Where are they now? - Ken Allen

Ken Allen - composer and game producer

The next person to feature on "Where are they now?" Wednesday is a guy I've mentioned a few times previously on this blog. A man of many talents, this week I'll be talking a bit about Ken Allen, and I'm not talking about Wikipedia's entry for Ken Allen which is apparently on an orangutan that lived at San Diego Zoo; I'm talking about the composer and game producer who got his big break into the gaming industry while working at Sierra in the late 80s and early 90s.

Allen went to college with his original plan of becoming a music teacher and he did land a job as one for a private school but under the condition he also taught math. Allen hated math and there wasn't enough demand for a full-time music teacher, so he eventually left. Allen took a job sorting mail at the post office in order to pay the bills but he continued to have a passion for music as well as gaming. He wrote music for local churches and theatres and even taught himself to program some games in BASIC and assembler.

In 1989, Sierra was advertising their need for a new composer so Allen applied for the role and against all odds, beat some stiff competition to land the role. He started working at Sierra in April that year and some of his earliest work at Sierra includes the music and sound effects programming for 1989's Thexder 2 and sounds for 1989's The Colonel's Bequest. It wasn't until the early 90s though did Allen compose some of the most memorable pieces of music from Sierra games such as 1990's Oil's Well, 1991's Space Quest 1 (the VGA remake), 1991's Jones in the Fast Lane and (his favourite) 1991's Space Quest IV. He's even responsible for the Sierra logo theme, so if that sound bite is forever ingrained in your memory, you have him to thank.

Unfortunately, Allen didn't stay long at Sierra due to a misunderstanding about his pay and he eventually left to work with a lot of ex-Sierra employees (such as Jim Walls) at Tsunami Media. He joined the company on the condition that he would be able to produce his own game and Tsunami Media stayed true to their word when after scoring music for games like 1993's Blue Force, he wrote the story and directed the sequel to 1992's Ringworld: Revenge of the Patriarch, Return to Ringworld (he also composed the music for both games).

Tsunami Media didn't last long though and Allen found a job with Interplay in the mid 90s. He composed music for 1994's Descent and also produced the CD-ROM version of Star Trek: Judgment Rites. He was also working on another Star Trek adventure game that would've been well ahead of its time called Star Trek: Secret of Vulcan Fury but this was unfortunately never released.

Allen continued to work in the gaming industry but mainly as a producer such as being the producer of 2000's Nox by Westwood Studios and most recently as a producer on the 2011 MMO Rift.

In 2013, around the same time that a whole lot of other Sierra alumni started Kickstarters, Allen started up his own campaign seeking funds for an album called "Under the Half Dome" that would basically remaster a lot of the music he composed over the years (with a particular focus on Sierra). The project had a very modest goal of $10,000 USD and the goal was exceeded by $11,090 USD with a grand total of $21,090 USD. It's now been two years since the end of the Kickstarter campaign and Allen is still working on the project although along with the increased workload of having to work on SpaceVenture (a Kickstarter project by the Guys from Andromeda) he's found reacquainting himself with the composition software used nowadays as challenging and partly to blame for the delays:

I've had a bit of a learning curve with the VST technology and the complex DAW software in use today. Imagine if you were an artist and the last software you used was Deluxe Paint, and now you have to suddenly have to become an expert using Photoshop. It's like that.

While it has been awhile since the end of the campaign I have the utmost confidence that Ken Allen will deliver and when "Under the Half Dome" is finally released it will be aural bliss.

[ MobyGames: Ken Allen ]
[ Guys from Andromeda Podcast Episode 3 ]
[ Kickstarter: Under the Half Dome ]