What's Your Line?

Gerard Marino

Gerard Marino, video game soundtrack composer

The man who wrote the iconic music for the God Of War series talks about scoring an unfinished game, paying dues as a strip club DJ, and why composing in the 8-bit era was like writing for a string quartet.

By Steve Heisler • July 19, 2012

We often use vague catchall words to describe careers in gaming: developer, designer, producer. But those words don’t tell much of a story. What’s Your Line? is an interview series designed to demystify the people who make their living in games.

Gerard Marino has been making music his whole life, playing in bands and spinning tunes at a strip club to pay his way through music school. He’s scored a few smaller films, but he really hit it big when he was asked to be the lead composer on a little game called God Of War. Recently, he received a Hollywood Music In Media Awards nomination for his work scoring the new Amazing Spider-Man game, further cementing his place as one of the industry’s go-to composers.

The Gameological Society: How do you score a video game?

Gerard Marino: [Laughs] I don’t even want to say, “Very carefully.” Well, it depends on the game. You meet with the guys and find out about the game—what’s gonna happen, what kind of game is it, what do you want from the music in this game. If it’s a platformer like Super Mario Galaxy, it’ll be one thing. If it’s a sword-and-sandal slasher like God Of War, it’ll be another thing. So you determine what you’re gonna need. Quite often with the games I’m doing—let’s call them your stereotypical video game, the big console game variety where you’re either fighting somebody or saving the world—there’s a lot of parallels with film and TV music. They look for that cinematic experience, so in that regard, those aims are the same.

Gameological: Do they have a script for you to read when you’re brought on? 

Marino: As long as it is a story-based game, then yes. If it’s earlier in the process, or the game’s not working really well, you get concept art and explanations. You read the script, you look at the pictures. Here’s the story. Here’s the guy. Here’s the main character. Here’s what he looks like. Here’s the people he’s going to be fighting, here’s what they look like, and here’s the places they’re going to be fighting. And you kind of just use your imagination from there.  And if it’s a sequel or something, you’re going to know a lot more about it. You’re maybe going to be able to play it sooner rather than later.

Gameological: So when you made God Of War II and God Of War III, you basically had a baseline from which to work from?

As long as it’s a good melody, it could repeat a million times and we won’t care.

Marino: Yes, I did. The really hard groundwork was done, as far as coming up with a world and a universe. Conceptually, we knew what was going to happen, and it was just pushing around on the edges of what we’ve built before. It’s a little easier to do a sequel for that reason. You don’t have to find the DNA of a project. At least you have the DNA together. So you’re just making new mutants out of it? Having more children?

Gameological: Is there a trick to writing music that you know is going to get repeated within the game?

Marino: There are different schools of thought on that. I lean on the side of having a whole wealth of interesting musical material going on all the time. That way, if it plays a bunch of times, there’s a whole lot to it so that people cannot get bored with it. I err on the side of putting a melody in there. There are those who say there should be no melody, because that’ll be very recognizable and every time it repeats, you’ll hear it. So I say, as long as it’s a good melody, it could repeat a million times and we won’t care. Just like Super Mario Bros. did. I go back to these iconic games that didn’t worry too much about it, that just worried about having good music in there, and that was just fine.

I think good music trumps all when it comes to technology. And also there’s implementation. If they only took 30 seconds out of Beethoven’s 9th and played it the 13 hours you’re playing a video game, yes, as awesome as that music is, you would learn to hate it. I’m an external kind of composer kind of guy, and I’m not much of a computer programmer. There are usually one to seven guys at work at the development studio, making all the right sounds work at the right times and the right places. As long as they have enough time, they will make sure that the music works well and turns off after a while. Like if you sit in one room for a while, they’ll just fade out the music.

Gameological: You mentioned Super Mario Bros. How has new technology in gaming music influenced your compositions? In the past, the 8-bit limit on sound gave rise to all sorts of interesting melodies; I’m curious how the lack of limitations impacts music writing. 

