Composer Compendium: David Wise

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In simpler times there were great melodies driving the music composition of games. When you’re limited to a handful of sound channels it really tests composers to make a piece that fits the game they are working on and is memorable. It also has to survive repeated listens, as many games were short and had only a handful of tracks. Today we look at one of the best Western composers for one of the best European game development companies. David Wise was Rare Ltd’s house composer from 1985 to 2009, and his work stands out like the company he worked for.

His first handful of years were spent with Nintendo’s juggernaut Entertainment System. Rare’s philosophy at this time was to make as many games as they possibly could, and some stand out as great titles for the system, while others are quite smelly. The first games with Wise’s compositions came out in a year or two after his hire, and they were Slalom and Wizards & Warriors. One of the best racing games on the system carries Wise’s compositions, R.C. Pro-Am!.

I like to call Slalom ‘Downhill Butt Simulator’.

The following year saw double the number of Wise compositions, showing that he most likely was not sitting around for the first couple years of his existence at the company. The rest of the year’s work featured game show adaptations in Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! Rare’s own video board game Anticipation rounds out 1988.

1989 was a big year for Mr. Wise, and includes almost too many games to list, as does the following year. The Sesame Street games are well known for their high quality digitized voices, which sound almost too good for the NES. Wise helped with those, starting with Sesame Street ABC. It includes such beloved classics as Taboo: The Sixth Sense, Hollywood Squares, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and WWF Wrestlemania. In seriousness though there were great games or ports that Mr. Wise composed or rearranged, those include Marble Madness, Cobra Triangle, Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II. Finally, push your periscopes up and look across the horizon for the best and most valuable game ever made. Silent Service.

The decade changed but the NES still reigned supreme. As a result of this David Wise still had plenty of projects to work on. 1990 was the biggest year yet, with many classics, as well as the first foray onto the Game Boy. The game show adaptations continued with Double Dare being a new challenger. Rare must have had a monopoly on these game show adaptations. On top of these he got to work on some original Rare titles such as Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, Solar Jetman, Super Glove Ball, Time Lord, and Pin*Bot for the NES, with Wizards & Warriors Chapter X: The Fortress of Fear and The Amazing Spider-Man on Game Boy. There were some arcade ports and movie adaptations as well including Captain Skyhawk, NARC, Cabal, Arch Rivals, and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Battletoads was the next big and well remembered Rare title that Wise composed the music on. You can thank him for that groovy pause music as well as everything else in the original NES release and the mostly unrelated Game Boy release as well. Sesame Street ABC & 123 released in 1991 alongside the aforementioned Battletoads, Beetlejuice, and super R.C. Pro-Am.

The next year saw Rare stretching its arms onto the up and coming Sega Genesis/Mega Drive, with Championship Pro-Am. They did not completely abandon the Nintendo systems, but did not have him move forward to the new Super Nintendo yet. On the NES there was R.C. Pro-Am II, Wizards & Warriors III, and the port of Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat. Battletoad mania would start in 1993.

Since the original release of Battletoads the series had proven quite popular, so Rare had the first Battletoads ported onto the Genesis and Game Gear. Battletoads in Battlemaniacs and Battletoads & Double Dragon marked the move onto the SNES. The latter also saw releases on the NES, Genesis, and Game Boy. Battletoads in Ragnarok’s World is a proper Game Boy port of the first Battletoads that also released this year. Other than Battletoads Mr. Wise also arranged the 16 bit port of Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll for the Genesis, as well as X The Ball for the Arcade.

The next year may well be the year that solidified Mr. Wise as a truly great composer, as his music got to grace one of the most beloved video games of all times, not just of the 16 bit era, but ever. This was also the year that saw a severe decrease in output from our composer, almost being entirely limited to the series spawned by this game. You may be asking what game I’m getting to. Donkey. Kong. Country. There was also Monster Max and the arcade port of Battletoads, but 1994 was the year of Kong.

For the better part of the next decade Mr. Wise was mostly limited to the Donkey Kong Country series, so his early output of many games in a year decreased to one or two a year until his departure from Rare. Both of the followup games to Donkey Kong Country on the SNES were composed by Mr. Wise, but his contributions diminished with each game. The first Donkey Kong Land on Game Boy features some Wise compositions. Diddy Kong Racing on N64 was the lone game he composed for on the Big N’s system.

