We sat down for an in-depth conversation with Colin Anderson, Grant Middleton, Stuart Ross, Raymond Usher, and Pal Mackie — the original composers of GTA 1-3 — about early GTA and Rockstar history from the point of view of its audio guys. It’s a long read, but if you’re a GTA fan, you’ll be sucked into their breaking down of the making of the music from thought, to paper, to the final product. Enjoy.
First off, tell our readers a little about yourself and what your roles were in the GTA games you’ve worked on.
Colin: Sure. I’m Colin Anderson and I was in charge of audio at DMA Design from 1993 – 2000. Among the many other projects I worked on during that time I was head of the audio development for Grand Theft Auto, Grand Theft Auto 2 and Grand Theft Auto 3; though I left the company after GTA3 had only been in development for, maybe, six months.
I set the overall vision for the use of sound in the series and first proposed the idea of focusing the soundtracks around the concept of radio stations. I fought the corner of the audio team to make sure we were allocated the people and equipment needed to make it all happen and also wrote and recorded some of the music in the first two games.
Grant: I’m Grant Middleton. I joined DMA Design in 1995, when the first version of GTA was in its embryonic stages. I answered a job advert in the newspaper looking for a musician/audio software engineer (I didn’t even know such a job existed). My role was to get the sound effects engine up and running for PC, PlayStation and Sega Saturn. The Saturn platform was dropped before publication, and the vast majority of development was centered on the PC versions (MS-DOS and Windows 95), with PS1 as a bit of an afterthought, to be honest.
Stuart: My name is Stuart Ross. At the time GTA started I was an in house composer at DMA Design back in 1995. I was employed to create music and sound effects for the then new Nintendo 64 console as well as other games, one of which happened to be GTA. In the first GTA I was mainly called upon to play a variety of instruments such as guitar, bass and keyboards on a number of tracks created by other audio guys.
When I finished the games I was working on, Body Harvest and Silicon Valley, I then went onto GTA 2 to write some songs, then GTA3 where I wrote the theme as well as Vice City.
Raymond: I’m Raymond Usher, and I’ve been working in the games industry for just under 20 years now, starting off as an audio designer and musician, then spending the next 6 or 7 years as an audio programmer, followed by 8 years as an audio director. During that time I worked on over a dozen titles, including GTA1, 2, 3 and Vice City. It was whilst working as an audio designer that I realized that the implementation of audio was as important as the actual audio itself, which is why I decided to focus on audio programming once I graduated from university. However, having a programmer specializing in audio, particularly as a member of the audio team rather than the programming team was pretty revolutionary back then.
Paul: My Name is Paul Mackie, I have been writing and performing music at many different levels across Europe and in my home town of Aberdeen. I love all sorts of music and love to impersonate the voices of my contemporaries. This helped me self study how the voice worked, couldn’t afford lessons you see. I think this helped my work on GTA 1 and as far as Liberty City Stories, versatility is the key and my willingness to put in some role play to help understand the story of the song a little more.
Tell us about how you first got involved in the videogames industry.
Colin: It was a happy accident really – while I was at university one of my flatmates had created the graphics for Treasure Island Dizzy on the Commodore Amiga, and his brother was making a good living from the work he’d done on Micro Machines for Codemasters. He persuaded myself and another flatmate that computer games was a growing industry and so we put together a demo and sent it off to loads of companies. DMA Design were the first ones that said yes! So we packed our bags and moved to Dundee where we formed the core of DMA’s first Nintendo team working on Uniracers for the SNES.
Grant: I previously worked for Marconi Simulation in Fife. They developed real-time training equipment for the UK armed forces, the power industry and transport systems. I worked with various languages and computer architectures and really developed a broad range of skills. It’s surprising just how transferable these skills were to the games industry, which in many ways also tries to model real-world physics in real time. I had deliberately chosen to develop a project in C as that seemed to be the language of choice in the early ‘90s for CV points! As it transpired, I really got into C and loved its power. It’s definitely a language for people who want to keep track of every last bit and byte. Around the same time, I’d bought an Amiga 500+ (mainly to play Lemmings!). That got me back into computer gaming (I’d been a Sinclair man during the early ‘80s home computer scene).
Then one of my workmates, Brian Baglow, showed me the ad in The Glasgow Herald (IMSC). I talked it over with my wife, and we both decided that it was everything I was looking for and I’d regret it forever if I didn’t at least apply. A few days later, I was sent an invitation to an interview at Discovery House. Little did I know that it would be a panel of three people, one of whom was Dave Jones himself (Colin Anderson and Stewart Graham were the others)! It was a pretty full-on interview from my perspective, although looking back, they were all really friendly and asked the right questions to find the right person for the job. The job offer came in a while later and I said goodbye to Marconi (on good terms – I never burn bridges).
Raymond: I’ve always been interested in games since I was a kid. My first console was an Atari 2600 (the one with the wooden veneer along the front) — in fact I’ve still got it. I then had the usual ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 and spent many hours of my childhood playing games. However whilst I enjoyed playing them I was increasingly interested in how they were put together and spent many hours typing in listing from magazines, and generally trying to figure out how things worked. In the early 90s I purchased a Commodore Amiga and it was then I realized that I could combine my two passions — video games and music. I then spent many hours writing music using various “trackers”.
Then in 1992 whilst on my way home from school I took a slightly different route home through a shopping center as it was raining and walked past a computer game store that was owned by DMA Design. I happened to notice a sign in the window looking for someone to write music for video games, and the rest you can say is history. In May 1992 (whilst on study leave) I started at DMA Design writing music for the Amiga game Walker (a track which has been recently remixed by my good friend and fellow GTA veteran Stuart Ross and features on the newly released Immortal Volume 4 CD — http://www.amiga-immortal.com/) and producing music and sound effects for Lemmings 2. So you could say then that I got my break into the games industry thanks to the weather.
Stuart: My first involvement in the games industry was much like anyone else’s, that is playing games as a kid but I never thought I’d end up making audio for them. I went through music college in Scotland wanting to play and compose music but never gave games a second thought until I saw an advert in a local paper in Dundee looking for composers. I hastily put together a demo tape in my bedroom. borrowing gear from friends and within a couple of days had 4 game style tracks to send in. Luckily the tunes were good enough to warrant an interview, and from that I was offered a job. Fairy tale stuff really.
Paul, when did you first decide you wanted to be a rock god?
Paul: I think when I was about 14 or 15, I never thought rock god but I knew I wanted more than a future working in a shop. I’ve done this and hated being spoken to like I was a badly behaved 10 year old kid. Imagine a 45 year old ex DJ shop manager talking to anyone that way, he should know better…. The Jam were very prominent and to me Paul Weller painted a grim picture of life at the time. This seemed to switch me on, wake me up from my pre-pubescent existence and the path was set……… I’m still at it today except I will never work for anyone else again…
Take us through the early stages of the development of Grand Theft Auto. Did you get a sense that DMA Design was walking on thin ice with the content in GTA?
