INTERVIEW WITH ROB HUBBARD by Richard Karsmakers
In the Januari issue of ST NEWS, I had the honour of interviewing
Mr. Jeff Minter, distintive entertainment software programmer.
This time, I have had the honour of interviewing someone equally
distintive - Mr. Rob Hubbard. I bet that all (ex-) Commodore 64
freaks really went bananas when they heard that Rob started
programming for the ST as well - I did, anyway. But most people
that had other computers before (especially Spectrum, BBC, or
maybe no computer at all) will now not quite know who I'm talking
about. Well, Rob Hubbard was one of the leading music writers on
the Commodore 64 (mainly on that machine, but he has also worked
on Schneider, Amstrad and the Atari XL series). It all began
about two odd years ago. Especially on the Commodore 64, with its
fabulous SID soundchip, it very fast became a trend to let games
be accompanied by complete musical compositions. Rob Hubbard was
one of the first people doing this, and he became well known by
the music from Gremlin Graphics' "Thing on a Spring". His sound
was very easy to recognize, with very well done bass-and drum
lines. Soon, some other programmers started doing things like him
on the '64 as well. The best of them undoubtedly was Martin
Galway, who had this very distinctive 'heavy' sound of his. He
has done music for "Hyper Sports", "Rambo", "Yie-Ar Kung Fu",
"Comic Bakery" and "Parallax" as well as many other games. But
David Whittaker and Ben Daglish also began working on the '64
after a time, which aroused quite some competition. All of them
started programming more difficult music, using more advanced
sound effects, etc.
But I'm straying from my subject, which is Rob Hubbard. After
"Thing on a Spring", he started programming with high quantity as
well as quality. Some of his best musical compositions were
"Monty on the Run", "Master of Magic" and "Crazy Comets". In the
winter of '85/'86 I wrote a letter to him, requesting an
interview for a local usergroup here in Helmond called Triorex.
Was I lucky: He agreed and sent me back a letter with very
interesting answers. Due to the usergroup itself, the interview
could not be published earlier than spring 1986, but it
definately was a hit.
When Frank and myself sold our '64s, in the spring of 1986, the
only thing I knew I was going to miss was the music from Rob
Hubbard as well as that from Martin Galway. On many an occasion
people would find me near to a Commodore 64 on a computer club,
leaving my ST behind running some monochrome demo, so that I
could listen to the music there and think back about those good
old times. When I once heard the "Thrust" music (done by Rob), I
started regretting the fact that I sold my 64. The ST was a great
computer, but there still was a lack of good software and the
music I heard was really awful in comparison to the '64 stuff. I
just had to get my Commodore 64 back, only if it was just for
that goddamn fantastic music! Rob just went on and on, and I
slowly became convinced that I had to have a '64 again - the
musical composition from the more recent games "Knuckle Buster",
"Delta" and "Sanxion" just drove me out of my bleedin' mind,
especially when one was used to the ST's "Music Studio" stuff.
More than once I wrote a letter to Rob, requesting (no, I think
it was more like 'begging') him to start programming on the ST. I
knew he had been designing an Amstrad sound routine, which used
a soundchip compatible to the one in the ST. But my hopes sank
rashly when I heard he had been writing a demo for the Amiga. Now
we would never have a chance to listen to Rob Hubbard music on
the ST. The Amiga just had much better sound capabilities.
Goodbye good music. I just had to be satisfied with "Music
Studio" with its very limited capabilities.
Suddenly I got "Extensor", a game that contained very well
programmed sound, written by Holger Gehrmann. Was it possible
after all? Could our trashy soundchip produce good quality music
still? It seemed so, and it didn't take long before a second
Holger Gehrmann composition was launched for the ST, contained in
his game "Hollywood Poker". I immediately picked up my pencil
again and wrote to Mr. Hubbard, once again asking him to switch
to the ST (in which I mentioned Holger's proceedings). But hopes
sank lower and lower. My supplication wasn't even answered and my
hopes weren't raised until I heard some familiar music sounding
from an ST system on a usergroup in Spaubeek.....Wasn't that...??
Yes!? I immediately ran to the computer I thought to hear the
music on, and on my way invalidizised several innocent people.
Yes! I could faintly see the sentence "Music by Rob Hubbard"
scrolling by under a nice picture, accompanied by fantastic
music! Rob Hubbard has finally done it! Was it due to my
beggings? It really doesn't matter. But the most important fact
was that he was now programming on the ST. This really put new
hart into me and as I got home, I picked up pencil and paper and
wrote to him again.
After calling him as well (many times; I suppose he'll now
probably think "There's that kid again" as soon as he hears my
name on the other end of the line), it turned out that he was
even planning to program some more projects on the ST. There was
Jupiter Probe (with an original composition) and later "Thrust".
Being the editor of ST NEWS, I immediately thought of the idea of
interviewing him again, which I have now done. In fact, the
interview is quite the same as the one I did for Triorex over one
year ago, but more up-to-date and more specified to the ST. The
answers came in a bit too late (maybe due to the English customs
people that are currently striking) to be included in the
previous issue of ST NEWS, but now it's here and you'll be able
to read it!
Q: Well Mr. Hubbard, let's start right off with your profession
and age. What are they?
A: Well, I'm 31 and I am a music programmer and professional
Q: Which schools did you visit? Which subjects did you like or
A: I went to school in Hull (my home town) and got my "O" and "A"
levels. I also went to music school for 3 years. I started
learning the piano at the age of 7. I liked maths, physics, music
and hated history, economics and metalwork.
Q: When did you buy the 64? Do you use or have access to other
computers as well?
A: I bought the '64 about 4 years ago (my first computer). I also
have the 6128 Amstrad for which I have developed a music routine.