There was a three year lull between Diddy Kong Racing and his next game, which was the Game Boy Color port of the first Donkey Kong Country. After that he moved onto his lone Gamecube game, Star Fox Adventures. A couple Game Boy Advance games followed, Its Mr. Pants and Donkey Kong Country 3. Next was the DS games Diddy Kong Racing DS and Viva Pinata: Pocket Paradise. By this point Rare had been sold by Nintendo to Microsoft. He only worked on one Xbox 360 game before his departure from Rare, War World. After this he went freelance with his own studio, composing the iOS game Sorcery! Retro Studios brought him back to the land of Nintendo earlier this year to return to his most famous series. The Wii U needed help and David Wise delivered with the soundtrack to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. His most recent game is Tengami for iOS and the Wii U.

System Splash Screens: Judging a Console by its Cover

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For many systems you fire up the first experience you have with it involves the splash screen, intro screen, logos, sound effects, rocket ships, flying carpets, and belly dancers. Like many things the quality and effort put into these introductions can have a profound impact on the player, or potential player, of a video game console, so let’s take a look at the good and the bad ones.

The Bad

Now, in order to be fair I will not include systems which completely lack a splash screen, this is only something that came to prominence in the late 80’s for the most part (with exceptions of course). So, which ones just leave you screaming for mercy?

Amiga CD32

Well, that was pretty dull. If you’re looking for uninspired intro screens nothing really beats this one, its a CD floating in space with a wordart logo above the disc with some flashy colors flying around. This looks like a $50 job that some video editing student did after discovering how awesome the Amiga is and how amazing a system based on Amiga software with CD support would be.

It would be a commercial failure of course.

FM Towns Marty

Well, my ears are bleeding now. For a CD based system the FM Towns Marty certainly has incredibly weak sound capabilities! It even released in 1993, the same year as the vastly superior 3DO Interactive Multiplayer and even the Amiga CD32 above, at least that one didn’t have digital garbage flowing out of the speakers!

Atari Jaguar

The Jaguar just has this look, reputation, and history of being a low budget machine with shoddy engineering. It was Atari’s last attempt at greatness (and killing off their fairly popular line of PCs to throw everything at the console probably did not help matters). Now to be fair this one isn’t entirely bad, its just a bit boring. A spinning cube with a Jaguar on it is hardly menacing. But, if they had done something like the MGM lion intro it would probably have been the greatest thing ever made by Atari or any company ever! The legitimacy of the menacing roar of the Jaguar is lessened by the rather cartoony, and already by then retro, little jingle that accompanies the cat.

The Good

Sega CD

What happens when a system has not just one amazing startup screen, but two? We end up with the Sega CD! Or Mega CD if you’re not a winning American. Oh, I’m not really counting the JVC X’eye, even though that intro is fairly enjoyable as well.

All I really have to say is one thing, I have never before been so entertained by dancing logos. This just shows how superior Sega’s execution was in the early 90’s, having some of the best hardware creators this side of Nintendo. Sega can just squeeze so much life out of hardware that could be considered inferior, giving their consoles so much passion and soul that no company has really ever been able to duplicate, not even Nintendo or Sony in my opinion.

Nintendo Gamecube

Nintendo, I love you to death. What cheeky bastards these guys were when designing the Gamecube and its startup screen. Everybody loves Easter Eggs, so let’s hide not one, but two colorful eggs on the very first screen you see when playing a Gamecube, all of which are enjoyable in moderation. Absolutely brilliant!

Sony Playstation

There are few words to describe just how amazing the experience of firing up an original Playstation is. Once you turn it on its like you, the gamer, are being sent into a powerful wind tunnel during astronaut training. Then you finally get to launch up into space just as the PS logo comes up and leave the atmosphere into cool, serene calm. An absolute joy for the ears, this is the THX intro of the video game world, and it will never get old.

So what are your favorite system start up screens, least favorites?

Random Plays: Reign of Fire

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Random plays is a small change up of the Let’s Play format. Instead of pushing out part after part of an entire game I’ll just post up one smaller, easy to digest video where I go into a game and give a first impression, describe the game and mechanics and how much fun it is.

Reign of Fire is a movie licensed game that was released for the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube. I am playing the Gamecube version for this video.

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Gaming Dramatic Read 2: Rampage World Tour

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This is a series where I read the story and sometimes the character section of the manual of some random video game, in a dramatic fashion. The main goal is to bring attention to how good or bad some of the manual stories can be, and also how well they can prepare a player for a game.

Of course sometimes the dramatization ends up being completely uncalled for, and that’s where the real fun begins.

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