Colin: My earliest memory of Grand Theft Auto was playing Clockwork Knight for the Sega Saturn (? I think…). One of DMA’s programmers saw the pseudo 3D perspective they were using on the platforms and wondered if he could get it working on PC. He did it, and because of the way he’d done it the screen looked like a top down view of a city with lots of skyscrapers. People started speculating how much fun it would be to drive cars around the city and it grew from there. It vanished off my radar about that time as various people started putting together a considered design for it, but I wasn’t involved at that point as I was needed on several of the other projects DMA had in development. The next thing I heard it was called Race ‘n’ Chase, as inspired by the old TCR slot-car game, and the player would be the criminal.
Right from the start we knew there’d be people who would object to the concept and accuse us of glamorizing violence and so on, but we simply couldn’t ignore the fact that the game was a lot of fun when you were playing the bad guy and dull as ditch-water when you played the cops. We did try it both ways, and it was no accident the player ended up not playing the cops. Fortunately DMA always prioritized fun over everything, regardless.
Grant: From what I remember, GTA started off as a pseudo-3D graphics engine looking for a theme. I dimly recall mention of a sort of Jurassic Park dinosaur hunter game. But Dave Jones, and many others at DMA, were car freaks, so it quickly evolved into the look-and-feel of the final version. If memory serves, it was Mike Dailly who developed the original graphics engine, which was very efficient on the PCs of the day (mostly sub-100MHz processors).
As to the content, I don’t think anyone really believed that there would be much outrage. It wasn’t as if there was photo-realistic gore or anything. Yes, there was a mischievous atmosphere in design meetings, and we knew there’d be a typical Daily Mail response to some of the content, but I don’t think anyone believed that there was enough controversy to stop it being released, or banned.
That said, I can’t believe we got away with the filthy lyrics of “4 Letter Love”.
Stuart: GTA, at the time, was just another project albeit a bit more controversial by way of running over people and stealing cars but no more than what you’d see in an action movie. It was good fun from the outset really, once you were playing it. The funny thing is when it was released there was this controversy over the running people over etc, but this was all choices the player could make, we didn’t tell them to do it. We did make it possible however.
After Grant left near the end of GTA, you came in and filled in his position full time despite working on it on and off up until then. Was it difficult adapting to a project where it was already close to completion, as apposed to working on it throughout its entire development?
Raymond: Absolutely not. Grant did a great job which made it easy to take over where he left off. I’d also been living with the GTA project since it was a cube based tech demo that Mike Dailly wrote a few years before so felt well integrated into the project and the team from the start. Armed with my audio background and my new found programming knowledge I was able to build upon a solid foundation.
How did you get roped into working on GTA, Paul?
Paul: It started when Alan Walker, a great friend, band mate and chief audio designer at DMA design called me with the whole storyline. I remember being excited for him at the time as he works extremely hard and landed the ultimate job for his skills and talents. I didn’t even think of what I was about to be roped in to. By the end of the telephone call with Alan, I was fully immersed and we had arranged a writing session. The Birth of “Stikki Fingers” and the song “Four Letter Love”
The idea of a radio station in a game was unheard of before the original GTA. Was it a daunting task to work on something that was completely new ground?
Colin: I’m not sure it was completely unheard of – people have told me that Outrun used a car radio concept for its audio long before GTA. Though while I’d played and enjoyed Outrun it wasn’t on my mind when I first thought of using radio stations in GTA. I wouldn’t say the idea of implementing radio stations was daunting in and of itself – what was much more daunting was after we’d been given the go-ahead to use the CD for playing music in the game and we figured out how much music we’d need to write and record in order to make it sound convincing!
Were videogames a business that you’d ever see yourself working in before GTA, Paul?
Paul: Not at all, My business brain is a joke, I come up with loads of ideas but could never see the through, ha, I’m getting better at it now though… I was and still am a front man, live performance is where I come from and recording was something that just had to be done.
Obviously the music had to mirror the adult nature of the game, but was it always the plan to give GTA such a satirical and funny edge? Also, how did you insure this came through in the music?
Colin: The humor in the original GTA was pretty much just the humor in the DMA offices of an average day. I don’t think any of us thought of it as “adult” as such – it was just a reflection of the personalities of the people making the game. I think the same is true for the music; we didn’t have to force ourselves to come up with satirical or funny material because that’s just how it came out when we created it.
If anything we simply focused on making sure everything in the game was a caricature of the real world – essentially true to life, but amplified to be larger than life for dramatic effect. The humor was an emergent element of that, plus the strong characters of the people involved in development.
In the original GTA you sang the tracks for Stikki Fingers. How did you approach working on GTA seeing as working on a videogame was quite new for you?
Paul: Alan Walker came to Aberdeen from Dundee following our afore mentioned telephone call and we set about drinking and writing “Four Letter love” I seem to remember bits of paper lying around on the living room floor and being hyper oh… and pissed. To be honest I doubted that what we were writing was at all acceptable in the eyes of the world, mind you at this early stage we were not to know the success that it would have. After writing Alan went back to DMA and approval was in place, next I was on route to their Facility and In a booth made of crash mats. After a few forward rolls and tossing Frisbee around I was doing the vocals. I was quite overwhelmed by being there but I wasn’t going to show it. I like to do the best that I can do and I feel I did.
Throughout your work in the GTA series what instruments did you specialize in?
Stuart: Mainly keyboards but all manner of instruments really, guitar, bass, saxophone, tin whistle, there might even have been an accordion in there. I still have them all and play them regularly on other tracks. Well maybe not the accordion.
Colin, in GTA all the bands were completely fictitious. Was it fun creating these bands and upon its release did most people in the gaming press assume they were real bands?
Colin: It was amazing fun creating the bands – possibly the most fun I’ve had in my whole career! Up until then everything involved really basic synth chips, and so there was absolutely no possibility of giving people the experience of listening to “real” music. The phrase that always used to bug me at that time was “for game music”. It was always suffixed to any compliments about music we created for DMA’s games, as in “Oh yeah, that sounds really great… for game music.” It used to drive me mental! So the bands we created for GTA were a direct reaction to that. As far as I was concerned we’d only have done our job if people didn’t know whether they were listening to real bands or not. I was only going to be happy if people started asking who the bands were because they thought they were real – which is why we went to the lengths of creating names for the bands and even the albums the songs were supposedly from.
I was delighted when the game came out and we kept getting people asking us who the bands we’d used were. It meant we’d met our aim, and that felt pretty good, so we tended to just play along with the myth that they were real bands at the time.
Grant: By the time GTA was really finding its identity, DMA had recruited quite a few new members of staff, including my old mate Brian Baglow from Marconi. He has a great sense of humor and was responsible for a lot of the fun aspects which permeate the game. Making up bands and their names was a lot of fun and everyone in the audio dept made contributions.
The best one IMO was Sideways Hank O’Malley and the Alabama Bottle Boys. Colin knew the singer from a local C&W band and he agreed to sing the song that Colin wrote (Brian’s words, needless to say!). When the game was released, we spun a tale to Edge Magazine that the Alabama Bottle Boys were a real American band from the ‘60s who had split up years ago, and that we’d persuaded them to reform over the internet specifically for the game. They printed that story verbatim!
The lyrics, and in particular the chorus, of Letter 4 Love are extremely catchy and memorable, Paul, and seem to encapsulate the feel of GTA. Do you think Letter 4 Love still stands up as a great rock song? If so, why?
Paul: I absolutely believe so, its got everything you could want from that genre of music. If we were to rerecord it today and do video, all music channels would ban it… perfect cause that’s the way it should be known beyond existing GTA fans. Its shocking, raw, energetic and its real life. As I write this I feel excited again as If it was yesterday…. Cool
Colin, tell us the story behind “The Ballad Of Chapped Lips Calquhoun”.
Colin: The country track (which eventually became “The Ballad Of Chapped Lips Calquhoun”) started as a joke. Whenever I was explaining the concept of having radio stations in the game to people for the first time, I’d always say something like “you know, so you’d have Rock music in the American muscle cars, Electronic dance in the European sports cars, and even Country & Western when you get in the flatbed Ford!” I never intended for there to actually *be* a country track, it was just something I used to get the idea of radio stations across.
But by repeating it often enough it eventually made everyone else believe a country track was part of the plan, and I remember where it reached the point where we simply had to do a country track. Someone high up at our publisher (BMG Interactive) was visiting from the US (I forget who it actually was now), and he’d been brought to the audio department to hear about this radical “radio station” concept we were working on for the soundtrack of the game. He said, “I hear you’re even putting a country track in the game. That’s great; I love country music. How fast is the banjo player you’re using?” At that point there was simply no turning back – BMG’s top brass were expecting it. None of us in the audio department even liked country music, so I knew it wouldn’t be fair to give the task of creating one to anyone else – I’d made my bed so to speak, so now I was going to have to deliver an authentic sounding country track that would satisfy all the country fans in BMG US!
I started the same place I started with all the tracks we wrote – listening to loads of examples of the genre to pick out the clichés we could use to caricature the genre we were trying to emulate. The idea was to identify the clichés and then ham them up to make it sound over-the-top; however, it was impossible to do that with the country track because the genre was already so over-the-top. I remember reviewing examples of possible titles, and finding things like “Jesus, Drop Kick Me Through The Goalposts Of Life” and “Here’s A Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares”, and at that point I realized that no matter what we did we simply couldn’t go far enough to caricature country music!
From listening to examples of the genre I knew I was going to need three main instruments that I didn’t already have access to – violin, banjo and pedal-steel guitar. The only person I knew that could play pedal steel guitar was a guy called Chris Marra who was working at Rainbow Music, Dundee’s local music shop. While I was there asking if he’d do a session for us he mentioned he could also play banjo, which I didn’t know, And then it turned out that Mike James who also worked in the shop played violin. Something I thought we’d never be able to pull off suddenly became possible that day! That just left the question of a vocalist. The best pub band in Dundee at that time was Drew Larg & the Buzzards, and I’d been going to see them most Sunday’s at Chambers bar since I’d moved to Dundee. Drew had the right kind of voice, so again it was just a question of whether he’d agree to do it – and fortunately he did.
So the Ballad of Chapped Lips Calquhoun is pretty much the sound of the guys from Rainbow Music in Dundee plus Drew Larg.
Of course, as a direct result of writing the country track for GTA I’ve since developed a profound appreciation of country music. It’s an occupational hazard for game audio guys working on the GTA series…
Another signature fictitious band from GTA was Stikki Fingers for which Paul Mackie provided the vocals. Tell us about your experiences with working with Paul and did he “get” the flavor of comedy GTA was trying to aim for?
Colin: I can’t quite recall the exact sequence of events now, but if I’m not mistaken then I think I hadn’t actually heard Paul sing before he turned up to do the first Stikki Fingerz session. I knew I needed a strong vocalist to carry the track and had originally thought of approaching Dan McCafferty of Scottish rockers Nazareth as he had the type of voice I was looking for and was relatively local. But for one reason or another I never got around to that and so one of the guys that was working at DMA recommended Paul. He’d played in bands with him around the Aberdeen area where he was from and assured me Paul could do it. I took the decision that we had nothing to lose, as we could easily arrange another session with a different vocalist if it didn’t work out for any reason (something we’d already done on some of the other tracks).
However, there was no need as Paul came in and totally nailed it first time! He has an amazing voice, and he’s such a professional in his approach as well that it was an absolute pleasure working with him. He totally got what I was aiming for with the vibe of the track and then he took it somewhere even better than I’d hoped. That whole opening section was him jamming around with a few of us trying different ideas and basically having a laugh.
When we did GTA2 I knew I wanted to revive Stikki Fingerz just to have the opportunity to work with Paul again. This time he wrote the entire lyric and melody for the track as well. Amazing guy, and he’s now lead singer for Pallas – he’s just recorded his first album with them (XXV – www.pallasxxv.com ) and the reviews have been incredible. Having had the chance to work with him myself, I’m not at all surprised.
Overall, were you happy with how well the first soundtrack was received?
Stuart: I think so, it was ground breaking at the time. All these tracks in a game! And it was ‘real’ music as opposed to chip tunes. That was a battle in itself to go CD quality over midi based sample tracks as in the Nintendo 64. I remember we were talking about how to convince Dave Jones to let us a Pro Tools system. Colin had a variety on demos of a famous track at the time from FM based synthesized to General Midi to the CD quality. Obviously the CD track sounded the best and once Dave had given to go ahead to buy Pro Tools, it was up to us to create some great tunes. We never thought about that until we had the Pro Tools system.
Grant: Very much. I’d been present at most of the recordings and had seen the sheer amount of hard work and attention to detail that had gone into each track. Some people even tried to work out the lyrics to post them on fan sites! The one thing I was a little disappointed with was that I felt BMG could have done much more with the soundtrack as a musical entity in itself, separate from the game. Perhaps a remix by a well-known DJ at the time? Anyhow, there are still a lot of good things being said about the soundtrack from the original fans. A guy called famousMIKO uploaded all the tracks to YouTube, and you can tell how many fond memories they inspire from the comments left.
Paul: Overwhelmed I think would be accurate. This was my first taste of major success on any project and its damn nice to hear, even today, that people have a special place in their lives for Stikki Fingers. Humbling….. thanks so much folks.