Marino: In the past it was more about you having to pick maybe two to four sounds. You could come up with different ones, but you could never get more than two or four to play at the same time. It’s like writing for string quartet. It’s actually much harder to write for small resources than it is for big ones. A string quartet is so bare and exposed, every note has to count, the same as 8-bit. Whereas with an orchestra, as long as everybody’s playing the same note, it sounds like a million dollars.

The inspiration I pull from the 8-bit scores is more about how those guys had to make everything count. Usually the ones we remember these days are because of the melodies, the Super Mario Bros. and some Final Fantasy stuff, and the Zelda stuff. All of that has been re-orchestrated now and is on tour with orchestras across the world. Three or four different touring orchestras with orchestrated 8-bit music now. It’s cool, but we need to make sure that the music’s good.

There is technology in games now that allows branching and looping and layer-fading and all this sort of stuff. And if you get all caught up in the details of that, it generally has downward pressure on the actual artistic measure of the music. It becomes all this bolts and nuts and gears, and it doesn’t ever flow, because actual music flows. Until we can get some really workable algorithmic composition software into a console game and have the sounds be available that will play convincingly all at the same time out of the console, it’s going to have to be well-written music. All the little bits and pieces that we stick together, the more you do of that, the less musical it is. 

Gameological: You just did music for the Amazing Spider-Man game, which is based on a film. How much inspiration do you take from the composition of the film?

Marino: I’d say that the game directors do look for the music to accomplish certain goals the same way that a film director would, but I’d say scoring them is a lot different due to the different technical issues that go along with it. The role of the music is pretty much the same, but the way to do it is different—they were still shooting the movie when I was halfway done with my score. I was probably done with my score for the video game before James Horner wrote the first note for the score of the movie. And actually, the story of the video game, it’s the smartest thing I’ve heard so far with these movie tie-in games: It’s actually a sequel to the movie. It takes place after the events of the movie. Instead of having some half-baked version of the movie, they pick up where the movie left off. 

Gameological: Do you play games? 

Marino: I play as often as I can. It’s been getting busier and busier, and I don’t get to play as often as I’d like. I’ve actually got a stack of games wrapped in plastic that I haven’t quite burned through yet. And I do feel like you should live life, too, so I try to get out and have some experiences in the real world, too.

Gameological: So have you played games you’ve worked on?

Marino: Oh yeah. The Spider-Man game came out yesterday, and I didn’t want to wait until my comp copies came. I bought it and I played it. I just got done this morning. I absolutely do that, usually the day they come out. Those are the games that I absolutely, always play.

Gameological: What is that experience like?

Marino: Sometimes it’s like, “Yes!” and sometimes it’s like, “Oh no!” I can see where if we all had another month, we would have had it perfect. Another month for him to spend on the music implementation. Another month for me to finally see all the cinematics, to finally see where some of them really went. Toward the end, things get really crazy. There are a lot of important little movies in the game that weren’t done before the “all audio assets in” date. There’s these giant teams that are spread across multiple countries, and not every part of every team always gets all their stuff in on time. It’s like watching a football game. It’s your home team, and they’re winning. Every once in a while the quarterback twists his ankle. It’s kind of a contact sport.

Gameological: What are the rough logistics of how much time you have between when they sit you down and talk about the concept, to when you deliver the full score? 

Marino: It kind of varies. When they start talking to you also varies. The first three God Of War console games I did, I had almost exactly a year to do whatever I wanted on it. So lots of time. Lots of detail went into those scores.

Gameological: So eight months of slacking and four months of work?

Marino: It’s actually a lot like that. For the Spider-Man game, I had five or six months, so five months of slacking and two weeks of work. [Laughs] It was a little more compressed. Those are different companies too. So it varies. Ideally you get on early because then you can spend plenty of time spitballing and coming up with a really cool concept. Then when you actually do start writing, you don’t have giant amounts to do, so you can take a lot of time on it. If you don’t have another gig going, you can really spend serious time and get lots of detail in there, and that makes for a loop that you don’t get tired of right away. 

Gameological: I saw on your website that you started your career as a strip club DJ. How does that trajectory work? 

