Eight Video Game Composers Descend Upon Dark Delicacies


We were lucky enough to be invited to a panel called, “The Maestros of Video Game Music” at Dark Delicacies, to listen to some of the best composers of video game music chat it up. There to moderate the panel was Mr. Daniel Schweiger (“On The Score”). Who else was at the panel, you ask? Well, let’s see, there was Garry Schyman (Bioshock 1, 2, Dante’s Inferno), Richard Jacques (Mass Effect, James Bond 007: Blood Stone), Penka Kouneva (Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands), Jesper Kyd (Assassin’s Creed series), Mike Reagan (God of War series), Greg Edmonson (Uncharted series), Sean Murray (CoD: Black Ops), and finally Inon Zur (Fallout 3, Dragon Age, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North). Whew, that is quite a list, eh?

From left to right: Richard Jacques, Jesper Kyd, Sean Murray, Penka Kouneva, Garry Schyman, Greg Edmonson, and Mike Reagan.

The composers were questioned about the future of video game composing, and Garry Schyman being first, he kind of set the conversation on a path about artificial intelligence and whether or not it would be capable of replacing human composers. Garry hopes he’s not replaced by computer A.I. — we hope that too Garry! Richard Jacques joked that some A.I.-driven music has been around for awhile, and what they had for the original Xbox sounded like someone rolling a golf ball up and down a gutter, which got the crowd laughing. Richard seemed like he would be perfectly fine with using computer programs if they were capable of helping him make variations of his music in a much shorter time — careful, Richard, we know what happened with the Geth! While Jesper didn’t seem worried about a computer being able to create its own (great) music, he was optimistic about being able to use advanced programs to make certain decisions about which “stems” of music should play during gameplay. Penka thinks that humans are irreplaceable, and technology will always be harnessed to produce what we want it to — again, Geth! Mike Reagan went much further than a talk about composing for video games, saying, “I think at its fundamental level, music is math and inspiration, and I think that the moment that computers have the ability to be inspired, we have a much bigger problem on our hands”. Good on you, Mike, I’ll work on the EMP grenade research, you get to digging the bunkers.

 

A plate of cookies stops to pose with Mike and Sean.

Continuing the conversation concerning the use of computer programs, Sean Murray talked about the future possibility of having a variety of “stems” of music, so that sound engineers could easily get their computer programs to understand commands such as, “less percussion” etc. He scoffed at the idea of computers creating music, saying that a computer had created music in the past, but all it was good for was “getting stoned to, and saying, oh wow, a computer made this music”, though he didn’t clarify whether or not that was from his own personal experience. On the whole, the composers thought that humans were irreplaceable (though I’m fairly certain the machines think otherwise).

 

Garry seems pleased with his composer panel.

Garry Schyman was asked how he was inspired to create the music for Dante’s Inferno, to which he replied, “I have an unusual home life” (Garry, I’m never coming over to your house). Garry went on to say that as a composer, you just need something to start you on a project. He got jump-started by another older composer, George Crumb, whose work could easily be described as eerie and disturbing. After listening to a bit of “Black Angels”, I can hear how parts of it crept its way into Rapture. Garry said that he had a blast “scoring hell” (Dante’s Inferno), and I’d like to reiterate that I will not be attending any dinner parties at Garry’s house.

 

Inon is one of the hardest-working composers in the business. He's composed for Dragon Age, Fallout 3, Rift, The Lord of the Rings: War in the North, and a myriad of other projects. Much respect to you, Mr. Zur!

A fan in the crowd stated that she was displeased with the ending she received in Dragon Age, but when the credits started rolling and she heard the song “I am the one”, it made for the perfect ending. After hearing that, Inon Zur said that while making a living is great, “hearing something like that is way greater”. Inon further elaborated on the story of “I am the one”, conveying to the crowd that he didn’t feel like the score for Dragon Age was finished. There wasn’t any financial backing for further compositions, but Inon went ahead and created and submitted “I am the one” to EA, wanting to feel like his work was complete. It turned out that EA loved the song, and it was included as the end theme.

 

Richard Jacques, one of the many people responsible for making Mass Effect as good as it is.

Richard Jacques spoke a bit about how four composers were able to create 3-4 hours of music for Mass Effect and keep it cohesive. Although they were all from different musical backgrounds, the project director, Casey Hudson, had a strong musical vision for the game before it was even started. Casey apparently wanted something that was part Blade Runner, part orchestral, and maybe a few other things. It’s kind of amazing that the music was created by four different people, because after playing through both games twice, I never noticed anything out of the ordinary regarding the music.

 

Mike Reagan photo-bombs Greg Edmonson.

Next, the composers got a question from the crowd about their opinion on mobile games. Richard answered first, saying that he was asked recently to do a mobile game. The project would require 20 minutes of music, 300 sound effects, there would be no money in it, the client is “fussy”, and it would have to be completed in about a week and a half. Needless to say, Richard let that “opportunity” pass by easily. Mike Reagan seemed a bit more optimistic towards mobile games, even saying that some of his mobile game music has earned him a higher per-minute rate than what he earns on console games. He also mentioned that doing those smaller projects allows him to do quirky, funny music that he isn’t allowed to do on a large project like God of War — though after the “cod of war” costume, I don’t see why we can’t also have silly music as easter eggs.

 

The composer panel at Dark Delicacies in Burbank, California was interesting and amusing, allowing me to better know the great minds behind some of the best music in video games. If you would like to support the composers in what they do, feel free to head on over to Sumthing Distribution to buy a CD or two.

We also have an unbelievable bevy of photos for your perusal:

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Ryan Southard
Ryan Southard 776 posts

Ryan Southard is a video game enthusiast, dissecting games down to their tiniest details. Whether it's new or it's old, as long as it's awesome, he'll play it. Follow him on Twitter at @Ryan_Southard <a href="http://nerdreactor.com/about/">Meet the Nerd Reactor Team</a>