Getting Nerdy about Music

Game composers recycling their own music.

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Let’s say you’re a fairly notable game composer. You’ve worked on some bangers and lesser-known hits. You got a good pedigree of work, and you’re suggested to work on someone’s new game. Life feels good.

Though, sometimes your creativity fails you. You struggle to make a new composition and the game’s about to go gold. So you dig into your back catalog of previous works, adjust the tempo and change a few instruments, and bam, you got a new song.

What do these two games have in common? You’re about to find out.

I call this “Game music recycling.” It’s a phenomenon that has existed for a long time, even outside the video game realm, but I’m particularly interested in the gaming side specifically.

Now I’m gonna lay down some ground rules for this. They’re not particularly complex, but they’re to avoid things that wouldn’t really count. So here they are:

  • The tracks in question have to be in a commercially released game. Bobby Prince released a handful of demos of licensed music for Doom that later got reused in later games, but since those weren’t made to be commercially released, they don’t count.
  • The recycling has to come from the same composer. Tim Follin basically redid the theme to Starsky & Hutch for the NES game Treasure Master, but that’s more of an homage than anything.
  • It has to be a full song. A composer throwing in a jingle from another game they made as a tribute doesn’t really give me much to work with.
  • It must come from different games in different franchises. There will be an exception with this first entry, but this is to avoid the obvious of someone blaming a composer for using the same theme in every game.

For this entry, the recycled music are all from composers based in Europe. American and Japanese composers have done similar recycling, which I’m gonna save for future entries. Let’s get started.

David Wise:

This first one was one I didn’t really know about until someone on Twitter pointed it out fairly recently.

I have never played a Sid Meier game. Basically simulations that require me to complex strategy to succeed really bores me and at times feels like it has too high of a skill ceiling to really enjoy anything out of it. It’s why I’ve never played Civilization. But the original Pirates! seemed to have a modest following, and got ported to a bunch of different systems, including the NES in late 1991.

While it was released on several platforms, there wasn’t a distinct soundtrack for each, thus each version has their own unique set of music. This was ported over by Rare, who pretty much one of several go-to contract developers for NES games throughout the late 80s-early 90s. David Wise, at the time Rare’s sole composer, made a simple little ditty for the game’s main menu as you planned out your pirates story.

Cut to a few years later. Rare works on what is one of the biggest games of the year, Donkey Kong Country. The final boss, King K. Rool, takes place on a giant pirate ship. Naturally, this was the most fitting place to rearrange a small tune made for a port of a Commodore 64 game. While it does borrow part of the melody from the Pirates! tune, it does go off into its own tune after that.

The tune would get a second arrangement in the game’s sequel, Diddy’s Kong Quest. Called Snakey Chantey, the tune is a much more deliberate homage to that specific menu track, this time with a bit more of a jazzy sound to it.

Until I was made aware of this, I only had two entries for this article. I’m a strong supporter of the “rule of threes,” and two just felt too little. Then this started making the rounds, and gave me a third entry, anda  good starting piece. Thanks to TheBalishChannel on Twitter for finding this one.

Richard Jacques:

Jacques is one of my favorite British composers. He’s really good at hitting the style of eurodance and europop in his music, and even did really good orchestral work in Headhunter, which I consider of the more underrated soundtracks of the 2000s.

Sonic 3D Blast on the Saturn was his second game he composed music for — the first being for the lesser known European exclusive game DarXide for the 32X — and rather than arranging the works of Jun Senoue and company from the Genesis original, he went his own unique direction that’s pretty fun and bouncy. Such as this catchy little groove for Green Grove Zone, the game’s starting zone.

A few years later with a few games under his belt, he’s tapped to do music for Metropolis Street Racer, a Dreamcast racing game by Bizarre Creations that would inspire the later Project Gotham Racing games. One of the stations has a track called “It Doesn’t Really Matter,” which reuses the Green Grove track with more of a eurodance vibe, complete with a horn section.

