Video Games: The Composers, The Music, and The Future
Ok, I admit it, I’m a gamer. I try to justify the time I spend playing video games as research for potential jobs I may have as a composer (I actually want to write for video games if possible), but I know that at times video games are just a good excuse for procrastination. In all honesty though, through video games I have found new avenues to explore as a composer, from new techniques of writing to new overall sources of melodic and harmonic inspiration. If you ask me about some of the works that inspire me as a composer, I will answer music like the soaring themes by Harry Gregson-Williams for the Metal Gear Solid series, the tragically beautiful score for Final Fantasy X (written by Nobuo Uematsu), the electronic masterpiece of Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory by Amon Tobin and Jesper Kyd (arguably the most in-demand composer in the video game world) and finally the other-worldly music of Marty O’Donnell from Halo series.
I doubt the makers of Pong and Space Invaders ever imagined that decades later video games would feature Oscar worthy scores written by world class composers like Hans Zimmer. The scores of the games of today move the hearts of the gamers who play them, so much so that orchestras like the Los Angeles Philharmonic have actually held concerts of solely video game music (apart of a larger organization called Video Games Live).
Writing for video games opens up so many more possibilities, and pitfalls, for the composer. With a good video game score, the music moves with you as the gamer. If you are playing a military-style game like Splinter Cell, your choices in the game should be reflected in the music (i.e. in a game like Splinter Cell which tends to focus on stealth, if the gamer chooses to throw stealth out the window and run in guns-blazing, the music should be affected quickly). This makes a new challenge to the composer, for they may be used to writing for film, television or concert performances where things are set and grounded, but in a video game everything changes according to the individual person. What makes a good video game composer, in turn a good video game score, is not only skill with melody, orchestration etc., but also someone who understands the intricate processes of the gamer (preferably a gamer themselves).
In all honesty, I believe that some large video game companies make a mistake in hiring big-time Hollywood-type composers simply because they are an industry juggernaut. They may have a name that could bring in some more money (of course if the choice fails the company could be in the red as their budget takes a major hit hiring a Hollywood composer), but they may not be the composer best suited for the job. I believe that it is time for major video game companies like Rockstar and others to give independent composers a chance. We may actually be better suited for the job, as we may be huge fans of the games they hire us to write for, and understand the plot-lines and general trajectory of the games better than an industry composer. They just have to give us a chance.
I wonder about the future of video game music, it seems like all that can be accomplished has already. Music is funny though, when you least expect it, an innovator comes out of nowhere and flips everything on its head. I am anxious to see who that innovator, or innovators, are, as new consoles will inevitably be released, unlocking a great deal of uncharted technological territory to work with.