RVG Interviews: Jason Page.

Here we interview Jason Page, Jason started his career at iconic British Software House, Graftgold. He assumed responsibility from Steve Turner as the in-house musician and created some simply stunning in-game music and SFX’s.

Read on and enjoy!

Zapiy

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

Jason

Thanks for asking me!

I’m Jason. I’ve been working in the games industry for ages. Programmer, Musician, Manager.. And variations of those.

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?

Jason

Here’s some tracks that I’m quite happy with. Some are probably not that well-known – or people think are composed by other people. So I’ve added some details too.

That was quite a trip down memory lane.

(The tracks chosen will be randomly placed throughout the interview for you to enjoy as you read)

Track Choice No 1

Jason

Fire & Ice – CD32 World in the sky (no idea of the real name..) Starts off all atmospheric and then gets angry and dark.

This was my first CD (“Real”) music.

Zapiy

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

Jason

I was always into computers since about 9 or 10, when my Dad bought a Dragon32. From there, my Brother had a Spectrum, and I eventually got a C64 (I won’t mention the mistake that was an Oric Atmos…). I used to write demos and that kind of thing on Compunet. It was at that point that I also discovered that I liked writing music, and kind of had a talent for doing so.

When I was 16, I was lucky enough to be offered a trainee position at Graftgold. They were in the same town as I lived. I showed them what I could do, and it was at the time when Amiga/ST was just taking off, so they were looking to move people onto those machines. Timing was perfect. I took over the C64 work (I wrote the C64 version of Super Offroad Racer, amongst other things). Later, after few years, I took over audio duties too, as Steve Turner didn’t have time to both run the company and do everything else.

Zapiy

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

Jason

The first game was a budget title Graftgold release, by my good friend Gary Foreman – Orion.

Zapiy

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

Jason

I like the fast-paced, arcade games. Although, I’ve always wanted to write something for a slower “walking around a dungeon” type game. I’ve never done one of those.

The most unrewarding was working on football games. At best, it will sound like a football game. Nobody cares if it sounds great. But they’ll moan if it doesn’t sound right.

Track Choice No 2

Jason

Uridium 2 – Amiga Title Music

This one got me a job working with Richard Joseph.

Turns out I was trying to copy his style, and at the same time he was trying to copy this.

Zapiy

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

Jason

At Graftgold, I wrote a music player that was used on Amiga, ST, Megadrive and SNES. It was similar to TFMX, where it used macros (small instructions) to do things like set volume, pitch, sample position and so on. It allowed me to make more out of less memory. So, audio in games like Fire&Ice and Uridium2 were possible, as I could use synthesis techniques rather than large samples. Both have a certain C64 SID quality to their audio. The tool also meant that I could write the music once, and then just remake the instruments for each computer / console (the notes stay the same, but the instructions used to create the sound could be specific to the type of audio hardware found on each..)

Zapiy

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?

Jason

They probably were, compared today! Lots of good memories. But I think, at the time, it was just a lot of people working hard to create cool stuff. Only years later has it become apparent to me that what we did was something really special to others. For example, I was contacted by someone who said that the music on the Official PlayStation Magazine demo disks were the first electronic music they had ever heard when they were about 3 years old, and how that inspired them. They are now 26, and writing music as a career. That’s pretty mind-blowing.

But, back to your question, there was a lot of drinking. A lot of hangovers.

Track Choice No 3

Jason

Uridium 2 – Amiga Loader

I couldn’t help but try to get something like the Ocean Loader music in, when given the chance. Also shows how my music player allowed for synthesised instruments, to save a load of memory.

Greyfox

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

Jason

I just remember being a massive fan boy, whilst doing the job. Going to a Renegade Christmas party and chatting all night to Richard Joseph (at that point, I’d already converted his Gods and Chaos Engine to Megadrive..). A few months later, I left Graftgold and worked with him on 20 projects for a year. Not exactly anecdotal, but we all had a massive amount of respect for each other.

Greyfox

What was your day-to-day like at Graftgold like?

Jason

Arrive (if you got in after 10, you had to make the coffee for everyone..). Write code / write music. Lunch (a sandwich from Tesco, or a pub lunch). Work. Home (or pub). It’s hard to say anything other than that!
That makes it sound so blasé! There was a hell of a lot of creativity and cleverness in the office, of course! Conversations about how to do various graphical effects, coffee breaks where we’d play Paradroid 90, and Andrew would have to turn the Amiga off, to force us back to work! The Rainbow Islands arcade machine, that David O’Connor could play so well, we recorded the whole thing on video, so the levels could be created used it.. But that kind of thing didn’t happen every day. And there were bad days as well as good. There were frustrations that, essentially, many great programmers didn’t get credit by lazy journalists who’d just say everything was done by Andrew or Steve. Nobody’s fault at Graftgold – but it wasn’t all a bed of roses.

