Matt Furniss (VGM Extraordinaire) – Interview

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I’m pretty sure that’s the first time we ever called someone a VGM Extraordinaire but it’s totally merited. The name will ring many many bells for you retrogaming enthusiasts. His credit list is absolutely phenomenal, from classics like Space Harrier 2 and S.T.U.N Runner to every decent Virgin Interactive 16-bit game to Mortal Kombat, Battletoads in Battlemaniacs, Speedball 2 (more on that below) and so much more. It’s an absolute pleasure to introduce Matt Furniss!

Our Adrian asks the questions we need answers to.

 

You have worked on so many classic titles such as Lemmings, Smash T.V., Mortal Kombat, Cool Spot and Double Dragon, spanning many genres, platforms and companies. Which game soundtracks are you most proud of?

My Mega Drive Mortal Kombat II music turned out quite good. While not exactly the same as the arcade music, I think it’s decent considering the Sega sound hardware is less powerful than Midway’s arcade coin op. For me it was a big thrill to convert Marble Madness to Sega Master System and Game Gear, I was big fan of the arcade game. As for fully original compositions – Alien 3, Puggsy, Excitebike 64, Nanotek Warrior, Fear Effect are some of my personal favorites.

 

Can you reflect on how you got the opportunity to work on the first two Mortal Kombat titles and did you initially know these games were going to be really special?

Probe Software were the developing the home versions of Mortal Kombat.

They contracted me for the Sega console sound design. I don’t remember the first MK game being a big deal at the time. The sequel MK2 was a much improved and I knew it would be a popular. It turned out to be much bigger than even I expected. The best home version is for the Sega 32X. It has most of the arcade speech, digitized sounds and better graphics.

 

You worked on so many classic Mega Drive titles. What was it like creating music for this awesome console and do you have a personal favourite soundtrack from the SEGA days?

The Mega Drive audio system I used was custom designed around an Atari Mega ST 4 and SNASM dev kit. By today’s standards it was quite crude, but with some effort it got the job done. I thought the Mega Drive had really good audio hardware, quite similar to what was in most arcade games at the time. It’s hard to pick one favorite Sega soundtrack from other composers. The list would include Super Shinobi, Thunder Force, Streets of Rage and Gauntlet 4.

 

Speedball 2 is a real Arcade Attack favourite! What was it like working with The Bitmap Brothers and how do you reflect back on this games amazing soundtrack?

I loved that game too and played it a lot on the Amiga. Unfortunately I never worked directly with the Bitmaps. The reason I got the Speedball 2 job was because Virgin Games were unhappy with the Sega Genesis music in the North American version. They gave me the task of remaking the music and sound effects for the European and Japanese releases. It’s quite unique to find a game with different sound across region codes.

 

 

Is it true that you helped design a few games, such as Soccer Kid and Chuck Rock and, if so, what did these roles entail?

I didn’t work on Chuck Rock, other than the Sega music conversion. I did work on the game design and production for Soccer Kid and Mad Professor Mariarti – character design, created gameplay elements, level designs, etc. A few years later I designed and programmed a couple of games for ITE in Denmark. They made games for broadcast television. One of them was the Throut and Neck Show, it was broadcast on MTV Brasil. Players would call in to the live hosted show and use their telephones as game controllers.

 

Alien 3 is a film that certainly divides opinion, however, the game showcases some of the best music ever created for 16-bit consoles and computers. Did you get to watch Alien 3 before working on this soundtrack and can you reflect back on your great work on this top game?

I did see the film in the cinema, it was quite slow paced. Not ideal source material for an action video game. The previous Aliens film would have worked better. For the Alien 3 Sega game I just wanted to create an exciting original soundtrack and sound effects. I sampled a few sound effects from the movie and they are used in the game.

 

Many of your classic soundtracks were made for Amiga titles. How easy was it to compose music on the Amiga and how did that compare to other platforms around the same time?

Amiga was very easy due the abundance of tracker style music editors. My weapon of choice was Pro Tracker. I had access to a quality 8-bit sampler which really helped. The only thing I really didn’t like about the Amiga was the hard panned sound channels, two on the left and two on the right. The Amiga’s built-in audio was way better than the Atari ST.

 

What were your earliest memories of music and video games?

