I stumbled up on Neil one day via youtube, cus I just happen to like the old PS1 action shooter game Loaded and It´s music. To make a long story short, I have been looking for the music tracks for Loaded and Reloaded for like forever, and one day Neil Biggin himself (the brain behind all the music) contacted me.
And we started to exchange mails a bit, and I just thought for myself “hey! Why don´t I just do an interview with Neil? cus he obviously have an solo album In the works as well”.
Said and done, and here we are. I hope that you guys and girls will enjoy this interview just as much as I loved making It. So enjoy!
Before we kick this interview off. Would you be so kind and do a brief presentation of yourself for our readers Neil, your career and what you do today and so on.
Hi. I’m pleased to be asked to do an interview, and of course pleased that there’s still active interest in my music. I’m 43 years old (in 2011), born in Sheffield, England and these days living in Vancouver, Canada. I was lucky to be from Sheffield, it’s a historical home for electronic music and I’ve known quite a lot of the musicians in the city.
I’m out of the games business now, too many years of 80 hour weeks and poor management in the industry left me aching for a change. Lack of job security was key too. Layoffs are very common and I decided to jump in my mid thirties, rather than wait until I was 50 to find myself unwanted by what is, of course, a very youthful industry.
I still make music, I’m currently working on an album and plan to finally tour next year, although that’s never an easy thing. These days I work for myself in marketing, so I’m able to work anywhere with a phone and a laptop.
Did you ever as a youngster think that you would start working with video games In the future? And are you brought up with games just as I am?
It’s a funny thing, I played games with my brothers, as most boys do, but I always dreamed of being a pop star, never thought it would be possible to make music for video games. I never even considered that someone out there must be doing that.
We used to hack and edit the names of players in footy manager games, but never thought to change the sound effects or tunes. I was never really a hardcore gamer, I was a hardcore musician.
So I came into games from that angle. People would bug me from time to time because I didn’t know the latest games, but it never affected my career. Of course, there are jobs I couldn’t apply for because a deep understanding of a genre is required, but I wouldn’t enjoy those jobs anyway.
I was very lucky to end up in games and I appreciate everything that it has brought into my life. The games industry is generally full of wonderful people. It wasn’t until people from outside industries (other software or hardware) started to take up management jobs that it really became a hateful industry to work in.
The love and excitement went… and in came weights and measures guys… obsessed with books like “The Art of War” and Franklin Covey courses. You’d think we were working as civil servants at some companies… exactly the job I left to get into games in the first place.
It would be very interesting to know which video game consoles and games that are your all time favorites.
I have to say much of my gaming life has been on the PC. My fondest memories of games though are from the Amiga days. We had 2 MSX computers in the house later, A Sony HitBit and a Yamaha CX5M, the latter was my first foray into music sequencing.
Of course we had an Atari and I loved that, later ended up working for them after Infogrames acquired the company name. I also had a Texas Instruments TI99 for a while… a fun machine for type-in games.
I never cared for the music in games though, in fact the only game music I ever enjoyed myself was for Rally X, an arcade favourite from my childhood.
I love driving games; Flatout2 is my all-time favourite. I also enjoy RTS games like Cossacks, but my first love in that genre was Warlords2, which we played in our lunchtimes at Gremlin Graphics. I was never into dragons, or fantasy games with goblins and demons… and always looked for a bit of reality in a game.
Of course Doom2 was the game that really gripped the imagination and changed everything. For a musician Wipeout changed the playing field again. (soundtrack from Sheffield’s Warp Records).
Missile Command on the Atari was my first love; I couldn’t get enough of it and would play it hours into the night watching the changing colour combinations of the screens.
What particular memory do you remember the most, and feel the strongest for In your video game career when you have worked with your music?
I remember my first day on the job at Gremlin, I had an Amiga A500 perched on a stool at the corner of a desk in a hardware junk room, with a crappy old TV for a monitor and the sound coming only from the TV speaker. My first game was Zool2.
I had just over a week to learn how to use Protracker and do the soundtrack for Zool2. I put black and white stickers on the keyboard so I knew where the notes were… such a primitive system looking back now. There were thousands of kids all over the world who had better systems, but I loved the challenge of making good music come out of this thing.
I’m still really proud of those tunes… and was chuffed to see someone had put them on YouTube. In fact I think almost everything I ever did is on YouTube and I only ever uploaded one track myself.