Track Choice No 4

Jason

Realms – Amiga Title

I initially wrote this using “real” instruments (Korg M1, Roland JV880, Akai S950, Novation BaseStation, Cheetah MS6), and then converted to Amiga. My main regret was that the chords didn’t loop nicely. Again, memory restrictions stopped me from ping-ponging.

It goes a bit Madonna-ish at around 3:40.. Weird choice, but there ya go.

Greyfox

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

Jason

They all bring back some great memories. I spent nearly 20 years at Sony, from 1996. So I saw a massive change from the original PlayStation, through the PS4. Not only technically, but as a company too. Those changes (I was something like employee 170..) meant that I essentially felt like I worked at 3-4 different companies at that time. Initially, we had more control to do weird stuff, take chances and so on. Later, games cost a lot more to make, required a lot more people, etc. Likewise, I went from being a musician / audio support engineer to a manager role, with my own, great team.

The current one. Unity. It’s like Sony in the early days. Graftgold with the collaboration and creativity. Again, there’s some days when things don’t feel like that. But it ticks most of the boxes, most of the time.

TrekMD

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

Jason

I started when I was 16, and, well, stupid. I was just wide-eyed, and didn’t really know anything other than how to code / write music. So, my opinion on how the games industry has changed over the years is also coloured by my own understanding of the world in general too. I’m now married, have a house and so on. So, would I have even taken the chance to work in the games industry in 1988, if that was my life then?

Sure, there’s more security now. Games take longer to write. Things like Unity make it possible for more people to make games. The internet means that anyone can watch a YouTube video to understand something, without having to buy and read a 300 page manual. Everything is more instant – and throw-away now.

Certainly, if feels like a lot of the great times in the 80’s and 90’s were down to creating something that nobody else had ever done. Creating an effect that made a game stand out, etc. It’s hard to get that buzz now. Even playing games can feel like you’re not really experiencing anything new today. But, is that just due to my senses being numbed, as I’ve done this for so long, or is it really the state of the games industry?

Track Choice No 5

Jason

The Chaos Engine 2 – Amiga Future World 1

After I “officially” stopped working with Richard Joseph, he still asked me to help with game music, if he was under pressure to get things done in time. I don’t think I got a credit for this one though, but this was one of mine. Novation BassStation in full effect

TrekMD

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?

Jason

I never really thought about it. I thought it was certainly still be around. But I don’t think anyone could have imagined the effect that Sony had, taking something and making it cool to everyone. WipeOut, Lara Croft and so on. They may still have been made. But can you really imagine that they would have had that impact on the whole world, if Sega or Nintendo had made them?

TrekMD

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

Jason

So, I basically am doing this now. Due to the retro scene, about 3 years ago I went back to writing C64 SID music again. I always wanted to give it another go, knowing all the things I’d learnt over the years with regards to composition, DSP audio effects, synthesis and such like. Again, I was a young kid at the time. I didn’t have the experience or understanding that I do today. So, I got a copy of SidTracker64 on the iPad and started writing tracks again. This has led me to now be involved with working with Rob Hubbard, as well as on a number of other KickStarter retro projects. I’ve been lucky enough to really do the time machine thing.

What would I actually change, if I could? Some career choices. I would have left one of the companies earlier than I did.

Zapiy

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

Jason

This will probably just look like a copy/paste from anyone else asked this.
Rob Hubbard, Martin Galway, Ben Daglish, Richard Joseph, Jeroen Tel, Fred Grey…

Seriously, they were all so instrumental in me doing what I do today. I soak up everything they (and all the others I forgot.. Oh, Chris Hueslbeck! Sorry, Chris!)

I was just mesmerized. I still am. There’s some cracking tunes there. It’s the melodies and composition that really stands out on the C64. It was too easy to rely on samples on the Amiga, which resulted in a lot of tunes now sounding dated to me.

Track Choice No 6

Jason

Rise Of The Robots – SNES (also ported to other platforms.)

So, the thing about working freelance, is that you never know if a game will be a massive hit or a massive failure. Also, the spec I was given was for a fast, Street Fighter style robot fighting game. So I went all-out Prodigy / Front 242. I think I wrote all the tracks for this game. Brian May did intro music (the long, guitar thing, that was impossible to get sounding good on any platform..)

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/ Sound capability, Speed and so on)?