Marino: Well, you know, always a means to an end. Basically I was up to no good in my immediate years after high school, and I cleaned up my act by getting a job as a strip club DJ. I decided after all my rock bands had broken up—I was going to be a rock star first and foremost. I wasn’t going to go to school, I was just going to be a crazy, long-haired, new wave, heavy metal ’80s rocker. But every band broke up, like they always do, for all the same stupid reasons, and I tried to do something alone, solo film music. I figured, okay, my favorite film music is written for orchestra, and that means you do have to go to college after all. How am I going to pay for it? Essentially that was that. I put myself through school as a strip club DJ. All that stuff did infiltrate me, so it’s all kicking around in there. And it comes out. I used to fight it, but now I don’t fight it.

Gameological: What’s kicking around from that?

Marino: I feel like I was born as a musician in the ’80s, and all that music from then—all that hair metal, all that thrash metal, all that new wave, all those things that I played, all those songs that I wrote, all those bands that I was in, and all those things that I was imagining in envisioning my rock stardom or my pop stardom—all that is part of my musical DNA. So now I write for the orchestra, but when I write a cello line it’s perfectly something that James Hetfield could play. When I write woodwind lines, it’s very much the kind of thing that sounds like it could come out of an arpeggiator of Nick Rhodes. I went to college, and I thought I was going to learn how to do everything right, but after I got out, I found that the way I can write original sounding orchestral music is to not ignore my roots. It’s to embrace it all and to let it come out, however it comes out. Let that sensibility happen. Actually right now, it’s really working out, because the ’80s are kind of back.

Gameological: How did you get the God Of War job?

Marino: The short story is, I knew a guy who knew a guy. The long story is, I had a lot of music in this production library that had been licensed to lots of trailers—big, epic, mean stuff—and they went through a really involved, convoluted process looking for the right music for God Of War. Originally it was called Dark Odyssey, and it was shrouded in secrecy. They kept asking for the wrong thing for the music. Everybody got tired of demoing for it, and they started reaching outside the industry. That’s where my pal who runs the production music library he says, “Well I do know a guy who writes the most aggressive shit that you’ve ever heard, if you want to check it out.” And so they gave me a shot at it. I wrote the first piece of music that David Jaffe liked in a year.

I write for the orchestra, but when I write a cello line it’s something that James Hetfield could play.

It’s only because they kept asking for the wrong music from everybody. If they had come out and said, “We’re looking for sword-and-sandal, gladiator type stuff,” which seems like a no-brainer—but no, they were trying to get all kinds of weird on it. And I had come in there fresh too. I hadn’t taken three stabs at it. At that point no one had ever seen anything. They just told everybody, “We want mean, nasty, arrhythmic, non-melodic, stuff, because it’s the most evil character to ever step foot in a video game.” They didn’t say it was ancient Greece. They didn’t say you were going up against gods. So everybody did whatever they did, but it was wrong. Once you actually say what it is that you have, what you want, at least give up some of the plot, then you’re maybe going to get somebody with an idea. Thankfully, they did it wrong, because otherwise somebody else would have gotten picked.

It’s funny because I lose gigs for the same reason now. I’m one of the guys they reach out to with the wrong information, and I give them the best wrong demo they’ve ever heard. After they’ve gone to everybody they’ll say, “Jeez, I don’t know,” and then they’ll talk to one guy, and he’ll do something different and get the gig. So I see the gigs that made me king going away, and I complain about it, but I guess I shouldn’t complain too loud because I’m on the map now. If you really want to get original music, you should have one little conversation with just one of us, and don’t put out the cattle call to the whole world. I always say, pick five guys who you think would be good for it and one guy who you never think would be good for it, because that guy will be so glad you even called him that he’ll swing for the fences harder than anybody.

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  • Staggering Stew Bum

    “And I do feel like you should live life, too, so I try to get out and have some experiences in the real world, too.”

    Pfft, don’t bother.

  • Enkidum

    I really like this series in particular – the games industry is kind of an intriguing mystery to me, and this makes it a lot clearer.

    As for Mr Marino, I have to say that he did a pretty awesome job on GOW, but there was no way I could avoid running all of the music into the ground on the Hades level – I heard that damn “Kratos” choral piece about 6 kazillion times and it, like everything else about the game, just made me angry at that point. But I do appreciate that he did the best one could humanly do to make the repetition bearable.