The first arcade game I remember hearing that had really amazing music was Konami’s Gyruss coin op from 1983. The main soundtrack is an arrangement of Toccata and Fugue by Bach. The machine has five AY sound chips! I would play that game just to hear the music. Throughout the ‘80s I was a big fan of Atari’s coin op audio (no arguments there! – Ed). They had some of the best audio hardware and music. Paper Boy and Marble Madness were a big inspiration to me. Sega’s games also had amazing music, Space Harrier, Out Run, After Burner, Galaxy Force – it’s a long list!

 

How did you first get into the video game industry and what was the first game you ever worked on?

In 1989 after leaving school, I mailed my demo tape of Amiga music to various software developers around the UK. Luckily for me Teque Software were looking for a sound designer. Their office was only a bus ride from my home. They liked my music demos and hired me. Teque were working mainly on game conversions for various UK publishers. The first game I worked on was Laser Squad for the Commodore Amiga.

 

Many classic gaming titles soundtracks are now being sold on vinyl via companies such as Data Discs (our Keith’s favourite website – Ed). What are your views that VGM is so truly loved and can we expect to see any of your classic gaming soundtracks being released on vinyl?

The Data Discs vinyl releases are extremely well produced. You can tell they really put a lot of love and care into making a quality collectible. There are no Data Discs of my music in the works that I know of. The newly released Sidology Project is now on vinyl and has a couple of my songs.

 

Did you ever create music for any unreleased games, and if so, can you share us any juicy details of any unreleased gems?

Yes, quite a few unreleased games. I believe they’re all Mega Drive. 7-UP Fido Dido, Fun Car Rally and Bill’s Tomato Game were never officially released, but the ROMs are easy to download or collectors can buy remade carts on Etsy. I also composed Mega Drive music for the unreleased Shadow of the Beast III and Blood Money. Those projects were cancelled after Sony acquired Psygnosis. I’ve yet to find any ROMs of those two games. I’d love to get them.

 

 

How do you reflect on your video game music career and which soundtrack are you most proud of and why?

The 8-bit and 16-bit era was exciting. It was a fun challenge to create music using the limited audio hardware. When CD-ROM came around in the mid ‘90s I began to lose interest. My 16-bit soundtrack for The Terminator still sounds good, even today. It was one of my first Sega Mega Drive soundtracks.

 

How long does it typically take to start and complete a track?

Back in the 90s I would typically be working on multiple games simultaneously.

It would take maybe a week or two to complete the entire soundtrack and effects. If it was a multi-platform title I’d usually write for most capable system first e.g. Mega Drive, then convert the music down to less capable system such as Master System or Game Gear.

 

What are your biggest inspirations when working on video game music?

Other game composers were always my biggest inspiration, especially those from Japan such as Masaharu Iwata, Koji Kondo and Yuzo Koshiro.

 

Which video game company did you most enjoy working for and can you explain why?

Sony back in 1994 was an exciting time. We were launching the PlayStation and working on some of the platform’s first titles. The Apple Mac based PSX audio system was a pain to work with. It was buggy and crashed all the time. But I got to work with music studio gear to create soundtracks for Assault Rigs, G-Police and Dark Stalkers.

 

Apart from your own work, is there one game that has blown you away with its music score?

Most recently Shovel Knight and the sequels. Jake Kaufman is an amazing composer and has pushed the old sound hardware to new highs.

 

Do you have any advice to anyone looking to enter into music and / or video game industry?

Do it because you love it. Modern game projects can be very long and it’s a challenge to keep your creative freedom.

 

Have you played every video game you have ever created music for and do you have a personal favourite game?

Over the years I’ve acquired physical copies of many games I worked on. They are played only occasionally, usually with emulation. Old games are hard, as is said “old-school hard”. I’d rather watch someone else do a playthrough on YouTube.

 

If you could be transported into any video game you have worked on, and live there for a day, which game would you choose and why?

Somewhere with a nice warm beach or forest. Puggsy?

 

What games and projects are you currently working on?

No games currently, the last game I worked on was Fear Effect Sedna. You can get it on Steam, XBox and PS4. Currently I work in software design for a tech startup company in California. I also sing and play bass in a local cover band, “Rewind Crisis”, just for fun!

 

If you could go for a drink with any video game character, who would you choose and why?

I’d go for a drink with the two bassists from Sega’s S.S.T. Band. Do they count as videogame characters?

 

Err, as it’s you we’ll let you have that one! Thanks for your time Matt, we wish you all the best in your future endeavours! Readers, you can chat with the legend himself on Twitter.

 

Adrian

 

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