Jason

8-bit was Channel count (SFX that would cut out music channels) and RAM size.
16-bit was pretty much RAM size (I would get 30K for the whole game. Chris Huelsbeck would get 100K just for the title screen, and 30K per level! So I was never going to be able to compete)
Megadrive – Publishers expected you to create music that sounded like a SNES
SNES – Publishers expected you to create CD quality music with no RAM
CD32 – CD quality music (yay!). Couldn’t look tracks seamlessly (boo!!)
PlayStation – Pretty much everything was good. Limited to using specific code to do things though, so you couldn’t hack around to make it do more that it was supposed to.
PS2 – 48 channels. Streaming multiple tracks from disk. Good times
PS3 – Everything was in software. So anything goes.
PS4 / Vita.. Hmm.. Nothing left to write, as we’re just going to use the code we wrote before.. Bye bye Sony….

Zapiy

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

Jason

Gran Turismo (PS1). I wrote around 45 mins of music (everything other than the licensed tracks). I didn’t know much about the game. I was just asked to rewrite the Japanese music tracks for a race game, to fit a more western style. I did it in about 2-3 weeks, writing 2 tracks a day.

Fire & Ice also came out really nicely. I think both the standard and CD32 versions really show how working closely as a team produce great results.

Track Choice No 7

Jason

Official PlayStation Magazine cover disk music

I wrote the music for most of the OPM cover disks from around 1996 onwards (Harry Holmwood did the ones before that). They were short, looping samples that would fit into the whole of PS1 sample memory. Later on, I replaced this with an XM mod player that I wrote (initially used in This Is Football). These magazines sold something like 100,000 a month… So I think a lot of people probably heard these tracks – more than any game I wrote!

Greyfox

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

Jason

The main problem is running out of ideas. Working back-to-back on 20 games in a year, when working with Richard Joseph (so, over 100 pieces of music, if you think of title, levels, high score, game over, game complete…etc.), it’s difficult to keep things sounding original – and good. That’s the skill that people who want to get into the games industry need to understand. You need to be able to write at the level of your show real constantly. Every day. Also, you don’t get the choice on what style you want to do. And if the customer (the company is paying you) doesn’t like what you’ve done, you need to understand that it’s not your decision. You might be able to convince them otherwise – you need to earn their trust and respect – but you’re creating something for someone else. That is the challenge.

Greyfox

Ruff ‘n’ Tumble had a very rocky upbeat music track 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?

Jason

For RnT, I was working with Richard Joseph at that time. I got a spec of requirements (title, level 1, level 2…) and a general idea of wanting something guitar based / rock.

I was listening to a lot of Front 242 and Rage Against The Machine at the time. So I used those for influence (a number of the guitar samples were taken from R.A.T.M album..Something I really couldn’t get away with today! Different times…!)

On the whole, working freelance with RJ, I found there was less creative freedom. We were paid to write music to a spec. If we didn’t think it would work, there was nothing to stop the developer / publisher from just going to another composer. Working in-house gives you more chance to get your point across. It’s easier to say “Just let me try something. If it doesn’t work, we’ll do it your way”. Again, there’s some great musicians who work freelance who have gained respect, so can do this. But it’s not the norm, in my experience.

Zapiy

I absolutely love Fire and Ice on the Amiga, the SFX also make me smile and I am a firm believer that great sound effects and music add so much to a game, tell us how you create the music and SFX for a game like this for example?

Jason

So, this comes back to me writing a music player / editor that allowed me to create cool sounding stuff out of very little RAM.

The title tune just kind of happened. Sometimes a piece of music just happens. You write the start, and then you write a verse section. And then the chorus just fits perfectly..And a few hours later, the whole track is done. You’ve managed to get everything to fit into 4 channels and, you’ve seriously no idea how that happened.
Each level track was easily defined by the level itself. The snow level sounded like a christmas song. The Scottish level had some resemblance of bagpipes. It didn’t take much imagination to come up with a list of “hooks” like those. My main regret is that the underwater level – which I get a lot of compliments about – is too short. I’ll rewrite it one day.
For sound effects, me and Andrew would sit down and play the game, whilst creating a list of what was needed. I’d then just make stuff up that I thought would fit. When we tested, there was often things that needed tweaking. Also, there would be a number of times when we’d have a “How about we do blah blah blah..” moments while playing the game. Those little touches make all the difference, I think.

For the CD32 version, I rewrote all of the music using “real” instruments (synths and samplers). And also added an ambience track behind the music. So the snow level had arctic winds, and the jungle levels had exotic birds.

Zapiy

Ivan ‘Ironman’ Stewart’s Super Off Road is another classic game you created music for, this had mixed reviews at the time, did you guys at Graftgold take much note of the critics and how did they influence the team and you personally?