I also work on the Atari ST which I bought somewhere around April
or May of this year (Steve Bak from Microdeal really got me to do
this) and I have also made some source material for the Amiga.
Q: Why have you specialized in programming music? Have you ever
done anything else?
A: I started out by writing educational music software, but got
no interest from any companies. As I thought most music in games
was very bad I decided to program music. Eventually I got a
couple of companies interested which led to "Confuzion", "Action
Biker" and "Thing on a Spring" back on the '64.
Q: Which program do you use to write your music? Do you also use
hardware add-ons or something of the kind?
A: No, I use no hardware add ons. I compose on a keyboard (synth)
and type data into the actual routine that plays the music.
Q: How do you program music?
A: I use a source file which I edit to create sounds and music.
This is then assembled to machine language and tested. I work on
a 2 bar phrase until it is right and then add another 2 bars and
gradually finish the composition. It is then typed into the music
program that uses the raster interrupt on the '64 and programs
are saved in one chunk of memory. But Steve Bak (the Microdeal
man) has got some of my source code, so he can put pieces of it
here and there in memory. On the ST, I either use the VBL or the
MFP Timer interrupt. I do not write the actual interrupt
routine, as the game programmer does that. He also decides where
in memory he wants the music program. I make sure that it is very
simple for him to 'tie' my music into his game program.
Q: How many hours have you spent programming on e.g. "Thing on a
Spring", "Monty on the Run", "Human Race" and "Commando" on the
'64, and "Goldrunner", "Jupiter Probe" and "Thrust" on the ST?
A: "Thing on a Spring" took me two weeks (odd days working),
"Monty" took me three weeks, "Human Race" lasted two weeks and,
finally, "Commando" took me 24 hours (without a break).
Programming the ST is quite a hazard sometimes - bombs keep
flying over your screen all the time if you do something wrong.
But, however, "Goldrunner" took me only a couple of days,
"Jupiter Probe" took 4 days to write (an original composition, so
not from the '64) and "Thrust" took 5 days.
Q: Do you improvise when writing your music, or do you use sheet
music to compose your soundtracks?
A: All original compositions. I would never use sheet music
unless it was a classical piece.
Q: Which is the most difficult piece of music you ever made?
A: That was "Human Race" on the '64 (I only used 2 voices in
stead of three).
Q: Which soundtrack do you find the worst done?
A: That'll be "Confuzion"!
Q: Which sound programmer do you think is the best on the '64?
And on the ST?
A: Martin Galway is the best on the '64 (well known from "Rambo",
"Hyper Sports", "Parallax", "Comic Bakery" and "Yie-ar Kung Fu",
ED), and Dave Whittaker is the best on the ST. I have heard you
telling something about Holger Gehrmann but I really haven't
heard any of his tunes on the ST.
Q: Is there competition between music programmers?
A: No! E.g. Martin only works for Ocean and I would never go to
them to offer them a song. And on the ST I am good friend with
Dave; we do favours for each other.
Q: Which pieces of music are you currently making for the ST?
A: "Thrust" and "Jupiter Probe" are just finished, for Firebird
and Microdeal respectively. I will do "Warhawk" for Firebird as
Q: How do you persuade software companies to use your music in
their games? Do you spread "Rob Hubbard Music Samplers" or
something of the kind?
A: In the early days I used to send demo-disks to try to get
work. Nowadays I do not send demos to companies, as they usually
telephone me if they want me to do a music program.
Q: How were you 'discovered' and by whom?
A: It took about 6 months before anyone would let me do a
soundtrack for a game. Eventually, "Micro Projects" (a 2 man
programming team) let me do "Thing" and Mastertronics also let me
do "Action Biker".
Q: Do you play other musical instruments besides the piano you
A: I also play keyboards (synths), flute, saxophone and guitar.
Q: Do you ever listen to popular music? If so, which bands do you
A: I listen a lot to modern pop bands. I like New Order, Tears
for Fears, Heuy Lewis and The News and a few others. I also like
Chick Corea, Brecker Brothers, Larry Carlton, Mozart, Ravel,
Micheal Tippet, Yellow Magic Orchestra, etc.
Q: What do you think of the musical capabilities of the ST?
A: I think the future of sounds on the ST lies in the digitized
field. I tried a waveform editor program (only simple) which took
about an hour to write but I couldn't get it to do anything
useful. If and when I get time I will try it again (at the
moment, Dave is also working with similar techniques), although
it uses nearly all the processor time to do it. Waveform creation
using additive techniques should allow true polyphonic inetrvals
on one channel using frequency ratios. You might very soon hear
some damn good music on the ST; with a bit of luck the ST might
sound almost as good as the Amiga!
Q: What do you think of the Amiga<>ST syndrome?
A: I don't want to argue about the Amiga<>ST syndrome, as it all
depends on one thing only - i.e. what do you want to use it for!
Documentation for the Amiga, however, is very poor and the
machine is very inaccesible compared to the ST. The hardware of
the Amiga is superior to the ST, but the Amiga OS and DOS are
both very bad and filled with bugs.
I think the future of the ST is very good as there are a lot of
STs around now and you can bet your life the price of the ST will
fall when the Amiga 500 starts selling well. I don't think the ST
is going to do any better in the States as most people there are
already buying Amigas instead of STs. Also watch out for the new
Acorn RISC machine - it might well out perform the Amiga!
Q: Now my last question: What is your opinion about software
A: Large scale piracy is the WORST thing that could deastroy the
industry, and in the end it is the person that buys games who
will suffer the most.
In following issues of ST NEWS, I hope to publish interviews with
Franz "Signum!" Schmerbeck, David Whittaker, Peter "STAD" Melzer
and many others. I hope to see you then!
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.