David Wise is something of a legend in the realm of video game music; plucked from the obscurity of Leicester's high street by the Stamper Brothers, he would become Rare's in-house composer for many years, almost single-handedly creating the aural accompaniment to the studio's NES, SNES and Game Boy output. Wise has since gone freelance, but his connection with Rare and indeed Nintendo remains; he worked with Retro Studios on Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and has also contributed to the soundtrack for Yooka-Laylee, a platformer created by many of Rare's most famous employees at new studio Playtonic Games.
Yooka-Laylee isn't the only project that Wise currently has on his plate; he is also creating the music for Sumo Digital's Snake Pass, which arrives on Nintendo Switch in March. We were fortunate enough to catch up with the man himself and pose some probing questions.
Nintendo Life: How did you get involved with Sumo Digital on Snake Pass, and what were your first thoughts when you were shown the concept?
David Wise: I originally got introduced to Sumo some time ago when Pat Phelan sent an email. I love the concept, the style and the gameplay. I really like the modern, yet almost retrospective 3D platformer style. I get to see alot of video games, and Snake Pass is one of those games that when you see it being played you just want to grab the controller and get involved yourself.
Can you talk about the process when working on a project like Snake Pass? Do you see levels in action before you work on the music, for example?
While it is possible to write music for games without physically playing them, it's much better to get a feel for the music by actually controlling the character. This gives you a much clearer sense of rhythm for the gameplay - and a chance to really get immersed in the world. At this point, initial ideas start to formulate.
What's the general tone and flavour of the soundtrack for Snake Pass, in relation to its setting and gameplay?
The tone is a little more considered than a game such a Sonic or Mario. The pace is a tiny bit slower, and it's very rewarding once you get a feel for how to control your character. it is still a happy game - upbeat and a lot of fun.
Are there any new techniques or instruments you've experimented with during Snake Pass' creation?
The graphics lend themselves to an almost Aztec / South American treatment. Very woody and organic.
Bamboo is used a lot, both as wind and percussive instruments. I've also used an Ocarina, which is a type of flute made from a sea shell.
Snake Pass is thematically very similar to Snake Rattle 'n' Roll - a Rare title for which you composed the soundtrack. Did this impact the way you approached the music?
Completely. It's also one of the reasons why I wanted to score Snake Pass. The Snake Rattle 'n' Roll soundtrack influenced the style of Snake Pass. My production assistant on this game - Richard Lewis - is very handy on guitar and he has a few hanging around on his studio walls. I had originally either played and quantized a guitar part, or used a VST guitar emulator for the original guitar part. While we were mixing I encouraged him to play the guitar part instead. Richard and I occasionally play in a rock and roll covers band. Snake Rattle 'n' Roll was heavily influenced by '50 rock and roll and it seemed fitting that we carried that through to Snake Pass. Aztec rock and roll!
You've worked on a number of download-only games in recent years. Are there any notable differences in working on these soundtracks compared to retail titles?
Retail titles tend to be for far larger projects, with far larger budgets. The main difference is that I get to have a little more artistic choice, but that's more to do with far few people being available to have an opinion. There are positives for this, however; it's always great to get a consensus of opinion from the whole team, and the more people on a team, the more diverse the reach.
With Playtonic Games reviving the spirit of Rare by essentially hiring all of its former staffers (including yourself), do you think we're about to witness the birth of another great British gaming legacy?
I'm very fortunate to work with some seriously talented development studios. They are hugely inspiring to work with. I'm a Nintendo-influenced fan boy at heart. This was indulged directly whilst working for Rare, so I really enjoy working on games that invoke that feeling of nostalgia. It was an absolute blast to work with Retro Studios on Tropical Freeze. Whilst here in the UK, working with Playtonic is nostalgic because we have all worked together before. They have a depth of experience and just instinctively know how to make a great 3D platformer - and again with Sumo and Snake Pass; it's just fantastic that Snake Pass will also be released on the Nintendo Switch. It's my kind of game.