Interview with Lee Banyard

My musical abilities, such as they were, were all entirely self-taught; so no classical musical background. My family was almost entirely non-musical. I'd learnt a little at school, but I'd only got switched onto music via making tracker mods on the Amiga from the age of 11 or so. I was fascinated with sound and music from that point, and the possibilities that the Amiga afforded; loved messing around with samples. Previous to the Amiga I'd had a Sinclair Spectrum and that'd never piqued my interest in audio, obviously, as the sound hardware was practically non-existent. I think the first disk I'd put in my Amiga was R-Type and Chris Huelsbeck's title track blew me away; I'd then got into demo stuff for some reason, and it just went from there.

I'd initially got an Amiga for the games, but like I say I got into mod-tracking and then involved in the Amiga demo scene. I'd always been a gamer though and it made sense to me to combine my relatively new-found enjoyment of computer-based audio with my other passion, which was games. By the time I'd got to Graftgold I'd been in various demo groups, and had made some rather immature attempts at getting involved with games in some way that didn't lead to anything particularly, other than mild embarrassment.

I was halfway through my A-levels when I got a call from Steve Turner, to come in and interview for the chance of working during the school holidays to produce music and sfx for an Amiga game they were doing, called 'Virocop' - I'd sent them a demodisk of my work, just playing back mods via AmigaDos, and I guess someone must have liked it! I think it may have helped that I'd called one of the tracks 'Silmarillion' and either Steve T or Andy had a bit of a thing for Tolkien.

Anyway, I started working for them, at first I was in the admin-office sitting next to Steve T while I got to grips with the Graftgold SoundEd (the proprietary cross-platform tracker software, authored by Jason Page). I remember coming up with music tracks on ProTracker first, then rather painstakingly converting them manually to Graftgold SoundEd format. Wasn't particularly easy to do, have to admit, but I stuck with it. I did enjoy the synthesis stuff that Jason had incorporated into the editor, that was quite cool - using envelopes etc. to modulate very small sample-loops, could get quite a lot of mileage out of that.

It was nearing the end of the holidays, and I somehow cajoled Steve Turner into taking me on full-time as I figured it was what I wanted to do with my life, and why go through the rigmarole of university etc. if I had the opportunity to get in the industry now? This was the early/mid-90s and there wasn't really a clear path from academia into games, at least not for non-programmers. So I was taken on full-time.

I can't honestly claim to have taken over Jason Page's role proper, he was far more experienced than I was with game audio and on top of that he was an audio programmer too. I couldn't program for toffee. (I remember Steve Turner trying to get me into PC assembly language programming and it just didn't capture my imagination at all - just wasn't my bag). If anything, to say I replaced Jason is more of an insult to him than anything else! I was more the bargain basement option, to be honest, I simply caught a lucky break I think.

I worked on the A1200 version, though there was a RISC PC version (I don't know if this was released) that I may have worked on to some extent.

The only person I worked with on the A1200 version was Jose Doran; I can't remember who did what else, though Jason did the original music and SFX. This was all in his SoundEd format. In terms of who did what, I really don't remember as I only worked on it with Jose.

Jason did the original Amiga track in Graftgold SoundEd format, and I'm pretty sure the SNES version was identical to the original ECS Amiga version. I wasn't really all that au fait with the Graftgold SoundEd at that time, I was much quicker with Protracker, so Jose added a mod-player to the A1200 version. The music I did was simply a remix of the original Amiga track, with some instruments replaced, a kind of spruced up re-imagined version if you like. It still retained the same piano chord samples and the crowd SFX which were present in the original title track. I may have done some original menu music that wasn't based on anything Jason did, but I can't quite recall.

All in all I just rejigged what was already there.

Me personally? No, hell no.

Definitely afterwards. Took quite a while I think, which may have been a problem.

I'm sure Jose can tell you more about this than I can! It had a perspective 'shear' which was the main difference as I recall, more colours on-screen I think?

I think it was pretty much completed. At least 90% there. I have no idea why it remained unreleased, my only guess is that Empire didn't see it as being worthwhile publishing it or they just exercised some option not to release it. I can't remember, it may have just been down to politics, it taking too long to do, or something. They just had Jose working on it and he wanted to do a bloody good job of it.

So on one hand it was under-resourced, with only one guy working on it, but on the other they gave the AGA project to one of the most perfectionist game coders I've ever known in Jose. I'd say it was a little mismanaged, doing that - no-one could tell Jose to cut corners as he was such a quality-oriented guy.