Colin: Completely and then some. I remember discussing how we’d know if we’d achieved what we set out to with the other guys on the audio team, and we came up with a few benchmarks. First was if people couldn’t tell whether the bands were real or not, which we knew we’d achieved when journalists started asking why they couldn’t find more information about these great bands we’d used on the soundtrack; the second was if people would choose to steal particular cars just to hear certain songs, and that feedback started coming in at least anecdotally soon after the game was released; the other one was whether people would listen to the soundtrack separately from the game, which again we knew was happening soon after release.
So we couldn’t really have hoped to deliver more; we quickly had independent verification that it achieved everything we’d set out to deliver. As creative projects go, it doesn’t really get much better than that.
Why did you leave the project before it was finished, Grant?
Grant: Even though I was working in Dundee, I was still living in Dunfermline. That meant a 100-mile round trip every day, which was both tiring and expensive. Also, I think the environment of the games industry works best for young people. There was nothing like the “EA Wives” situation at DMA, but there was an implicit understanding that because working in the games industry was so cool, you should be prepared to make sacrifices. Such as, pull an all-nighter occasionally without any direct financial reward. When you’re bringing up a young family, that “cool factor” diminishes very rapidly. At the end of the day, it was the practicalities of Real Life ™ which prompted me to quit, not really anything too negative about DMA itself as a company.
What lessons did you learn while working on the original GTA?
Colin: I’m not sure GTA taught us that many lessons to be honest; it turned out pretty much as we’d planned as far as music and sound effect production went. I think the audio programmers probably learnt the most from it because they had to solve some fairly tricky technical issues to get the audio working the way we wanted – most notably overcoming the seek time for the CD drive on PCs. But otherwise, it went as expected.
What GTA did do was buy the audio team a lot of credibility within the GTA development team. There were a lot of sceptics when I first outlined our plans for the audio, and it took a lot of convincing to get people to give us the resources I knew we’d need to make it happen – both in terms of people and equipment. It was an unprecedented investment in game audio for an independent game developer at the time and therefore carried a lot of risk, but when the reviews started coming in and everyone was saying how great the audio was that was validation for what we’d been saying all along. That credibility was the biggest “lesson” we took in to GTA2.
Paul: I’m not sure there were lessons to be learned other than how to approach the song brief. I understood what was required of a session musician and more than that I actually was valued as an artist with valuable input. This helped my confidence and allowed me to express myself within the brief.
Grant: I quickly realized that my programming chops and my musical chops weren’t as proficient as I’d previously imagined them to be! I learnt a lot about working in big teams, and how to get along with different people. As you can imagine, when there are a lot of creative (read: temperamental) egos crammed into one place, a certain amount of friction is inevitable. Learning to cope with that is a useful skill. From a musical perspective, I learnt an immense amount. I have total respect for everyone who worked in the audio dept at the time.
Stuart: We needed more content really for GTA2 so there wasn’t much time for thinking about it. It was all hands on deck to fill up the radio with more diverse, original tracks. Also talk radio went down well, as did the adverts so it was creating some more of what the press and players were talking about.
Paul, while GTA fans love Stikki Fingers the fictitious band of Love Fist in Vice City must have really given you a fun character to play with in Jezz Torrent. Take us through the recording process of Dangerous Bastard and Fist Fury for Vice City.
Paul: Again Alan Walker was on the Phone with the biggest and grandest plan yet, Love Fist, I loved it straight away, who wouldn’t. By this time we had moved on from just telephone calls to emails and this is how we preceded to build the Love Fist sound. It was my Job to pull together the musicians to create the sound, it was easy for me to do as I was great friend with the Aberdeen band called Pie Shop. At the time Pie Shop were playing lots of great local gigs and Scottish Festivals and I knew they had the sound, just the way it was. Love fist was not as fabricated as some may think we took the project to heart and actually felt every part LOVE FIST. Once Alan and I had finalized the lyrics via a series of emails and calls, ahh the modern age, Myself, Neil Mchaffie, Andy Thomson, Trev McDonald and Mark Farquarson headed out to The Mill Studios at Hirn, Banchory and began the task of rockin out Dangerous Bastard and Fist Fury, another couple as well if I remember. We had Alan on the phone and listening back the tapes and after a few disagreements we had done the Job. I should mention at the end of Fist Fury Niall Mathewson of My Current Band Pallas, layed down a stunning guitar harmony and melody which in my opinion made the song work perfectly. One more thing , the voice of Percy that you hear during game play was an accident which came about whilst I was taking the piss during a conference call with the audio dept at DMA, they were rolling about at the other end of the phone, I wrote some dialogue and in it went.. superb… That’s F’n team work…..
Stuart, when working on Body Harvest did you get an impression that visually it was the precursor to what GTA would evolve into?
Stuart: No, I don’t think many people make that connection really. Body Harvest came out 4 years or so before GTA 3. But the design is quite similar. Go around stealing vehicles and killing bad guys. In Body Harvest the bad guys were Aliens. Dave was always wanting to make living worlds where the player could roam free, which was still prevalent in his game, APB, so I guess in was in the DNA of these games.
GTA 2 had a more fully realized idea of separate radio stations. In this respect did you find the process of creating the music in GTA2 different in any way?
Colin: Yeah, there was a fundamental difference to how we approached the radio stations in GTA2. In GTA the stations were themed by the particular car, whereas in GTA2 they were themed by gang, with specific cars being linked to particular gangs. In retrospect I think that was a mistake – it was trying to be too clever too quick and that subtlety was lost on many players. Another thing we tried was to “naturalize” the radio stations – that was our term for actually placing the radio stations physically in the world. We assigned them to specific buildings and then gave them broadcasting ranges, with FM/AM quality streams that switched as you got further away from the station. The idea was that you’d be able to navigate the city by driving towards the signal of particular gang stations, but again I don’t think it worked as well as I’d hoped.
In hindsight it just reinforces to me how right we’d got the basics in the first one – we should have stuck with what was already working well structurally, and focused our resources on improving the music, DJs and advertisements more.
Stuart: Yeah I guess we were designing the stations to be more stylized in some form. A dance station, funk station, pop etc. So we needed to write music to fit, which helps when you’re up against it the clock.
Stuart, tell us a little about the tracks you created for GTA2.
Stuart: Going through the playlist I was surprised at the amount of tracks. I can’t remember making half of them.
- Spangly Feet: Dazed and Confused. This was meant to be a glam rock track. I played all the guitars and my friend Innes Ricard sang on it. I was quite happy with it really.
- Tsunami: F.A.G. Filter: Detroit Techno track. Simple but effective.
- Apostles of Funk – “Yellow Butter” Funky dance track
- Reed – “L.E.D.” — another Funky track, It’s got some nice bass playing on that by the way. Making me smile listening to it just now!
- Numb – “How It’s Done” — A heavy dance industrial guitar track.
- Ido – “Ballbuster — Prodigy Influence coming through here!
- Voice Box – “Computer Lust” — Dark dancey track with a computer voice singing and some indie guitar thrown in.
Raymond, GTA 2 was the first GTA game that you worked on full time from the beginning of development. What were you personally trying to achieve with its soundtrack and were you, because not fully working on the original, on the same page as everyone else in terms of the tone of the soundtrack?
Raymond: My main focus for the music on GTA 2 was to try to advance the use of it within the gaming experience. In GTA 1 the different radio stations were associated with different vehicles, however in GTA 2 we began to associate the radio stations with the different gangs in the game and therefore further integrate the music into the experience. To try to achieve that we decided that each radio station would have a physical location on the map and that it would have a broadcasting distance associated with it. However this could potentially have left dead spots in the map whereby you could be without any radio reception, therefore we created the AM / FM radio concept. The effect of this AM / FM concept was if you were within a certain range of the location of the radio station you would receive the radio transmission in FM stereo, however as soon as you went outside of this range the radio would appear to retune to a lower quality AM version. It all seems bit odd though talking about AM and FM radio in these days of digital radio.
Were DMA Design a little more strict on the content of the music for GTA2, or did they give you the same creative freedom you enjoyed during making GTA1?
Colin: Yeah, a little, but not so much as to stifle the creative ideas; we still got to do what we wanted. I don’t remember having to pull anything because of objections from higher up the chain. I think the only concession we had to make was to bleep the swearing for the US release. We hadn’t had to do that with the first one, but after its success suddenly everyone was listening. No one except us had even listened to the lyrics in the first game before its release, but for GTA2 we were required to send through lyric sheets for vetting.
Stuart: I’d say it was just the same, but perhaps we took it a bit more seriously because of the exposure it was receiving so we wanted to make it better ourselves and in doing so perhaps gave ourselves a little less freedom.
Paul, would you say you have anything in common with Jezz Torrent and Stikki Fingers?
Paul: I would love to say “Hell Yeah” but in reality, No, others may disagree as I suppose lots of folks see me rockin it out on the stage and have a preconceived idea of me. I’m not totally a man of the norm but have my head on the right way. Do you think Jezz would put a rucksack on and head to the Scottish hills in the middle of a blizzard to take pretty photos of sunrise on the mountains, that’s what I love to do….. That’s the opposite of Jezz I think????!!!!
Paul, you also returned to do a few songs for the PSP title GTA- Liberty City Stories. The tracks were more classic pop songs and a stark change in pace from the hard rock of Stikki Fingers and Love Fist. Do you find it easy to be able to sing both rock and pop songs?
Paul: I prefer the rocky vibe but I love a challenge and the chaps at DMA wanted me to do these things. Its an honor to be asked and these guys are all amazing, they treated me like a friend and I enjoyed sitting in their individual studios, appointment style by this time, and nailing down the lyrics then straight in to record. I would have preferred more time with these songs but it all seems to run to a budget these days. I was a bit saddened by this. I find it pretty easy as I have always loved to impersonate all styles of vocals cause I like most types of music.
Colin, in GTA2 some radio stations were designed around the gangs themselves. When creating the music did you need to keep this in mind and tailor some of the songs to suit a particular gang?
Colin: That was the intention certainly, but in the end I think that got lost. We spread ourselves a bit thin on GTA2 in terms of styles. For GTA we’d been really focused – Pop, Funk, Rock, Dance, Techno and Country: that was it. In GTA2 we opened the music up stylistically, and I think it lost a bit of the impact because of it. It didn’t help that the design team had settled on this “5 minutes in to the future” design for the game either – when the game was contemporary it was much simpler to nail down the music styles to focus on, but working in an imaginary future setting just added uncertainty. Others may have enjoyed it, but I didn’t think it helped from an audio design perspective.
I don’t think I could do this interview without asking about Taxi Drives Must Die. Take us through how you went about creating that track and your experiences working alongside Bula Matari.
Colin: “Taxi Drivers Must Die” is still my favorite track in GTA2 to this day. For me, it is to GTA2 what the country track was to GTA1 – it’s the one track in the game that everyone remembers.
There’s not much to tell about it really. It came to us via Rockstar’s New York office – they were keen for us to incorporate some “name” artists in to the game so they could use that as additional marketing leverage, but we were adamant we weren’t going to be using anything unless it fitted stylistically with the game. We ended up working with Flytronix and a few other artists to create specific mixes of their songs for the soundtrack, but the Bula Matari track turned up complete and we just used it “as is” because we loved it so much. It was one of those happy accidents that happen occasionally.
In GTA 3 DMA Design began using some licensed music as opposed to original music created in-house. Did you feel that this was starting to almost nudge you out of the picture entirely? Also, what are your thoughts on the direction GTA went musically since you left?
Colin: My long-term plan had always been to build an audio team within DMA that was capable of turning out original tracks for each new version of the game. I thought (and still think) that was the best route for everyone concerned: it was good for the audio team as it was a hugely rewarding project to be involved in; it was good for the game because it helped to create a game world that was recognizably familiar and yet totally new; it was good for players because it provided a ton of new music they wouldn’t have heard anywhere before; it was good for Dundee because it was a showcase for local talent; and it was good for the business because it would generate a ton of music publishing rights that could be licensed back to the music industry when the game became successful. There aren’t many chances to build win/win/win/win/win solutions in this world, and that was one of them, but I failed to sell Rockstar on it.
I think we’d probably have been able to achieve that end if DMA had stayed independent or possibly even remained part of Gremlin/Infogrammes, but Rockstar’s agenda was clear from the start – they wanted more recognized artists in the game, so as soon as Rockstar bought DMA I knew that’s the direction it would be going. I’d pushed back on it fairly successfully for GTA2 but it was hard going and took a lot of my energy. By the time we started on GTA3 there was even more pressure to use mostly pre-created music with just a few token original tracks. That was going to reduce the audio department’s role to compiling other people’s tracks in to radio stations, writing jingles and adverts and comping voice overs. Still not a bad gig by any stretch, but a long way from where we’d been on GTA, and heading in a completely different direction from the one I’d originally envisaged. While GTA3 was looking like being something special from a graphical perspective, from an audio perspective it felt like a step backwards for me, so that was when I decided it was time to head off. I’d achieved as much as I was going to be able to with the GTA franchise from an audio perspective and it seemed like the right time to find a new challenge.
I think the direction GTA’s gone musically since I left is entirely appropriate for the product it’s become – the team are doing a great job of delivering an incredibly complex soundscape for each episode; however, I’m cursed by being able to remember what it could have become if we’d been able to see through the original vision to its conclusion.
Stuart: This was a turning point in the soundtrack, there were still some bespoke tracks in there but it was definitely moving more towards licensed music. It also started in GTA London where most of that was licensed but a smaller project.
Some of my tracks were:
- Scatwerk — “Electronic Go Go”
- Lucy — “Forever”
- Funky BJs — “Rubber Tip”
- Craig Gray — “Fade Away”
I saw this as kind of necessary as the game was becoming bigger and we didn’t have the time to keep writing loads of songs so it was kind of helping us out in a way as well as keeping the quality high. Unfortunately for Vice City there was no composed music in the radio stations. I did write some for the cut-scenes but it was more sound track than song.