Bonus: TJ Davis, the singer who sung on the songs for Sonic R, also performs on this track. It’s honestly a better portrayal of her singing compared to stuff like Super Sonic Racing. And for the record, I like Sonic R’s soundtrack.

I should give Metropolis Street Racer a try someday, as I enjoyed Bizarre Creations’ other racing games. Never could get to grips with Project Gotham Racing‘s Kudos system, though…

Jesper Kyd:

For those who are only familiar with Kyd’s work with the majority of the Hitman or Assassin’s Creed games, I implore you to listen to more of his earlier work. While working at Zyrinx, he composed several-minute-long tracks for Red Zone and Sub-Terrania. While they aren’t really good games, they’re interesting tech demos with some excellent tunes composed by Kyd.

This is arguably the most interesting one to me. Spinner, a track that plays on the overworld before going into bases in Red Zone, got remade not once, but twice. The first time was in A.M.O.K., a game I hadn’t really heard of, but from what footage I’ve seen looks like a decent little mech shooter. Spinner got recycled into a different track, used in the game’s first mission. It sounds drastically different than Spinner, having more of a MOD Tracker sound to it. It’s fitting considering Kyd’s history in being in the demoscene.

But it doesn’t end there. In what would be his fourth (and to date, final) contribution to the Hitman franchise, he went back to that track once more, keeping the slow tempo of the arrangement from A.M.O.K. but replacing it with a live orchestra and choir accompaniment. It plays in a handful of spots, including a later portion of the mission Flatline.

Knowing that this tune started as a complex tune to stretch the limits of the Yamaha YM2612 sound chip and would later bloom to being performed by a full orchestra is pretty mind-blowing, to be honest. You usually don’t see that unless you’re doing orchestrations of video game tunes as an homage or something. It’s pretty cool.

Now keep in mind, I do not think this is a bad thing. Sometimes it takes multiple tries before you get something right, and if you’re a composer you can only make so many unique tunes. It’s not surprising to take a few previous ideas and twist them around to make something new. I don’t see it as being lazy or anything like that. In fact, I find it fascinating that people, myself included, were able to find repeats of the same tunes.

Do you know of any other notable game music recycling? Throw some suggestions in the comments, perhaps we’ll find enough to make a volume two soon enough. I do certainly have some ideas for future entries.


One comment Game composers recycling their own music.

ThreeLetterMax says:

Ooooh this is always a fun thing to find out more about. I know of a couple more which you may or may not have heard already.

Bad Boss Boogie, by Graeme Norgate. First used as a boss theme in Donkey Kong Land
Then again for the “Show us whatcha got!” stages in Blast Corps.
Interestingly enough, when Rare re-released a bunch of their games as Rare Replay on the Xbone, they had to scrub all references to Nintendo, and this track got replaced in the process.

There’s an interesting example too of a track by one composer being borrowed for a different game by a DIFFERENT composer as well.
Comic Bakery on the C64 had this excellent track by Martin Galway.
Which got refitted as THIS track by Jonathan Dunn on the NES and Game Boy versions of Jurassic Park.
I’m curious to know how this ended up happening, but since both composers worked for Ocean, who developed both games, it was probably just a simple matter of “Mind if I swipe this?” “Aye, go for it.”

And since you mentioned Tim Follin, pretty much the entire soundtrack he did for Starsky and Hutch was reused the same year as the “funk” tracks in Ford Racing 2.

I’ve seen a few examples of tracks in unreleased games finding use in finished games too. Graeme Norgate found a place for an unused Perfect Dark track in Timesplitters 3. Funky’s Flights in DKC is an unused Killer Instinct track by Robin Beanland, and Grant Kirkhope has been popping tracks from Project Dream into everything from Banjo to DK64 to Viva Pinata, but I suppose they all fall foul of the Gotta Be Commercially Released rule.

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