Following Charlie Brooker’s documentary this weekend, How Video Games Changed The World, Fatleg’s very own Jonathan Dunn tells us a little more about his career at Ocean Software and that iconic Robocop theme tune.
I started working at Ocean in 1988 as fresh-faced nineteen year old straight out of college. There were around twenty or so staff, many of whom were a similar age to myself. The office was in Manchester city centre and used to be part of a church. The development team was located in the basement and my office was directly next to the car park, which used to be the old cemetery, I remember it always being a bit creepy.
Being a young and creative environment meant that there was usually a good vibe about the place, apart from John Brandwood, aka Johnny Amstrad and then later Elma Fudd, (who I later worked with again at Left Field). His office was next to mine and he was always complaining about the noise coming from my room. He was quite a miserable sod - sorry John, but you know it’s true! To be fair, it must have been quite annoying for him. Being the good old 1980’s everyone got paid in cash each week. One of the office lads, Kane, would do the rounds on a Friday afternoon with a tray full of brown envelopes. Everyone was always checking out whose was the fattest.
I’d only been with Ocean about six months when I composed the Robocop theme. The chord riff came about from me playing the piano in my mum’s restaurant one weekend after closing time, it kept going round and round in my head after that. Once I was back in the office I recreated and came up with the arrangement and melody. The tune itself came about pretty quickly but getting it on to the C64 took another few days. I’d later have to recreate it for the Spectrum and Gameboy.
If someone had told me then that some of my compositions (Robocop in particular) would still be receiving such great recognition from both original gamers and the next few generations, I would never have believed it. Being the early days of video games we knew we were working in a pioneering industry, but it’s amazing that over twenty five years later people still remember those tunes so fondly. A few people have told me that they used to load up the game just to listen to the music, including Charlie Brooker who said he used his gameboy like an ipod.
I was pretty much left to my own devices as far as the composition for each game went. At the time, the Robocop theme was no different to any of the other titles I worked on, yet it’s the one that seems to have really stood out. It’s been used a fair few times over the years, the Ariston advert, Dilbert and it’s also been sampled by a few musical artists so it’s had more exposure than other game compositions. I was really pleased for it to have another outing on this latest documentary and I’ve received some really great comments about it since the show was aired.
It was nice to see Jeff Minter (Llamasoft) on the documentary. I once contacted him for some advice through Compunet when I was writing some starfield code, he pointed me to a bit of code in one of his games and said I could use it. I was only about seventeen at the time and getting help from one of my programming hero’s was pretty awesome.
It was always great fun working at Ocean and I have nothing but good memories of my time there. I worked there for nearly 12 years, including a couple of years in California, and got to work on some very successful games.
For those that missed the documentary, click here for a reminder of that tune.