Tim Wright aka CoLD SToRAGE struck gold with his dance tracks for the iconic 1995 racer, before going on to make music creation titles like Music 2000/MTV Music Generator that inspired many.
By Thomas Quillfeldt
Seminal futuristic racer Wipeout — often styled wipE'out'' — first released in 1995 as the shiny, newfangled CD-ROM format was becoming more widespread in gaming. Although multi-platform on PC and SEGA Saturn, Wipeout became emblematic of the new, more mature-branded Sony PlayStation. Sony’s marketing team in Europe specifically aimed to appeal to young adults, tapping into club culture and emphasising driving and fighting titles to differentiate the PlayStation from Nintendo and SEGA consoles.
Style was everything. To achieve Wipeout’s techno-futuristic aesthetic, UK developer Psygnosis collaborated with Keith Hopwood and The Designers Republic on the look and marketing. Bold logos, colour palettes, and fonts contributed to the game’s distinctiveness and success in the market.
Music was also a crucial component. While certain territorial versions of Wipeout featured licensed music by electronica acts Leftfield, The Chemical Brothers, and Orbital, the soundtrack was ultimately helmed by young Welsh video game composer Tim Wright under the alias CoLD SToRAGE. The nom de plume was adopted so that it sat more comfortably beside the exotic names of the licensed acts compared to his relatively mundane given name. The lower case o’s were the doing of Lee Carus, a Psygnosis artist trying to match the odd cases in The Designers Republic main game logo.
Tim Wright in 1998: “I'd just started work on MUSICtm at Jester Interactive, working in a custom built studio in the Port of Liverpool Building.”
What Wright did next was arguably at least as culturally influential as Wipeout. After parting ways with Psygnosis, he worked on the 1998 music-making software MUSIC: Music Creation for the PlayStation. This was succeeded by Music 2000 / MTV Music Generator and, further down the line, he contributed to the eJay series. Some of the most influential producers working in commercial music today have cited these accessible titles as important steps in their creative journeys.
In November 2023, Lapsus Records released wipE'out'' - The Zero Gravity Soundtrack — featuring remastered, repackaged, and remixed versions of Wright’s original music. Digital and physical product details can be found at the CoLD SToRAGE Bandcamp page, alongside new apparel designs (other outlets are also carrying the vinyl.)
We spoke to the composer as he reflects on 30+ years since Wipeout’s release.
A mercenary gamer
Unlike today’s relatively similar devices and vast digital stores, the 1990s was a time of marked differentiation between machines themselves, and between categories of hardware: PC, consoles, arcade, and handheld.
As a young gamer though, Wright wasn’t choosey about platforms: “I was never really an exclusive fanboy of any one particular brand. Growing up, I started with a very basic GRANDSTAND 2000 tennis/Pong machine, and then an ATARI 2600 (VCS). Through a twist of fate, I was going to get an Acorn Computers BBC Model B as my first home computer, but stocks were sorely limited as they were supplying schools before retail so we went with a Commodore VIC20. There then followed the C64 and the AMIGA — a Commodore user almost by mistake really.”
As with many game composers, this exposed Wright to music tracker programmes and the demoscene, where creators and teams would attempt to outdo each other through audio-visual computer creations. It was that demoscene involvement that directly led to his opportunity with Psygnosis, thanks to the Puggs In Space demo.
“I was very much a home computer user rather than a console fan, although I did enjoy my ATARI Lynx handheld while travelling. I was happy to simply use whichever hardware gave me what I was looking for — very mercenary!”
Secret style sauce
The story of Wipeout’s development and, notably, its marketing has been frequently covered. One of the most remarkable aspects of the game was its aesthetic cohesiveness.
Wright comments: “I believe the chef's secret sauce here was manifold. Those responsible for designing the game had a clear vision of what it should look like. This included the in-house 3D artists; the concept visuals; and The Designers Republic’s unique and futuristic stylings in creating the original Wipeout logo and fonts, along with other icons, logos, and cover artwork.
Wright continues: “When you add cutting-edge electronic music — and a sprinkling of Red Bull advertising — you have a believable world in which these race teams could easily be a future version of Formula 1 racing.
“Psygnosis' marketing department also had a solid vision about how far they should go with the advertising. Some of it was really brutal, and not in keeping with previous PlayStation marketing. It was also aimed squarely at clubbing.”
