Nintendo Life: The example we were shown was you could unlock a waterfall on the map and it would fill in one of the levels, and then that level would be underwater.
Dan Murdoch: There are ones where the two pieces will share entirely the same instrument pattern. In fact, I’ve written a theme where the two pieces are the exact same chords and the exact same instruments but they sound absolutely nothing alike. One’s a really fast rock track, and one is a really laid-back ambient atmospheric piece – but they just happen to be using the same chords and the same instruments.
Matt Griffin: There was one level which teaches the player about state changes and we thought it would be really good for this one to have a similar melody. You’d recognise that it was a very similar piece, but it has to sound completely different; we thought that sounded quite difficult to do, so we got Dave to do it. [everyone laughs]
David Wise: And I’ve no idea which one that is… [more guffawing]
Nintendo Life: The studio is clearly in good hands in terms of music, David. Do you think there will be a time where you’d decline an offer of work because you’re so confident they’ve got it covered, or is this a relationship you’d like to carry on for as long as possible?
David Wise: I suppose it’s when Gavin doesn’t pick up the phone. [laughs] It’s completely dynamic and flexible. So I don’t know.
Nintendo Life: To flip the question back to Dan and Matt, do you think there’s ever a point where you think, 'we can do this ourselves now'?
Dan Murdoch: I’m sure we probably could do a game without Dave and Grant, but I don’t necessarily think we want to.
Matt Griffin: And I suspect that’s part of the reason Dave has been so nice about us. [everyone laughs]
Dan Murdoch: But seriously, it’s really nice having someone like Dave around to come in, especially at the beginning of a project when he was in every other week or so. To come in and give your opinion… I would love to have had you in more, really.
David Wise: The other side of that is once it gets to a certain state, they know what they’re doing, then I don’t need to come in every other week. I think overall I’ve done 10 other tunes but the majority has been by these two guys, so if there was a problem I’m sure Gav would have been on the phone or I’d have said something myself, but it’s working out well, so it’s good.
Nintendo Life: One of the key reasons we wanted to do this interview is because we, like so many other people, blindly assumed that David and Grant did all the music. Does that misconception become frustrating?
Matt Griffin: No, not at all.
Dan Murdoch: It was very clear it was always going to happen. I was hired as audio director and sound designer, I was not expecting to ever write music here.
Nintendo Life: We’ve not touched on the sound effect side of things, actually…
Matt Griffin: It was a fair amount of work.
Dan Murdoch: Yeah, that’s primarily our jobs.
Nintendo Life: And it’s still just Playtonic staffers going ‘ooh-ah-eek’ into microphones?
Daley Johnson (Playtonic Engagement Director): The sock...
Dan Murdoch: Ah, yes. So we had to re-record Yooka. Relatively late on, they decided that we wanted to change the way in which he holds items… you know how he licks items and they spring back into his mouth? Every single Yooka emote action and vocal element in the game had to get re-recorded with Chris Sutherland [Playtonic Project Director and co-founder] with a sock in his mouth, so that we could have a different ‘ooh’ sound for every jump and turn.
Matt Griffin: It’s like the team behind Spider-Man on PS4 redoing all their dialogue depending on whether he’s swinging or not. If they can get a load of positive press out of that, then we can get a load of positive press out of having a sock in Chris' mouth!
David Wise: Do we have that sock here that we can take a photo of? [laughs] If not, just get the most horrible, mouldiest sock you can find, completely drench it, and take a photo of it...
Daley Johnson: Fans will pay a lot of money for that, you know...
Nintendo Life: Is creating sound effects still as much fun as it sounds?
Matt Griffin: Oh yeah, I still love doing sound design; that’s what we started out doing, and it’s what a lot of audio people who go on to do music start out doing. I’m sure you’ve done an awful lot of it, David?
David Wise: Not as much as you might imagine really; I obviously did the Donkey Kong Country ones – I think that was about the last sound effects I did, really.
Dan Murdoch: It’s been very hard to try and get that balance right between music and sound, because the thing about music is you know everyone’s going to listen to it. It’s more like that trying to convince your average punter how important sound design is, and they go 'sure' with glazed eyes, but we know how much of an impact it has on the way a game feels and plays. You’re not supposed to notice it most of the time; it’s supposed to be there to support everything else, but I think that at the same time being responsible for the sound design and wanting to keep pushing what we’re doing here in terms of the quality of our games, it’s been really important to me to make sure that if you turn the music off and listen to the game, it still sounds fantastic. That’s what I want. So, we’ve had to try and find a way to handle this massive pressure of all this music we’ve had to write, and then maintain the quality of the sound design as well.
