Introducing Rob Hubbard

0. Who’s who

According to McSweeney, the author of “Rob Hubabrd’s Music,” [1] should I start from this embarrassment; “How do I introduce someone like Rob Hubbard?”

Here I’ll introduce Rob Hubbard, a musician/sound programmer from England (moved to United States in the late 1980’s), who did many “classical” soundtracks for video games in the western, however, his work and achievements have not been introduced in Japan. So I’ll draw additional lines to McSweeney’s text above for a little introduction.

It is noticed that musical recollection by Thomas Egeskov Petersen a.k.a Laxity, Danish scener who learned Rob’s musicroutine and started composing, is inserted into this article. Because his career can be read as a document of a person tried to make music impressed with Rob, and can be the proper example.

1. “the 64’s poor little 3-voice SID chip suddenly brings forth great-sounding 5 or 6-part,”

Crazy Comets (Martech 1985)

In 1985 Rob Hubbard began steady advance in Commodore 64 as the major battlefield. Some titles such like “Thing on a Spring,” “Monty on the Run” and “Crazy Comets” were released. Nowadays people often remember them as his masterpieces. We can know a heated atmosphere Rob was recognized as a unique hero at that time through one article from “Popular Computer Weekly” In the end of same year. The writer Tony Reed also mentioned surprise that his music sounded more than 3-channel as McSweeney said. It is interesting that he referred Phil Spector, the innovator of “Wall of Sound,” then.

If, as has often been observed, the software industry is a re-run of the pop business, then Rob Hubbard must surely be its Phil Spector, a great original, extending the bounds of the possible, and masterminding hits for others. (How many so-so games have benefited from reviewers passing comment: ‘another great soundtrack from Rob’ ?) [2]

When considering Spector’s technique is at/from studio recording, we have to say that each principles are different. Anyhow this superposition was revolutionary. Next year Tony Reed described the same point in the interview article on “Commodore Horizons.” [3]

2.SFX、Frame of Musical Work

Thrust (Firebird 1986)

” […] he was able to make music which was suited to the strengths and limitations of the SID chip.

Just recall the soundfx used at the beginning of Thrust, or in the Delta in-game music.. (McSweeney)”

In Rob Hubbard’s music SFX had been used variously. Now let’s set it straight shortly.

SFX Interrupting in-game music (”Thing on a Spring,” “Monty on the Run,” “Commando” and so on). This enable background music “keeped” by SFX depending on actions in game (Conversly, see “Human Race” as an example makes sure of 1ch for SFX exclusively) like we’ve listened to tunes on 8-bit or 16-bit consoles.

SFX bears particular sense in “score” (“Thrust,” “Flash Gordon” or “Geoff Capes Strongman Challenge” #3 and so on).

SFX is inserted in part and role as same as instrument (“Formula One Simulator.” “Crazy Comets” and so on). “Skydive” is a good example in the case.

Dynamic Range / Michael Hendriks (F.A.M.E. 1989)

Application example of “skydive.”

Also it is a distinctive feature of Hubbard’s music that long solo can be incorporated into a tune. In connection with it, we can point out that his “song” duration cut off from usual VGM. Main themes of his soundtracks are almost over 3 minutes. Compared with past C64 soundtrack for games, it is abnormal.

Rob Hubbard could write “songs” close to “pop songs” than ever Video Game Music (“One Man and his Droid,” “Last 8” and so on). That is to say, value or criteria of “soundtrack” for video game (differed from interest of the game itself!) was born among users as he was the start of things. Sometime we find perversion.that the game title was treated like his opus before the game. Furthermore, he copied real pop songs actually (“Zoids”).

On the other hand he also could write around 10 minutes long “score” (“Delta,” “Kentilla,” “W.A.R.” and so on), Compared with typical game music like “Gerry the Germ,” we realize the extent of his styles and a departure from “game music.”

