Sam Hughes speaks to renowned composer, David Wise! David Wise is a veteran game composer best known for his works on Rare’s Donkey Kong Country series on the Super Nintendo. Known for their beautiful melodies and expert synthesis, his compositions for the series have been commemorated with soundtrack releases, orchestral concerts, and fan remixes. Wise’s other scores include the Battletoads franchise, Star Fox Adventures, and Diddy Kong Racing.
Hi David! So good to have you on the site, it’s an absolute pleasure to chat to you. So before we go into Yooka-Laylee, tell us how your career in music began?
My career in game music started almost accidentally – when I was serving at a music store in the UK City of Leicester. Two gentlemen visiting the store wanted to view the Yamaha CX5 Music computer – which I had set up talking to lots of other keyboards – playing chart hits of the time (the 80s) along with some of my own compositions. They asked me who wrote a particular piece, when I said I did. Chris Stamper turned to his Brother Tim and said, “Monsters!” They asked if there was an office we could talk in, so I assumed they wanted to be signed up on finance. Instead, they offered me a job at Rare.
Now you’ve composed for really iconic games, one of which is the excellent Donkey Kong Country series. Tell us a bit about your work on those and what your approach was to those games?
My approach to those games was centred around making the most of the 64k of memory available for audio in the SNES Audio Chip. I was heavily influenced technically by a keyboard called the Korg Wavestation. This re-sequenced very small samples in different orders to make very ethereal sounds with movement – using very little memory – so I adapted the technique for the SNES.
I had also purchased a Saxophone – and was very inspired by Big Band and Latin music.
Also – I had started listening properly to the sound tracks of animated family movies – how they go straight for the Cliche – and define that cliche even further. These were the main influences when composing the DKC soundtracks.
Would you say there were any key lessons that you learnt from working on them?
Absolutely. How to draw the listener in and once you’ve made the track sound pleasing, put a suitable melody on it. I also learnt what the listener listens to, which is a maximum of 3 things at any given time. With that in mind, when you introduce a new instrument to the track, you should make sure it serves a specific purpose and concentrate on making it sound good in that moment. Throw lots of resources at it initially but then simplify that part as soon as you introduce the melody.
Right, very exciting stuff then, let’s talk about Yooka-Laylee! How has the process been from the start since you were asked to write for the game?
Gav, who runs Playtonic, would show me the level and I would go away and return with hopefully something suitable a couple of weeks later. As for graphics and gameplay change, there have been several revisions or I have changed my mind and tried other ideas out.
Have you intentionally drawn on a lot of your previous work to infuse Yooka-Laylee with that nostalgic feel?
I think nostalgia is very important in any experience. As a team we’re all very lucky to have lots of experience to draw on, and hopefully the audience will all benefit from our combined pedigree.
It must be great to be working with old colleagues on a project such as this, has this affected your approach?
Every time I visit the Playtonic offices there seems to be a new former team member on board. It’s great to work alongside such talented and indeed familiar faces. Again, each and every one inspires confidence in the development process.
You’re collaborating with Grant Kirkhope and Steve Burke on this project which must be great fun as well?
Completely. Both are very fine gentlemen and talented composers. All part of a very Rare experience.
How so the three of you decide on the delegation of tracks?
That’s Gav’s department – he decides!
Yooka-Laylee is clearly inspired by a former Rare game and with Grant having composed the original soundtrack he has then taken this genre to the next level. Steve did a fine job with the Arcade style tracks, whereas I concentrated mainly on minecart areas.
OK so to finish off is there anything else in Yooka-Laylee we should keep an ear out for?
I think a big shout out has to go to Dan Murdoch, our incredible sound designer / audio implementer and all round good egg. He just got on with it whilst coordinating the efforts of Grant, Steve, the Playtonic Team and myself.
We hope you enjoyed the interview, we’ll be chatting with more of the audio team on Yooka-Laylee team very soon, stay tuned! Feel free to check out more of these at the Interviews page. Also, don’t forget to sign up to our Monthly Newsletter to make sure you don’t miss anything!
If you’re feeling generous there’s also our Patreon page and we appreciate all the support!
The Sound Architect