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It wouldn't be such a controversial statement to say that the music in OlliOlli has a profound effect on the tone of Roll7's 2D skateboarding game. It acts as a comfortable bed on which to do your sick grinds, rad tricks and massive combos, both euphoric enough to support the glorious highs when you pull off a huge score, and be pliant enough to catch you when you ruin it all with a poorly timed landing, washing away your frustrating with lovely melodies and soft synths.
Talking to Simon Bennett, the producer on OlliOlli and the guy in charge of getting that music licensed and into the game, I found out that this wasn't always the case, though. Initially the musical direction of OlliOlli was starkly, and aggressively, different.
"I used to be in a band, so the rock music that I used to listen to..." Bennett says. "I'm quite old now, I'm in my 30s, so it was grunge; Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. The problem with those is that A) that's really out of touch, and B) I didn't think we'd be able to get a license for that easily."
"So I think we were like, 'Hey, why don't we find some indie artists and reach out to them and see if they'd be interested in being in a skate game.' So we did a first round of work on that. John [Ribbins, designer on OlliOlli] had a list of artists for that, like Bo Ningen, and there was some full on thrash rock bands, some hippy stoner rock stuff from America. We reached out to everyone, a massive piece of work, got everyone to agree to it and spoke to record labels. I probably spent about a week and a half of actual work on it.
"Had we have gone with that original set of 15 rock tracks, OlliOlli would not have done as well as it has."
"So far, so good. Being a skateboarding game, OlliOlli having a solid soundtrack of great rock would push it that much closer to the classics of the genre like Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Skate. The only problem being that OlliOlli was that much harder than those games, and that much more focused on one long, continuous, unending flow of tricks and landings. Failure happens easily, and it happens often.
"This was before the game had really taken much form," Bennett says. "Once we got a version of it on the Vita, and sat down and just played the rock music at the same time, it became really clear that actually, it's quite a frustrating game. And having some Japanese girl scream down your throat and have all this really heavy, in your face music, was absolutely not going to be the one. I think, had we have gone with that original set of 15 rock tracks, OlliOlli would not have done as well as it has.
"So we scrapped all of that, contacted all the artists and said, 'We're really sorry, but we've gone in another direction.' But we started again, and started focusing more around the music that we both shared an interest in, which was more the Independent Dance Music, glitchy, jazzy, chilled out... the sort of music that DJ Lefto in Belgium, Giles Peterson or Benji B, or more recently people like Soulection Radio in the States would play."
Bennett and Roll7 decided to chase after licensing for this type of music; the music that they were more personally interested in. The team started casually reaching out to artists on social media and on Bandcamp until they would invariably reach a solid contact.
"When we spoke to artists directly, they would say that sounds awesome, cool. Not only that but they'd be interested because either they skated when they were growing up and listened to all the music associated with that, and they'd love to have their music do the same now, or they were absolute computer nuts, really into computer games, and it was their dream to have their music in a game. It wasn't as much of an uphill struggle as I think we might have thought it was going to be."
"I think for a lot of the music we were using, all of them would cite computer game music as some sort of influence in what they were doing, so I think it was a natural next step."