Interview: CoLD SToRAGE on the sound of future racing – from Wipeout to Pacer

Future racing has a sound beyond the distinctive hum and whine of antigravity engines. It’s one that thumps, grooves and rumbles its way into your ears before snapping away in your synapses; electronic beats that lie deftly in tune with every drift, chicane, and explosion. This is of course the legacy of Wipeout, the game that defined what future racing looks, feels and sounds like. Sitting at the heart of it was the music of CoLD SToRAGE, an in-house, solo project from musician Tim Wright that stood toe to toe with the Chemical Brothers and wasn’t found lacking. Now future racing is set for a glorious return to centre stage with Pacer, and alongside members of the Wipeout team, CoLD SToRAGE has returned to the genre that they helped define. We were lucky enough to talk to Tim about how it all came about, and about his work on one of the most iconic games of all time.

TSA: How are you doing today?

Tim: Honest answer? Pissed off with Covid-19 and the way it’s screwing with me, my family and the World, but likewise so grateful that to date it’s not affected me as much as it has so many others. I have a bulging disc in my back which means I have numb toes and tingling legs, but other than that I’m in pretty good condition for a 53 year old man! I’m trying to take better care of myself, and make good use of being at home a lot more just now… working on new music and re-working and re-mastering old tracks for release on Bandcamp and Spotify.

TSA: What did being part of the original Wipeout mean to you at the time?

Tim: At the time, it was just another game to work on. There were many great games coming out of Psygnosis ( Sony Liverpool ), and it was fun to work on most of those games. WipEout was a new experience for me, that much is true. I was not a fan of acid house, techno, trance or any form of dance music, and here I was… tasked with providing a load of music for this new game. Not only that, but my stable-mates were Orbital, Leftfield and the Chemical Brothers… no pressure then!

I worked my butt off on that music, and I never really thought I was getting it right… and then one evening, I was stood outside my studio with the door open wide – I always liked to step away from my speakers and hear the music from a distance – and my fellow in-house musician Mike Clarke came over. He said, “Is that your track?”, Yeah…” I replied. “Nice job” he said, nodded and walked off. Mike is not easily impressed, so it was comforting to hear that from him.

Your question asks about being part of the team though… and truth be known, at times I felt like I wasn’t really. I was sat alone in my studio most of the time, and although I’d go down and play the latest build of the game, and chat with the team there was always a bit of distance there, more so because when I was done on WipEout I was moved onto the next game, before WipEout was properly finished.

That’s just how things worked out. Come to think on it, that was actually quite a good thing for me, because if a game did well and you’d worked on it, you were in-line for a bonus in your pay-packet, so as a musician I worked on many games… some didn’t even get out the door, which was tough on the development team that worked on it. But because I worked on so many, my bets were hedged and overall I’d usually make good money from bonuses, but on the flip-side, I never 100% felt like I was at the core of a game’s development. Swings and roundabouts eh?

TSA: Did you know early on just how impactful the game would be, and how important the music would be to its success?

Tim: Not really… not at first. But after it had been out there a month or two, and we saw how much it had changed the perception of gamers… from back bedroom geeks to after-party gamers, it was clear that PlayStation was moving into the living room and even into club lounges. The music side of things, that didn’t really hit home until WipEout 2097/XL, when there was a groundswell of musicians wanting their music in the game. Getting well know artists on board for the first game had been more of a challenge.

TSA: It’s been a few years since you last worked on a game soundtrack, how did your involvement in Pacer come about?

Tim: It had been about 3 or 4 years since I’d been heavily involved in a game soundtrack, and in fact PACER was already a project I’d worked on back in 2015/16, it had just taken some time to really get to the point where I was asked to contribute a lot more. I was originally signed up to just provide a single track, and maybe do some P.R. and even a live appearance on-stage as part of the launch. However, none of that came to pass, and I’d forgotten all about it, until the game was re-branded and I was approached to create more music, in-game stings and sound effects too.