He didn’t initiate computer music with his hand empty. BASIC and machine language were self-taught, but he had been educated music at school. Besides, he could play/operate many instruments through experience of a bandsman and session musician. Electronics are included in “instruments.” His 4-track demo tunes (“Chimera,” “Formula One Simulator,” “One Man and His Droid” and “Phantoms of the Asteroids”) had been produced in about 1983 and released ay C64.COM in 2005 were evidence, They tell us his sure capability and potential.

“They were done around 1983-ish. I wrote them mainly because I was influenced by something I was listening to at the time, like Jarre or Human League. Or, I was just experimenting and trying different ideas. I used them on the games simply because I thought they would work with the game. Most of the C64 versions are much better than the original ideas – especially OMAHD and Phantoms. The tunes were done using a Korg poly synth, a Moog synth, Roland TR606 and TB303, a Casio cheap synth, and a four track tape recorder. Also a Roland Micro-Composer was used on F1. Sometimes I borrowed a synth from my friends. I had all the synths linked up with control voltages and gate triggers, some of which were home made.” [4]

Rob supplied self-remix on a cassette tape with “Zzap!64,” a C64 hobby magazine, then. This item obviously tell us his popularity and the fact that “real” musician turned up in game industry.


Picture taken from GameStone

3. Hacking Rob Hubbard’s routine

Think Twice III / The Judges (1987)

Music by Jeroen Kimmel

There no handy music-making tools at that time. Rob Hubbard was one of good models for amateur composers (they are almost teen-age). In fact, Rob’s code was “useful” for them. Although SoundMonitor, the early tracker-like program, appeared, people couldn’t compose music like “Monty on the Run” because of the different musicroutines.

Person who have hacked his musicroutine is not only Jeroen Kimmel mentioned at “Rob Hubbard’s Music,” but also Neil Baldwin [5], Future Freak, Charles Deenen, Jeroen Tel, Johannes Bjerregaard, Michael Hendriks (or F.A.M.E.) etc. In the latter half of the 80s they all learned Rob’s code and even had made tunes “like” him for a period of time. Training age and adolescence of the SID. It is remarkable that some of these persons came to build new musicroutines after hacking.

In 1989 Predator (Geir Tjelta) in Moz(IC)art, a Norwegian music group, finally released Rob Hubbard Editor [6], which used Rob’s music driver and was available for the common. Democratization of Hubbard’s routine became to the top at that time. [6]

Complaisance / Geir Tjelta (1989)

from Genesis / Z-Circle (1989) (0:00-1:50)

Guess the tune was made with Rob Hubbard Editor.

But the sound style is typical crack intro tune in the late 80s just as if made with Future Composer.

4. Case of Laxity

There are so many musicians have accepted “revelation” from Rob Hubbards’s music both in within the demoscene and the outside of it. Laxity, who belongs to Vibrants and Maniacs of Noise, is one of those people. His auto-molding – from hacking of Rob Hubbard’s music driver to building his own music routines – is quite just like one aspect of the SID history. [7] Here I show below the excerpt of his recollection contained in “Recollection #2,” which was C64 diskmag edited by Jazzcat, an Australian demoscene archivist.

Music Recollection


I wasn’t convinced that music on the 64 was “way cool” until I heard the adaptation of the Commando music done for the Commodore 64 by Rob Hubbard. [8] Now, that stuff sounded almost real to me, and I just had to do music like that. That’s where it all started for me.

 Commando (Elite 1985)


Since there we’re no tools for making music like we have today, I started out by hacking the Rob Hubbard sound driver because I didn’t have the coding skills or sufficient knowledge of how the SID worked to build my own driver. It was a process of deduction really, and before I knew it, I was doing some simple music in Rob’s driver, which felt very cool (but sounded horrible though ;)). At the time I wasn’t aware of the existence of the scene on the 64, and my reasons for doing music in the first place was merely to amuse myself. It wasn’t until I talked to some guys that I contacted to buy some games from, that I became aware that there was more to this underground 64 thing than just cracking. These guys were very interested when I told them that I had done some music on the machine, and before I knew it I was in a group on the 64… That was Wizax, if you ever heard of them. I think it was back in end 86 or very early 87.

