In Conversation with ‘WipEout’ Composer CoLD SToRAGE
Illustration by Dan Evans
Games

In Conversation with ‘WipEout’ Composer CoLD SToRAGE

Tim Wright's music remains a vital part of the sci-fi racer's legacy—we discuss that, and his career beyond it.
May 31, 2017, 9:16pm

The WipEout Omega Collection promises the "full throttle return" of the inspired, influential, anti-grav sci-fi racer—a title that, on its original release in 1995, arguably did more to sell the Sony PlayStation in Europe than any other game.

Of the console's launch software, it was the one, next to the likes of Battle Arena Toshinden and Ridge Racer, that both fully embraced the new coolness that Sony was bringing to perceptions of video gaming, and genuinely seemed like nothing we'd ever played before. But when it returns in June 2017, newly slathered in HD shine and engineered to make the most of Sony's PS4 Pro and its 4K visuals, WipEout (which is packed in alongside both HD Fury and 2048) will be missing one vital part of its first-blush appeal: its bespoke CoLD SToRAGE soundtrack.

The name Tim Wright almost certainly won't mean much to gamers who grew up in the 1990s, but that pseudonym absolutely will. As CoLD SToRAGE, the Welsh musician wrote and recorded eight tracks for Psygnosis's futuristic racer. But Tim tells me that timing headaches have seen his contributions stripped from the new collection.

"It's all new music on the collection," he says, "and this was partly down to bad timing in terms of reaching an agreement with Sony. An attempt was made at the last minute to get my remastered music into the game, but it had already gone to beta. So it was all a bit too late, sadly."

You may argue that it doesn't matter too much what music is officially on the "new" game—you can always mute it and race along to whatever sounds take your fancy. And that might well be Tim's original tracks, seeing that they've remained incredibly popular since the first WipEout's release.

Above: "Cairodrome", from the original, 1995 'WipEout'. The track is available on Wright's Slipstream Volume One album.

Find the tracks, like "Cold Comfort", "Cardinal Dancer", "DOH-T" and "Cairodrome" on YouTube, and you'll read comments like "this track is perfection", "this is so fucking timeless", "the only reason I got a PlayStation", and "best soundtrack ever". A mix of nostalgia and appreciation for the fact that these genuinely were some terrific electronica arrangements, produced at a time when acts like The Chemical Brothers and Orbital, The Prodigy and Underworld were becoming bona-fide household names.

"I'm surprised, in a way, at the longevity of the tracks," Tim tells me. "But I know from my own experience that I always have a soft spot for the music I used to listen to on Commodore 64 games, and I still do from time to time. It's a lovely heritage to be part of."

Tim's career as a composer for video games didn't begin and end with WipEout, though, and I was keen to learn more about his experiences before the PlayStation classic, and what he's achieved since. Chances are, you've heard a lot more of his work than you might first think.

'WipEout Omega Collection' screenshot courtesy of Sony.

You were with the Liverpool-based studio Psygnosis for a long time before they produced WipEout. How did you find yourself stepping through the company's doors and ultimately producing soundtracks for so many Amiga games?

Tim Wright: I got into the Commodore Amiga demo scene in the late 1980s with a couple of guys who had formed their own demo group, called Dionysus. Together we created a few demos, among which our most well know was Puggs in Space. We wanted this demo to act as an incentive for a software house to take it on as a full game project. So, armed with the demo, we went to a London computer fair, and made appointments with all the big players at the time. Most people thought it was a fun demo, but not full game material—all aside from Psygnosis, who ironically were based in Liverpool, our hometown!

At the time we got signed up to create the game, the then-director Ian Hetherington took me to one side and said that in addition to the game, he loved my music and would certainly have more work for me going forward. So that was how I managed to get so many music-based gigs for a raft of Psygnosis Amiga games. Right place, right time, with the right creative material I guess!

Never ask a parent to name their favorite child, but of all the Amiga projects you worked on—which covered a range of platform classics like Lemmings, Shadow of the Beast 2 and Bullfrog's Powermonger—which do you consider to be the standout project?

I'd say the one is probably 1994's Magician's Castle. I'd reached the pinnacle of my Amiga mod skills by that point, and I poured a lot of hours into creating the music for that game. Sadly, the company developing it didn't complete the project. I think they got so far behind that Psygnosis pulled the plug on it. A real shame. My co-worker, Mike Clarke, had heard me working on its soundtrack, and he could be very critical, but even he said that I'd created something very impressive. That was a really great affirmation, but it's a shame it never saw the light of day.

Aside from that, I've a soft spot for the soundtrack to 1991's Leander. It's got a lot of acoustic samples, and is very mellow. I've also got to mention the piano-based title music for Agony, which came out the next year. I took a bit of a risk creating that, as nobody was expecting something so "non-electronic" sounding for a game. But as a result, a lot of people fell in love with that track.

Above: Tim's title music for the 1992 Amiga game '[Agony](https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agony(video_game))'._

1990's Lemmings was a huge success for Psygnosis, in the pre- WipEout years. (Side note: it was published by the Liverpool company, but developed by Dundee's DMA Design, who years later would go on to create Grand Theft Auto.) I played it to death on my old Amiga 500. It was just so big, so popular. What do you remember about composing for the game?

Lemmings was a nightmare to compose for. I had very little time, and virtually no memory to work with. I had to reuse samples between songs, and only had three channels. To add to that, I was forced to use a music sequencer that I'd not used before, and was told I couldn't use any "fancy commands in the sequencer". It really had to be melody driven, with very little production value.

