It’s now become somewhat of a Halloween tradition on New Game+ to publish a new piece on MediEvil every year or so. Two years ago, I featured the original PlayStation title in our reflective Retro Reviews series, accompanied by an interview with game director Chris Sorrell on his process of working on the series. Fast forward a year and I ended up reviewing the remake for Bloody Disgusting, where I called it “recapturing a magic of ‘90s game design that still has a place in the current gaming atmosphere”.
For this year’s festivities, I sat down for a chat with Paul Arnold and Andrew Barnabas – collectively known as Bob & Barn – the two composers responsible for the hauntingly magical soundtrack that MediEvil fans have grown up with over the years.
“MediEvil was a very big departure for us because it was the first time we’d ever been given film scores as references for the game,” says Andrew Barnabas, better known as Barn. “That was largely the brief because the visual style of the game was pitched as Ghosts N’ Goblins meets Tim Burton.”
“It was very clearly defined by the look and feel of The Nightmare Before Christmas, so it made sense to follow the musical style of that film,” Paul Arnold, also known as Bob, agrees. “We got a copy of the soundtrack and some other bits and bobs by Danny Elfman and we just spent some time listening and analysing what he did musically. What he did with the harmony, what he did melodically, things like that. And we just tried to make some mental notes ourselves for how to emulate that kind of stuff.”
“Then we just started writing. It was never meant to be a full on pastiche or soundalike of Elfman’s music. It was inspired by it but was still original music. We didn’t spend a lot of time listening to it afterwards, we just got in and started writing. And we found as we went along, we got better and started to find our own voice and our own way of doing things.”
Due to the technical limitations of the PlayStation hardware, each music track for MediEvil and its sequel was recorded using electronic tools and were added to the game as non-interactive MIDI files. “We had to set up a virtual orchestra that made it sound as realistic as possible,” says Bob. “We used a synthesiser and sampler, and they had a very good mixing desk and a full Pro Tools rig at the time, which would be rubbish by today’s standards, but at the time it was all very cutting edge.”
“We followed the process of panning all the instruments into the right positions, adding the correct amount of reverb for their position on stage, whether they were the percussion who sit more at the back with more reverb than, say, the violins who would sit right at the front. And this way, you can create a reasonably realistic soundstage for the orchestra, even though none of it is live.”
With a moderate budget and generous deadlines, it was the perfect setup for the duo to move forward with the recording, but there was one huge production problem that prevented Bob & Barn from being able to visualise how MediEvil’s auditory experience would mix with the rest of its components.
“This was a whole new thing for the Sony Cambridge team because I’m pretty sure it was everyone’s first 3D game,” says Barn. “I mean, how easily can you translate these wonderfully detailed, beautiful pictures that Jason Wilson drew into the low polygon, limited spec visuals that you got on the PlayStation? Bob and I would be there about to write a MediEvil tune, and the downside was that none of the levels were finished and we couldn’t look at any of them for inspiration of how the theme for the level should sound.”
“It was the same with the gameplay, it was so unfinished. None of the animations were there, and you can’t get a sense for the urgency or suspense of a scene when you see a 3D character in a T-Pose standing with its arms in their being flown around a level. All you can really do is talk about the vibe and say ‘Okay, The Enchanted Earth looks different from The Graveyard, and The Hilltop Mausoleum looks different to The Sleeping Village.’ At that point, I’m not even sure if we actually chose which theme went where. We just wrote a track and thought ‘That sounds good, it could go there.’”
Modders who have been able to access the data on the original MediEvil disc have been able to confirm this, with each music track having a random file name that does not correspond to the correct level in which it appears.
The series went on a short break after the release of MediEvil II in 2000 but would be given a new chance at life with 2005’s MediEvil: Resurrection. Here, there was a dramatic change in the way Bob & Barn would record the score.
“We worked with a live orchestra during Primal and Resurrection, and it was the first time we’d ever gone through the process of orchestration,” Bob says on the challenges of adapting the music in a brand new process. “We had a fantastic conductor named Nic Raine who took the notes we’d written in MIDI and put them on the page so it was easy to read, and it all made sense. What started off as just the two of us soon became a team of people, and we realised how much of a collaboration the process was, from every single musician, to the recording engineers and the editor. It was a huge team of people involved in producing the final product.”
MediEvil then went on another, much longer break after Resurrection. Bob & Barn continued working together after leaving Sony, earning credits in games such as Brink, Neverwinter Nights 2, and Forza Motorsport 4, as well as branching out to film and television. It wasn’t until MediEvil was remade for a second time in 2019 that fans got to experience a much closer re-interpretation of Sir Dan’s adventure.
In adapting the classic soundtrack into fresh new pieces for the remake, Bob & Barn aimed to respect the legacy they had originally created by keeping the sounds as close as possible that fans would remember. If you play the remake from cover to cover, you’ll recognise all the familiar themes of each level exactly as you remember, but with some additional bells and whistles that make them pop out more with greater depth.
One such way the music had to be adjusted was down to the extra capabilities the PlayStation 4 had compared to the original console. Bob & Barn were now able to create music that was dynamic and interactive, meaning there would be subtle differences in the way the music was presented depending on how much health Dan Fortesque had, or having it change depending on the part of the level the player was in. And one of the greatest struggles the musicians faced was ensuring they could do this without swerving too far away from those original sounds that would upset the fans.
“We had people saying to us ‘Don’t touch it. Don’t mess with it. Don’t mess with it.’ It’s quite sweet because they told us; ‘You’re the only guys who could do this. No one else could do a MediEvil score. You know, it’s got to be you both,’” says Barn.
“I’d say on the whole it’s been well received,” Bob assures. “We’ve had some lovely comments from fans who made the effort to find us, either at various functions or on our Facebook page. As Barn said, you can’t please all the people all of the time, and there are those who really liked the music being more like wallpaper.”
Even while typing this up, I’ve got specific tracks from MediEvil bouncing around my head. I’ve always loved the chaotic nature of the Scarecrow Fields theme, it acting as a companion to Dan’s first foray outside of Gallowmere’s necropolis. As a lifelong MediEvil fan, I, too, was holding my breath to see how well Bob & Barn would deliver on the remake’s soundtrack, but I think they hit the nail on the head. Nearly every track on there is incredibly familiar, and yet they also brought a huge degree of modernity and innovation to them to still give them a new personality.
The only way to officially own the soundtrack for MediEvil (2019) is to buy the Digital Deluxe Edition on PlayStation 4 and download it that way. Plans for a wider release are still ongoing, including having the album appear on digital streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes, as well as a vinyl copy for fans of that format. You can, however, still buy CD copies of the MediEvil: Resurrection Original Soundtrack directly from Bob & Barn’s website.
On the subject of whether there was another installment of MediEvil on the way, they couldn’t tell me, but I’ll put any amount of money on their strong commitment to the series being a lifelong one.