The amazing thing was, the year before I got the job I had given my brother a copy of Zool1 for Christmas. Amazingly, the following year I gave him a copy of Zool2, this time with my soundtrack and sound effects. Sounds like fiction eh?
I’d been in the job a couple of years when a TV company came through, making a show for schools about creative and alternative careers. They had a newsreader, journalist… and then interviewed me about making music for games.
In that interview I mentioned how I wasn’t allowed to take music at school because I didn’t have a piano at home. You had to have the instrument you wanted to play at home to practice and do homework. It made sense I suppose, but it also meant the only kids who took music were the ones with wealthy parents… and as we all know some of the best musicians came out of penniless families.
We weren’t poor, but who can afford a bloody piano at home? The fun part of this story happened when my brother Drew came home from school one day… explaining that this careers video had been shown to his class, in the very same school that denied me the chance to take music! Again, truth is often stranger than fiction. The ultimate way to give the finger to anyone is by becoming a roaring success in spite of them. It was a moment I’ll never forget.
Whats your take on todays video game industry? and are you still a gamer now days? If so, what are you currently playing?
I signed up for Steam recently and bought a load of games. Mainly first person shooters, RTS and driving games, but also some of the new puzzle stuff.
At least half of my friends from those early days are out of games now. I suspect almost all of them will be once they hit 50. I can’t imagine many game companies wanting a 54 year old guy to create a soundtrack or design a hip character.
I would work on a project again if I had the chance, but I wouldn’t take a full time job in the industry again, it’s too cut throat and corporate… and eventually you WILL be made redundant and WILL have to move to a new city and home and friends to find work. I don’t want that anymore.
Here in Vancouver these days there are new games companies starting up almost every week. However, there are also games companies closing almost every week. I had one interview here, 2 very young testers were given the task of interviewing me first… their first question was, “where do you see yourself in 5 years”.
Needless to say I thought the company was disrespectful through the whole process and I wasn’t about to sit through interview 101 with kids who didn’t know shit about shit. I walked out and decided I was done with the business permanently. That said, I would still work on contract if someone needed a soundtrack.
This Is a must ask question for me, because I love most of the music that you have made and done In the past. What were your musical influences when you grew up? And what bands and musical genres do you like the most?
New Order, The Cure, Joy Division, Bauhaus and Kraftwerk were my real influences and still are in some level, they’re in my blood. The great John Peel’s radio shows were also an influence, as was the UK TV show The Tube. I craved new music like a thirsty man in a desert – and that hasn’t faded even a drop today.
Each game had different influences. My first game (Zool2 – Amiga and CD32) was me trying to learn from my old mentor Patrick Phelan, who taught me how to use the tracker and gave me guidance from time to time on all the games I did for Gremlin. It wasn’t so much his musical style that influenced me as his way of working.
I think we inspired each other for a while, working out little tricks like how to fake reverb or delay on the Amiga… which seems simple now, but back then we loved every simple new discovery. That time was all about acid house and techno… and those Zool2 tunes were noticeably influenced by that sound.
Being from Sheffield we had a lot of electronica on the doorstep. It was LFO, The Orb, Orbital, Autechre, Black Dog and Beaumont Hannant that I was listening to at that time, along with Aphex of course, who has influenced everyone since.
For Loaded and Re-Loaded people brought loads of CDs for me to listen to. Everyone on the team was excited to be working on this project and people were passionate about how the game should sound. When marketing signed Pop Will Eat Itself to have two tracks in the game I was thrilled, it also gave me a style to go after.
I didn’t have guitarists at hand to create their style though, but their albums (and albums by Ministry that were loaned to me) were on in the studio from time to time so I could soak up the vibe. What came through most out of those sessions though was my love for the soundtracks of John Carpenter. One song in particular was a homage to the great man, not a copy or a cover version, I just wanted something like an audio collage with the same vibe as his music, without sounding like any one of them in particular.
I had new equipment constantly, so there was always a learning curve… and really the equipment was as much an influence as any music. I remember getting an aural exciter/maximiser and I basically turned everything up to 11 on the first game I did with it (Fatal Racing) and now when I hear it I cringe at the awful production. Like the treble is turned up waaaay past 11.
I was never influenced by other game music, because I didn’t really play games too much at that time. I went home to my girlfriend and tried to reboot my brain so that I could be creative the next day. When you’re so deep into something like that you need to take time out to recharge. I wasn’t really a drinker and didn’t even smoke weed… I don’t know how I would ever have survived the pressures to write music every single day if either of those had been in my life at the time.
