Saturday, July 18, 2020

Dave Rogers

Dave Rogers is one of my favourite musicians who I've enjoyed listening to over the decades. However, that's quite an odd statement when you consider his name is credited on only three Atari ST games (chip). Well, I don't care about quantity because I could never forget my first Atari ST Christmas when I booted up Zynaps and Rana Rama. What a magical moment in time it was hearing these tunes!!

So, with only three chiptunes under his belt, how could I possibly say that Dave Rogers holds this accolade? Easy, because quality reigns over quantity and I've never stopped enjoying his work for over 3 decades. So he must have done something right?

Okay, back when I was running with the Super Pack feature, I got the notion to contact Dave after reviewing the *legend* that is Zynaps - a fantastic and underrated shooter with a massive learning curve. Yep, it takes no prisoners but the rewards are great if you put the time into beating its cruel nature. Which is just what I did - check out my video (which features all Super Pack games).

Well, knock me sideways because Dave replied and kindly took the time to answer a few questions. It was interesting chatting with the guy I've admired for decades and, like me, he's a northern lad. Talk about win-win! My sincere thanks to Dave for taking the time to be interviewed and I'll try my best to forgive your Mac hatred ;-)


Tell us about yourself...

The first computer I wrote music for was the Amstrad, using the basic sound command in Locomotive Basic and later I used my own compilers and drivers. For Spectrum and Atari ST games, the music and sound were not written on the machines themselves but were written on the Amstrad and the data was ported across. So, for example, the ST version of Zynaps uses the same sound data as the Amstrad version with a different driver.

I worked entirely from home (I had no choice really, due to some health problems at the time). I never met any other programmers, or anyone in the software industry, apart from two local guys here in Liverpool - Colin Hogg, who later founded The Code Monkeys software house, and Paul Kenny, who worked with me on the Sega.

What hardware was used?

This is quite the list: ZX81 and extras, Amstrad CPC 464, Amstrad disc drive, Dragon32, Spectrum 48k, Spectrum +3, Atari ST, Atari monochrome monitor, Atari disc drive, Sega Megadrive, Gameboy, custom electronics to interface the latter two, PC. I have never owned or used a Commodore 64.

The music compilers, editors and sound drivers for the Amstrad and Spectrum were my own. The driver for the ST was a line-by-line conversion of the Spectrum driver, done by a programmer at Hewson because I was new to the Atari ST and the 68000 (I never found out who did the conversion). The first time I used MIDI was with Cubase on the ST. I very much enjoyed using that setup. The Atari monochrome monitor was very clear, and that early version of Cubase was very simple and intuitive, unlike the cluttered mess that it has evolved into today.

Hang on, did I hear you say MIDI?

I used that Atari setup for doing the Megadrive and Gameboy music (Universal Soldier, Centipede, etc). Everything was written on the Atari ST and tracks were auditioned using sounds from a Korg DW8000 keyboard and a Roland D110 rack module put through a home-made mixer. Then the MIDI stream was converted to data for the Megadrive or Gameboy. Voicings for the Sega's FM sound chip and the Gameboy's sound chip were also done on the ST, using editors and drivers designed by Colin Hogg and myself.

Living the rockstar lifestyle, eh?

Almost everything was composed on guitar, a Gibson SG, but not through an amp. I just played it in a very quiet living room, usually in the small hours of the night when I could think clearly. As the music gradually took shape on the guitar I typed in the notes and durations in the form of plain text into my compiler program.

One note at a time. On a 1 to 10 scale of tediousness, it was an 11.

In your interview with Jason C. Brooke, he describes what sounds like a similar method: giving each note a text label, like "c3" to mean C at the third octave. I think many of us came up with similar methods.

Who inspired you back then?

I can find something to like in almost all genres of music, and from all eras, but particular favourites include XTC, Genesis, Police, It Bites, and Nik Kershaw. I'm always looking around for new stuff, and I'm constantly amazed by the brilliant musicians that can be found on YouTube if you look a bit outside of the mainstream.

However, the music that I always go back to, time and again, is by Tony Banks, both within Genesis and his solo work. Such epic, elegant tracks as Afterglow, Burning Rope, Mad Man Moon. Coincidentally, one of Banks' lesser-known tracks, "Charm", appears to be a nod towards early chip music, including the distinctive sound of fast trills. "Tony Banks - The Fugitive - Charm"

Trills were often used by chip musicians to try and compensate for the severe limitation of having only 3 channels to play with. So if, for example, you had a melody line on channel 1 and wanted to accompany it with a 4 note chord, say Cm7, you could trill between C and G on channel 2, and between Eb and Bb on channel 3. It wasn't a proper chord of course, but by trilling rapidly, at say 25 Hz, it gave a reasonable impression of one.

The only musician I worked with was a friend, Paul Kenny, on the Sega titles. But maybe cross-platform conversions could be thought of as "working with" other musicians? In Ranarama for example, Steve Turner had written an excellent melody line for the Spectrum version of the game, so when I did the ST conversion I followed his melody closely, added an intro, added bass and harmonies, then made a completely new section to lengthen it.

Why only three Atari ST chiptunes?

Well, the ST work only started towards the end of my stint with Hewson. Before that, it was all Spectrum and Amstrad, and after that, it was Sega and Gameboy. So my time writing for the ST was pretty short. Another reason is that I tried to aim for originality. Anything that sounded too much like existing music was thrown away.

Also, there are three tunes that were never used. One of them was my first attempt at the title music for Stormlord, which Raffaele Cecco didn't like, so I had to write another. And I'm glad because the first one was awful!

Looking back...

I'm quite happy with maybe about 70% of my work. Some of it has aged well with me, some has not. I'm still fond of Zynaps. However, a slight annoyance is that some YouTube videos contain glitches and spurious sounds. In this recording, for example, there's a horrible high pitched screech from 1:52 that wasn't in the original. The clean version for comparison can be found at

What's Dave Rogers doing these days?

I've never stopped writing music, but hardly any has been published, just these few on Soundcloud.

I'm currently using a PC (I hate MACs, sorry) running Cubase SX. I know that is out of date, but I'm comfortable with it. The software synths I'm using are similarly outdated, favourites being the Wavestation, Edirol Orchestra and some FM emulators. Inputs are from a Casio MG-510 Midi guitar, and occasionally an Edirol keyboard.

I think it's amazing that there is still so much interest in old computers and the games. Although maybe it's not all that surprising really, because they were a part of people's lives as they were growing up, and those sort of memories do tend to stick around. Anyway, I loved being involved in it, and contributing in some small way to the memories, and I really do appreciate the kind reviews and comments I've received over the years.

Dave Rogers, July 2020, Liverpool


  1. I always find it great to discover people who were behind our favourite games and give them the opportunity to tell us more about the game industry back in the day. Thanks for sharing their thoughts and memories!

  2. All three of these are really great!