Ha! That's quite funny really as it was actually me personally who came up with that name. Not especially proud of it though! I just sat down and wrote a list of names and for some reason that one was chosen. I remember having more of a leaning towards 'Viracop' at the time but I think Andy Braybrook preferred it with the 'O' instead of the 'A'.

Where possible I tried to follow the theme of a given level, they were mostly clearly delineated. I don't think I did a spectacular job on that music! In fact, it's worth noting that after Graftgold I quit writing music for games, and eventually stopped composing altogether to concentrate solely on sound design.

Now I look back, I still can't quite believe that Andy and Iain went for that strange choice of jazzy title tune. That wasn't done with Virocop in mind at all, I should mention.

Mostly it was music, I'd say something like 75% music, 25% sfx.

For Virocop, as I've mentioned, Protracker on the Amiga and Graftgold's SoundEd on the PC.

It wasn't their strongest Amiga title in my opinion. I'd really liked Fire and Ice, for me that was their most polished Amiga title and almost certainly the one I'd played the most. Though saying that, I did play a lot of Rainbow Islands too but that was a conversion of course.

I think the Amiga had a pretty good innings as a games machine but it was clear that the consoles were where it was at, especially once Sony got involved. The Amiga and ST kind of sat between the consoles and the PC as time went on, and once the PC really got up to speed with its gaming capabilities, the Amiga was in a position where it didn't do console style games as well as the consoles, and it didn't do first person shooters (which for me is what made the PC market explode) well at all. The games market was divided along new lines, and in that game of musical chairs the Amiga was left standing.

For me it involved getting to grips with MIDI based sequencing, using a Mac I think for the first time, was a bit of a transition from using Amiga trackers, I'd say. They did get some decent kit in actually, but sadly didn't get quite enough; I had a decent synth, an Akai sampler, was sequencing via Cubase, but sadly I was only monitoring via a cheap boombox attached to a mixer outputs! Looking back that was rather sad.

For MotoX we were pretty under-resourced in a few ways. I had no gear to record sounds for MotoX, and hadn't even got into field recording at that point, so had to rely on what I could cobble together from cheap SFX library CDs. I apologise for the hatchet job I made of the sound effects on that game! I seem to remember the motorbikes were more 'Attack of the Killer Bees' as opposed to an authentic motocross experience.

And the music for Rainbow Islands was cobbled together from what I could eke out of the development software on the Mac which seemed to crash or be quite buggy more often than not. Ugh, shame because I loved that game.

It was pretty sad to be honest. I can't really remember all that many specifics. I think I got in to work in the morning and at some point was taken into Steve Turner's office and given the rather crappy news, along with one or two other people I think (sorry guys, I might have this detail wrong but it was half my life ago!). Graftgold had been bought up by Perfect Entertainment or whatever they were called - they did sod all with the Graftgold brand as far as I remember - and they had their own audio department so I was deemed surplus to requirements, even though I was probably the lowest earner there. But hey, it was the first of a few redundancies that the games industry would throw my way, so at least I got that particular cherry popped quite early on - no danger of disillusionment after that!

Well, I got there at the wrong time to have witnessed the work going into the better quality output, sadly - when they were at their peak I was still very much at school and an end-user. So I can only guess, but if I had to pin it down, I'd say it was because they were fortunate enough to have some very talented people pass through their doors to work there. I include Steve Turner and Andy Braybrook in this group of course, seeing as they were the mainstays of the company, but there were many people that contributed greatly in all sorts of ways to the games that came out. Graftgold made a decent transition from the old 8-bit machines to the 16-bit era but they never really got going when it came to the Playstation etc. in my opinion. At their level though, they were very good at what they did.

I do think they didn't quite know what direction to go in when it came to making the transition to 3D gaming.

For me, it's another world entirely. It's literally half a lifetime away, and I find it difficult to draw many comparisons. e.g. when I left Graftgold they were still passing data around to each others' machine using floppies! (Was a sad irony I thought, when I revisited the company some time later to see they finally had invested in a LAN, although with barely enough staff to justify it.) For me that kind of typified the company at that point, in that they didn't quite move with the times in their latter days and ultimately they slipped away as a result. Which is sad, of course, but they did some excellent stuff in their day and it's for that which they'll be remembered, and rightly so.