Raymond: In some ways it was a bit of shame as the guys were producing a lot of great material, however I felt it was the start of an evolution in terms of game audio as we now had not only the technology to play back CD quality music, but also an interest from the record industry in getting their tracks into a game. From a more practical perspective however, given the amount of musical content required for GTA3 it simply wasn’t possible to create all of that in-house. That’s not to say that putting together the soundtrack was any easier or less time consuming as selecting the tracks was only part of the process. Major effort was spent creating all of the jingles, writing and recording all of the DJ commentary, and then assembling all of the components and mixing it to make it sound like a radio station.
Plus of course there was the MP3 channel on the PC version which allowed you to listen to your own music by either copying mp3 files or shortcuts to the files into the mp3 folder.
Since working on Liberty City Stories has there ever been talk about you working on another GTA title? Liberty City in GTA4 wasn’t the same without you, Paul! Would you like to make a return at some point?
Paul: Thanks for that, I’m humbled …. I would love to return but with a grand project, so If the guys at DMA are reading this, I would love a call on more than one level. Perhaps my band Pallas will license to them as some of our songs may fit the theme.
As someone who was there at the beginning of GTA how do you view the series as it currently stands? Even though the music is now all licensed do you think it still retains the spirit of what you aimed for back in 97?
Colin: I haven’t played much GTA since I left DMA, so I’m not particularly qualified to comment on its current incarnations. The game sells squillions of copies though, so it must be doing something right! I remember having a quick look at GTA IV when it was released and being gobsmacked at the scale of the game – it was always a big project, but nowadays it’s truly incredible. When I play it I can hear every asset in the game and imagine the production process that would have been required to create it all. When I add up all the time it must have taken it genuinely amazes me.
As far as “the spirit” of the game goes, I do remember thinking it felt like a game that was taking itself way too seriously nowadays. That first game was a total piss-take of everything, which I loved. It seems to have lost a bit of that with each iteration (and I include GTA2 in that). I’d love to see Rockstar pull it right back to its irreverent roots, but I don’t know if that’s what the audience would want nowadays.
Stuart: The series is still great, albeit a bit formulaic now. It’s the style and humor that makes it what it is. GTA has always had this dark humour underneath which I love and the style makes it more endearing.
Grant: I really think it does. You have to remember that we were going for a contemporary radio sound at that time. We had used a couple of samples from TV shows and a certain artist who was quite popular in the mid-‘90s. When we attempted to get clearance for those samples, we were met with a brick wall, and had to remove them. So I think there was still a suspicion at that time of video games as a medium for exposing music, and we were right to compose original material in-house. When the PlayStation was released, Sony did a great job of changing that perception within the music industry. I didn’t like ‘Wipeout’ much as a game, but the integration of very hip music and futuristic visuals made the whole ‘package’ a classic. I think the choice of licensed music in the later GTA games was quite inspired; still a good mix of edgy contemporary stuff, and flashes of humor, too. In contrast, I didn’t feel that the same spirit existed in the Crackdown soundtrack, for example. Although it is a great game, the soundtrack just feels like some background noise to fill the silence.
Raymond: I’m still a big fan of the GTA series and love what they’ve done with it. It’s definitely a lot more story driven now – I remember seeing the GTA3 story board covering an entire wall and being amazed at the level of interconnection and complexity. I still however enjoy cruising around streets just for fun, so it’s a good mix. As for whether it’s retained the original spirit, I think the core element of using radio stations as a major part of the game experience is still there, although whilst the transition to using licensed music probably wasn’t part of the original vision, it was probably a natural evolution in terms of not only the game audio design but also the desires and expectations of the team and the players. My hunch is that it will come full circle at some point.
Paul: I liked the early days where it was low budget a bit loose but definitely filled with a raw energy. It’s a global business now and whilst the gaming is clearly first rate and Alan and his team are THE leaders in gaming audio I cant help feel that local, unsigned artists were the essence of it. GTA is amazing, millions of gamers love it, its real life for some and a crazy escapism for others, for me it was an Era of my musical life in which I am so proud.
Favorite track from any GTA game and why?
Colin: Probably the original GTA Theme. It self-references the game in the lyrics in a great way, and it sounds totally authentic to its genre; it’s a track that couldn’t exist anywhere except in the world of Grand Theft Auto. For me that embodies the spirit of what we were trying to achieve better than any other track we ever did.
Grant: I particularly love the entire ‘Head Radio’ station on the original. It starts with “Days Like These” by Craig, which is just incredible fun and brilliantly executed. It’s interesting to note that it was recorded two years before “Rockafeller Skank” appeared. Then comes “Automatic Transmission”, one of mine. I was heavily into Underworld’s “Dubnobasswithmyheadman” at the time, and feel that this track captures that influence quite strongly. Craig’s “Complications” rounds it off with a truly fantastic pop song. I feel it wouldn’t be out of place on a Peter Gabriel album. All the interludes and talky bits still make me smile; “68 to dead fly 89 FM – Head Radio”. Of the other individual tracks, “Joyride” was always a favorite of mine from its very first draft. It still sounds huge, today. There isn’t a single track that I feel lets it down, though. Quality stuff which rewards repeated listening.
Stuart: Craig Gray — “Fade Away”
I wrote this track for myself really because GTA 3 was contemporary I thought I’d try writing something that wasn’t defined by the radio style as we had done in GTA 2. It proved I could write something that would stand up against the other licensed track also.
Raymond: Being a child of the 80s my favorite soundtrack collection has to be that from Vice City, however if I had to pick a single track it’d be — Sideways Hank O’Malley (and The Alabama Bottle Boys) — “The Ballad Of Chapped Lip Calquhoun” from GTA 1 which still makes me smile each time I hear it and must be the first time country music was featured in a video game. And to think that GTA was going to be MIDI based rather than feature CD quality music, which raises the question, would it have been the success it is today if Colin hadn’t persuaded the management to part with a considerable amount of cash for our first ProTools setup?
Paul: I would have to say “Dangerous Bastard.” it’s hilarious, it takes the piss out of itself and the style of music that took its self seriously and still catchy. Only Kiss and The Darkness did this better….
Paul, tell us about the progressive rock band you are apart of, Pallas. What are you trying to achieve with Pallas?