    • George_Liquor

      Repetition in a game’s score doesn’t bother me much unless it’s really blatant. For example, the last Ghostbusters game (which was otherwise highly underrated and a lot of fun) lifted its score entirely from the first movie–a score written for a two-hour film, not an 8+ hour game. Every time the action on screen heated up, it would play the same incidental music over again, which I found really distracting after a while.

  • Juan_Carlo

    Am I the only one who turns immediately turns in game music off and then provides my own music?  In fact, one the main reasons I play video games is just as an excuse to listen to music (otherwise, I’m not sure when I’d do it, other than while driving).

    I do this so often that games usually become inextricably linked with specific albums I was listening to while I played them in my mind.

    Of course this doesn’t work with certain games (adventure games, for example, which have too much dialogue), but I don’t see how anyone could stand to listen to in game music.  I’d get bored.

    • Pennywise_Esq

      I imagine you are not alone but i cannot completely count myself in, as you alluded to it really depends on the type of game you are playing, for example i will favour my own music to be playing when it comes to driving games but too often i find myself filtering out the music and focus on the car and the track – a tunnel vision type of effect - making the audio preference redundant.

      For the most part i would say in game music serves a important but subtle function that i’m sure is not lost on us in that it can either set or enhance the mood/environment we are engaging in - think back to Shadow of the Colossus where i will admit the music cues were rather akin to a trucker’s gear change but nevertheless you were triggered into a certain feeling about a given situation such as the victorious yet sombre, sad nay tragic score for when you felled the colossus that implied what you did may not have been particuarly good. However it doesn’t even need to be a full score to do the trick, something as simple as a few chords can create ambience for a stealth game.

      A few notable games that come to mind where the in game music is fundamental are: REZ and its spiritual successor Child of Eden, Eternal Sonata, Journey (slightly borderline but you can understand where line of thought is).

      I guess it comes down to if the in game music is the soundtrack or the score.

      • Juan_Carlo

        Well, I also think part of the problem is that in game music just tends not to be very good.  I know there are exceptions (I’ve never played God Of War so I can’t comment on the guy in this article), but generally if game music is good at all it just tends to be the theme song, and then the actual stuff you hear for most of the time you are playing is pretty awful (a recent example I can think of is the Assassin’s Creed games: pretty good theme song, terrible, terrible, in game music).  I’m not sure if I can blame them for this, perhaps, as I imagine video games are hard to compose for (by nature the music has to be pretty repeatable, which often lends itself more to ambient type stuff than full orchestrations).  I thought Bastion had pretty good music, so that’s one game I didn’t provide my own music for (plus it has too much dialogue anyway), plus VVVVVV’s 8bit score was pretty interesting, but those are the only recent examples I can think of off hand that really impressed me.

        But yeah, given that I never use my own in game music the only video game music I actually remember is from adventure games (I can still hum the Gabriel Knight theme music to this day, for example, and can still sing the incredibly cheesy latin theme song from “Phantasmagoria”). Maybe I’m missing out, though, as with most video games I play I often don’t hear the in game music at all.

        • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

          I think you’re playing the wrong games.  I don’t want to launch attacks at any specific people, but, yes, video game music is far worse than it used to be.  That said, there is an surplus of riches every year.

          Check VGMDb (and that excludes gamerips for releases).  I help run a video game music topic every year on NeoGAF.  Search for it.  Otherwise, name a video game song you like and I’ll give you 3 like it.

    • George_Liquor

       Racing games, man. Racing games. Whoever thought every single damn racing game needs a thumping, generic techno soundtrack needs to be beaten with a subwoofer.

    • Citric

      I actually enjoy a lot of game music, and there are a lot of game soundtracks that I listen to independently. The most extreme example is someone turned me on to the Armored Core OSTs and I listen to them even though I don’t play the games.

      There are exceptions, and they’re called Gran Turismo, which generally has an awful licensed soundtrack which I can do better than.

