As we all know, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze launched this month on the Wii U, and comes with a glorious soundtrack composed by former Rare staffer and original Donkey Kong Country music-maker David Wise.
We got chance to sit down and chat with Wise recently, and he shared a few thoughts on what it was like working on the esteemed franchise after all these years. He explains that it was Michael Kelbaugh — who worked with Wise on the original SNES Donkey Kong Country as part of the team from Nintendo of America — that made the connection. "It actually goes back to my days at Rare," Wise says. "Rare had various people coming over from America and Japan whilst we were working on the original DKC, one of which was Michael Kelbaugh, who is now the CEO and President of Retro Studios. The association made whilst we were doing the original game has proved very valuable; Michael phoned me up and asked if I'd be interested in working on Tropical Freeze."
Interestingly, Wise admits that despite the passage of two decades, the process of scoring a game has changed very little. "It was almost identical," he reveals. "On Tropical Freeze, I'd spend most of days in my studio in Nottingham in my own little musical world, which is very similar to how I used to work at Rare. Whilst we worked on site at Rare, the audio team had our own offices away from the main development barn. Now, with super-fast broadband and the internet, this cuts the distance world-wide down to virtually nothing. Retro gave me a storyboard first of all with a basic version of each level with minimum assets — enough to let me start working on the initial music demonstration material. I knew exactly what I was dealing with because Retro had previously made Donkey Kong Country Returns on Wii; I knew thematically what to expect. Also, Retro Studios have a very similar work ethos to how we used to work at Rare and I think this shows in the quality of the finished game."
That's not to say that Wise was totally detached from the team in North America. "I went to visit Retro Studios over in Austin, Texas at the beginning of the project," he explains. "I met with the team and also Kenji Yamamoto to discuss the direction of the project. Then, throughout the project, I would have weekly monday meetings with Scott Petersen, the audio manager over at Retro Studios. Having previously visited the studio in Austin, it then helps to give you a sense of the space and surroundings of the people you are talking with over Skype. The internet has removed most of the barriers when it comes to working over distance."
Wise and his soundtracks are a big deal with Nintendo fans, but he reveals that it took a while for him to become fully aware of the incredible amount of cachet he has. "Whilst we were working at Rare, it wasn't until quite late that we were allowed the internet so I wasn't really aware of what was going on out in the big wide world," he laughs. He has since discovered the likes of video game remix site OverClocked Remix, and he even collaborated on a Donkey Kong Country remix album back in 2010. "It was amazing to see that there's this whole community built up around rejigged chiptunes," he says. "That gave the music a new lease of life and I'm sure it did the same to my career, as well!"
Ever humble, Wise also admits that he wasn't expecting the positive reception that the announcement of his involvement with Tropical Freeze would generate."We probably didn't realise it was going to have quite the impact that it did have," he says. "A lot of people picked up on it. However, if it wasn't for the original game — along with the quality of the new game from Retro — the new soundtrack would have meant nothing."