ning and multi-BAFTAnom­i­nated com­poser re­spon­si­ble for scor­ing TV shows and films in­clud­ing Peep Show, The Man From UN­CLE and Steve Jobs, as well as videogame sound­tracks such as Lit­tleBigPlanet and The Movies. Most re­cently he’s worked with Rex Crowle on Knights & Bikes. Way be­fore that, though, a 14-year-old Pem­ber­ton found him­self do­ing a work ex­pe­ri­ence place­ment un­der a game de­signer called Peter Molyneux.

That work ex­pe­ri­ence must’ve been fun. Yeah, that was weird! It was at Bull­frog, which was about seven or eight peo­ple at the time – be­fore it got bought by EA – in a lit­tle cramped of­fice in Guild­ford, de­sign­ing lev­els for Pop­u­lous II. And who would’ve known that lit­tle of­fice would’ve spawned the Guild­ford gam­ing em­pire?

Did the mu­sic of the games you played as a kid have any in­flu­ence on your de­vel­op­ment as a com­poser? I wasn’t mad on a lot of videogame mu­sic grow­ing up. I def­i­nitely think it’s in­ter­est­ing, but I al­ways used to joke that ev­ery Sega game sound­track was writ­ten by a guy who loves do­ing slap-bass so­los. I think the first game mu­si­cally I thought was re­ally cool, and do­ing what I wanted videogame mu­sic to do, was Xenon 2. They brought in Bomb The Bass, and that was re­ally ex­cit­ing be­cause it showed videogames could merge with all th­ese other art forms and could have re­ally great sound­tracks. Peo­ple prob­a­bly know that track bet­ter now from that game than they would from the orig­i­nal re­lease. Then, when Wipe­out came out, I think that was the mo­ment you could re­ally see what you could do with the im­pact of mu­sic.

Be­fore that, which games hooked you? In the Amiga era it was prob­a­bly Speed­ball II: Bru­tal Deluxe, which is one of my favourite games. I used to play it with a friend of mine, Ben Speed, and I’d beat him all the time. I loved a lot of the stuff the Bit­map Brothers did be­cause I thought they were do­ing some­thing that felt very cool and very dif­fer­ent in the way they pre­sented it. And I also loved ar­cade games – I used to play a lot of Taito stuff. Chase HQ was one of the games I ab­so­lutely loved. Ev­ery time I go some­where and there’s an ar­cade, I try to find it. The Amiga ver­sion is shit.

So when did those two worlds co­a­lesce for you, pro­fes­sion­ally? I started writ­ing about videogames when I was 13, which when I look back on it now is ac­tu­ally re­ally weird. And I used to run the cheats col­umn in a mag­a­zine called GameZone, which was the fol­low on from Zero. That got me enough money to buy a syn­the­siser, and that was the over­rid­ing fac­tor in gam­ing mu­sic’s in­flu­ence on me as a com­poser. It was weird be­cause I was com­pos­ing for TV and games at the same time, but they were two dif­fer­ent sides to what I was do­ing. But do­ing The Movies was pretty im­por­tant. I went in to see them and they said, “We’ve made this game and we ba­si­cally need the last 100 years of film mu­sic – can you do that?” And I was like, “Um, yeah?” So I ba­si­cally had to teach my­self in­cred­i­bly quickly how to mimic 100 years of film mu­sic. That was prob­a­bly im­por­tant to me as a com­poser.

Do you still get much time to play? The prob­lem with ev­ery­thing now is that it’s so time-con­sum­ing. I find there are loads of games I’ll get two-thirds of the way through and then some­thing will hap­pen with the film or pro­ject I’m on and I have to leave my rou­tine – of play­ing that game for a cou­ple of hours ev­ery day – for a month or two, and when I come back to it I’ve for­got­ten ev­ery­thing. I go, “Oh, shit, I can’t re­mem­ber what to do…” And then I just go and play some­thing else.

“I knew that videogames had got to a level of artis­tic power when play­ing the first MGS”

Which game has had the great­est im­pact on you? I don’t think I can an­swer which is my favourite. But my all-time favourite videogame ex­pe­ri­ence was a Metal Gear Solid one. I knew that videogames had got to a level of artis­tic power when play­ing the first MGS, and I rank that as one of my all-time top ten en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ences, along­side see­ing Ver­tigo for the first time. It’s that re­al­i­sa­tion games are a medium that can eas­ily com­pete with the great­est works of mu­sic, the great­est works of cinema and the great­est books on an equal level. I felt, when I played it, videogam­ing had achieved some­thing new, and that’s al­ways been a very pow­er­ful mo­ment for me.

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