    • Brainstrain91

      You may, in fact, be the only one. There are plenty of games every year with phenomenal soundtracks. The only time I’ve ever gotten bored of in-game music is in WoW: the Orgrimmar theme, which plays constantly because at max level Horde-side you live there, makes me a bit sick. I’m sure Alliance-side players feel similarly about the Stormwind theme. They’re just too damn grandiose to not lose something while you stand around waiting for queues to pop or digging through the Auction House.

    • caspiancomic

       This is a phenomenon I learned about here that still kind of surprises me. Personally, I always listen to a game’s music, and in fact listen to plenty of game music on my iPod when I’m just riding the bus or whatever. Then again, my tastes tend to run a little esoteric, and I usually find myself intrigued by games with unique soundtracks. I’ll admit that although I’ve played a few Assassin’s Creeds, I can’t remember a single note from any of the soundtracks. So maybe my whole thing is that I tend to gravitate towards the Bastions, the Journeys, the World Ends With Yous, the Sonic Generations, and basically the games with kick ass soundtracks.

  • http://profiles.google.com/deceleration.waltz Deceleration Waltz

    I absolutely love that there are people continuing to make beautiful chiptune compositions, both original works and covers. If you haven’t yet, check out Moon8, an NES-styled remake of Dark Side of the Moon. The limitations of the medium necessitate some serious creativity.

    I consider chiptune artists to be the aural equivalent of pixel artists
    (which is a badge I proudly wear, though I’m nowhere near a master):
    using a limited palette to create something crisp, nostalgic, and
    distilled to its essence.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      99Letters, Comptroller, Anamanaguchi, and Professor Sakamoto are my favorite musicians who traffic only in chiptunes, but Russia’s electronic music scene is brilliant. 

      96wrld, Bop, Dza, I-Tone, Moa Pillar, Monokle, Mujuice, Music For Your Plants, Nocow, Pixelord, and Thallus all dabble in it, with Mujuice being the best and Dza and Pixelord being the most influenced by it.

    • PaganPoet

      There were also 8-bit remixes of Garbage’s Version 2.0 album and Radiohead’s OK Computer I found on youtube. Really enjoyable stuff, that.

    • http://www.backloggery.com/colliewest Colliewest

      And then there’s the other way around, which can be just as awesome. Did someone say ragtime?  
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GeytLzRY_0Y

  • George_Liquor

    There’s nothing I love more than a good chiptune. What’s everybody’s favorites? For me, I think it’s a toss-up between Ballblazer on the 7800 and World 4 in Blaster Master.

    • PaganPoet

      I’ve always loved the main theme of Super Mario Bros 2/Doki Doki Panic. Nothing like a jaunty ragtime tune.

      The overworld theme of Final Fantasy III is also about as lovely as 8-bit music can get.

    • Asinus

      Yes, LOVE SMB2′s music, but there aren’t that many different songs (Overworld, Underworld, Boss, Wart, Character Select, Intro, Outro, oh and Subspace) I have to give the overall nod to Megaman 2. Single song, though, yeah, SMB2 overworld music.

      Any Final Fantasy is awesome, of course (Hey, wavetable is on a chip). I think Uematsu really knows how to write perfect (by my standard) video game music. When he wants you to notice it, when it adds to the drama of a scene, you’ll hear it. But when he doesn’t want it to grate on you, he writes wonderfully transparent music that you (I) don’t even notice unless I stop to listen. His world map music is always great, but it never drives me insane when I have to hear it for hours on end.

      • PaganPoet

        I tend to personally prefer Yasunori Mitsuda’s slightly ethnomusic approach to vg music (Xenogears, Chrono Cross, etc.) to Uematsu, but in general, yes, Uematsu is probably the master of the whole medium.

        • Asinus

          Right after I posted this, I left and thought of “Flight” from xenogears.

    • Logoboros

      I’ll put a vote in for the Nintendo version of Marble Madness. That’s one I’d listen to as standalone music (and I’ve seen a few nice YouTube videos of people playing it on piano).

