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Greatest Video Game Composers: Tim Follin

Greatest Video Game Composers: Tim Follin - Article

by Taneli Palola , posted on 12 September 2016 / 10,457 Views

While a small number of video game composers go on to achieve great fame thanks to their work in the industry - and to-date I've only really covered such people - countless others are left with disappointingly little attention. One of those often forgotten great video game composers is Tim Follin. His career was often hindered by the poor quality of the games he composed music for, such that despite his considerable talent as a composer his work is regularly overlooked in favour of other, more famous composers who simply had the good fortune to work on high profile releases.

Follin had very little formal musical education (he left the music college he was studying at after just one year). However, this didn't stop him from embarking on a career as a video game composer in 1985, when he was just 15 years old. His earliest video game soundtracks were for various games on the British home PC called the ZX Spectrum and were developed by Insight Studios.

Most of these games never gained any notable fame or recognition, although Follin's scores for them were regularly singled out for praise. Despite the limitations of the hardware he had to work with, Follin managed to create some excellent pieces of music for games such as Star Firebirds, Vectron, and Sentinel.

Between 1987 and 1988 he somehow created the soundtracks for 16 different video games, most of which were developed for various home computers like the Spectrum or the Commodore 64. But it was in 1987 that he also joined another video game studio called Software Creations as a full-time composer and it was there that he composed his very first NES soundtrack, again for a fairly little known game called Target: Renegade.

Although his work often drew high praise from critics and fans alike, the games themselves were often just ports of games from other platforms, or received otherwise poor reviews. Regardless of the quality of the games, however, Follin was often able to take the hardware he was working with to the absolute limit with his music, and in doing so created some of the most complex pieces of video game music available on those platforms.

Among those were the title theme to Solstice on the NES (see video at the start of this article), which has one of the most complex NES songs ever crafted as its main theme, or the score to the notorious Silver Surfer on the NES, which features some of the best 8-bit music I've ever heard. Both games were released in 1990. Silver Surfer is also the second game in which Tim Follin collaborated with his brother Geoff, who would become a frequent partner of Tim's in the coming years.

Among these collaborations was the home computer version of Gauntlet III, which released in 1991. This also happened to be his final score for a PC title because the European video game market at the time was shifting away from home computers and towards consoles. That same year he worked on a number of NES games such as Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, Treasure Master, and perhaps most notably, The NewZealand Story.

In 1992 Follin moved on to the then rising new generation of consoles, composing music for a pair of SNES games, namely Super Off-Road and Spiderman and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge. The latter was ultimately a fairly mediocre video game that was laden with problems during development, but the score by the Follin brothers was once again one of a mediocre game's clear highlights.

1993 was an unusually good year for Follin, at least as far as the quality of the games he worked on was concerned. Among these were games like Rock'n Roll Racing by Silicon & Synapse (better known as Blizzard Entertainment today), Plok, and Equinox, the sequel to Solstice. All these games featured some excellent music, earning the Follins high praise for their work once again.

However, it was also around this time that Follin began to make a notable shift in his career. He left Software Creations in 1993, then briefly joined Malibu Interactive, before finally becoming a freelancer. Between 1994 and 1995 Follin worked on various different video games, quite a few of which were never released. One of his only notable works around this time was the score for the SNES version of Batman Forever, which was yet another mediocre title that nonetheless featured a very good soundtrack from Follin.

After the mid-90s Follin was suddenly no longer getting any notable projects to work on, and for the rest of the decade would go largely unseen in the industry. Between 1996 and 1999 only three games were ever released that featured contributions by Follin, and of them only one actually featured music composed by him (this being the Game Boy version of WWF War Zone).

Follin would briefly return to prominence in 2000 with the release of Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future on the Sega Dreamcast. He composed all of the game's in-game music, while another composer by the name of Attila Heger created music for the cinematics. The soundtrack was very well received at the time, and for good reason as it contains some of Follin's best ever work. If you can, I strongly recommend listening to the entire soundtrack.

This could have been a turning point in Follin's career but it was not to be. After working on Ecco the Dolphin: Defender of the Future Follin would go on to work only sporadically. Indeed, he wouldn't compose music for another video game until 2003's Ford Racing 2. That same year he did compose music for a Starsky & Hutch video game, which was yet another average title with excellent music, but thereafter Follin only crafted music for a handful of titles, including Future Tactics: The Uprising in 2004 and the PSP port of Lemmings, which was released in 2006.

Follin's career as a video game composer came to a halt in 2005, when he announced that he had decided to stop composing music for video games entirely. This was largely because the work he was receiving as a composer had become highly irregular and failed to provide him with a steady income. He quickly distanced himself from the video game industry, focusing instead on film and television for several years.

He did eventually return to work on video games in 2012, when he began developing his own video game. The game, titled Contradiction: Spot the Liar, was successfully Kickstarted in early 2014 and released in January the following year on iOS and later that year on Steam. As well as composing the game's music Follin also designed the game in its entirety.

 

It's highly unfortunate that such a talented composer's career in the video game industry came to such an unceremonious end in 2005. Follin was one of the most talented video game composers of the 80s and 90s and during this time he created several amazing scores. More than most other composers at the time he was able to push the limits of the hardware on systems such as the Commodore 64 and the NES further than was thought possible.

From the outside at least it appears his career was chiefly marred by his involvement with a large number of sub-standard video games, but regardless of the overall quality of the games Follin always delivered on every single project he worked on, and elevated the games in the process. Even when the number of projects he was hired to work on began to diminish in the mid-90s his work was still excellent.

What are your favourite soundtracks or songs from Tim Follin? Feel free to share them below in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.
 

Sources:
- VGMdb
- MobyGames

 


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6 Comments
Nettles (on 15 September 2016)

Also highly recommend
Bionic Commando (Europe Version) C64, Stage 1
Ghouls n' Ghosts C64

  • +4
shikamaru317 (on 12 September 2016)

Ah yes, Tim Follin, he's pretty cool. I really enjoyed Contradiction, I hope he gets a chance to make a sequel to it.

  • +1
LivingMetal (on 12 September 2016)

I once had the Silver Surfer for the NES. Cool game. But I have a problem with these article titles with "Greatest." Is this the greatest five, the greatest ten, the greatest ever, etc... You keep making these articles, you'll run of "greatest" eventually. "Video Game Composer Spotlight" would have been a better and more appropriate title.

  • 0
Darashiva LivingMetal (on 12 September 2016)

Maybe, but to be honest I'm not even close to running out of composers at this point. Right now I have a list consisting of 15 composers I will be writing articles about, and it will probably keep growing.

  • 0
Machina (on 12 September 2016)

I hadn't heard of him before this article. Was interesting reading about a lesser known composer though.

  • 0
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