CHEAT CODES

When I, Sascha, started composing in 1996, there were only a handful of people doing music for video games. It was obviously a lot easier to get into
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When I, Sascha, started composing in 1996, there were only a handful of people doing music for video games. It was obviously a lot easier to get into the industry. In 2005, I partnered up with Cris and have scored 12 game titles in the last year alone, including Spy Hunter: Nowhere to Run (Midway), Splinter Cell: Double Agent (Ubisoft), Marvel: Ultimate Alliance (Activision) and, most recently, Dark Messiah of Might and Magic (Ubisoft).

I, Cris, have been interested in games since I was a kid. Once I had the formal music training, it seemed like the perfect route to take. It was obvious to me that this is where the new explosion of talent would come from. I didn't score my first real game until 2003 when I was hired for Battlestar Galactica (Universal Interactive). And it was an uphill struggle for many years for me to get my foot in the door up to that point. Tenacity was the key, though. Just having the guts to stick with your dream will give you an edge over most of the competition.

How should a gamer apply his or her tenacity to get a foot in the door?

Sascha: Today, you will face fierce competition. It's going to be tough, and patience is something you will need. Of course, it's important to have a solid demo. While there are many games that require many different styles of music, any aspiring composer should focus on what they do best. Don't try to be the next John Williams. Try to bring something new to the table. Also, keep in mind that if your demo gets heard, keep the cues as short as possible. No one will listen to a five-minute-long single track. Take your demo to industry event shows like the Game Developers Conference. It's important to be an excellent musician, but just as important is how you present yourself. Your chances will always go up when you come across as a nice guy or gal.

How has it helped you two being in a partnership?

Sascha: Before our partnership, we had already worked and built reputations in games, individually. Cris worked on titles like God of War (SCEA, 2005) and Terminator 3 (Atari, 2003), and I have done work for games like the Quake (Activision) and James Bond (Electronic Arts) series. But the beauty about our work collaboration is that we are taking both of our specialized skills and morphing them into one. Cris is one of the best orchestral composers out there, bar none, and I use my strengths in sound design (using Symbolic Sound Kyma and Native Instruments Reaktor) for electronic music and mixing. It's a true collaboration. Not a single track goes by that we both didn't work on. It's basically taking the best of both worlds and combining them into one.

How does scoring for video games differ from other mediums such as films, television or commercials?

Cris: It's very different. For one, most games are nonlinear. Unlike a movie, games are generally not scripted. Gameplay will always change and have to adjust to what the player is doing. Another thing is that the sensitivity is a lot higher. Oftentimes, you will have a two-minute cue for a whole level. The trick is to not annoy the player. We have to compose the music in a way that makes it less obvious there's only a two-minute cue looping.

Game music is becoming more fluid, depending on the player's decisions. How does that change the way gamers think about creating music?

Sascha: This is where adaptive music comes into play. There are numerous ways of writing and implementing the music to give the impression that the players' actions are dictating the role of the music. An example of this might be to write three or four versions of the same cue. However, while each cue is structurally the same, the intensity will be drastically different. Level one will typically be more ambient with little to no melodic content. Level four will be all-out action with a full statement of the theme. These tracks are also written in a way that any one of the four may seamlessly transition into any of the other cues. This method is fairly successful at creating a musically adaptive atmosphere.

For electronic musicians without a composition background, what's a good way to learn some of the principles of cinematic scoring for films and games?

Sascha: A good start would be to download trailers and movies and import those into your computer. Start to rescore them to get a feel for spotting good cue points. Just watching movies and playing games will really give you a sense of what's effective in cinematic scoring.

In dealing with game developers/corporations, what are the contractual issues that game composers should be aware of in terms of music rights, licensing and payment?

Cris: Basically, in our industry, when you work on a game, most of the time it is considered a “work for hire.” You will most likely not see royalties from units sold, and you can only use the music for promotional purposes. Licensing deals are different in that you get to keep the master rights to your music. However, the music industry is still in its infancy in regards to games. Game composers have been delivering Hollywood-quality scores for some time now. And as the fans and studios take notice, we believe that further compensation is just around the corner.

In a work-for-hire situation, can you do anything to negotiate a fair fee for your work?

Sascha: We do have something like an industry standard, which our manager Bob Rice negotiates for us. Working on a single title for a whole year won't really make you rich. Obviously, that makes for a good living. But besides that, we also write tracks for trailers, music libraries and other tracks that we can license out, which means that every time those tracks get used, we get paid.