My other influence has been my lifelong friend Mark Barrott, from Future Loop Foundation. We were in bands together from being at school for over 10 years, until I headed into games and he started FLF. We continued to inspire each other with our material long after we went our separate ways musically. When drum and bass happened, his album “Time and Bass” was a huge influence.
D&B albums were a major influence on Re-Loaded, as you can hear. Other than PWEI and Ministry though, I’ve never listened to another record and tried to copy a style or sound, it’s all done from my mind, with sounds I like.
I’m influenced by sounds I work with, I can’t write music with plain or boring sounds, I wouldn’t even attempt orchestral work. What finished up on a game really just came naturally out of my pores based on what I was listening to at the time. I remember Top Gear 3000 having shedloads of China Crisis style bass lines, for example.
I think It´s about time that I ask a sport question now.You lived In Sheffield England once (If I got the facts right), what soccer team where/are you a fan of? And now days you live In Vancouver, so you just have to be a big fan of Vancouver Canucks right?
I’m a long-suffering Sheffield Wednesday fan. I still follow the matches online and all the news of course. I keep up to speed on the gossip with my Dad and my brother Paul, who are both season ticket holders. I miss going to see the games with them, but I go every time I’m home in Sheffield. As long as we’re finishing about Sheffield United I don’t care what division we’re in.
I’m a huge Canucks fan, yes. It’s been a great few years as the team became very competitive, probably the best team to never win the Stanley Cup. I lost interest this year though, I got a sense that the NHL didn’t want Vancouver to win and the officiating and league decisions on various things seemed incredibly biased in favour of American teams every time.
What video game systems do you currently own and play the most on?
I only use a PC for games now. I love Steam and how easy it makes everything. I also love their sales and well, I’m not making a commission but that’s the best thing to happen in PC gaming for years.
I would love a PS3 but I don’t play any one game enough to spend a lot of money on it. I love boardgames though, and spend time Carcasson and others with old pals who also moved to Vancouver from Sheffield for games jobs. In total I think about 15 of the original Gremlin group of 60 have worked in Vancouver. I worked at EA, but others worked for Disney, Rockstar and some of the other teams here.
What video game companies have you worked with over the years, and what/which games are you most proud of being involved with?
Gremlin Graphics (aka Gremlin Interactive)
Loaded and Normality were great games at the time, Fatal Racing too, but I think for everyone their first game is a bit special, so Zool 2. Actua Soccer was groundbreaking and the team was superb. I did some work on Jungle Strike and Desert Strike… that was a lot of fun to say the least.
I designed and wrote the speech for FIFA Soccer for about 4 years, starting in 96 I think. They head-hunted me after seeing the work I did on Actua for Gremlin.
I worked on a couple of games for them, Slam Tennis with a great team of people and I brought in Apheleon to do the soundtrack, a guy I’d been a fan of for a few years.
I loved the work, but I should bite my tongue about the people I worked with there. I project managed American Idol for them… and performed miracles, licensing 50 massive pop hits for the soundtrack from the top labels for an incredibly small price, something they never appreciated.
The highlight of that job was writing and recording the speech, with Abdul, Cowell and Jackson in the US. I had a lot of fun doing that game, in spite of the toxic working environment.
Nintendos Wii most obviously won this console war. But whom do you think will win between Wii-U, 720 and PS4 In the future? Or should I put It this way Instead. WHAT will the next console war be all about? (grafix and so on).
I don’t know the first thing about what’s happening on the consoles. But ask me about Reason or Ableton and I could talk all day!
I kind of got the picture of you not liking suits that much, big corporate companies and all that. Do you have any specific story that you would like to share with us? If you can that Is, don’t want you to end up In trouble…
Well, let’s just say when managers came from other industries they brought with them all the stuff they had used before… and none of it fit into the culture of gaming.
They weren’t used to handling creative types and didn’t understand that you couldn’t motivate creative people in the same way as office managers, not if you wanted any kind of good creative output. Compromise and burn-out were the name of the game.
Longer hours at a desk doesn’t make for a better game. Gremlin was the only truly wonderful working environment I’ve worked in… from the owner of the company down, everyone got it. Not everyone worked full-on all the time, there were some high-jinx and plenty of low-jinx too, but we made some corking games and we loved the work. EA was like that at first too, the early FIFAs I worked on were a joy, but like the first sip of a milkshake, that can’t last forever.
