Interview: Pete Boyle (Dork Tunes)
Video game music has, for some time, been seen as the mere appreciation of only a few aficionados. But increasingly, especially as games came out of the 16-bit era, players are becoming more aware of a game’s score and how it affects them.
Pete Boyle, from Leeds, UK, has always had a deep interest in game music, and is one of the founders and presenters of podcast, Dork Tunes. Now a growing authority on video game music, it showcases various pieces of music across genres and decades, as well as interviewing some of the key names in game music composition.
With Game Music Connect happening in London in a few weeks time, we took the chance to talk to him about his insights into the genre.
From Solomon’s Key to a Lifelong Passion
“One of my earliest memories of video game music was a game on the Amstrad called Solomon’s Key,” says Boyle. “I can still hear the music playing in my head to this day.”
But Boyle admits that it’s only been recently that he’s really begun to explore video game music in more depth. “Over the last seven years, I’ve found my niche in game music and composers, noticing how it might make a particular scene feel or play out, or what you feel.”
But just how important does he feel video game music is, when it comes to the overall look, feel, and quality of a game?
“Music is hugely important in games because it can tell you how to feel. You’ve got games like Dead Space where there isn’t a massive amount of music in it, but what there is, is just terrifying. A lot of people also talk about games needing a good script, but when you play something like Flower, there isn’t any; you play and you feel. I remember getting to the end of Flower and just burst out crying. It builds you up with music and feeling. There was something just so special about that, and I think if you replaced the music with dub-step, or something, you’ll just never get that again.”
Happy Happy, Joy Tunes
Boyle’s interest in music only materialised into a podcast by sheer serendipity.
“It started as a whim, when I was talking with a friend, many many years ago, on his podcast,” Boyle reminisces. “I did a small segment of it, maybe two or three tracks. And then the bug bit me, as they say. So I decided to go it alone. I asked a friend to help out because he’s a games designer and he knows about his games.”
“That was in a previous guise called Joy Tunes. And we did that for a couple of seasons. But then that fell by the wayside for a while for various reasons.”
It was only when he was approached by another friend again that Boyle’s show was resurrected and incorporated as Dork Tunes for the past two years.
Codas of Opportunity
What Boyle enjoys most about doing the show, apart from indulging his passion, is the opportunities that it presents.
“I never thought, when I started all those years ago, that I would have guests on the show, like David Arnold, Grant Kirkhope, Austin Wintory, and upcoming guests like Smooth McGroove.”
But the podcast is also leading to other exciting perks, such as recently being invited to attend the Game Music Connect.
“I really wanted to go, but for someone who does a podcast just because of their love of game music, it’s not something I could put my money towards, really, because it’s just not possible at the moment,” Boyle laments. “But I had a tweet one morning to say to check my e-mail, and, lo and behold, there was an e-mail from a contact of mine giving me a pass.”
“To be given that opportunity is huge. There are ideas that are running through my head for the show and what I’ll ask the people I’ll hopefully speak with. You’ve got Jesper Kyd, Martin O’Donnell who did the music from Halo to Halo 3, and so many other famous people attending. It’s mind-blowing how good it’s going to be, and I cannot wait.”
But what exactly are Boyle’s pick of myriad tracks and soundtracks from umpteen titles that span many decades?
“‘Unforgotten’ by Martin O’Donnell, which features on the Halo 2 soundtrack,” reveals Boyle. “I love it because it’s quite short - under 3 minutes long – and it’s very very beautiful. But it also evokes a lot of personal memories, too, because it reminds me of a friend who is no longer with us who had a huge interest in the Halo games.”
“One that definitely sticks in my mind is definitely Shadow of the Colossus, by Kow Otani. Stunning game. Annoying camera, but absolutely stunning game. The soundtrack for that is just wonderful, and one I go back to quite a lot.”
Boyle also takes the time to pick out the soundtrack to Journey by Austin Wintory as one of his favourites. He also elaborates that, as one of his most memorable guests on his show, they have since become friends.
“Sound design and music in games is hugely important,” he reckons. “I think there should be more importance placed on that compared to the script and story. But hey, that’s just me.”