VGM Entry 51: Neil Baldwin


VGM Entry 51: Neil Baldwin
(Thanks to Tish at FFShrine for the banner)

Who was Neil Baldwin? I have yet to even mention Neil Baldwin. In fact, I never even saw his name until quite recently, by a total accident of chain-clicking vaguely related youtube videos. It must be a gross oversight on my part. There’s no excuse for having missed Neil Baldwin.

I mean, his earliest works, like Shadow Skimmer (The Edge, 1987), might have been easily overlooked. They were fairly decent, but not groundbreaking in any sense, and in the glory days of Commodore 64 music ‘pretty good’ wasn’t going to stand out. Neil Baldwin was just learning the ropes in the late 80s, with the works of Rob Hubbard and Martin Galway serving as his main inspirations. His real legacy began when, much like Tim Follin, he brought the techniques of Commodore 64 composition to the NES.

And much like Tim Follin, he put 90% of Nintendo composers to shame. Magician (Taxan), released for the NES in 1990, was the first game by British developers Eurocom. It was also Neil Baldwin’s first NES composition. It sounds more advanced than nearly anything else on the system.

What exactly distinguishes it–how Neil Baldwin (and Tim Follin) were capable of producing such better sound quality on the NES than indigenous composers with no Commodore 64 background–is technical and way beyond my understanding. But thankfully, those explanations have already been made. See, Baldwin did that one thing that we all wish every video game composer would do, and which hardly ever actually happens.

He went back and wrote about his own compositions in long, thorough detail, and provided mp3s of the lot of them.

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How cool is that? It would be kind of silly for me to go about repeating everything that he says here, especially when I’ll never quite understand it unless I get my hands on the equipment and try to program some game music myself. So I’ll leave it for the original artist to explain.

This particular soundtrack is Ferrari Grand Prix Challenge, the NES port of F-1 Hero MD for the Genesis/Mega Drive, released by Acclaim in 1992. Neil Baldwin’s score for the NES port is an original composition, not a replica of the Genesis music. Yes, there was still some great NES music this late in the game.

Hero Quest and Erik The Viking both have pretty interesting stories. If you scroll down far enough on Baldwin’s site you can read them in full, but to sum it up briefly, both of these games were never officially released. Baldwin actually thought that the music to Hero Quest, written in 1991, had been lost, until he ran into vgm fans talking about it. A little investigation revealed that the author of the game, Chris Shrigley, had preserved a copy of it and released it independently long after the fact.

Erik The Viking‘s story is the exact opposite. The actual game, which was fully completed in 1992 but, due to miscommunication between the developers and producer, never released, has been lost. Baldwin observes that it could quite possibly still exist somewhere, but it is certainly a lost artifact at the present. This time around, it was Baldwin that saved all of the original audio and released it independently years later.

Neil Baldwin has composed much else besides these five games, and his post-Commodore 64 work is consistently a cut above. I definitely recommend Erik The Viking first and foremost among his NES works. As for his later SNES compositions and beyond, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for them when I get there.

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