Perhaps the most notorious example of marketing was the double page magazine advert featuring two women laid back with bleeding noses (including a very young Sara Cox.) Voletic hosts the disturbing image, with the feature including a comment from a member of The Designers Republic at the time, Ian Anderson, that the poster was about ‘speed’, however someone might interpret that.
The pitch perfect marriage of design and music exemplified by the Wipeout series is something that Wright sees in plenty of modern titles. “Taking into account successful games from different genres, I think it's fair to say that games with [strong] creative cohesion are quite commonplace nowadays. It's probably easier to name games [that failed on this front.]”
He cites various examples, including Cyberpunk 2077, World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Overwatch, and The Legend of Zelda. “All these games and more seem to be successfully immersive and nothing really jars.”
Wright isn’t sure a platform-holder will be able to grab young people’s attention in quite the same way: “My gut tells me that the youth of today are more interested in an experience than a branded item. What it can do for them, rather than who manufactured it. Some hardware manufacturers try to stand out by way of special peripherals rather than their core hardware being unique.
“All that said, software pricing models, DLC, and in-product purchases play a bigger part these days, so the emphasis is largely on the software rather than the hardware. There are fewer hardware exclusive titles too, with many games being available on all the key platforms, so maybe that era [of gaming hardware differentiation] has passed.”
Limitations breed dance music
So the story goes, Wright wasn’t at all familiar with either clubbing or the popular strains of trance, techno and rave music in the early-to-mid-1990s (Waypoint - “Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater Exposed Millions to Punk. Wipeout Did the Same for Rave”.) To correct for this, his Psygnosis colleagues took him clubbing in order to open his eyes and ears to UK club culture and the music at the heart of it.
The project required a shift of mindset, as Wright learned about the protracted structure of dance music, spreading musical elements more thinly over 5-6 minutes (a typical Wipeout race) compared to more densely built-up Amiga/computer game music.
Wright remained at a disadvantage compared to the producers riding the rave wave. “In terms of the sounds and percussion that I felt would be necessary to make convincing music, I didn't have the equipment to produce those natively. For example, I didn't have access to 808 and 909 drum machines or the TB-303 for bass sounds that were very popular for the more Acid House-type tracks of the time. Sure, I wasn't really trying to compose Acid House, but those machines were still used a lot in various forms of electronica. I also didn't have access to a vast array of licence-cleared vinyl either.”
“This meant that I leant heavily on various sample CDs, something that was becoming more and more popular as a quick route to giving your music a certain vibe. Ultimately, the music I composed for Wipeout would blend sounds from sample CDs with 8-bit AMIGA samples, JD800 synth sounds, and various sounds from Korg synths too — a real hodgepodge. That’s probably why my music for the game sounded somewhat unique for the time. That, and I was creating my own take on what I thought trance, techno, acid, and/or drum'n'bass sounded like.”
Wright did enjoy one advantage. During Wipeout production, Psygnosis — flush from Sony placing a bit bet on the developer — moved to Wavertree Technology Park in Liverpool. Here, a custom audio studio was installed with the two in-house musicians (Tim Wright and Mike Clarke) able to pick out new gear, including a mixer and synthesizer.
Returning to Zero Gravity
Part of the rationale of the 2023 release wipE'out'' - The Zero Gravity Soundtrack was to give Wright’s original tracks the ‘respect they deserve’. Cutting edge producers including Kode9, μ-Ziq, Brainwaltzera, Simo Cell, Wordcolour, James Shinra, Surgeons Girl and Dattassette have been tapped to provide remixes with a modern spin.
Wright says: “The project came about after I was approached by Lapsus Records to release my Wipeout music on vinyl. At first, I wasn't sure if it was going to be something worth doing — whether there would be enough interest. Eventually, after a little badgering, I decided ‘why not?’ If it were to sell only a few units then at least my music would see the light of day on vinyl, and that would be enough to make it worthwhile. (Somewhat of a self-serving attitude, haha!)
“But after interacting with Lapsus for a few months, I realised they were taking this project very seriously, with a multiple disc release and some top-notch musicians and producers creating fresh takes on my music. That made it an even more exciting prospect. I’m delighted by how much work the label has put into the release schedule and promotion.
“We first started talking in late 2020, so it's certainly not been rushed in any way. It's been carefully planned and executed.
