Hi Jeff, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get into the video game music business?
From an early age music has been a great passion of mine – I started playing the piano at age 8, later started the saxophone, and began composing at age 16. I studied composition formally, earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from Brigham Young University, and later studied film scoring at UCLA. I had always loved video games, and it was a goal of mine to start a career composing for them.
Let’s start out by talking about your score to I Am Alive. When and how did you get involved in the project?
I first got involved in the pitch for the project in winter of 2011, after contacting the audio director and learning about the project. I created a custom demo showcasing different approaches for the gameplay music, as well as a couple of main theme prototypes, and based on these samples I was selected to score the project.
How did you approach the game musically and how much creative freedom were you given by the developers to find a unique and creative soundscape for the game?
I learned about the creative vision of the game by talking with the audio director Zhang Lei and learning as much as possible about the project. It was clear that I Am Alive was a very unique game with fresh ideas for gameplay. It was important to convey the scope of the emotions evoked by the struggle to survive, which range from despair and fear, to life-threatening danger, to moments of hope and human connection. To accomplish this, a unique blend of atmospheric elements, sound-design inspired percussion, as well as emotional solo piano and vocals were used. Overall, a lot of creative freedom was given, which I very much enjoy as an artist and believe can lead to very rewarding end results.
How did you first start out writing the music? Could you tell us a bit about the writing process on I Am Alive?
Before composing, I envisioned the emotions that the player would feel at the given moment, and think how I could best represent these emotions. For each cue, I would carefully assemble an instrumental palette that was well-suited for the specific location in the game. It was important for the music to sonically match the situations the character finds himself in, through the use of creative ambiences, building tension, and some dissonant musical elements to convey the terror and fear experienced in survival situations. There were also moments with tender emotions, such as the character longing for his lost family, and his relationship with the young Mei he rescues. For these moments, I composed gentle, lyrical melodies that serve to represent the love and hope that fuels the man’s struggle to survive against the odds.
You’ve also written music for Transformers: Dark of the Moon – The Videogame. What were you particular goals with the score and are you happy with the end result?
For this score, I wanted to capture the epic and heroic battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons. I also wanted to have distinct musical tones and approaches to contrast between the noble Autobots and the cunning Decepticons. I composed a main theme for the Autobots that is woven throughout the game, to give the player a feeling of triumph and heroism. For the Decepticons, distorted percussion, male choir, and a variety of electronic synths and guitars were used in combination with the orchestra to present a darker, more synthetic tone. I’m very happy with the end result, and am glad to have had the opportunity to compose for such a legendary franchise.
Are there any cues/musical passages in the score that you’re especially proud of?
I am most fond of the Main Menu theme, which is the heroic Autobots theme, as well as some of the Decepticons cues, such as “Laserbeak Infiltration”, that have a unique hybrid sound and a lot of weight and power behind them.
Were you inspired by Steve Jablonskys score from the film?
Because this game was a movie tie-in with the third Transformers film, I spent some time listening to Steve’s work for the previous Transformers films. At the same time, while capturing the essence of the Transformers universe, I wanted to create something fresh, so it was important that I took the time to develop new sounds and melodies, while also remaining true to the Transformers world.
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?
As contrasted to film music where you are scoring directly to picture, most of the music in games is scored as stand-alone musical cues, which allows for a lot of compositional freedom. Games also have a different challenge than film, in that you are composing interactive layers that change based on the player’s actions, which requires a lot of sensibility to orchestration and arrangement. Beyond that, video games is a very large and growing industry, and the scope and size of game development is attracting some of the best talent. I think it’s a very exciting field to be a part of!
You’ve also written music for film and television. How would you compare movie and game scoring?
Film scoring is a linear process, in which you carefully follow the scene with the music changing accordingly. In games, the music can change emotional states at any time based on the actions of the player. As such, game music is composed with interactive layers, often adding additional layers to increase the overall size and tension of the music. Another difference is that game music is often quite fast-paced and action-oriented (depending on the game of course), whereas film will have action moments, yet also a good amount of slower dramatic music that is used for character development and telling the overall story arc.
Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?
With technology continuing to improve, certainly the sonic quality will only go up. I think an increasing blend of traditional orchestra and synthetic elements will increase. I see many scores cross-pollinating from different musical genres, be they avant-garde orchestral, electronic, world elements, etc. to create new sonic combinations. As long as creativity and innovation are nurtured, the results will be stellar.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
The most difficult and challenging aspect is striving to find a unique musical voice and personality for the game, and then to execute that. Each game needs to be approached as its own singular work, and it’s very important to create a score that supports the individual characteristics of the game, its story, etc. When this is done correctly, it is also the most enjoyable part of composing for games!
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3 player right now?
I have a great love for the classics, including composers such as Brahms, Beethoven, and Mahler, as well as twentieth-century masters such as Alban Berg, Morton Feldman, and Toru Takemitsu. I also love jazz, having played jazz piano for years, and listen to a great deal of film music from composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner and John Williams. I enjoy learning from many musical styles, and take time to study the scores of other composers and learn from their techniques as well.
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
As each project I work on is unique and challenging in its own way, I can’t narrow it down to a favourite. It’s always a treat to work with developers that have a creative mindset and are willing to explore new areas musically and sonically.
What would be your dream project?
I would love to score an adventure game with a lot of character development and the potential for very thematic scoring. I’d also really enjoy working on a horror game, as I have a fondness for experimental music and the different techniques used. At the same time, I love strong, rhythmic action music well suited for first-person shooters! Really, if the game is creative and inspiring, that is the groundwork for a great music score, so in short I love to work on great games! :)
What are you currently working on?
I’m preparing to score a big game starting in a month or two. Beyond that I’m writing some trailer music for a couple of production companies, and am in the demo process for a couple of very exciting games, so keeping fingers crossed. :)
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
Yes, I love video games and have been a gamer since I was quite young. I’m a musician at heart as well as a gamer, so it’s a great combination!
Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.
Please note: The official I Am Alive app has just been released on the Apple iTunes store. You can find it at: http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/i-am-alive-companion/id501662368?mt=8 The app contains several of the music tracks from the game, so here's a chance to get a sneak-peak at Jeff Broadbent's atmospheric score!