When talking about Western Composers, which is a tough thing to do these days when Nobuo Uematsu and Hitoshi Sakimoto are so well known in the East, one man remains a constant standard: Tim Follin. Being cited as an major influence by David Wise (Donkey Kong Country, Wizards & Warriors) , Richard Jacques (Jet Set Radio, Mass Effect), and Jesper Kyd (Unreal Tournament 3, Assassin’s Creed), Follin has extended his influence in the Video Game industry for almost 30 years since he started writing in the mid 80’s.
Follin received his start in video game music in 1985 when he worked with his brother at Insight Studios on the ZX Spectrum console/computer. Little was expected of video game music at the time because sound chips in the average computer and game system were of very poor quality. Most systems could manage 1 or 2 sound channels (musical voices), which meant that a solo instrument of more or less unidentifiable tone could be used. Follin himself did not think much of the sound quality, but he managed to work with a sound driver that allowed to him to get 6 sound channels out of the ZX. Follin used this ability to arrange Stravinsky’s “The Firebird” for the game Star Firebirds. This action won Follin acclaim and marked the beginning of his revolutionary career.
By 1987, Follin was recognized for his work with the Yamaha AY, a 3 channel sound chip, on which he composed Bubble Bobble, Black Lamp, and his most famous piece of work, Ghouls n’ Ghosts; and within these games, Follin used his own custom music program “Follin Player II”. The interesting thing with Ghouls & Ghosts, as with Bionic Commando, is that Follin did not compose the music for the original game, but rather he had to instead create a port of it for the specific system. As a result, Follin had the ability to take a few bars of key themes from the original and then take his own spin on the music for the rest. Follin notes comically on Bionic Commando, “It’s an arcade conversion… or lets say it started like an arcade conversion! What happened was, I started converting the title tune, and it just developed, slipped out of my grip and became something, that was very different from what I had in mind, at the beginning. Quite messy!”1
Ghouls N’ Ghosts
At the time, a majority of Follin’s titles were on the Commodore 64 and the NES, but he would soon move on to the Sega Genesis, Mega Drive, and the SNES. In these systems, Follin made many popular soundtracks with his brother Geoff who paved the way for him throughout most of his career in the industry. Popular titles such as Plok!, Spider Man and the X-Men in Arcade’s Revenge, Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends, and Batman Forever were created by the duo, and in each of these titles you can hear Follin’s relaxed style and goofiness, which is especially prevalent and fitting in the SNES game Plok!
Super Ghosts N’ Ghouls
Follin’s final major works were Starsky & Hutch and Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future, both of which were on the PS2. In making Starsky & Hutch, Follin had to try to find the right blend of 70’s funk to suit the game, so he created his own style which he referred to as “Techno/Funk”. Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future sounds significantly different from the off-the-wall Follin style, and instead it has a very gripping ambient, atmospheric, new-age, and minimalist sound to it. Even though the soundtrack is actually done through samples, it still sounds live and Follin commented that he enjoyed working on it despite problems of , “a lack of equipment and resources – such as a string orchestra and choir!”2
Follin left the Video Game world in 2006, but has since announced his return – though under the flag of no game as of yet. Even if Follin does not write for another game, his legacy of innovation, advancement, and being laid-back will always remind the world of Video Game Music what it can achieve with a little patience and creativity.