The story of the Retro Game Music Bundle is just as much the story of many lifelong musical journeys.
Every musician is influenced by the works they’re exposed to while growing up, and every musician hopes to one day work with (or jam with!) the heroes of their youth. Everyone on the GMB team is a musician, and the vast majority of us drew our earliest inspiration from video game scores. In those days, music-data had to be heavily optimized in order to fit in small amounts of space, and without realizing it we received our first lessons in counterpoint, mastering, sampling, harmonization, and other concepts that would later form the backbone of serious music educations. Many of us pursued our music studies with the goal of someday composing for video games (at least one of us, GMB founder Josh Whelchel, has already done this).
Throughout the college days and afterward, we maintained close connections to that early music, whether it involved tossing on the Myst soundtrack to help focus our minds for study, blasting some Duke Nukem bootlegs on the way to an audition, or just queuing up the 7th Guest to put a classy - and creepy - spin on a halloween party, the music followed us, continuing to inspire us to get out there and make music of our own.
A while ago, we talked to composer Alex Brandon about putting his Tyrian soundtrack on an upcoming Game Music Bundle, and he suggested that we also reach out to 7th Guest’s composer, George “The Fat Man” Sanger. It was with that conversation that the idea of the Retro GMB was born. We realized that this was our chance to work with many of our composer-heroes and to take our own creation - the GMB - to new heights. We sat down and made a list of the games WE would be excited to see on a retro bundle, and got in touch with the studios responsible. Initially, we half-expected to hear nothing back - Josh was friends with Alex, and Alex was friends with George, but now we were literally sending e-mails to studios like 3D Realms/Apogee, Cyan Worlds and Epic Games out of the blue.
And then we got the first reply - Robyn Miller wanted to know more and to chat on the phone. It was pretty hard to tone down our excitement at just getting to talk to him. We explained the GMB and he said he’d like to think about it. About an hour later, we got another e-mail - and Myst was on board, joining Tyrian and its onetime “rival” game, 7th Guest (which had its sequel, 11th Hour, thrown in to boot!).
We got an affirmative reply from 3D Realms, not only including Duke Nukem 3D, but tons of other classic Apogee games like Wacky Wheels, Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure, and Major Stryker (actually sending us physical copies of the games!). Soon after, we heard back from Epic Games - they were onboard for Jazz Jackrabbit 1 and 2.
There was only one small problem - the soundtracks didn’t exist, and the studios didn’t have any available resources or time to create them. We were pretty bummed, until we realized that our very love of these soundtracks had over the years inspired us to pursue the skills necessary to solve this problem. We’d need to draw on a lifetime’s experience - the memory of hearing those songs for the first time, the physical hardware of our childhoods, and the musical and technical skills gained in school, but we were confident that we could rebuild these and more soundtracks - keeping true to the originals while making them sound crisp, vibrant, and every bit as viable as they were in the old days.
We literally dug into our childhoods, with various team members producing parts - Josh had his actual childhood computer shipped from his dad’s house in Kentucky, along with an old Sound Blaster 16 with an authentic FM chip. Sebastian dug through his old software CDs to find a legitimate copy of Windows ‘95, and Jesse took on the task of getting the former to accept the latter, which involved researching and buying the right model of parallel ATA hard drive off of Amazon (incidentally, you can still buy “new” P/ATA drives). Combined with an old CD-ROM drive that someone had left, literally, on the sidewalk near our office, we had a reasonably well-working sound capture machine.
Most of the games had available audio files, or an audio test mode - one of those things we never really understood when we were younger, but found ourselves profoundly grateful for now. Some of the games had neither, and needed to be played entirely through with the music on and SFX off - Ryland got stuck with that task, and performed admirably. Then, Ryland and Josh mixed and mastered the recordings to bring out their original magic, and our designer, Amanda, created beautiful album art for each game. In the process, the soundtracks were transformed them into professional-quality albums.
Epic Games and 3D Realms signed off on our recreations, and we added them to the bundle. We had created a beautiful collection of the best soundtracks of our childhoods. Still, it felt like it was missing something… Fans of the GMB know that we usually showcase brilliant indie soundtracks from up-and-coming composers. Many of these people are our friends, and we knew that they felt much the same way we did about these albums. In that spirit, we approached 3D Realms one more time and asked if they’d be willing to co-sponsor a Duke Nukem remix album so we could give the remixers and indie composers a chance to show their support, too.
They said yes.
We immediately tapped our friends and fellow fans, asking if they’d like to do their own take on a Duke Nukem track. Unsurprisingly, they were as excited as we were about the project. This might be one of the biggest licensed remix albums out there, with artists including: Hyperduck Soundworks & Stemage, Disasterpeace, Zircon, Tyler Burton, Eirik Suhrke, Kunal Majmudar, Blake Robinson, Whitaker Trebella, Coda & DJ Bouche, Jeff Ball, and Virt. Alex Brandon was so impressed with the idea, he even did one himself!
For a retro bundle, this collection is full of firsts - It’s our first-ever collaboration with long-established studios. We’ve got the first-ever official releases of classic soundtracks like Jazz Jackrabbit 1&2, Duke Nukem 3D, Duke Nukem 2, Cosmo’s Cosmic Adventure, Major Stryker, Shadow Warrior, Star Gunner, and Wacky Wheels. And, of course, the Duke Nukem remix album is like no project we’ve ever undertaken.
We’re immensely proud of this bundle, and truly thankful for all the efforts of the composers, engineers, designers, remixers, and - first and foremost - fans, without whom none of this would have been possible. It’s truly been a lifelong journey, and we’re thrilled to release it to the world.