RVG Interviews Barry Leitch.

Here we interview Barry Leitch, Barry worked for some iconic British Software Houses like Imagitec, Gremlin and Ocean where he created some simply stunning in-game music and SFX’s for many classic titles. Read on as we cover some of those games in our interview including Hero Quest, Sleepwalker and much more.

Enjoy!

Zapiy

Thank you for agreeing to our interview, please take a moment to tell us a little about you?

Barry

Hi there, I’m Barry Leitch, Audio guy ! I’ve created audio for a LOT of video games & kids toys. I’m 48, Happily married to my lovely wife Karen, I grew up in Scotland, and moved 33 times between then and now following the jobs. I live in Bryan Ohio, where I freelance from now. I play poker with the guys once a week, and one of the games I worked on is quite famous in South America.

Zapiy

For the purpose of this interview can I ask you to list your 10 favourite game tunes you have made in your career for our readers to listen to?

Barry

My ten favorite tunes I’ve written… hmmm OK in no particular order..

1: Anarchy (TFX title theme) – CD Version from the Immortal CD’s.

2: Horizon Chase Turbo game Completion Theme (A Very Final Finale)

3: Dark Quest 2 Title Theme (Beauty & The Beast)

4: Pixter Title Theme

5: American Gladiators Title Theme MT32 Version

6: Epic CD Rom (Unreleased)

7: Harlequin Clocktower Theme

8: Top Gear Vegas

9: Hero Quest In-game

10: Horizon Chase Last Hurrah Of A Video Game Composer

Zapiy

How did you first get involved in the video game industry?

Barry

In 1986 I was 15, and I got my first game soundtrack published. It was terrible, and the magazines shat all over it in the reviews, so my career in composing for games was over. So I tried working in the real world, and that sucked. So when one of my friends was making a game and asked me to write some music for it, I did, the magazines liked it, and I managed to wrangle a full-time job writing music for games at the age of 17.

Zapiy

What was the first game you created music/SFX for?

Barry

ICUPS on the C64 was the first one I did the music for, Marauder C64 was the first one with Music & SFX.

TrekMD

As a composer, is there a particular game type that you prefer to write music for?

Barry

It’s nice to have some variation in the pieces.. It’s quite difficult to write 10 tunes in the same style. Towards the end of Horizon Chase Turbo I was starting to feel like I was repeating myself a bit musically, so it became a bit of a challenge to try take it to new places. I’ve always been fond of racing games, just because of the sheer energy and speed of the pieces, but games like TFX & Inferno were fun to write. I think Spider on the PS1 was probably the most varied.

TrekMD

You are proud of your work on Spider: The Video Game but its a game that many may not have heard of, tell us about your involvement and why your so fond of your creations for it?

Barry

I was audio director at Boss and I had pretty much a whole year to write all the music and do the sfx for it. So I really got time to get into each piece and fully flesh out ideas instead of just cranking thru them.. I think the Egyptian city is probably the strongest track, and probably the one I spent the most time on. I think it shows.

Greyfox

Did you create any special tools to help you be more creative?

Barry

Back in the day, when there were at least 8 home computers, each with different sound chips, I came up with the unified data structure that allowed me to convert the music between the platforms with the least amount of work, it usually just involved creating new instruments for each target machine. You’d start on the Amiga, which had 4 channels of sampled instrument sounds, and then work down to the AY based computers, (Atari ST, Spectrum +3, Amstrad, Gameboy, etc) with some special tweaking for NES and the like, you’d do a lateral conversion to the SNES with 8 channels of REALLY small samples and it had a bunch of technical hoops you had to jump thru, and then you’d do the “bigger” versions, Adlib, soundblaster, Roland MT32, Sound Canvas, and eventually CD ! YAY !
And once CD audio came out, the rest all just fell away.

Greyfox

You have worked for a few iconic British Software Houses, tell us about those days, were they as rock n roll as we all imagined it to be?

Barry

Pretty much LOL ! – it was all very much variations on a frat house environment. We worked hard, played hard, and got the job done. At the time, we all just wanted to make cool games, sometimes it was fun, other times it wasn’t.. We didn’t make anywhere near the money we should have done, most developers lived hand to mouth on a weekly basis, sometimes even daily. You could smoke in your office then, people fought over who got a chair. People would get in fights. Employees were bullied, bones were broken..

Greyfox

Do you have any anecdotes you can share from those days?

Barry

I’ll tell you one of the rare occasions where I was the bad guy 😊
I had a junior sound designer once, I’d assigned him the task of making some SFX for a platform game where the character would jump and fall and the like.. I told him to just record some “grunts” and “oof’s” for the vocalizaitons for the main character and to do an “aaaaahhh” for him falling. He refused point blank to record anything with his own voice. This was in the days before sound libraries of sounds, so there wasn’t any other way to get the sfx made, and it was HIS job to make sounds ! A rather heated argument ensued and he just closed down entirely crossing his arms refusing to do anything that involved him recording himself. I ended up threatening to throw him out of the window and record him as he fell.. He stated quietly “I’ll just not make any sound as I fall”. *FACEPALM*

And that’s why he no longer works in the game industry… (actually it’s not, he did get another job got flown to the states, and then he accused his employer of kidnapping him) – and THAT’S why he no longer works in the industry. Fucking moron.

Greyfox

What was your day to day like at Gremlin Graphics like?

Barry

Didn’t work at Gremlin, worked at Imagitec, who rented me out to Gremlin, any time I spent at Gremlin, was usually me rushing trying to get the work done in time so I could get home. If I was down in Sheffield, it meant I was sleeping on a programmers couch for a few days while we cranked out a game, like Top Gear, or Impossamole for the Turbo Graphics.

Zapiy

Looking back, which one of the software companies you worked for did you enjoy the most and why?

Barry

All had their great points.. Imagitec was awesome because we worked on so many games in a few short years and had a LOT of fun doing it. Ocean I really enjoyed because it felt like I was finally working for a real grown up company, and was treated with respect (Gary Bracey is awesome !) Origin Systems because they really embraced the creative culture of their employees, and let them do what they did without too much interference. Boss Games – I enjoyed the creative freedom I had for composing as Audio Director. Atari Games – THE Atari Games… Not one of the rebrands, this was the ACTUAL place where it all began.. That was so damn cool. I loved working there with legends like Ed Logg!

Zapiy

How different has it been working in the gaming industry through the years?

Barry

It grew up ! I was there when we were 3 man teams creating a game in a few months and getting peanuts for pay to going to be part of a team of hundreds of people working on million dollar games. There was a time when contracts weren’t needed and everyone just had the same goal. These days you need a huge team and marketing and PR guys just to cut thru the sea of mediocrity to reach sales figures that amount to minimum wage levels..

Zapiy

When you first started, did you ever think that the video game industry would become as big as it has and still be going strong all these years later?

Barry

We had no idea it would become as big as it has. I think the things that surprised me was the rise of mobile devices. On one hand, Free to play games have done so much damage the game industry financially and yet it opens the door to so many casual players it’s really quite astonishing! I think sales of games used to be far more evenly spread out.. These days, one title will sell billions, and everyone else sells tens of thousands… This has really affected how games are developed.

Zapiy

Looking back at your career, what would you change if you had a time machine and why?

Barry

I would have spent longer working on Top Gear if I’d known that many people were going to play it !

Greyfox

Who was or is your favourite musician, on the C64/Speccy and Amiga/ST?

Barry

C64 – Hubbard

Speccy – Follin

Amiga – 4mat or Heatbeat.

Zapiy

What are the biggest challenges you faced with the limitations of the hardware, particularly as you continue to expand features title-to-title from one generation to the next (8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit, Memory, Graphical capability, Speed and so on)?

Barry

It was a constant game of one up-manship with other composers, as we all tried to find different ways to squeeze every last drop of power out of each individual sound chip.

Zapiy

Do you have a favourite game that you were involved with?

Barry

We played the hell out of Lotus 2 back in the day and I’ve really enjoyed playing Horizon Chase Turbo with my kids.

TrekMD

What is the process for developing music for a video game like Gauntlet Legends or Gauntlet Dark Legacy?

Barry

Well there were 2 different versions.. The N64 one and the arcade one.. both with VASTLY different sound capabilities.
For the N64 Gauntlet Legends, I had to convert from the existing arcade music written by John Paul @ Atari Games. The way John wrote the music infuriated me, I was coming from a background where timing had to be perfect and logical and would transcribe to lesser hardware.. John on the other hand, had classical music training, and while he had worked on limited hardware before, he was like a pig in mud with the cd based soundtrack he’d created for the arcade version. There were all kinds of things he did that simply wouldn’t transcribe well to “lesser” hardware. He had done some wonderfully creative stuff, but I hated it ! it made my job 10x harder.. sometimes more than that! LOL – so in the end, I locked myself away for six months and “loosely” transcribed his tunes.. Some of them bore nothing but a passing resemblance to his, but at the same time they HAD to be able to sound good for an N64 soundtrack AND fit in an incredibly small amount of memory. There’s about 2 hours of music on the N64 Gauntlet Legends, and it takes up a teeny tiny amount of cartridge space. I was very proud of it. I don’t think JP liked my bastardizations of his melodies but it got good reviews, so I think it landed in the right place.
As for Dark Legacy…
That was a huge team effort.. Me, John Paul, Mike Henry, Joe Lyford, and Don Diekenite divvied up the levels, and went away and wrote our pieces. I was quite proud of mine, and I enlisted Joe Lyford to play guitar on some of the end of level monster tunes.

TrekMD

How much liberty are you given when composing music for any particular video game?

Barry

Depends on the project.. Sometimes its “make it sound like this, and do not do anything BUT this”.. other times its “but that’s your job! you make – it we’ll tell you if we like it”.

TrekMD

You’ve composed music for different video game series. Do you have a favorite type of game genre to write music for?

Barry

I’d like to write for a good RTS game, or an FPS.. I do enjoy writing for the racing games though.. Maybe that’s my niche..

Zapiy

Has there been a game that has been very challenging to compose music for? If so, why?

Barry

During Rush 2049 I hit an AWFUL writers block.. It was almost 2 months where I simply couldn’t write a note.. It was incredibly frustrating, and thankfully only lasted 2 months. In the end I wrote a piece of music that was of no use to Rush 2049 and has just sat on my hard drive for years, but it’s a trippy little track with avant garde bleeps and a nice acoustic guitar track… Rush 2049, I’d just done California Speed, Rush2, Top Gear Rally, and 2 (unused) soundtracks for Twisted Edge Snowboarding, so perhaps that was what caused the block, I was just plain out of fast driving tunes…

Zapiy

Hero Quest was a game me and my mates played for hours, the in-game music is something we all still talk about even now, how did you come up with such and iconic sound?

Barry

The ingame music is really small, like 30k.. They had no memory for the music in game so it was a case of “if you can write a chip tune (one with REALLY small instrument samples – ie ones that were basically one waveform length and looped) we can fit it in” – So I took it as a challenge and started with a simple arpeggio and expanded on that trying to make it as long as possible while using as little memory as possible.. Its like 7 minutes long and 30kb.. Crazy efficient.. The MT32 version has a little bit of the Stranglers Golden brown harpsichord solo in it 🙂

Zapiy

Super Cars games had great music tracks and the SFX were loud and vibrant, what freedom do you have from a publisher/devs point of view when creating the music and sounds for a game like this?

I think Daglish did SC1 didn’t he ? SC2 was one of those “hey we need a couple of tunes for this game – have Barry knock us up a couple would you”. The piece I wrote for SC2 was a heavily influenced by Body Electric by The Sisters Of Mercy, so I must have been pretty short on ideas that week.

Zapiy

I absolutely love Sleepwalker on the Amiga and CD32, I am a firm believer that great sound effects and music add so much to a game, tell us how you created the music and SFX for a game like this for example?

Barry

Sleepwalker – Amiga wasn’t done by me, but the CD32 release featured a CD based soundtrack written mostly by me and Dean Evans. Me and Dean worked in a very similar style, and as we both used the same development software, it was quite common for us to simply switch offices in the afternoon after working on our own tunes in the mornings we’d hit that point where we would be ready to add a new idea or something to the tunes, so we’d switch offices, and work on each others tunes, so there are influences from him in my tunes, and mine in his tunes. It also makes it really difficult to work out who wrote what. I think if you like Sleepwalker, you’d like my Bonnies Bookstore soundtrack.

Zapiy

Silkworm is another classic game you created music for, this had great reviews at the time, did you guys take much note of the critics and how did they influence the team and you personally?

Barry

Silkworm, was one of those ones where they phoned up and said “Can you have Barry knock out a quick tune for our game”. I don’t like the silkworm theme very much, the samples I used were pretty horrible and it just seemed rushed.
The magazines used to have lost of influence, there was nothing worse than a bad review, it could devastate you for weeks ! Especially the Zzap ones. Those hurt !

Greyfox

Which one the games you was involved in are you the proudest of and why?

Barry

I think I’m probably most proud of Horizon Chase Turbo, it’s just a great product. Spider the Video game – I was very proud of the soundtrack but the game got buried.. TFX was another solid soundtrack, but I think it only really sold in Europe.

Zapiy

Would you ever consider producing an album of your works like some of the recently successful Kickstarter ones?

Barry

If there was demand for it, yeah sure.. I’ve just remixed one of my Harlequin tunes for the Amiga power cd, and that came out pretty nicely.. Also just did my passion project for this lifetime.. The “definitive” cover of Rob Hubbard’s Spellbound.. I’ve supported the scene of the years releasing stuff thru the Scenesat & immortal cd’s etc. I’ve got enough material for a “best of” CD, but I’d like to add something new.. We’ll see.. You set it up and get the funding, I’ll write the tunes 😊

Zapiy

Do you have any chiptunes/music from games that never got released that you might like to share to the community?

Barry

Oh there were loads of c64 ones that deserve to stay tucked away in a box in my garage.. nobody needs to hear that stuff.. There’s several bits and bobs that I’ve written over the years that never saw the light of day.. usually I throw that stuff on my Soundcloud page,

Greyfox

What are you up to these days?

Barry

These days I mostly am focused on creating audio for toys, but I usually have one or two little game projects on the side that keep me out of trouble. I’ve just been putting the finishing touches to “Story Of A Gladiator” which was made by the Dark Quest 2 guy.

Zapiy

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Barry

Yeah its nice, I hope to see more of it. Somewhere along the lines, games stopped being fun and became far too much work to deal with.

Zapiy

Are you a gamer yourself? If so what is you favourite game?

Barry

Oh yeah.. At the moment.. don’t laugh.. I’m still loving Train Valley 2.. stupid wee puzzle game… but it’s very awesome… that and I’ll still have a game of Supreme Commander Forged Alliance (Forged Alliance Forever)

Finally

A huge thank you to Barry for taking the time to chat with us at RVG!

zapiy

Retro head and key holder of RVG.