Nintendo Life: Dan and Matt – you've both come from larger companies to join Playtonic. What’s the dynamic like compared to your prior experience?
Matt Griffin: Obviously in a smaller team you have a bigger input, and that alone is awesome.
Dan Murdoch: There are less shiny toys! But it is really fun being able to make decisions and then just acting on them, and not having to go through some huge debate on whether that goes through or not. It’s much easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask for permission!
Nintendo Life: Would you say you’ve got the freedom to try things to see if they work?
Matt Griffin: Everyone pitches ideas to other departments and stuff, and it’s completely great.
Dan Murdoch: We get a lot of feedback on everything including music, so it’s very much all very open; I think it has to be on a team of this size, people have got to take responsibility.
Matt Griffin: There’s a lot of trust; we sort of get left to ourselves when it comes to the audio. It won’t be 'we need this, this and this'; they know that we know what a game needs and we’ll just go in and do it, and we’ll get feedback if anything’s wrong – which is very rare. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever happened, because everything we do is perfect. [laughs]
David Wise: Going back to what you were saying earlier about trying to get things up to a certain bar, if I do something, I’ll listen to what other people are doing, so I’m just trying to raise the bar as well because there’s a lot of competition out there – there’s a lot of great soundtracks. It’s got to be the same but different... the same but better, really!
Nintendo Life: When David was at Rare, and before the internet existed, many of the people sat around this table now will have listened to his soundtracks on those NES, Game Boy, SNES and N64 games, and we wouldn’t have necessarily known who was creating that music – whereas now, it's possible to find out who did what fairly easily thanks to the internet. Would you say it's a blessing or a curse that tunes can be attributed directly to the composer, rather than a single entity, like David's work was at Rare?
Matt Griffin: It depends on the reception! [laughs]
Dan Murdoch: One of the awkward things is because I love the Rare music, I once looked up ‘Rare composer’ and it said 'Robin Beanland' and I then attributed all music from Rare to him. It was only once I was working at Playtonic that had to go 'oh, I see' and reconnect every piece of music I’d ever heard in a Rare game with the correct composer.
Nintendo Life: It’s perhaps a sign of the maturity of the industry that we’re starting to see more recognition for the individuals behind the games?
David Wise: The first game that had my name on was the soundtrack for Diddy Kong Racing. That's the first time I was credited.
Matt Griffin: Wasn't that was about your thirtieth game?
David Wise: Something like that. I think at least that was the first time they made it a thing about putting it on there; much to the dissatisfaction of certain people, but there we go!
Matt Griffin: Composers seem to get a lot more individual acclaim than a lot of other departments, because I couldn’t have told you how many character or environment artists are anonymous. Except for Steve Mayles, who was very good at taking credit and making sure everyone knows that he made Banjo. [everyone laughs]
Daley Johnson: He hardly mentions it. [more laughter]
David Wise: To be fair, I think credit where credit’s due…
Matt Griffin: I’m saying this only with the intention of winding him up, I don’t mean any of that! [laughs]
David Wise: But we all work hard, we all try and do stuff to make it better for the end user who’s playing the actual game, and I think apart from anything else, it’s appreciating the work that people have put in; the extra effort to try and make the whole experience better. I’ve done about ten tracks for this one, so it’s these guys who have really been beavering away and trying to get it as good as possible and going the extra mile – so you want to know who’s done that; at least I would if I was playing a game.
Matt Griffin: First and foremost, we’re here to make a great game that people will hopefully still be talking about in years to come – that’s our primary job, not making a name for ourselves.
David Wise: And that’s very much forgotten, because unless you’ve got the programmers… without the game there is no soundtrack, is there?
Matt Griffin: If everyone hates, it, I’ll delete my Twitter account and go 'Playtonic did the music' It’s Dan and David's fault!'
David Wise: It wasn’t me, I did the sound effects! [everyone laughs]
As a little extra treat, Playtonic has kindly allowed us to present to you an exclusive David Wise sample track from Impossible Lair, called Mechanical Mayhem: