Hi Mike. 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?
I kind of fell into game composition by first learning sound fx design for games, film, and tv commercials. There were a lot of challenges, and back in those days we spent more time fighting within the confines of the hardware than we did actually creating cool sounds. Then when music opportunities came around - because it's what I had always really wanted to do, I would create a lot of demos to get jobs, and attend every Interactive Game conference in order to meet people and give them the latest promo kit. One gig led to another and people started taking notice.
Let’s talk about your score for God of War. How and when did you get involved in that project?
I got involved with God of War early on, when Sony was engaging composers to try and find the sound that David Jaffe was looking for. I remember writing a demo for that job based on description of the game alone, as nothing was allowed to leave the SCEA studio – no artwork or game play captures. After doing a few revisions, it became apparent that I really needed to see some of the game. So I took a ride down to Sony Santa Monica to take a look, and was blown away by the game play – and especially the scale… the camera really showed off the size and detail of the environments, and Kratos looked incredible. It became obvious at that point what I needed to tweak in order to compliment the game. So I went home and started experimenting with choir samples to sonically match the scale of the visual media.
The game is set against the backdrop of Ancient Greek mythology. How much creative freedom were you given for coming up with a sound that fit the historical period?
There was an incredible amount of freedom in the first God of War, combined with real inspiring direction from Chuck Doud, Clint Bajakian, and Victor Rodriguez. Nothing felt forced – it really was an incredible synergistic workflow.
Can you please explain the reason for so many composers on a single score? What was your role?
There were a total of 6 composers on the first God of War title, although truth be told there were 4 of us that created the bulk of the score – which incidentally are the same 4 that were asked back to score God of War II. My role was Co-Lead Composer.
What are some of your favourite musical moments from the score and why?
To be honest, my favorite pieces from God of War I and II are the softer ambient pieces. There’s just so much combat and the heavy hitting music works really well, too… it’s just that I’m more moved by the sweeping melodies in the softer material. That said, I’m really proud of the Spartan Theme in God of War II as well.
On many projects, you’ve worked as both composer and sound designer. How do you think these two elements should work together?
Seamlessly. You shouldn’t actually be able to tell where one ends and the other starts. They should work together to keep you glued to the screen. Then when it’s over, you can buy the soundtrack to relive the mind-altering experience.
Many game and movie music fans regret that the sound-effects in both movies and games are becoming more and more important, and eventually try to replace music altogether. What is your perspective on this development?
I just saw “I am Legend” with Will Smith. I loved how there was very little music used in the film in order to create realism. James Newton Howard did a fantastic job in supporting the story and allowing the actors and sound effects to carry portions of the film. Then, he would creep in the perfect cue when it was appropriate. Just beautiful. I was lost in the moment for almost the entire film. So I guess I’d have to say that everything has its place – it’s knowing when NOT to play music that says so much about a composer.
Your work includes a great variety of movie and TV projects. How would you compare movie and game scoring?
I enjoy the linear nature of scoring film, tv and cinematics in games… they’re all treated the same for the most part. However, I also like the challenge of creating a music system in a game whereby the composition is made to feel scored depending on the choices the player makes, or the situations that are thrust upon the player. I love both.
Are you pleased that your scores are being discussed / compared with film scores? For many years the direction for "crossing over" has been from game scores to movie scores (e.g., Giacchino), but more recently movie composers have gone the other way (e.g., Schifrin, Elfman & Shore). Any thoughts as to why this latter flow is happening?
I can’t tell you how many times my colleagues ask me how to get into scoring games. I’m talking about people at the top of their craft – whether it be music producers, instrumentalists, or tv and film composers. Games are fun. Period. The technology has afforded us the opportunity to record the same large orchestras and featured soloists that work in film and television, and composers in these genres realize that they have cart blanche in creating their best work and see it immortalized forever in an interactive experience. Who would have thought that when the first ATARI game console came out that we’d be experiencing the graphics and sound we have today? What does that say about where were headed considering the exponential growth in technology today? It’s all happening right now. It’s a great time to be creating games, and the most talented people know this to be true, people with talent and vision.
Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?
Real time mixing via Artificial intelligence. A real human interface engine that relies less on ground level, game specific programming and more on pre-defined emotion based audio engines, with the ability to tweak pre-defined parameters to suit the needs of each game. The perfect handshake between music and technology to support a story.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
Biggest challenge: Chasing a moving train.
Most enjoyable: Playing builds every week to really test the music in the environment.
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player right now?
In the 6-disc CD player right now: Sam Cook, the new Foo Fighters record, Coldplay, Dewey Cox, David Gilmour, Into the Wild soundtrack.
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
Hard to pick one. I loved the collaboration with Asdru Sierra of Ozomatli on DARKWATCH, and also GOD OF WAR I and II, as well as CONAN – that one was particularly cool, having played live percussion with the legendary Emil Richards and Denny Seiwell. I also recently completed the music for writer/directors Brandon Violette and Nick Kaestle – two upcoming talented, histerical guys. That was a lot of fun and I had to write a song to compliment the score.
What would be your dream project?
Anything where I have free reign to create music and really produce the soundtrack. Something where I could compose the score and also write and produce songs… that would be great.
What are you currently working on?
Composing the music for a nationwide feature film release, as well as a new Nickelodeon cartoon series based on a video game (both soon to be announced). I’m also getting ready to start on the second season of Bob Boyle’s WOW WOW WUBBZY! Cartoon for Nickelodeon.
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
Yep. I play console games, mostly with my son who is the most talented and dedicated gamer I know. He’s eleven and is beating Guitar Hero I and II on Expert mode. He used to ask me to help him get through certain songs, but has learned recently that the master has now become the student. :)
Thanks again and good luck on your coming endeavours.