This is an old interview from Armchair Empire – our previous site. We have restored and rehosted this interview to preserve history, and to ensure there is always a copy of our old content online.
- So, what was your first gig?
My first real gig in the games business came about in 1994 when I was hired as an in house composer for SquareSoft. I landed this opportunity as the result of a demo I created to showcase what I believed music for games should sound like. I had played a lot of computer games and felt the existing music lacked drama and intensity. So, I went out on a bit of a limb, rented some state of the art equipment and made a demo. Shortly after SquareSoft reviewed it, they offered me a job. Secret of Evermore was the first title I composed for.
- Many musicians seem to be drawn towards neat gadgets, like effects pedals, modules, and such, like moths to a flame, especially in the music shop with all those lovely dials, faders, and LCD displays singing their siren song. Do you ever find yourself in “Gadget Freak” mode when it comes to gear?
A few years ago, I was more of a “gadget freak” than I am now. In fact, it’s my brother Julian who pays more attention to the technical end of things than I do. Overall, we believe it’s much better to invest in the best quality, high end equipment that does the job for years to come, than to keep replacing one gadget for another. The gear we use in our studio is all special order merchandise that is not available in music stores. We do replace our PCs more often as faster processors and more sophisticated mother boards are introduced. But, I’m basically composing so much music that I don’t have time to keep up with the latest gizmos and gadgets.
- Do you play many games in your spare time?
You bet – that is, if I have any spare time these days. Right now, I’m spending a lot of time with two games I’m currently working on – Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance and Dungeon Seige. Both of these outstanding titles are scheduled for release this Fall. Of course, there’s my old favorite – The Seventh Guest – which I always go back to.
- In your bio on your site it mentions that your brother and yourself are working on making the most realistic synthesized orchestra possible. What can you tell us about this? Has any of your game soundtracks featured these samples?
For Julian and I, arriving at this goal will always be a work in progress. We continually discover new ways to enhance the quality and realism of our orchestral soundtracks. For example, during a recent recording session with the Prague Philharmonic Orchestra, we became inspired to work on emulating realistic surround environments in our own studio. Some of our best work, so far, is evident in titles like Icewind Dale, Heart of Winter and Giants:Citizen Kabuto but there is a substantial leap in quality yet to come with Dungeon Siege and Dark Alliance.
- Does the interactive nature of games make composing music for a title easier or harder?
It is much harder to compose music for entertainment that’s interactive. The variety of elements and options that constitute today’s computer and video games require a myriad of different musical arrangements and compositions. From one scene to the next, I often compose the same piece of music about a dozen times, dropping one instrument for another, switching tunes back and forth, adding new sounds, etc. It’s a tremendous amount of work but for me, it is very gratifying to create music that stirs the player’s emotions and draws him further into the game.
- In early games the melodies had a very noticeable presence, allowing them to stand out but nowadays more and more game soundtracks are following the route of film scores, using more subtle pieces. Do you see game music continuing down this path, or is music for this entertainment medium still experimenting in what direction it could go?
Just as in film, all of a game’s components – the graphics, music, sound effects, movements, characters, etc. – must work together to appeal to all of a player’s senses. The job of the musical score is to reflect and enhance the various emotions experienced by the player. It’s exactly like the soundtrack for a film – when you combine it with the story, characters and events portrayed on screen, it has a very powerful effect. Game music must continue to evolve in this direction in order for this entertainment medium to have lasting value.
- How do you go about mentally preparing yourself for a project?
I try to take a little time off between projects, maybe four or five days, to reset myself. During this time, I’ll digest what I learned from the previous project and formulate ideas to go forward with.
- Is there a type of game that you haven’t written music for that you would especially like to in the future?
I would love to write music for any game created by Donkey Kong, Yoshi and Zelda designer Shigeru Miyamoto. In my view, his games have exactly the right balance of everything – button presses, exploratory story elements, atmosphere – all the variables needed to really entice the player. I’d love to work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra to score the music for one of his titles. Hironobu Sakaguchi, creator of Final Fantasy, is another designer I would be thrilled to work with.
- What would you say are the pros and cons of working with an orchestra for a soundtrack?
You know, there really are no negatives about working with an orchestra. Incorporating this live element into my music adds recognition and value to the final product and ultimately gives it more staying power. An orchestra adds a layer of magic not possible with computers.
- Is there a particular piece you’ve written that you’re especially proud of?
I was very pleased with the music I created for the Icewind Dale titles. Story-driven RPGs like these lend themselves well to capturing the different moods of their adventures in the musical score. This is the style of composing I enjoy most.
- With PCs and consoles sporting near-photo realistic images do game developers put too much emphasis on visuals and not enough on the aural side of a project?
This was more the case a couple of years ago than it is today. Game developers are becoming aware of what film producers have known for a long time – that music is a very powerful part of the overall entertainment experience. And, as the quality of game music continues to rise, so to will the expectations and demands of the publishers and fans.
- What projects do you have on the go right now? Anything new we should know about?
We just finished a large recording for Azurik: Rise of Perathia, an XBOX game for Microsoft. This utilized the musicians of the Prague Philharmonic comprised in a massive 88 musician orchestra. I’m very excited about this title. At the moment, I’m working on Baldur’s Gate Dark Alliance for Interplay, Dungeon Siege for Gas Powered Games and SOCOM for Sony. In a different arena, I’m also involved in an exciting digital orchestra project for Adidas that will be shown around the world in the coming months. This epic 2 minute commercial has a large, Olympic sound that used the Soule Media digital orchestra.