Paul: I’m glad you asked and here is Why….. Pallas were ground breaking in the Early 80s with their Neo prog sound. They were signed to EMI and sold some serious records the most well known being their concept album The Sentinal. After a change of vocalist they continued to release several albums to some success but never quite got back that same level of exposure, even though every Album has stunning tracks and amazing artwork, a lot of love in it you know….. I was asked to join them a year and a half ago where they were in the final stages of routine-ing the follow up/ conclusion of the Sentinal story line. We called the album XXV and it’s a big one…. Its dark and immersive, its powerful and entrancing. We were signed to Mascot records and their prog subsidiary Music Theories and we released the Album in January 2011 to huge acclaim all over Europe and now the States. We have been busy with interviews, doing shows and festivals across Europe. We are playing this year at High Voltage in July and have other Festivals lined up. Exciting times. Check out our website HERE and have a scan and go get XXV… A word of advice though….. Listen to it from start to finish, read the lyrics and get the back story from our website, that’s when the body of work comes together….
Can you perhaps tell us about any songs that were cut from the game? Was there much content that went unused?
Colin: There weren’t many tracks that were cut from the game. Each one took a lot of work to produce, and that meant that if they were going to be culled they tended to get culled early on at the design stage before we’d spent much time on them. Also, we tended to work from a production plan that anticipated how many tracks would be required and of what genres. We were then just “filling in the blanks” so to speak, so it was rare for us to embark on creating something that wasn’t going to be needed later on.
I think I have one track I wrote for GTA2 that we didn’t use. It was the first track I wrote after coming back on to the project from being on other things for a while. I completed the music, but I never got around to recording a vocal for it because in the end I decided it was too “me” and not enough “GTA”, by which I mean it sounded like something I would write for myself rather than something that sounded like it belonged in the world of GTA2. I think there was also a version of the Star Spangled Banner we recorded that was to be played when the player stole the tank in the first game. That didn’t get used in the end, though I can’t remember why now. Maybe copyright reasons? I’m not sure.
Grant: My only memory of unused material was a hardcore rave track that Craig and I created one night. We were wired on caffeine and ciggies and created this mental warehouse scene at something like 180 BPM. Listening back the next day, you could appreciate the spirit of what was going on, but who the hell wants to actually listen to that repeatedly whilst playing a game?
Stuart: Not much went unused. On Vice City we wrote some 80’s influenced tracks but the nostalgia factor was hard to get over which is most probably why it was the first to be fully licensed tracks. In saying that though I did compose the theme and the intro movie sound track, so there is some bespoke music in there.
What rock bands have inspired Pallas, Paul?
Paul: Rush, Dream Theatre, Yes, Sabbath…… Still sound nothing like any of them tho… interesting Eh!
Is there any bit of Stikki Fingers or Jezz Torrent evident in Pallas?
Paul: Perhaps vocally as I still do a big rock vocal in many tracks, the music is also for the most part heavy and melodic, that’s probably as Niall Mathewson (Pallas Guitarist) also played on Fist Fury .. Oh and Recorded the Session at his Studio, The Mill. So Yes/ No hahaha!
What have you been up to since working on GTA?
Colin: I left DMA Design in 2000 to set up an independent development team with some other ex-DMAers. I had become increasingly frustrated by the slow pace of improvement within the field of interactive audio, and had realized that most of the issues holding game audio back were actually being caused by poor development methods that affected the wider team.
I wanted to join a development team that understood audio was an integral part of the whole process, but unfortunately I couldn’t find one! DMA was as good as it got at that time, and that still wasn’t as good as I felt it needed to be, so I set up Denki along with DMA’s Creative Manager Gary Penn. Since then we’ve been working on refining our development process to a point where it’s rock solid by developing lots of short projects for platforms such as Interactive Television and Mobile Phones. Our last foray in to larger platforms was Realtime Worlds’ 2007 Xbox title Crackdown. Gary and I established the game design and audio design for that project (respectively) and we were both reasonably pleased with how it turned out.
The latest game we’ve been working on is called Quarrel, and it’s out right now for iPhone, iPad and Xbox LIVE. It’s something very unlike GTA, however it combines and applies all of our learning to date – including everything we did for GTA, Crackdown and all our Interactive TV and mobile games. We were lucky enough to be able to commission Ged Grimes (of Simple Minds and Danny Wilson fame) to come in and work with us on the audio and I have to say that as far as I’m concerned it’s the best audio I’ve heard in a game for a long time. I’m really pleased with how it’s turned out – the audio’s been designed in since day one as an integral part of the game, just as it should be, and you can hear it.
We’re very proud of what we’ve created – the game looks deceptively simple, but that’s its beauty for me as it shows how good a job we’ve done of hiding the complexity of what’s underneath. It’s taken us a long time to learn all the skills we needed to make this game – there’s no way we could have made Quarrel a decade ago; we just wouldn’t have known how to.
Grant: After leaving DMA I went back to my old job at Marconi (by this time Alenia Marconi Systems). I found that I appreciated the work/life balance far more than I had previously. Paid overtime was also a huge compensation for leaving a ‘cool’ job. I made it known that I would take on any project, regardless of vintage or CV points. By a stroke of luck, the Cheadle Heath Marconi was shutting down and they wanted to transfer all their support contracts to us. Mega learning curves all round and a crazy melting pot of technologies old and new; from Rational Rose software designs right down to hardware signals and gates, we took everything on-board.
The Support dept was called on to update many of the old projects using modern tech. MS Visual Studio is a fantastic environment to develop and debug software. We rebuilt a lot of projects using cheap off-the-shelf PCs, graphics card and the Windows OS. Goodbye to Silicon Graphics workstations and their outrageous rental contracts.
BAE Systems (the new name for Marconi) wanted to reduce the number of engineers at Hillend during 2010, and were offering a very attractive redundancy package. I felt that the premises were targeted to be obsolete in a couple of years, and that the redundancy money would take care of a lot of debts, etc. So I applied for voluntary severance and started looking for a new job. Within a couple of weeks, a recruitment agency asked if I wanted to apply for SanDisk in Edinburgh. Obviously, SanDisk is a huge international name, but on the other hand I didn’t fancy the commute over the Forth every day.
However, I went for the interview, and knew within a few minutes that this was my next step in life. It was quite obviously a geeky, boffinesque place to work, where people really did “make jokes in base 13” (or base 16, at least). I think I did enough to impress them, and started working there on August 2nd 2010. My job is now making software simulations of Flash memory chips. The work is utterly fascinating and each day is like solving a puzzle game rather than churning out code monkey fodder. I routinely communicate with the geniuses who design these devices in silicon and marvel at their innovative solutions to the inherent vagaries of NAND memory. It’s an inspiring place to work, and that’s a great place to be.
And, in one of these weird acts of synchronicity, SanDisk Scotland now occupies the exact office suite in Leith where Rockstar North developed the later GTA titles!
Stuart: Since Vice City I moved onto Realtime Worlds and made the sound for Crackdown which went to win an audio BAFTA in the same way Vice City did. After Crackdown I went onto APB and brought game sound track into the hands of the player by creating a music editor for your character. The character could make their own songs and have them played from the car in game and everyone else around you car can hear your track. It was really cool. We also had plans to make a live performance tool here you could perform your track in a virtual club in realtime to 100 people. It was ground breaking really but unfortunately Realtime Worlds went down soon after launch.
