Rob Hubbard, Dungeon Crawler, Esq.

Something I always loved about the “old-school” video game tunes is the fact that most of the old composers both had to compile their own programs as well as compose all the music. Many folks wrote their own synths or trackers to run on the hardware for the various consoles and computers. Yuzo Koshiro has mentioned that he was particularly fond of composing for the Sega Genesis because of the great flexibility the sound module allowed the sound designer. I’m not a computer science whiz, so I cannot really explain what these guys were doing in great detail, but the fact is they were exceptional at computer programming while also excelling in music composition. As a result, there was a great variety in the sounds utilized on the early sound boards.

If this isn’t news to you, perhaps you have heard of Rob Hubbard. Not the English cult leader, but the English composer. He scored tons of Commodore 64 games and later was the head music and sound guy at Electronic Arts. Of course, I believe this was before EA became synonymous with sports games, for which music is not particularly important.
I did not realize it, but one of the many games he scored for EA is ‘The Immortal.’ It’s an old dungeon-crawler/action-rpg for PC that was ported to the original NES and the Genesis. It’s an interesting game in that it’s really tough, but the atmosphere is quite appealing.

The music plays a significant part in this. Rob Hubbard, sometimes co-credited with another guy called Michael Bartlow, does a fantastic job of laying down subtle drones and ominous compositions. It sounds quite gloomy and brooding, but obviously not in a way that is depressing or draining. It genuinely feels mysterious, but not in the way that inspires sharp awe and wonder – the music sounds like the descent into a cavern or dungeon that has been forgotten or changed over time. It builds and grows on you.

There is no relief or release from the dark corridors in this adventure. I find it very interesting, because it is quite different to compose music for a fast moving side-scrolling action game than it is to write for an isometric Prince of Persia-esque dungeon-puzzle-rpg-action adventure. I would describe it as a cross between the music composed for those old animated Lord of the Rings films and the compositional style used in Phantasy Star 4 for the Genesis.

The Immortal on GenesisThe Immortal on NESThe Immortal on Genesis

It’s crazy, when I listen to this music it paints a very clear portrait of a sad adventure, where the protagonist is in some kind of grimey, bleak atmosphere that would be quite cumbersome to maneuver through, and is unfriendly yet holds many fascinating stories behind its dangerous veil. Gosh, kids, it almost sounds like it’s lamenting about how you’re a muthafreakin’ old wizard who has to descend into this trap-ridden labyrinth to look for his mentor, hidden deep below the realms inhabited by the warring goblins and trolls.

The Immortal – Title Theme

The Immortal – Where Am I?

(These tracks are from the Sega Genesis version of the game)

The Puzzle music really kicks my ass. It’s very sad in a way that reminds me of an older time. Not like, the early 1990s, but an older world in which empirical and scientific knowledge was not so prevalent and did not necessarily guide one’s daily meditations. It is especially crucial when these notions can project through the music without the traditional instruments of such an environment (harps? recorders? I don’t know). It is a testament to the integrity of the composers–who probably also provided the software to play the music–that they can push hardcore substance from such a limited sound palette. I guess good artists produce some really excellent stuff when they’re imposed with such limitations. It allows a closer look at their creative techniques, because smaller budgets and tool-kits can often designate greater individual freedom in a project.

The Immortal – Puzzle

It is quite easy for one to overlook the music to a game such as The Immortal when it blends so perfectly with the background and story. Rob Hubbard is a pro. He can muster bombastic, vampire hunting melodies with the best of them, but he can provide a real serious atmospheric illusion behind the gameplay too. I’m not even saying The Immortal is such a fantastic game, but it becomes quite memorable with someone like Rob Hubbard on board.

Later I’ll write some more about games using this kind of effective romantic composition,
like Wizards and Warriors, Phantasy Star and Gauntlet. I’m not really interested in writing a Rob Hubbard bio, ‘coz you can wiki that yourself.

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~ by chaosrexmachinae on July 14, 2007.

3 Responses to “Rob Hubbard, Dungeon Crawler, Esq.”

  1. where can i get the rest of the immortal music? THANKS

  2. I got most of this stuff from a Genesis .VGZ file. You can get a plugin for Winamp that will play back .VGZ files, which are converted Genesis/Megadrive OST rips. They’re not 100% accurate to the original soundboard, but pretty damn close.

    Just go to Google and search for: “Genesis soundtrack” + “winamp plugin”. You can do the same thing with the NES and Amiga (?) versions of the soundtrack.

  3. It’s kind of sad how little recognition I find about this soundtrack in the internet. No remixes, no videos, no one playing it live or anything like that. I wasn’t the least surprised when nowadays I found out that it was made by a legend like Rob Hubbard. The title song always stuck to my head since I was a little kid.

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