Rob draws the line though at the recent trend towards direct transcriptions of arcade game tunes, or hit records: "I mean, what's the point? If you want to hear Relax, put a record on. I felt really sorry for Tony Crowther over View to a Kill. When People have heard something so often, they're bound to be disappointed by a computer version! It's the same with the arcade games. They're very good in a way, pushing programmers to get as much as possible out of micro adaptions, but you have to be realistic. Those machines hav six or seven dedicated sound channels - you can't compete with that, you have to adapt, and get the best you can out of your machine." And how, since you mention it, do you do that? He laughs.

A View To A Kill - Domark - Tony Crowther
View To A Kill by Domark

"Its taken me long while to develop my routines, and I'm not about to give them away!" (Rob hinted that one company which had made free with one of his demo disks might shortly regret having lifted his routines!).

"Mind you, there are some general points that people might be interested in: I think the key for me was understanding how interrupts work - ninety-eight percent of all games work on raster interrupts. I just make sure my music routines are run from them. Obviously as time's gone on, I've built up a little set of routines which let me do everything a lot more efficiently and quickly. I like pitchbend, and use it a lot - a routine I developed while working on Monty. I also like things to sound rich, not wimpy: I've got two pulse width routines, short and long, and a vibrato routine - between them, you can get some great sounds. Ring Mod and Sync are about the most versatile things on the SID chip though - hard to use, of course, because they take two of the voices, but they offer the best chance of getting distinctive sounds." (My personal favourite is the very modern `metal' dunk which punctuates the Zoids theme. Depeche Mode, watch out.)


"I soon worked out that as long as you keep something going - the bassline, or a bit of percussion - you can 'steal' the other two voices for a quick effect or impressive noise, without interfering with the music. On something like Commando I've taken it to ridiculous extremes - there's barely a moment when the voices rest - voice 1 carries the tune, with the second and third voices flitting all over the shop doing different things ...though the impression of so many voices playing at once is helped by proper musical arranging as much as being a whizz at programming."

Could you describe the composition of a piece from start to finish?

"Usually, I start by tinkering around with that," he indicates a battered, and very basic Casio portable keyboard. "It's a bit of a dinosaur, but it does the job, and it's dead portable. Or, I'll start by sketching a few ideas out on manuscript instead. The bassline goes down first usually, and maybe a bit of percussion. Once I've got a four bar riff worked out - and on bad days, that can take a long while - then I bung it into the machine, just looping round, and start to develop a little melody on top, adding it in while the bassline is still running. That's when I start experimenting with sounds too, using a big Master Source Code File I set up which can be edited while the patterns' running. Some of by best sounds, like the little 'voices' in the Zoids theme have come about from tinkering, happy accidents which I hang onto; but obviously, having had a lot of experience of synths and things, I've got a good under-standing of ADSR, Ring Mod, and so on... if I've got an ideaa for a particular sound in mind, I usually know how to go about getting it... "With the basics worked out, it's a matter of beefing it up as it goes along, using available 'gaps' to steal two voices for a moment."


Results are monitored over the `typical punter system' he uses for all his work. No technoflash here - just a Spartan little room, a 64, disc-drive, and a little black and white TV. Sometimes, he'll try it out through his (perfectly ordinary) hi-fi; and that's it.

"It's like in a recording studio, when you listen to the final cut over tiny monitors - if a track sounds good then, you know it will when people play it at home."

The Spartan approach extends to programming aids: "I've got a couple of Turbo loaders the disc drive, and Andrew Trott's Assembler package, but that's about it ...I was very impressed with the Orpheus Electrosound music utility - with that, someone who knows what they're doing should be able to put me in the dustbin."

Had you ever considered a music utility yourself?

"No, because I can't think of any way to make my methods accessible enough to the average punter to make it worth while."

Electrosound 64
Electrosound by Orpheus


What about the future? "Of course, as a programmer and a musician, I'm very keen to get my hands on an Amiga - "Fairlight compatible", 4-channel stereo - I'm trying to get as much technical information as I can about its sound chip right now... As far as the 64 goes, I'm probably going to carry on with Mastertronic: they now pay me over five times per game what I started out getting! But I'm also keen to do other things. I can now get the SID chip to do more or less anything I want, I don't think there's anything more soundwise I can do with it. The next thing would be an absolute monster game, with 10 or 12K set aside for sound, featuring very close synchronisation betweenn sound and action, like a cartoon. I've made contact with a very bright young programmer in London who's keen on the idea too - something like a Tom and Jerry cartoon perhaps. I can hear the music for it now..."

I hope it's not too long before we do. Thank you, Rob Hubbard - the first Commodore 64 pop star.

Article reproduced from Commodore Horizons magazine February 1986 edition.
Although all text appears unchanged, some photographs or images have been added or modified for aesthetic purposes.

Thank you to the following websites which were used for sourcing some images or audio that appear in this article:, Dick Barton - Special Agent, Memotech MTX Computer, Wikipedia.