“The remixes were proposed by Lapsus, who had access to/relationships with the artists. Once the roster was confirmed, I provided as much source material as possible in terms of original masters, MIDI files, samples and even stems from re-workings I'd personally created over the years. This meant the remixers had as much raw material as possible to work with. Sadly, I didn't have the foresight to record the individual stems back in the mid-90s, but I did at least have MIDI data and some of the core samples I used. As it turned out, it was more than enough to allow these super-exciting remixes to come to life.”
“The clothing was another thing that I wasn't expecting at the outset, and although I've dabbled in producing clothing in the past, I've not really done much recently. I have a few friends and fans who can't wait to wear the t-shirt when it arrives!
“As for other projects, I'm actually still looking back across time, and finally getting old music up onto the streaming services, with games such as Krazy Ivan, Colony Wars and Tellurian Defence to name just three.”
Positive feedback loop
Wright is thrilled by the recent interest in his music, which includes club remixes and a new generation discovering Wipeout for the first time. “I've always had a reasonably strong core following for my music, ever since each game I worked on was launched. These people have stuck with me over the years as I've released more game music and personal albums too.
“As more people get into digital archaeology, and run console emulators on dedicated hardware or use software emulators, it breathes new life into these old games. People want to know more about the people behind the development. That extends to the music too, so people are re-discovering my music by playing the games, and to an extent from other musicians who have taken to re-working old game music and posting videos online. Some of these re-workings have been very impressive, and it's massively flattering to hear someone else's take on your work. It not only keeps the original music alive, but it means a fresh audience is building memories around the old and new versions of the tracks. I feel quite privileged and humbled.
Music. For the masses
At the time of writing, we live in a world where Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software is plentiful and widespread, e.g. GarageBand, Pro Tools, Ableton Live, and many more. While several DAWs existed in 2000, they tended to be targeted at audio professionals working in studios; although there was some democratisation of music software prior to this with the MIDI programming tools and music trackers of the Amiga era.
From c. 1998-2004 Wright was co-founder and creative director of Jester Interactive, and designer of the MUSICtm software line including MUSIC: Music Creation for the PlayStation and Music 2000 (MTV Music Generator) for the PlayStation. Wright explains: “The goal… was not only to kickstart a new company, but also to give as many people as possible access to a simple-to-use bit of software. They could then create music demos and maybe find a career in music, whether as a recording artist, a game musician, or even just backing tracks to play in pubs and clubs.
“Then, of course, there was [what I suspect was] the mainstay of users [of MUSICtm titles], who simply enjoyed being able to create music for the sheer joy of it, as a hobby, with no real burning desire to go much further. It ticked a lot of boxes. Including the later eJay titles on PC that I also designed, I think I more than achieved my goals — and then some. There are millions of people worldwide who have used one or more of these products, either as a bit of fun, a hobby, or actually for music that was commercially released, so I have to be proud of what we achieved as a team in developing these titles. The legacy continues too... as some people are re-discovering these titles and playing with them again.”
Big name producers including Lex Luger have cited some of the MUSICtm products as helping them get their start (at 11:40 of this Noisey documentary, Hudson Mohawke can be seen firing up one of the PS1 titles.)
Wright enthuses: “There's a [long] list of people who began their career, or certainly used the MUSICtm-style products as a stepping stone to greater things. It made quite an impression in the UK Grime and Garage scene. It's deeply satisfying to know that the tools we put out there were not only entertaining, but also enabled some people to begin successful careers and make their dreams a reality.
“It's also fair to say that I wouldn't create a product I don't use myself. I've released albums created using MTV Music Generator and Techno eJay, and even used them for other projects back in the day. I occasionally drag them out of retirement to have a play around, and it's a nice journey back down memory lane.”
There’s a mixed bag of games and software over the years that have similarly attempted to make music creation accessible and fun. Wright comments: “I recall games like Ecco the Dolphin and Vib-Ribbon being thin on the ground, initially. Eventually we got the likes of Rock Band, beat-matching games, and products like Let's Sing. It's true that these don't encourage music composition per se, but there's still a reasonably rich selection of music-based games [out there.]”Tim Wright aka CoLD SToRAGE is a video game composer — coldstora.ge | coldstorage.bandcamp.com | Spotify artist page: open.spotify.com/artist/1TvILK3irgzmT4GzOBBrmY