AN INTERVIEW WITH DAVID WHITTAKER
After sales of the Commodore 64 started plummeting and with it the sales of '64 games, sound programmers alike were forced to look elsewhere. The only viable machines at the time seemed to be the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga, or perhaps consoles. But the music programming scene, which seemed to have been the aorta of life on the '64, was never the same again. In an effort to find out what the former major Commodore 64 music programmers were up to these days, I set about trying to locate and then interview them.
In the summer of 1989, Stefan Posthuma (who does the occasional film review for W3M3) and myself travelled to England to visit a lot of software houses and meet as many programmers as possible. We also met and interviewed David Whittaker, the man who'd done music on just about any computer system you could conceive, back in his birth town and home at the time, Bury. Like so many music programmers 'of old', David has now moved on to different pastures. I wondered what the serious and shy guy that I had met, sitting behind his computer in Bury, was up to. Luckily, once I'd found Rob Hubbard I'd also found David. They both work at Electronic Arts in the US these days.
When and where were you born?
David: 24 April 1957 - Bury, England.
For how many products did you write music, and on which systems?
David: Approximately 800 tunes - I'd say about 100 Commodore 64, 100 Spectrum, 100 Amstrad, 50 Atari 8-bit, 90 Commodore Amiga, at least 130 Atari ST and 50 others (MSX, VIC 20 and BBC for example). Perhaps less well-known is the below list...
Nintendo SNES: DreamTV, Batman2, Super Kick Off, Super SWIV (FirePower 2000), Krusty's Fun House, Gods, World Class Rugby, Riddick Bowe Boxing (US and Mexican versions), Battle Cars.
Nintendo NES: Loopz, License to Kill, Elite Plus, Ferrari Grand Prix, Turrican, Spiderman, Krusty's Fun House, Tip-Off, Populous.
Nintendo GameBoy: Loopz, Chase HQ, R-Type, Nebulous (Castillian), Days of Thunder, Midi-Maze, Xenon 2, Terminator 2, HammerHead, Spiderman 2, Tip-Off, TrailBlazers, Race-Drivin', Robin Hood, Krusty's Fun House, R-Type 2, Alien 3, Populous, Splitz, Alfred Chicken.
Sega Master/GameGear: Speedball, Xenon 2, Speedball 2, MidiMaze, Robin Hood, Spiderman V, Sinister 6, Krusty's Fun House.
TurboGrafx/PC-Engine: Camp California.
PC (various combinations): Lemmings 2, Tornado, Harrier (DoMark), Populous 2, A.T.A.C., Gazza 2, MiG 29, Powermonger, Race Drivin', World Class Rugby, Birds of Prey (FX), BloodWych, 'Cisco Heat, Legend, Battle Master, Wreckers, Wrath of the Demon, Valgaard, Supaplex, Chip's Challenge, Supremacy, Crackdown, Days of Thunder, Back to the Future 2, Quest for Gold, Emlyn Hughes Arcade Quiz, Loopz, Toobin', Dan Dare 3, Lapi, Helter Skelter, Infection, A.P.B., Weird Dreams, Xenon 2, Rodeo Games, License to Kill, DMA Fx, Mayday, Captain Fizz, Crazy Jet Racer.
What was the first tune you ever did, and on which machine was that?
David: A tune for a "Q-Bert" type game (forgot the name), on the VIC 20 [predecessor of the '64].
What was the most difficult tune to write, technically?
David: "Shadow of the Beast", on the Amiga. Because it had to be really good, and different.
What do you prefer, writing conversions or doing completely new tunes?
David: Both - depending on how lazy I'm feeling.
Where do you get musical ideas from?
David: Everywhere - it depends on what is needed. I either doodle around on a keyboard - or if I'm in a hurry, just get ideas from (i.e. rip-off) another style of music. I prefer when I'm in a good mood. I am very bad at making music when I'm miserable.
Which sound system did you prefer, Amiga or Commodore 64?
David: I've always preferred the C64, even though the Amiga has better sound. Nostalgia, I suppose.
Did you and other sound programmers at any time 'pool resources' or something, write tunes together for certain projects (like Ben and Rob doing "Auf Wiedersehen Monty")?
David: Yes and no - Rob and I used to swap/borrow each others sound drivers [David supplied Rob's initial Atari ST routines he used for "Goldrunner", little known fact!] - but we never actually collaborated on projects.
At some time in the past you exchanged Bury for the Unites States. What was it like?
David: That happened in the summer of 1993, 29th June to be exact. Like chalk and cheese (Br.). There's much more money here, being spent on projects. And the weather is great. And Las Vegas (my favourite place) is only an hour away (yes, by plane).
Was it Rob, who works at EA, who got you there?
David: Rob gave me a call, in January 1993, asking me if I wanted to come here, as EA was desperately trying to find someone in the USA to work on Genesis (MegaDrive) and SNES. But no-one existed in the US who could just jump in and start without any training. So I came for an interview in March and liked what I saw. So here I am.
What's EA like?
David: It's great, but there's a lot of corporate overhead, which can get in the way, at times.
Are you still involved in music programming at all these days?
David: Not really. It's mostly content work, as all the new machines come with audio development system. I've been doing dialogue recording and editing for about the past 18 months.
For what kinds of projects will that be used?
David: Sports games, like "Madden'99" (USA Football) and other sports games. Also on a Sherlock Holmes game, a couple of years ago, but mainly sports.
Which projects can we expect from you in the near future?
I can't say (secret).
Are you still in contact with people from the 'old 8-bit and 16-bit scene'?
David: Nope, apart from Rob, of course, whom I work with.
What would be your favourite pieces of game music on the Commodore 64?
David: I've always liked Rob's stuff. I have it all on my PC. My favourite was his "Master of Magic".
Outside work, what do you do these days? A band perhaps?
David: No band. Although I have a GM keyboard at home, as well as 2 guitars - a Strat and an Ovation acoustic. I play fight simulators, and browse the Web, a lot.
OK. Now for the section I usually close off interviews with, the 'words to react to' section. Please have a go at the following, briefly...
Maniacs of Noise.
David: Deenen, Tel.
David: Dump (unfortunately).
David: Don't really know him.
David: 6 x 7? Hitchhikers guide?
David: Good guy.
David: The biggest - the best. Paid for my new mansion.
Written September 1998
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