Jason

The music was converted from the arcade machine ( we had the machine in the office). And much of the game code (for 16bit machines) worked exactly the same as the arcade machine. We were paid to do a job. If the original game wasn’t amazing, our conversions wouldn’t change that. But, if the original game was amazing (Rainbow Islands…), then so were the conversions.

Did it affect us? Not that I remember. We were already working on the next games, by the previous one was in the shops. We’d probably already heard most of the criticism by the game producers and testers.
You have to understand that no matter what you do, someone will like something else. I mean, some idiots actually prefer The New Zealand Story to Rainbow Islands! Seriously. WTF?

Track Choice No 8

Jason

Gran Turismo – PS1

I was influenced by Chemical Brothers, Prodigy and anything big beat at the time. So, I tried to mix this style with the more indie sounding licensed tracks. This was the first track I wrote for the game. I based all the others on this one.

TrekMD

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

Jason

I’ve no one answer there for an individual game. Too many have great memories for different reasons. Many I worked on sold really well (again, Gran Turismo). But it wasn’t my music that sold it. I’m proud to have my name on it, but by no means was its success down to me. Other games may have tanked at the shops. But I’m proud of the way the team got something out the door on time.

I guess, something that isn’t as well-known by most, the audio drivers I wrote at Sony for PS2 – MultiStream. It was used in something like 40% of all released titles, such as TimeSplitters 2. Or the XM (Mod) player I wrote for PS1 and PS2, which Codemasters and Team17 used. I managed a superb team who wrote the PS3 audio driver, which again was used in around 40% of all PS3 titles. They enabled the really great musicians and sound designers to show what they could do, and set the standards that pushed audio to new limits. That’s my proudest moment.

Zapiy

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

Jason

Yes. I’ve something in the planning stages.

Zapiy

Excellent news, can you tell us anymore about the plans?

Jason

Early days. I’m just trying to get the OK from a number of publishers, so that I can create remakes and so on. So, that’s taking a bit of time. There’s a number of songs that have been remade a number of times already, but I’m thinking of something a little different. So, it wouldn’t just be an album of remade tracks as such. But I won’t spoil the surprise.

Zapiy

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

Jason

None, I’m afraid. Most of my tracks got released. I never threw anything away. At best, I’d keep a track and use it for another game, when the chance came up.

Strangely, I hear some tracks on things like YouTube that I completely forgot I wrote. People ask me if I wrote them. I listen, and I recognise them. I know where the track is going next. I know the various patches from the synths I’d used. But I’ve no recollection of ever writing the music! Again, when you’re writing over 100 tracks a year, I guess that makes sense!

Track Choice No 9

Jason

This Is Football Intro – PS1

This is the era where “game audio” started to replace “game music”, so this required a lot of sound design work too, as well as music.

Zapiy

What are you up to these days?

Jason

I work at Unity in Brighton, England. I manage the Console Support Team (based both here in the UK, as well as in Pereira, Colombia). Who do a brilliant job, supporting developers who are using Unity on PS4, XboxOne and Switch.

Zapiy

Are you surprised with the resurgence in retro gaming?

Jason

Yes. Although, for me, it doesn’t feel that long ago. I work with people who played Fire&Ice when they were 7, or who were born after I’d started at Sony. So, that’s weird. I’m now one of the old miserable ones. Even though I started writing games at Graftgold when I was 16.

Zapiy

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

Jason

I’ve a Switch now. Tetris99 is my fave at the moment. (I’m something like 15th in the world on first level of Pacman CE… I was 4th on the PS3 many years ago!) I’m a bit bored of the FPS / Uncharted, etc.. They all look lovely, but offer no new experience for me. I feel like I’ve played them all before, no matter how pretty they look.
Over time, it’s harder to look at a game as a game. You tend to pull it apart (“Oh, that’s a nice effect. I wonder if that’s using this or that technique”…”Ah, that’s the sound effect from library XYZ..”). So, I find it hard to see a game through the same eyes as someone who’s not had over 30 years of exposure at a technical level.

Track Choice No 10

Jason

R-Type – End Credits – PS1

As with GT, I was asked to replace a number of other tracks for games to make them ether suit a European market, or due to licensing issues. For R-Type, the original End Credits music couldn’t be used in Europe, due to licensing restrictions. It was a last-minute panic, but I had this track “in the bank”, so they used it. I used to just write music, and have tracks sitting around, waiting for such occasions..

Zapiy

Finally thank you for taking the time to chat with us at RVG!

Jason

You are most welcome.

Finally

A huge thanks to Jason for taking the time to chat with us.

zapiy

Retro head and key holder of RVG.