You did mention something about doing an solo album In our past mail conversation, and that It was something that you have always wanted to do. Could you tell us a bit about your solo project ambitions, and what It´s all about?
I’m using the name Tofino HiFi. It’s quite interesting not having a game to write for. Like writing a film soundtrack, but knowing nothing about the film.
So instead I’ve given myself an album concept and I’m writing like that. I want to tour it next year, we’ll see. I have found myself writing in lots of different styles so far, too much freedom is a bad thing! I’m much better with a game title and characters to write for.
Correct me If Im wrong now, but you haven´t been active In the video game industry for over 9years in total? The latest titles that you where involved with where Micro Machines and Slam Tennis right?. Both games where released back In 2002. So one can´t help to wonder If you miss working with videogames now days?
That’s right, been out of game for 8 or 9 years now. American Idol was the last game. Every job I had was worse than the last; every working environment worse than the last. I know most of the old Gremlin crew are back working together in Sheffield and I strangely enough I do sometimes have dreams about being back there, but I’m happy in Canada.
I would love to do a remake of Loaded for a new platform, or a film soundtrack… or even work on contract for a small developer who don’t have an in-house guy.
I miss the laughs, the creativity and the comradeship we used to have. Most of my best friends in the world came from games. However, I don’t miss the hours, the stress and the awful environments that are out there these days.
Which are your idols withIn the gaming business and why? If you have any idols that Is.
My idols within the business are all people I worked with and admired massively.
Ian Stewart, the man behind Gremlin Graphics… a genuinely nice bloke with a great attitude and a wonderful approach to business and creativity, he tolerated some crazy people and crazy happenings, but he brought the best out of some amazing people too.
Adrian Carless, the most talented game designer I’ve ever known and a wildly creative artist.
Bruce MacMillan, the one-time head of EA Sports who brought me to Vancouver to work on his FIFA team, a true gentleman and a visionary.
Simon Fitzpatrick… an audio engineer who I took around the world with me on various recording trips because he knew how to record and edit voice-overs with the least fuss and best audio quality, dozens of amazing trips around Europe and the US that we often described as “best holiday ever”.
Rob Rackstraw and Lorelei King, two of the most wonderful voice-over artists you’d ever want to work with – both worked on countless games with me.
Des Lynam (British TV presenter)– taught me so much about scriptwriting for voice-overs in one session than I could ever explain, top bloke.
Patrick Phelan and James North-Hearn at Gremlin (now both at Sumo I believe) for taking a chance on me in the first place and always being encouraging, even when I’d sit there with writer’s block for hours on end.
I have kind of always wondered what went through your mind when you made all that great music for Loaded and Re-Loaded. Did listen or do something special at that particular time to be able to create all that awesome music? And did you ever meet any one from Pop Will eat Itself In person?
I never got to meet PWEI, sadly. I was a fan of their music before we signed them for the game too. The marketing types at Gremlin did all the deals on that one. They did send me a tape of their next album, but they broke up before it was released… and the tape was deliberately low quality to avoid copying.
Loaded is the soundtrack I’m most proud of. It has stood the test of time pretty well too. I will admit to having a peek on YouTube from time to time to read the comments and see how many views those tracks have.
I sometimes have people contact me through various channels, even after all these years. The funny thing is, at the time there was no YouTube and I didn’t honestly know anyone liked my music or even paid attention to it At best I got a two line review as part of a big game review… and a mark out of ten.
To find people from as far away as Brazil and South Africa had uploaded dozens of my tracks to YouTube years later was a lovely surprise I have to say. I’ve had so many nice letters over the years, one that sticks out is a guy who used to drive around the countryside in his Porsche, repeatedly listening to the CD soundtrack I did for Lotus Trilogy.
Now for the last question of this interview. What do you wish for the most right now? and what are your plans for the future?
I’m hoping the world doesn’t slide into chaos and the economy doesn’t dissolve completely. Assuming there’s no collapse I plan to keep making music until I can no longer span an octave with both hands!
I can’t see the day coming when I don’t like music; it was my biggest fear growing up that one day I would be like all “old people” and at the age of 35 I’d stop liking current music and stick to my tattered copy of Unknown Pleasures. It’s not happened though; I like more music today than I ever have. It’s a great time to be a music fan.
Thanks for asking interesting questions, unlocked out a lot of cool memories for me. Cheers.
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