C+VG Rob Hubbard

I stood alone on the platform, which was shrouded in mist. I blinked away the dawn and boarded the train. I had all the necessary equipment. Notebook, tape-recorder and Geordie phrase book.

Three hours later I was confronted by the horrible realisation that I wasn't going to need the latter item after all. The people here actually spoke comprehensible English.

This, friends, is Newcastle. The basis of a throughly baffling cliche about 'coals' and, more importantly, home of Mr. Rob Hubbard - musician extraordinaire.

For the uninitiated, Rob is probably the main behind that infuriatingly catchy theme tune on your favourite arcade game. His list of game sound tracks are as long as your arm.

Rob's 'workshop' is a large room with a back wall which seems to be constructed with very thick books. A brief perusal of the titles show they are not wholly unconnected with his programming.

Rob likes to get the 'mood' of a piece of work. For a recent project he bought books and record on the subject of Russian Balalaika music, and for a karate game he worked on, he played the Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence soundtrack incessantly, before realising it was 'rubbish', and composing his own piece!

The name of the game for Rob is space. Sometimes he is given a handful of kilobytes to play around with. Other times, however, he isn't so lucky, and his tune has to go through several stages of compression before fitting into the ridiculous space left over after an extravagant programmers has finished.

His 'brief' can be as vague as a few hopeful adjectives over the phone from a software house, or a couple of photos. Sometimes, he actually gets to see the game...!

One of his newer projects, Master of Magic, the excellent Mastertronic D&D game, contains a piece over five minutes long, yet Rob managed to fit it into 3k.

Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence by Ryuichi Sakamoto

How long would something like that take to program? "About four days." Solid?

"No. It'd be spread over - hopefully - about two weeks. Even so, it'd be four days of pretty hard graft."
"I like to work so that I can, like, do a certain amount and then leave it, and go back after a while to see what's wrong with it, and what's right with it. If you work in a long stretch, you lose your critical facilities. Know what I mean?"

Like a writer, Rob is a little protective about his work. Has a software company ever decided that his music isn't 'right' for a certain game?

"No. Reviewers have thought that, but nobody else!"
"But you know what reviewers are like..."

His programs are all (of course) machine code, and extremely confusing to look at for the simpleton interviewer. He works with sub-routines and tables and raster interrupts. This was all a bit beyond me - being something to do with 'fitting it onto the time it takes to cross the screen'. When visible, they make the Commodore 64 look rather like a Spectrum whilst loading.