Spike in Transylvania (inc. Q+A with game music legend, Ashley Hogg)
I recently wrote a post with regards to the C64 title; CJ’s Elephant Antics, commenting on the influence that it has had in my home over the years. This was predominantly due to the accompanying music of Ashley Hogg, whose work became one of my earliest inspirations.
Another influencial game produced by Codemasters was Spike in Transylvania. This was an adventure game which saw it’s protagonist, Spike the Viking, wander throughout a medieval castle to rescue his friends, who had been locked away in the dungeons below.
It was a fun game to play, but perhaps not one to be as highly regarded as other memorable classics. However it has remained memorable for me due to the music, which was once again provided by Ashley Hogg.
Similarly to his work on CJ’s Elephant Antics I also found Hogg’s music here to be much more creative than a lot of the titles that were being released at the time. In particular there is a wonderful tempo change in the main theme which not only gave it that little more complexity, but also helped to break up the repetitiveness of the music loop. Something which could become irritating in other titles of the day.
I recently tracked down Ashley Hogg to ask him some of the questions that I (as an aspiring video game composer) was intrigued about, and also to recall his memories of working in the C64 era:
BigToughGully: What was your prior knowledge or training (if any!) in music before you began programming music?
Ashley Hogg: I had been trained in violin since I was around 6 or 7, did that up until Grade 5 (age 11 or so) and played in the school orchestra then a training orchestra for a few years. In the end I didn’t really see it going anywhere and with increasing academic pressures I quit the violin around 15/16 or so. I’d also always had a keyboard or organ of some form at home, so I was always a bit musical although I never had any formal training there.
BTG: Considering that you’re a programmer, and the way that game music was created in the C64 era by way of a tracker program, did you ever consider yourself a composer or did you see the music as just another form of programming?
AH: Both really. I did my C64 music simply by composing on my keyboard, then converting that into data values that I typed into the source code of my C64 music player (which I wrote myself). No tracker involved. I would normally compose in blocks/patterns, and knew my data format so well that it really just became a part of my thought process. I could pretty much work something out on the keyboard, then turn to the computer (Atari ST hooked up via a cross-assembler to the C64) and type in the values to represent the pattern. I think this was actually a pretty common way of working for a lot of 8-bit composer/programmers back then.
BTG: I tried my hand at making some music with the C64 when I was younger and although I found it fascinating, it took a lot of patience to string together even just a basic melody. I often consider some of your music to be amongst the very best for the time due to the creative complexity and length of certain tracks, and whenever I listen to them now and then I always wonder how long it must’ve taken to put them together. Do you recall how long it took you to produce some of the longer pieces? ( And how did you maintain your sanity? )
AH: They were generally produced over longer periods of time, alongside game coding. That’s kind of how I broke up both tasks really. For example, there’s quite a lot of music in Nobby The Aardvark and that was composed slowly over most of the development period of the game.
I’d often just go back and tweak things, play with variations, that
kind of thing. It wasn’t really very time-efficient looking back, but
it was all still new to me really and part of the learning process.
BTG: Did you have any musical or even visual inspirations at the time that possibly influenced your work and got you motivated, or were they creations straight out of the brain box?
AH: Outside of computers and games, possibly, but I can’t really bring anything to mind. Probably mostly sub-conscious… although current works of the main 8-bit composers would definitely have been the biggest factor - at that point I was mostly immersed in game/computer culture, rather than mainstream culture.
BTG: CJ’s Elephant Antics. You composed the music for the original C64 version, but then swapped roles for the Amiga and Atari versions by programming the game and leaving your music in the capable hands of Allistair Brimble. Can you recall what your experience of this was like, or to put it another way were there any tensions amongst the team based on the fact of you being tasked with having to live up to Dave Clark’s original program, and Allistair tasked with living up to your original music?
AH: No, it wasn’t a problem. I had actually started coding the Amiga
version of the game almost as soon as Dave & Jon had an early working C64 version - it actually came long before the C64 music was done. The Amiga version was always behind the C64 development-wise (since Dave & Jon were designing that and the Amiga was just a port), and when we finished the C64 version I had done the music for it of course but was still finishing the Amiga game. By that point I hadn’t really sorted out my own Amiga/ST music players, so Codemasters decided it would be best just to get Allister to port the music.
BTG: What is your opinion of video game music thesedays, do you have any favourite game soundtracks or composers that you admire? The trend of video game music being performed in concert is becoming more and more popular now, did you ever think that the games industry would become as big as it is today back when you were creating the likes of CJ and Spike in Transylvania?
AH: To be honest I don’t really pay a lot of attention to modern
soundtracks, which I suppose is a bit sad. I do like supporting Indie
games in general though, and a lot of those have quite memorable
soundtracks - often very 8-bit in style of course, which is pretty
popular these days :) Whilst I think the production values of
soundtracks on AAA titles is quite incredible now, I don’t find them
especially memorable. Feels horrible to say that though, knowing the
work and talent that does go into them. :(
Although his music creating days are long gone, Ashley Hogg is still very active in the games industry today. It’s good to know that some of the gaming legends from my childhood are still around, others may gone but none of them will be forgotten.
To bring my questions to an end, I asked Ash a question more for myself rather than for the purpose of the interview. I wondered if his heart was still in the industry, and whether he still enjoyed it all. I think that the closing part of his reply brings this post to a fitting end. Thank you.
AH: I never really imagined how the industry would turn out, but then
again I don’t try to imagine what it’ll be like in another 20 years. I
think I just prefer to go with the flow and try to enjoy it as it
evolves :) And yes, I do still enjoy programming a lot - it’s
definitely in my blood.