  • Mookalakai

    Video game musical scores are constantly the most overlooked part of video games, and I feel like they are almost all excellent. I can’t remember the last time I played a video game with a bad musical score, it seems like they all are done so well with the theme of the game in mind. My favorite score goes to the otherwise average RTS game Rise and Fall, Civilizations at War. Also the main menu music in Zeno Clash, both are so perfect for their respective games.

  • PaganPoet

    Anyone else miss old-school videogame soundtracks? (cue whiny 80s and 90s kids like me pining for the good ol’ days)

    Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the work and artistry that goes into composing a modern video game score, but the music lately seems to be more like a movie score…more about mood and ambience, rather than melodic the way it was in the 8-bit through 32-bit days.

    You won’t have modern day video game music stuck in your head the way you’ll have, say, Terra’s Theme from FFVI, or Vampire Killer from the Castlevania Series.

    • Asinus

      Recorded orchestral, rock, or whatever is usually kind of discordant with what I’m seeing on screen. I *love* MIDI music and have quite a lot of hardware to show for it. Even crummy Adlib-compatible or 4 op FM synth (not Yamaha DX-level, but later soundblaster 16 and AWE) can work really, really well. I can’t imagine playing, say Space Quest 3 with recorded music, it would look all wrong. Even when Quake came out and had that NIN soundtrack (which is pretty cool on its own), it didn’t work for me because it was way more realistic than what I was seeing. Videogame graphics need that one-step-removed-from-reality music. Even my nice MIDI stuff (which isn’t top of the line anymore but was over 1000 bucks in the late 90s) works really well. Quake 3 has a midi soundtrack hidden in it that works really well. FFVII for the PC music was re-written to take advantage of the sort of Yamaha gear that I have and even it is pleasantly unrealistic (though it does amazing double reeds).

      I saw a video of the recording of the music for Mario Galaxy 2– I love that score, but when you see that whole orchestra assembled it just seems a bit like overkill when one guy could be writing great music for a virtual orchestra (not that I want to put orchestras out of work!)… it would keep costs down considerably.

      • George_Liquor

         I remember ‘Roland MT-32′ being a sound option in Space Quest 3′s setup menu, and not having a clue what it meant, other than ‘no sound for you.’ Years later, I found a recording of SQ3′s opening score being played through one, and I was floored by the quality. Like you said, it’s still a half-step removed from recorded music, and it fit the look of the game perfectly.

        • Asinus

           I finally bought one, and even as obsolete as it is, it’s still fun. It has a display on it that was meant for patch programing and the line, but Sierra used it to send little messages. I think SQ3 it pops up with “INSERT BUCKAZOID” and SQ4 is “CALLING ROGER WILCO” (though those may be the other way around). Sierra and other competent MT-32 patch writers could make some really great sound out of it. Default MT-32 patches are meh, but since it’s a real synth, people who know what they’re doing can still make great sound with it. (I am not one of those people.)

      • http://www.avclub.com/users/merve,96925/ Merve

        In a way, I think sci-fi games have it easier. They can incorporate synths and retro-ish sounds to make their music sound more “videogame-y” and still fit the music to the game’s ambiance.

      • Afghamistam

        For someone with all that stuff it seems like you would know more than most how there’s no substitution for actual instruments.

        • Asinus

           Except in video games.

        • Afghamistam

          Yeah, players and makers love so much the sound of shitty MIDI expression-free trumpets that they’ve… actually I can’t finish that because no-one loves that sound.

    • George_Liquor

      I definitely get a warm fuzzy when I think back to the days when video game consoles all had a unique sound to them.

    • Electric Dragon

      If you’re prepared to look at the more indie end of the spectrum, there’s plenty of great music out there. Machinarium’s soundtrack in particular is utterly gorgeous, and there have definitely been days when I’ve had “Tumbler” from World of Goo as an earworm.

    • caspiancomic

       Although I usually find naked nostalgia pretty irritating, and something that can be enjoyed in moderation so long as one is careful not to drown in it, or pine for the good ol’ days at the expense of ignoring the great new stuff simply for not being old, I too will admit a total soft spot for 16-bit music. Something about the difference between the SNES and Genesis sound chips gave those consoles very distinct sounds. I don’t know if there’s a single bad track between Sonic 1 and Sonic and Knuckles. They’re all such knockouts.