Raymond: I left Rockstar North after finishing Vice City. It just seemed the right time to move on, and coincided with the invitation to join Realtime Worlds and setup the audio team. My first project there was Crackdown on the Xbox 360 and for that we were fortunate enough to win the “Use of Audio” BAFTA in 2007. Of course last year Realtime Worlds went into administration with the loss of hundreds of jobs, however this presented me with the opportunity to set up my game audio production company, Euphonious Limited ( www.euphonious.eu) at the start of this year. In our first 6 months we’ve worked on over a dozen projects, from small mobile phone titles right through to AAA multiplatform titles, including helping out on Lego Pirates of the Caribbean. We’ve got a number of new projects lined up, plus a couple of innovative in-house projects on the go, one of which should be launching in the next month or two, so keep a look out for that.
Overall, was your experience working on GTA a good one?
Paul: Absolutely, Always fun always professional and often drunk after the job was done, good times..
Grant: Yes, yes, and yes. There was an overall sense of ‘indulgence’ there. Everyone had the freedom to try out new ideas without financial or time constraints getting in the way. Friday afternoon was “research time” where you could visit other departments and chat to graphics artists, tool developers, etc, and get an overall feel for the targets of the company as a whole.
The one thing which stands out most for me personally was when Dave Jones gave the green light for the audio dept to get a Pro-Tools system in (which was hugely expensive at the time). The minute I laid hands on Pro-Tools (at Media Spec), I just knew it could do everything I had dreamed of in sound production. Being able to work on my own projects during down-time was a huge bonus, which offset the no-paid-overtime rule.
I also got to live and work in the States for six months whilst Devil’s Thumb Entertainment was being created. Not sure I’d want to live there forever, but my experience was almost 100% positive.
And Colin is one of the few people who I would count as a true friend, rather than just an acquaintance I’ve made in adult life. He has a knack of being able to analyze situations and ask the right questions when you bring a problem to him.
Stuart: Yes very much so. Great bunch of very talented guys, great project. Good times.
Raymond: It was a big part of my life. I won’t deny that it was hard work, particularly on GTA 3 and Vice City as it wasn’t always easy to balance the workload with the demands of a new family, however it was also a blast to work on and be part of such a great team, many of whom I still keep in touch with. From a career perspective it was a major boost being part of a multiple award winning team, and presented me with many opportunities including an all expenses paid trip to GDC in California, courtesy of DTS whose surround sound technology I integrated into Vice City (with a bit of help from Jason Page at SCEE).
Colin: Definitely – I loved working on GTA the whole time I was at DMA. In fact, there were many times it made up for some of the other projects I was obliged to work on in my role as Audio Manager! It was an exciting time in the industry anyway, and having the chance to work on a product where we were given license to push the boundaries was a privilege few creative people are ever afforded. I certainly don’t take it for granted and I do appreciate how lucky I’ve been in that regard.
Tell us a little about your work with Under the Dome. What are you trying to achieve musically?
Grant: In my teens, the music which spoke to me was of an electronic, psychedelic nature. There were the established ‘70s European acts like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ashra, Kraftwerk and Jean-Michel Jarre. There were also the home-grown UK electro pop acts like Gary Numan, The Human League, OMD, Depeche Mode, Ultravox, etc. The thing was that as the ’80s progressed, these GODS were turning out stuff which was actually pretty mundane. So I, in my little house in Dalgety Bay, with my little four-track portastudio, tried to make my own contribution to that canon of all that was good in electronic music. The resultant albums were well received by those friends of mine clued-in to the scenes I loved. So I used them as my demo tape for the job at DMA.
Colin told us to ask you about “Sexangle Bricks”. Do tell.
Grant: During the late-90s, I was a member of the mailing list Goldtri. The list members got together to create “Goldtri Volume 1” – a sampler CD of the talent within. Under the Dome supplied “Flüssiger Vier-Takter” as our contribution (“Liquid Four-Stroke” in English). The cover artwork consisted of hexagonal tiles, and we decided to create an electro-prog band by the name of “Sexangle Bricks” for the follow-up Goldtri Volume 2. If you know the music of Gong or Ozric Tentacles, you’d be in the rough ballpark. It turned out to be quite a crazy internet collaboration: Colin and I laid down the basic tracks. John Gurney provided the amazing drum track. Ian Boddy and Andy Bloyce contributed awesome VCS-3 and lead guitar, respectively. Even today, I find it fresh and exhilarating.
How do you want your work on GTA to be remembered?
Colin: I’d happily settle for being remembered as the guy who fought to make radio stations a key part of the Grand Theft Auto world. Most people are aware of the hard work that went in creating the music and other assets, but there are far fewer who appreciate just how much work had to be done to create an environment where that work could happen in the first place.
Once you’ve played GTA and heard the soundtrack it’s hard to imagine it could ever have been any other way, but it could easily have been yet another game to have a cheap generic dance track start when the game boots up and stop when the game ends, looping relentlessly between times. Having the idea to create radio stations was only the beginning of what it took to make the Grand Theft Auto soundtrack remarkable – that’s where all the hard works started.
I think most people assume that the music was always a top priority for Grand Theft Auto, but that’s certainly not how I remember it at all.
Stuart: The odd post on YouTube now and again would do.
Grant: Half-and-half the music I wrote and the sound engine. I really love the two musical tracks I contributed – “Automatic Transmission” and “Lager Star”. I’m also immensely proud of the way the audio draws you into the urban environments of the cities. I spent a lot of time trying to accurately match the visual cues with the audio cues so that you felt like you were “inside” the game.
Raymond: As part of an awesome team who recognized that the implementation of audio is as important as the audio content itself.
Have a message your all your fans on TGL?
Colin: I had no idea I might have any fans at all until you mentioned it! But if there are any members of your community that appreciate my contribution then I’m very grateful. I hope the radio station soundtrack format that I established has gone some way to helping GTA fans have more fun with the games than they might otherwise have had if I’d taken the easy option and just stuck a looping dance track in the background like most other people were doing back then!
Paul: Thanks for you kind messages over the years and do bother to give heartfelt compliments when you have the urge, it makes a difference to people’s lives in a profound way, it’s a great thing to do, it empowers all involved. Keep on enjoying GTA and these humble guys at Rockstar will continue to deliver the very best in gaming, they really do care. Passion is where its at and when your mojo has gone a missing… chill and play GTA until it returns… OH or go immerse yourselves in my New Album XXV with Pallas….. oh a shameless plug Cheers guys, Paul x
Grant: I’d be pretty gobsmacked if I had any specific fans from the work I did on GTA 1. If I had a message it’d be; “Immerse yourself in the city and enjoy the radio”.
Raymond: Fans? I didn’t know my wife and kids read this site ;-] Seriously though, I’d like to say a big thank you for all of the support they have given the team over the years.