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Best Of 2020: How RoboCop’s Epic Game Boy Theme Tune Lives On, 30 Years Later

© Nintendo Life

Over the holiday season we’ll be republishing a series of Nintendo Life articles, interviews and other features from the previous twelve months that we consider to be our Best of 2020. Hopefully, this will give you a chance to catch up on pieces you missed, or simply enjoy looking back on a year which did have some highlights — honest!

This interview was originally published in June 2020.

While video game music has become more and more popular as the years have rolled by, there once was a time when it was seen as an afterthought; the tunes that accompanied the titles we played on our home computers and consoles were often there simply to avoid us having to listen to complete silence.

In the ’80s and ’90s, the audio hardware inside many home systems was crude to say the least, yet a few true pioneers managed to utilise these humble tools to create songs which have long outlasted the games they were attached to in terms of adoration and fame. One such tune is the title theme to the Game Boy version of Ocean’s RoboCop, which hit stores shelves in 1990. This surprisingly melancholic tune has developed a life of its own over the decades, seeing use in commercials, viral videos and even a rap song.

Keen to know a bit more about the music, we were lucky enough to speak to its composer, Jonathan Dunn, about his career in games and how he came to create one of the most iconic pieces of chiptune music ever written.

Nintendo Life: Can you give us a little background on how you became involved with writing music for video games?

Jonathan Dunn: Like a lot of youngsters at the time, I was obsessed with computers. It was a time when Commodore 64s and Sinclair Spectrums were everywhere. My first computer was actually a Dragon 32, but I only kept it for about a year. I was too jealous of all the games being released on the other computers so I sold it and replaced it with a Commodore 64. I used to sit for hours at a time teaching myself to program; Basic at first, then later assembly language. I was also interested in music. I had a synthesizer and had taken music lessons for a few years so I had a good basic knowledge of music theory; it seemed obvious for me to combine the two.

I was at college studying performance music and technology, which was a brand new course at the time, when I entered a music competition in Zzap 64! Magazine. I came second but it was the start of something and I began to get random phone calls from hacking groups from all over Europe. I don’t know how they managed to track me down but I started sharing my compositions under the name of ‘Choroid’. I released my first commercial music for a game with Hugh Binns, someone I met on Compunet, an early online system for the C64. The game was called Subterranea and was released on the Hewson Rack-It label. It was the first time I realised that I could make money from doing something that I loved.

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