    • http://thewavefunctionjunction.blogspot.com/ trilobiter

       I couldn’t agree more.  Melody can’t be all there is to music, but it’s usually my favorite part. 

      Mood and ambience are good, as far as they go.  But melody has a really unique way of interacting with gameplay, I think, that a few chords or riffs can’t really duplicate.  Whenever I think about an old game like Yoshi’s Island, the first thing that pops into my head is the music, and I just follow the melody through some of the stages and actions I remember.   You can’t really link the two in that same way if the music doesn’t have a strong melodic through-line.

      • PaganPoet

        Funnily enough, when I think of mood and ambience, I still think of 16-bit game music. For example:

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K96venBS7P8

        • Asinus

          Yeah, I could listen to 16 bit music to sleep and relax… never had a 16 bit console, but it’s always been very calming for me.

    • http://www.avclub.com/users/ghaleonq,4597/ GhaleonQ

      A ton of people who used to do video game music are still around (western and eastern).

      1.  That means that their approach is still largely the same.

      2.  If they do handheld games, they often have restrictions that bring out that special sort of creativity in the same way.

      3.  Even if they aren’t hampered by hardware, some willingly choose it.  In fact, Yuzo Koshiro releases MSX and NEC versions of this music, and it’s often included in the game itself.  Again: http://vgmdb.net/db/main.php  The 7th Dragon games and the Yggdrasil Labyrinth/Etrian Odyssey games do this.

      The 2 Hero 30/Half-Minute Hero games are great examples of all of these phenomena.  They have a murderer’s row of composers.  Some are chiptunes.  Most are just simplified in composition.  Try both brilliant soundtracks.

      • Citric

        I think the restrictions being inspiring is a pretty important point. Now that people can bring in an entire orchestra to score it’s pretty easy to make a middling composition sound better than it is – as Marino mentions in the interview. With the NES and (to a lesser extent) 16 bit consoles there wasn’t very much room to hide, so you had to find creative solutions to get good music.

        Which is not to say that game music today is bad – there’s a lot of stuff out there I love, Armored Core, Nier and the FFXIIIs have been pretty damn great I dare say, for three things from this generation off the top of my head – or that we shouldn’t allow an orchestra as a tool, but just that a lot of the mediocre music seems to be composers who aren’t really challenging themselves and are able to hide in grandeur.

  • caspiancomic

    You know, I’ve actually been thinking a lot about game music recently. In one of my own pipe dream projects, music plays (or rather, would play, or ideally, will play) a pretty significant role in mood-setting. But I’ve been wondering what the best way to achieve that sound would be. Personally, I don’t know anything about music, but I know approximately how I would want it to sound. I’ve read a lot about how different studios handle the musical element in their games, and it seems like any one of them might be an ideal solution. Supergiant, for example, started the company with Darren Korb entrenched in the group as their music guy from day one. When Sega first started work on Sonic, they send Masato Nakamura concept art and doctored screenshots of every individual zone to provide a visual inspiration for his score. Jonathon Blow did the math and determined it was most cost effective to just license a bunch of songs for Braid, rather than hire a composer. And now I’ve got Mr. Marino and Sony’s example of basically doing a composer casting call and seeing who could provide what they were looking for. I think thatgamecompany did the same thing, which is how they first met Austin Wintory for flOw.

    Man, game design is hard. Hopefully one day I’ll sort this out. If I ever had to make a proof of concept or something, I feel like I would probably just stick in the tracks that have served as “inspiration” so far and hope that those bands did the math and decided it wasn’t worth their time or energy to sue me.

    • PaganPoet

      I have this really lame hobby, sometimes, listening to pop/rock songs, I try to imagine…if I were making a JRPG, what situation would I use this song in? Battle music? Tragic scene? Volcano/fire temple? It’s kind of embarassing, but I find it interesting.

      I can tell you that “Pagan Poetry” by Bjork belongs in an ice temple, and “Round Round” by the Sugababes belongs in some kind of dungeon or mountain level that has a lot of wind.