The last game I was really deeply involved with was Gravity Crash by Just Add Water, and in the intervening time I’d concentrated more on my other businesses, whilst still producing audio albums like Ch’illout” and a Shadow of the Beast up-mix album.

TSA: How did it feel returning to a genre that you helped to define?

Tim: I returned to this style with a hint of trepidation. My biggest competitor when it comes to writing music “in the style” is of course me, because new works are always compared to your existing catalogue, and that back-catalogue already has a bunch of memories attached to it. But after I’d gotten over that initial worry, it was fun to just forget WipEout ever existed and just treat it as a brand new game or genre, and a brand new assignment… then I could just get on with it and blue-sky.

TSA: What kind of influences and instruments did you want to draw in this time out?

Tim: I’ve been using Propellerhead ( now Reason Studios ) Reason since version 4.0. I know it like the back of my hand, so it doesn’t get in the way at all – I just use it like a third hand most of the time. I did purchase some new plug-ins recently, so it was fun to try those out in the mix… synths, effects and also so 3rd party VSTs too. But most of the time I find myself going back to firm favourites like the Subtractor Analog synth and just stacking up lots of those to make fat dynamic leads and bass sounds.

One thing I do enjoy doing a lot more these days, is adding noise and distortion to pads and lead sounds, just in a subtle way to give them more bite and top-end… it’s sometimes hardly perceptible, but it adds to the density of the mix. In terms of musical influence, I guess whatever I’m listening to at the time might creep in, but consciously there was nothing that really pushed me in any particular direction.

One thing I didn’t do was, to listen to the other artists first – I didn’t want to try to fit in with some other style, because then why have me on board? Much better that there is a diverse selection of music I think.

TSA: What’s changed for you and your music since the original Wipeout? Has your process changed?

Tim: Oh yes… massively! Back when I was composing the original WipEout tracks, everything was outboard, so a rack of synths, samplers, and mixing everything analogue, and only then finally sampling it digitally.

The fact that I had a finite palette to select from meant that I leant heavily on sample CD collections, to source breakbeats and spot effects.
It’s fair to say, my production skills were pretty basic back then too… I would listen to my tracks and then listen to some music that I liked, or in a similar genre just to see if my music was lacking in bass, compression, top-end, variety and so on. I was pretty cautious and also constantly aware of the other well known acts that I was sharing a virtual stage with, so it was quite an exciting and adrenaline driven time.

Since then, I’ve slowed down with age – as we all do. I’ve become more confident in my mixing skills and also to a degree accepted that things will never be ‘perfect’ they will be what they will be – when you get to the point where you feel the music is telling it’s story in the ‘clearest voice’ it can, then stop.

TSA: How impactful do you think music in games is?

Tim: In general? Well… that a bit of “how long is a piece of string” question. Some in-game music can stir your heart, make you cry, laugh or even get pretty mad!
Some game music is bloody awful ( not often ) and doesn’t suit the game at all. If you mean, do games need music… a kind of Devil’s advocate question, then I’d say that there are games with no music, just as there are films where there is title music, but none within the film, and they still work.

TSA: Beyond Wipeout, which of your game soundtracks did you enjoy working on the most?

Tim: Recently? I would say “Gravity Crash”. I was given a great budget and plenty of time to develop the music and sound effects for that game. I was super proud of the soundtrack and also the additional music I composed for the associated music album – it was great fun to work on too.

TSA: Has working on Pacer reignited a love for game soundtracks? Is there a genre out there you’d still like to tackle?

Tim: I’ve always loved working on game soundtracks… just as much as I do stand-alone music albums, it’s a different challenge, a different mind-set. As for a genre to try, yeah… I’d love to write another soundtrack in a more orchestral style, and maybe something I’ve never done, like Reggae maybe?

A huge thanks to Tim for taking the time to talk about his work. You can check out his latest game soundtrack endeavours in Pacer, which releases on the 29th of October for PS4, Xbox One and PC, or head on over to CoLD SToRAGE’s Bandcamp page to check out some of his incredible portfolio.

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TSA's Reviews Editor - a hoarder of headsets who regularly argues that the Sega Saturn was the best console ever released.