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How GoldenEye's composer used tech limitations to create an iconic sound

Veteran game composer Grant Kirkhope dishes on how he found ways to work around tight memory limitations during the N64 days for games like GoldenEye and Banjo Kazooie.
"At the time, we all thought it sounded so terrible, we were like 'People are going to hate us for this!'"

- Grant Kirkhope reflects on how the gibberish words spoken by Banjo-Kazooie characters came to be.

In a recent interview with Game Informer, veteran game composer Grant Kirkhope offers a look at some of the tricks game developers have had to use through the ages in order to overcome technological limitations in past game console generations. 

While modern developers now have more wiggle room when it comes to console development, Kirkhope's stories offer an interesting look at how restrictive limitations can often foster creative solutions and iconic features. 

One trick, he explained, was necessary in order to drop an iconic guitar riff into the opening sequence for the N64 James Bond game GoldenEye. In that situation, memory limitations on N64 carts made it so the Bond theme wouldn’t fit in the game as only one phrase. 

“Memory was so tiny on an 8-megabit N64 cartridge. So, it worked out that the actual Bond theme tune, you could play it from about three phrases,” said Kirkhope. “We cut it, because if we did it as one long phrase, then we couldn’t fit it in the memory. So we cut it into bits, and rearranged it a little bit, so we could play all of it with only two or three samples.”

He detailed how a similar problem led to the creation of the gibberish spoken by characters in Banjo-Kazooie. That process, he said, involved recording single-syllable noises and then tasking the game with picking random pitches and playing them as a character spoke. At the time, the team was convinced that the gibberish language sounded horrible, but it went on to be one of the many things that endeared Banjo-Kazooie to players.

The full interview over at Game Informer is filled with more interesting game development stories gathered in Kirkhope’s 20 years as a video game composer, like a look at his time recording music for Killer Instinct and how he created the background track for the Game Boy title Donkey Kong Land 2.

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