Technically composing using a machine code monitor wasn’t all the difficult, but took at lot longer than it takes with the editors and trackers that are available today. Since there were no tools for composing music in the Rob Hubbard driver, there was a bit of work to be done with memory pointers, table relocations etc. which all had to be done by hand. Obviously all sequence events we represented by a string of bytes and wasn’t as intuitive as we’re used to with today’s music tools for the 64. A short sequence of notes could look like this:

87 01 0C 83 02 30 81 01 16 01 18 21 0F 01 10 03 0A 81 02 30 81 01 16 03 0A FF

Actually I got so used to this way of composing that I just stuck with it, even though others started using regular trackers or editors later on. I did make my own editor at some point, but it was still 100% hex number based.

I don’t remember exactly when Sound Monitor came along, but it was never really an alternative to the Hubbard driver for me, since the memory usage of the sound monitor music driver was huge, and the CPU spikes of the driver larger than life. Besides that the driver sounded like crap more or less.

Karate Giz / Laxity (1987)

from PhotonDYSP  / Photon, Triangle 3532 (1987)

Hacked Hubbard’s music driver was used in this tune.


All this was before everybody was talking about hard restart, multi speed, pulse and filter programs and what not. Sound drivers were rather simple, and often quite rigid. Mostly the sounds were sort of hard coded, to the extent of for instance the Rob Hubbard driver having the arpeggio routine limited to use only two notes or the capability of playing a short noise in the beginning of a sound without having a regular “wave table” as we call it today, making the features rather limited.

At some point people started to implement wave tables. My first driver didn’t have wave tables at all, but relied on a system that could switch between two waveforms in a per instrument selected pattern. I did however implement a more generic routine for arpeggios, which was then used in some obscure manner, making it less useful :). Step programmable pulse wasn’t common either. Most people had a simple “one shot bump” implementation of the pulse which didn’t give room for much creativity on that account. Mine just looped around so legato notes would pop when the pulse width looped. Martin Galway’s driver was an exception though, although I’ve never dug into his driver to see how he implemented his pulse programs, but he really did some cool pulse sweeps – that’s for sure.

These things changed during the late 80’ies. Drivers got more advanced, and there was a lot of “looking over shoulders” going on. Obviously this led to a more or less standardized approach in implementing sound drivers, and today there are a lot of drivers available capable of more a less the same thing.

Somewhere in 1988-89 I heard a piece of SID music that had a particular hard attack and started investigating into how this was done. I had some discussions with JCH [9] about this thing, which we called “hard restart” for the lack of a better word. I think this was one of the coolest things ever, as it gave a lot more consistency to the sound, and made the whole instrument design (?) process of composing much more convenient. At least setting up ADSR values that didn’t clutter was not a problem anymore.

THE CHALLENGE (a little back in time again)

I think I used Rob’s driver for a period of around 10 months in 1987, before I “dared” to write my own. It was a great challenge for me to write my own driver and at the age of 14, it made me proud that I actually got something useable out of it. You need to see this in the right context to understand it, I think. Before I wrote my first driver, all I had ever coded was scrollers and rasterbars and such, never anything re-usable and generic like the music driver was. Before I left the scene (in 92-93) I had coded some 4 different drivers, where only 3 of them were ever used. The first driver had quite annoying raster spikes and crap gate handling and was written in 87. In the second driver I remedied the rasterspikes, but the driver still has bad gate handling but a little better pulse sweep implementation. That driver was written sometime very late 87, early 88. Driver 3 was written around the concept of hard restart, and had regular pulse and filter programs implemented and was decent in raster time usage. It was written in 89 and obviously elaborated on over the period following. Driver 4 never got to see the light of day, and is essentially Driver 3 re-written, but it didn’t turn out to be as fast as I liked. Therefore I abandoned the project.

Laxity composed Hubbard like tunes with his own music editor SID Factory for “Joe Gunn,” a “new” C64 game released in 2007. Among attempts of the same kind, it is the superbest and neatest achievement as well as a dapper homage.

Crosswords / Laxity (Starion 1988)

It is presumed that this tune was written in Driver 2.

