It’s no secret that the perfect complement to a well-engineered game is the soundtrack that effortlessly blends within the background. Everything from loading screens to specific in-game actions are infused with musical composition in order to provide each gamer with a unique experience. So what do you do when you’ve built a retro-style racing game, unlike anything the platform has seen in years, that can be compared to the likes of Outrun, Lotus Turbo Challenge, and even Cruis’n USA? You go out and get the Great White Buffalo of 90’s racing music from legendary composer Barry Leitch.
IGM had the opportunity to sit down with Leitch and ask a few questions about his latest project, Horizon Chase. The game, which released on August 20 under developer Aquiris Game Studio, is a modernized version of the classic racing games we all came to love during the early 1990’s, many of which Barry Leitch worked on during his tenure.
Indie Game Magazine: Given your expertise on what makes an excellent musical experience for video games, what advice would you give to aspiring composers?
Barry Leitch: I would advise them to take up programming – it’s far more profitable! Seriously though, I think my advice would be to simply keep at it. When I first started, the music I wrote was awful and it took several years of constantly writing before it was even listenable. Write in many different styles, create atmospheres, write pop songs, experiment! Challenge yourself! Write something you don’t want to, write 8 death-metal tunes, then re-arrange them as classical pieces. Don’t get overly emotionally attached to your music, people are going to criticize it.
IGM: Can you talk about your favorite project within the game industry that you’ve worked on?
Barry: My favorite project that I’ve worked on would have to be Horizon Chase. It’s been such a fun project, I really had fun writing it. There were literally times where tears of joy were running down my cheeks as I wrote certain parts. There were other projects that I enjoyed immensely; Spider: The Video Game, I had a long time to create the soundtrack for that and got to fully explore musical ideas. TFX was very tight musically. Inferno, I got to work with [English deathrock band] Alien Sex Fiend. Rush 2 and Rush 2049, I got to really explore drum and bass genre. Gauntlet Legends N64, I got to put an incredible amount of music in a very small space. There is usually something good to be said about every project you work on, except for the bad ones, and we try to forget those.
IGM: What was it was like to work on Horizon Chase.
Barry: It’s been amazing! I had this wonderful canvas to paint upon, using a genre of music that I grew up loving. Using sounds from decades ago to create a fast exciting soundtrack to race to, it was a dream job for me. Combine that with Aquiris having a very “hands-off” approach, not micromanaging everything I wrote, I think they just had faith in me that I would deliver something worthwhile. When I look back at some of the early versions I sent them, it surprises me that they didn’t say “OMG, change that.” The fact they didn’t push me to change every little thing that was a little out of place, or pushing the envelope a little, really worked in that it let me focus on what I needed to do, which was to simply compose. A good composer knows when things don’t sound quite right, they’ll fix it, they don’t need to be reminded.
IGM: Did a little bit of nostalgia kick in throughout the process?
Barry: As for nostalgia, the whole project has been about that for me. When I wrote the Top Gear Vegas piece, I wrote it for fun, that was my motivation, and hearing how excited Aquiris was to hear these new melodies, really helped me just focus on getting back into that mindset of 1991 all over again. Approaching the project as an art piece rather than “a job” and utilizing many retro techniques and sounds, where suddenly you’re taken completely from this modern track right back to the 80’s or 90’s again.
IGM: Did you ever think you would be working on another “retro” game as you did early on within your career?
Barry: Horizon Chase has a very unique graphical style, it’s what really caught my attention early on, and it’s been wonderful watching it grow into the final game. It really took me back to the early 90’s seeing the colors and graphics. It was so easy for me to simply write as if it was the 90’s, but using today’s tools. I never imagined that I would be able to go back and write music in this style and genre, so it’s been immensely satisfying to write what I think is my definitive driving game soundtrack.
IGM: How has the resurgence of the retro-style game affected you both professionally and personally?
Barry: Personally, seeing these retro games has been very exciting! Over the years games have evolved amazingly, they have evolved WAY beyond the point that we ever could have dreamed. There is a downside though; they seem to have gotten a bit lost. They are very much like simulators, and for me, they seem too much like hard work and not enough fun which I think kind of defeats the point. I played a recent driving game, and while the graphics were just amazing, it was just so much hard work. I realized after a few races that I really wasn’t enjoying it any more. I got to play an early demo of Horizon Chase and I couldn’t put it down, it was just so much fun that I sat up until 3am playing it because I wanted to get to unlock the next car :)
IGM: What game are you playing right now?
Barry: At the moment: I’m playing Batman [Arkham Knight]. Train Simulator. I know it’s sad, but after composing for several hours you get a bit hyperactive, so it’s the perfect way to wind down! And you can catch up on Facebook while you do it; it’s very zen. The Candy Crush games, Words With Friends which my girlfriend is beating me relentlessly, BeamNG Drive, Train, Supreme Commander Forged Alliance forever, and I’m also beta testing Ballistic Overkill which is Aquiris’s next game.
IGM: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Barry: I would like to thank everyone that enjoyed the old soundtracks, especially those that took the time to hunt me down, and hope that you enjoy the new Horizon Chase soundtrack :). There will be a very limited CD soundtrack available shortly with extended tracks and a digital release of the HC soundtrack. The digital release will include some very special guest remixes. It’s a very fun soundtrack to listen to in your car; it makes you want to drive faster! Find me on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll keep you updated.
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IGM would like to thank Barry for taking the time to talk a little bit about himself and his latest project, Horizon Chase. The game was recently selected by Apple as an Editors’ Choice, and is currently available for $2.99 on iOS.