Game Music Connect: A Panel With Giants - Part 1
One of the big appeals of Game Music Connect, the inaugural international symposium for video game music fans and composers, was the draw of some of the biggest names in the business. Specifically, the event drew together no less than six of the most well-known video game composers:
- James Hannigan
- Jason Graves
- Richard Jacques
- Jesper Kyd
- Martin O'Donnell
- Joris de Man
Hosted by the co-founder of the symposium, John Broomhall, this second session of the day, entitled "Soundcard to Symphony", gave patrons a chance to get to know these titans of sound better.
As this session immediately followed Professor Stephen Deutsch's lecture, naturally the first question was going to be what they thought about what Deutsch had to say. Surprisingly, they concurred with his opinion.
Discussed were opinions such as too much music in video games, causing the score to become mere "wallpaper". Also mentioned was how overwhelming music can sometimes deprive players of the ability to make their own responses to a game. In the opinion of the panel, moments of no music can be just as effective and emotive as moments that are scored.
Agreed on for the reason for so much bad video game music, within Deutsch's definition, is that there is seldom any specific music direction within games. Hannigan states that if no Audio Director (AD) is available, it's difficult to know whose vision of the game is underlining its music; the composer's or the designer's? Furthermore, Jacques states that, in general, composers have a very good understanding of structure as part of their craft, and reckons designers don't really share that understanding, causing rifts and conceptual discrepancies.
Graves illustrates this by giving examples where he's had to really battle against games designers on some of his musical decisions. Specifically when trying to convince them that at some points the absence of music will actually serve the game better.
All in all, it goes to show the importance of having an AD on board when creating a game: a luxury O'Donnell has had being both composer and AD on the Halo series. The role of ADs is something that would be discussed with current ADs from various software companies in a specific later session.
Destrolyn.bechgeddig (right) with composer Jason Graves (left), at Game Music Connect. Photograph: Courtesy of the author.
The panel were also asked about their general reflections on video game music: where it has come from and where it's going. Now video game music has become a much more recognised and celebrated, expectations and quality of the music has raised considerably. The fear is this could lead to games publishers looking to involve big film composing names to bolster a title's appeal. Afterall, the games industry is about profit first and art second.
Whilst the panel acknowledge that all are excellent film composers out there, such as Hans Zimmer, John Williams, and Danny Elfman, it doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be appropriate for composing music for video games. The panel all discussed the huge learning curves and problem solving they've had to do over their careers, stating that this experience that has honed their craft isn't something that be replicated easily, and is something very unique to video games.
However, Kyd cynically rebuts that one of the purposes of video games music is to make moments or interactions more intense, and as Hollywood composer's are already very adept at doing this for film, looking into drafting big name composers into games isn't that illogical.
But despite these forebodings, all are generally happy that video game music has gained solid recognition, and is something that now being discussed and analysed at length. And with concerts across the world featuring professional orchestras performing their works, they feel it's a pretty good time for them and for video game music.
Stay tuned for part two of this panel round-up.