Posts tagged #music

An Interview with Game Composer, Winifred Phillips

As some of you may or may not know, video game music is extremely important to The Inner Dorkdom. Even as a kid, I not only thought that the music present in Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda enhanced the games’ gameplay, but I actually enjoyed the music. Since then, I have gone on to purchase soundtracks to games and listen to them on a regular basis.

The last soundtrack for a game I bought was for the Playstation Vita game, Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation. It was a soundtrack “eat up” with excellent melodies and themes which stick with you for an eternity, a trait that all soundtracks should have. In my personal opinion, the composer, Winifred Phillips (composer of games such as LittleBigPlanet and God of War), crafted a soundtrack that impressed me like no other had in recent years.
So much game music is released these days that, to me, sound like afterthoughts which ride the wave of a large scale production. Winifred’s work, however, shows a love for keeping the player engaged in gameplay, as well as for keeping those aforementioned melodies stuck in your head.

We were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to interview Winifred, as she has just authored an excellent book entitled A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. In her book, Phillips gives amazing insight into composing music for games, being in the industry as a composer, and tips on what one needs to get the job done. Check out the interview after the jump!

The Inner Dorkdom - For our readers, could you briefly tell us what made you want to author a book about composing music for videogames?
Winifred Phillips - In writing A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, I wanted to write a book that addressed the artistic, technical and logistical issues that would be important to composers and musicians who want to create music for games.  There are other excellent books that cover all aspects of game audio, but I wanted to narrow that discussion to just the topics that are music-related, and I wanted to write about them specifically from the perspective of a working game composer.  Also, I wanted to balance the discussion between the technical and artistic challenges.  My hope was that A Composer’s Guide to Game Music would provide aspiring game composers with both practical advice and creative inspiration.

It may be a clichéd question, but what are some of your major influences when composing music for games?

My musical influences shift from one game project to another, depending on the style of music required for the project.  The biggest influences on me during music composition are those composers who have innovated in the musical genre I’ll be exploring in my upcoming work.  I like to research music history and genres.  I like to learn something new with each game I score.

Early in your book, you cite a quote from Entertainment Weekly which speaks of games overtaking Hollywood and how they are often more interesting than recent films. Do you think that the same can be said of videogame music being more interesting than that of recent film scores?

I wouldn’t say that videogame music is inherently more interesting, but I do think that videogame composers have more opportunities to experiment and innovate, because games tend to be longer and more varied experiences than films.  The amount of music in a game usually exceeds the amount of music in any typical film, and there are also more circumstances in which the audience can appreciate and enjoy the music, because the music has longer opportunities to be expressive without also competing with dialogue and/or noisy on-screen action.  Most games have periods in which the player explores the game world in a sonic landscape that’s relatively uncluttered.  That’s a great opportunity for a composer to create interesting music.

For someone who doesn't aspire to be a game composer (maybe someone who likes videogames but doesn't write music, or someone who writes music but isn't into games), what can they take away from the book?
In the book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, I try to paint a picture of what life is like for a composer who is part of the game industry. The game development community is intensely creative and passionate about what they do, and the community includes a lot of colorful characters.  Game industry conferences and conventions are full of memorable moments and oddball antics.  The day-to-day work of game development is endlessly fascinating, and I do my best to provide a taste of the experience from my perspective as an independent composer who has worked with many different development teams over the years.  I think my book provides an interesting insider’s look at the process of game development, specifically focusing on the music side of things.

You’ve already tackled several franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, God of War, and LittleBigPlanet. Was video game music in general something that you were a fan of, or paid much attention to before deciding to compose for games yourself?

I’ve been a gamer for a very long time, but that didn’t directly lead me to the decision to compose music for games myself. It was actually after a protracted gameplay session with the original Tomb Raider that the idea finally struck me. My attention was caught by some music playing in the tutorial area – in Lara Croft’s mansion. That was the first time I thought about the idea of writing game music myself.  Once the idea entered my brain, it never left. 

It seems to us that, due to hardware limitations, older videogame music tended to be melody-driven, with 'songs' that would last anywhere from 15 seconds to a minute or two, whereas today videogame music often is just as atmospheric as film scores. What do you think of this trajectory in the industry?

The predominance of melody made sense in older videogame music – there were limitations in the number of simultaneous note events that could be playing, and the available sound palette was pretty narrow, so composers couldn’t create lots of lush textures or complex multitimbral arrangements.  A melody can create musical interest, and it doesn’t need a lot of adornment to be successful.  As the capabilities of game systems expanded, it just made sense for the aural sophistication of game music to advance at the same rate.  I think that there is room for both melody-driven music and atmospheric compositions, and I think that the best game scores incorporate both techniques.

Are there any projects that you’re currently working on that you can talk about at this time?
Usually, I can only talk about a project when it’s about to be released -- which is usually a long time after I’ve completed work on it.  The same is true at the moment.  I’m working on multiple AAA games right now, and the projects are radically different from each other, so it’s an interesting creative challenge… but I can’t say anything more about it yet.

We want to thank Winifred for taking the time to answer our questions. It’s not every day that we get a chance to talk to a video game composer - a job that Nic and I have always had an immense amount of respect for. We recommend picking up Winifred’s book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, available here from Amazon (in both hardcover and Kindle format), as well as at your favorite book store!

Also, here’s a trailer for the book. Check it out!