5. Missing/Transferring Rob

Rob Hubbard is still an unknown musician in Japan. Unfortunately, almost video game titles he took part in were not be localized – it was not necessarily true. Although His productions on the NES (“Skate or Die,” “The Immortal” and so on) were not converted to Famicom, actually a lot of prods in Electronic Arts era released on the Sega MegaDrive (“Populous,” “Road Rush,” “Road Rush 2,” “PGA Tour Golf II,” “Desert Strike,” “Wizard of Immortal” etc.). But we, Japanese, couldn’t find him among those titles and record him. It is a very symbolic case that there wasn’t his name in “Populous / Sound World of Populous -GSM Imaginia 1” (a collection of re-arranged tunes made for “Populous”) released in 1991 (though some reasons). [10]

Many arcade titles made in Japan were converted to the C64, however, he related to only one title, or “Commando,” original title was “Senjou no Ookami [Wolf at Battlefield].” Besides, the music, which should be credited to TAMAYO, the composer of this arcade, to be exact, is sometime treated as “his” music. Some may get offended when seeing such like facts. But his “free-style cover” was astonishing so far.

On the other hand Rob’s music has been transferred diverse. Firstly, through hacking of his music routine as we’ve seen. Also it should be noticed that gigantic covers of his tunes have appeared. This “transference” isn’t limited within the C64 scene. A case of Jochen Hippel’s achievement in the Atari ST scene is a good example (remember that Hubbard himself composed music for video games on the Atari ST).

In 2010 Linus Åkesson, a Swedish musician/coder known lft of kryo, opened his hand-made electronic organ Chipophone to the public. We can immediately find Hubbard’s music routine is used in the instrument. [11]

At the present there are few SID musicians who compose music “like” Hubbard, aside from remix. But it isn’t true that his music was completely experienced in the late 80s and went out of sight. If anything, drive when his music driver was hacked is ongoing through such repetition. [12]

In the article I couldn’t mention him as an operator of FM Synthesis or MT-32. That points may be referred at another places. The space assigned for this text has vanished.

Think Twice III (Chipophone) / lft (2010)

The original was composed by Jeroen Kimmel/The Judges.


[1] Anthony McSweeney (1993). Rob Hubbard’s Music: Disassembled, Commented and Explained, C=Hacking #5

[2] Tony Reed (1985). Tyneside specialist, PopularComputingWeekly on December 25th 1985.

[3] Tony Reed (1986). Profile – The Master Of Micro Music, Commodore Horizons magazine February 1986 edition.—The-Master-Of-Micro-Music/Page1.html

[4] Rob Hubbard (2005). Original Rob Hubbard recordings, C64.COM

[5] Interview with Neil Baldwin performed by SIDwave (2010), Recollection #3, Jazzcat.

[6] Moz(IC)art (1989). Rob Hubbard Editor

Refer the link below about operating manual.

[7] Thomas Egeskov Petersen (Laxity/Maniacs of Noise) (2006). Music Recollection, Recollection #2, Jazzcat

[8] “Senjou no Ookami” was an arcade game published by Capcom in 1985. In 1986, C64 version was published as “Commando.” When Rob Hubbard “converetd/coverd” music by Tamayo Kawamoto, he did extreme arrange to this at that moment. Probably the word “adaptation” suggest it.

[9] JCH…Jens-Christian Huus is the creator of JCH Music Editor, one of de facto standards tracker released in the early C64 scene.

[10] Teaching by hally.

There are no Rob’s name in the original booklet.


[12] It is sometime hard that new musicroutines copy and reproduce routines in Hubbard’s era. Or we need special techniques. See the topic at C64 forum as an example: How to make crazy-comet slides in Goattracker (CSDb):


Rob Hubbard – Commodore Zone


Kevin Driscoll and Joshua Diaz, Endless loop: A brief history of chiptunes, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

Rob Hubbard Editor ( forum)


1 Comment

Filed under c64, english

One response to “Introducing Rob Hubbard

  1. Urinherren

    That was a very interesting read, thank you! I love to see dr Hubbard getting the attention he deserves.

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