Ari Pulkkinen

- Shadowgrounds
- StarFight VI



Official website


Composer Ari Pulkkinen is a relative newcomer to the world of video game music. Starting out with writing music for the freewaregame StarFight VI, his first big project was the Sci-Fi shooter Shadowgrounds. In this interview, he talks about these two scores as well as his musical background and his future projects.

Hi Ari, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music business?

Hi Oliver, thanks for interviewing me. :)

I'm a music and audio producer from Finland, specialized in games. I didn't go to any special music schools but I have a strong musical background. One of my greatest hobbies was composing with MOD tracker software. I made music just for my own amusement for many years - until one day I met the author of the StarFight-game series in a small LAN-party near my summer cottage in 1998 while playing Duke Nukem 3D. Somewhere along fragging I asked if he'd need any music for his coming "SFVI: Gatekeepers" and he said "sure". SFVI (a really big freeware game at the time) ended up being a big success worldwide and I got some name from that project as well. What are the odds. ;)

After StarFight I got deeper into the Finnish demoscene and worked with a couple of promising commercial projects that were cancelled later on. A few years later in the year 2002 Frozenbyte decided they needed some experienced music and audio guy to join the company. And here I was.


You work as in-house composer for Finnish developer Frozenbyte. Where do you see the advantage of being in-house as opposed to freelance?

Well everybody keeps talking about the greatest advantage being a steady salary but in my opinion, the most important thing is how greatly you can affect the whole game positively by being there for the duration of the whole project. The music and audio aspect is always present when designing story, levels, characters and the world. I'm sure that if all game companies would have a professional music and audio designer at their disposal at the beginning of the project, it would save much time and it would enhance the overall game experience greatly. Audio designer is a very useful tool and a great help for Creative Directors and storywriters.

Also my work here isn't just about composing, playing instruments and creating audio; when we are at pre-production I'm heavily involved in the game design and story writing process. The experience you get from being in-house is also very useful and informative: you get to know all the aspects of creating a game. You can observe and learn how a game is made from scratch and what kind of effort goes into every asset that the game needs. Having such an extensive knowledge of the process has even made me study more about becoming a Producer or a Creative Director sometime in the future - but I don't know if I could stop creating music and audio!


Let’s talk about your score to Shadowgrounds. It is a mix of a great variety of musical genres. Why did you take that approach?

I liked the idea of mixing genres on Shadowgrounds because the game itself was a combination of a few gaming generations and genres as well. I tried to invent something that could not be categorized so easily and I think that worked pretty well. It was quite clear at the beginning that Shadowgrounds needed to have a big and somewhat aggressive soundtrack, so I decided to combine orchestral scores with hard electronic and heavy guitar. Add strong themes, oldschool synths and militaristic approach and there you have it. I'm glad that I managed to keep the soundtrack intact - when you listen to the soundtrack, you can hear that they are indeed from the same project.


Which musical style did you enjoy working on most and what aspect of the score are you most proud of?

I had fun doing the themes and melodies, especially when I combined them with ambient and scores. I think that melancholic and dark ambients and cinematic themes are the best stuff in SG. I'm also proud of some of the action tracks also, like the boss fight tracks Total Metal Jacket and Final Round.


Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?

I imagine game music to evolve more mainstream, like the movie soundtracks are now. You can actually buy every game soundtrack you want. I believe that game music will eventually be as popular as movie music, and game music has a great potential to evolve to be commercially profitable.


What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player right now?

I listen to all kinds of music from every genre. If I'm not listening to a movie or a game music, I'll be listening to blues, rock, big band, electronic, house, easy listening and new age music. I think that classical, game and movie music has been the greatest influence for my personal work. Also, Slavic melancholy is a 'build-in feature' in me, so naturally I like a bit more sad themes.

There's one really interesting soundtrack in my CD player, called "World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade". Especially “Taverns” (Exlusive Track) is really fun. ;)


What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?

All my projects have been my favourite ones but I really love the StarFight VI: Gatekeepers soundtrack because there is some really beautiful scores like Sleeping In Light and Adagio Eternal that I will someday remake and remaster.


What would be your dream project?

Would it be a cliché if I'd say "I live it"? :) I wouldn’t lie if I told you that I like well written, epic stories. I just love to make themes larger than life and deeper than death. My dream project would include a huge world, legendary locations, ancient battlegrounds and places and characters of a great emotional history - or apocalyptic world full of leather, guns and radiation. Besides that, I really like not-so-mainstream settings where you can invent something totally new and fresh, like this one project I'm working on with right now.


What are you currently working on?

I'm working on several unannounced console and PC titles. One is a spin-off of Shadowgrounds and one is "the big project" that will get much more media attention than anything I've done so far. I really got to test my skills in the coming years and I plan to make it big!


Do you play PC or console games yourself?

I am a semi-pro gamer indeed. You got to know your products to make a good work yourself. What comes to my personal favourites, I'm more of a RPG/MMO player nowadays. Games like the Fallout-series and World of Warcraft have been my favourites for a long time now. I like to explore and adventure in a big world, not so much test my reaction skills. I'm also waiting for the next Command & Conquer, Fallout 3 and Aliens titles.

And I really, really like Guitar Hero as well. I'm bit of a show-off in that one too, even Jack Black would be proud. ;)


Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?

Well, the Shadowgrounds soundtrack was my very first commercial release but certainly not the last. I plan to work with game music for a long time and eventually try to make it big. So far it seems like I won't be out of work very soon. :) Warm greetings to all interested in game music!