So yeah, it was a challenge in that sense. But I think there's maybe one or two songs in there that I'm happy with—the others, though, were so rushed. I've since made remixes of some of them, and they're far closer to what I was thinking I'd have liked them to sound like, back in the day.

WipEout , though, was bigger still. As I remember it, at least, it really "made" the PlayStation in the UK. Did you feel, working on that project, that it was building into something special, and perhaps something rather timeless?

At the time, when we started, it was essentially "just another game". But a few months into the project, I began to realize that it was beginning to really ooze coolness, with this really simple but rewarding gameplay, and the aesthetic input from The Designers Republic really gave it a look and feel that was quite different to anything else out there. And this became even more evident when I saw the advertising that was created for the game, pushing the whole club culture side of things.

So, yeah. I'd say by the time I was halfway through composing the music, and I was getting such great responses from the rest of the development team, I began to feel we'd created something rather special.

What advantages did working on the PlayStation provide you, over your previous Amiga work?

The music for original PlayStation games could largely be full-quality CD audio—the Amiga, obviously, couldn't do that. In some cases, though, the PlayStation would be unable to hit those levels of quality—and in extreme cases, where the CD drive was spooling data, we had to resort to mod tracker type music, but that wasn't very often.

Prior to the PlayStation's launch, my only dabblings with full-on CD audio for games was on the Sega Mega-CD—I created a full orchestral score for a game called No Escape. (The game was ultimately cancelled for the Mega-CD, but did release on Mega Drive/Genesis.) My first CD audio music for PlayStation, pre- WipEout, was for Krazy Ivan, although that came out after WipEout in the end. It was all very industrial electronica, and I moved from that project immediately onto WipEout.

'WipEout Omega Collection' screenshot courtesy of Sony.

Prior to WipEout, you were credited on games under your real name. So, what changed? Why the switch to CoLD SToRAGE?

Yes, CoLD SToRAGE was created purely for the WipEout music. I had a graphic artist working on the game, Lee Carus—who incidentally was also the artist from Dionysus—create a logo for me, and he made it with small "o"s, so that part of the name wasn't really my idea, it was Lee's. But I kinda liked it, so I went with it—and it helps to set me apart from freezer manufacturers. This is a surprising area of confusion, as I get tweets directed at me from people who shop at a chain of frozen food wholesalers based in Singapore.

I've never looked back and wished that I'd kept the music credited as "Tim Wright". I'm really proud of what I've achieved under the CoLD SToRAGE brand, which has grown with another logo, this time created by a long-time artist friend of mine, Steve Pick. He developed the "head" logo I have now, which has since been on jackets, hoodies, mugs, and so on.

You left Psygnosis in 1997 to form Jester Interactive. What happened that made you want to stretch yourself with another developer, one that you were now an actual founder of?

Jester came along around the time I realized that Psygnosis couldn't keep bumping up my salary as a musician. They wanted me to move into management, to use the skills and experience I had to run future projects. But I had no real desire to do that, because I loved writing music so much. So Jester, really, was something that just came along at the right time.

My brother, Lee, was working for a business software company in north Wales. They'd just completed a great deal, and had some money to invest in something. Lee suggested to his boss that computer games might be a good idea, and that I'd be a good brain to pick about how to go about it.

So, I began as an unpaid advisor, but soon became a guy they got in to actually set it all up. Psygnosis were sad to see me go, but I continued to work for them in a freelance capacity, on projects like WipEout Pure and Tellurian Defense. I worked with other developers, too, making games for Sony platforms, like Just Add Water's Gravity Crash.

Related, on THUMP: 'MUSIC 2000' Was the Greatest (and Only) Way to Produce Jungle on Your PlayStation

While the name Jester might not set bells ringing in the memories of PlayStation owners from back when, MUSIC just might. I can't begin to tell you how much fun I had, several friends too, playing around with the music generator that Jester put out for the PlayStation, back in 1998, and then the year after with MUSIC 2000. Had that kind of project, this create-your-own-tracks software, been a long-term ambition of yours?

In a way, it was. When I was a teenager, there was a guy who had a four-track cassette tape-based recorder. It used a standard cassette, which has two stereo tracks if you think about it, the A and B sides. So the four-track would record four mono tracks on each of these available slots, and sometimes at double-time, too, to increase the quality of the recording.

Now, this guy would sometimes let me use it, when he wasn't in a grump. And these things were costly back in the day. I always thought how great it would be if everyone could have access to that kind of tech, cheaply. Many years later, we had a console that was in so many homes, and for the price of a video game we could give people something approaching a small recording studio in their home. And one that was easy to use, and to learn with, and would produce reasonable results.

Today, it's very humbling when I hear that producers have cut their teeth on MUSIC, and are now experiencing success. Likewise, I've been told many times that people got into electronica, or trance music, after hearing my music for WipEout—that they started composing their own stuff as a direct result of playing the game. When I get sent covers of my music, which can sometimes be very accomplished and impressive, it's always very flattering. It's deeply humbling that my musical "babies" and products have brought so much creative inspiration to so many. It's mind blowing, really.

You're in Switzerland right now, working full time over there. But would you break what's, I guess, a hiatus from writing game music, if the right project came along?

Sure, if the right game came along. Like you say, I've been on a break for the past three years, concentrating on my own musical projects and working full time for a company called Numfum GmbH, and I also run Tantrumedia. But if the right game came along, that I could sink my teeth into…

And no, I don't cost a fortune. I always keep my music rights. I own all my music, even the tracks I composed at Psygnosis, so I can reap rewards outside of a game, too. So I guess if someone has the right project, getting in touch is easy—just use the email address on my official website.

Tim Wright Illustration by Dan Evans.