Hi Frank, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. Tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music business?
I grew up around music. My parents were both professional musicians and I took up drums at the age of 8. Began playing professionally at age 11, and took up other instruments like guitar keyboard and bass through high school. Then I got a hold of a friends 4-track cassette recorder and started writing my own stuff. Learned a lot from recording in pro studios in bands around the time I was a junior in high school.
I was a fan of Westwood Studios games at that time, and when I found out they were in my home town of Vegas, I applied there as a game tester, and got to know the head of audio there, and gave him my demo. After I graduated high school, he gave me a shot to prove myself over a 3 month trial period, and the rest is history!
You are most famous for your scores of the Command & Conquer series? How did you get involved in the series in the first place?
We had just done Dune 2 at Westwood, which started the RTS genre more or less. They decided to make an original game based on that technology and C&C was born. I had the pleasure of creating something new and diverse that had not been achieved in a game like that at the time. We had just started wav streaming support with Kyrandia 3 and kept it going with C&C. So I was excited to have the music sound like it was supposed to, instead of fm chips that had been the way we heard music in games previous to it. So I drew from a ton of influences and treated it as one large experiment, which the producers were open to. It turned out to be a successful game, and the music has had a place in the heart of gamers to this day which amazes me. I still get asked about it every other day from fans, old and new, and I never get tired of it because I think it’s great that what I’ve done has had that kind of staying power and impact as much as any other recording artist, and I’m very greatful. Hence, my motivation to keep putting out my own CDs in that style for the fans.
All your C&C scores are characterized by anti-orchestral styles like Rock or Techno. What was the main reason for not going orchestral?
Orchestral music has it’s place and it’s about what’s best for the product. Why do you think movies license commercial music from bands all the time? It generates diversity in the score, but also creates different moods and draws you in the experience even more. You still hear orchestral music at key dramatic points. Orchestral music will always be necessary. But C&C was about diversity and pumping you up. And when you’re blowing stuff up and your adrenaline gets going, classical doesn’t always cut it…hehe More importantly, for it’s time it was cutting edge and I wanted the music to reflect that.
You’ve also worked on Pirates: Legend of Black Kat. Could you tell us something about that score?
Well now that score on the flip side of the last question, was 100% orchestral. I loved working on that title because it allowed me to do something I hadn’t done yet. I mean I had done orchestral type numbers before, but the Pirate world has it’s own style, and I was excited to do that. I think it was an under-rated title that should have gotten more promotion.
You’re currently working on a new Star Wars strategy title. There is a rumor that the development team decided to do a Star Wars game because you wanted to do a Star Wars score. Is that true?
Hehe, no it’s not the reason. But they knew how die hard I was about the series so I was a natural choice for them. When Petroglyph formed I was already waiting in the wings to do what ever project they would land. It just turned out to be a Star Wars title so naturally I jumped for joy because it’s my favourite thing in the world. I then signed on full time as their audio director and been having the time of my life. A funny side note is the guys at work always like to point out to tours that come through the office, that I simply unpacked my office from Westwood at Petroglyph, which of course contains a ton of Star Wars memorabilia. Upon walking in my office at Westwood, you would have thought I worked for Lucasarts…haha
What are your musical plans for the Star Wars game? How much will your music stand in the tradition of John Williams’ scores? Are there any restrictions from LucasArts regarding the music?
I’ve made my additional scores to sound as much like Williams style as possible, both compositionally and the way they are recorded, so that it flows seamlessly between my work and his while playing. As a fan, it’s important for me to be true to capturing the essence of the films as much as possible. I have indeed added my “stamp” to it, it just won’t be obvious to the average gamer, and that’s my goal. The die hards will pick it out though I’m sure! :)
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
I suppose that’s all in personal perception. For me, I don’t find any of it difficult. The most challenging thing is how to accomplish certain goals you set for yourself or for the product. And for me, the most enjoyable thing is scoring with creative freedom. That’s the thing that is overlooked in the industry in general with regard to music. If composers were allowed to do what they wanted, given a “general” direction of mood, I think there would be a lot cooler sounding soundtracks out there instead of us being asked most of the time to imitate a Jerry Bruckheimer film.
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player right now?
I listen to, and am influenced by everything. I tend to gravitate toward old school funk, progressive electronica, metal, and contemporary. Favourite composers are of course John Williams, Michael Kamen, Howard Shore, & Vince Dicola.
I just bought a CD that I haven’t heard since the late 80’s which I’m happy to have found again, “Go off” by the band Cacophony. Insane guitar players!
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
The one I’m working on right now, Star Wars! Not counting that, probably the C&C series, and Dune 2000.
What would be your dream project?
Again, I’m working on it right now! I would love to score a major film someday though.
What else are you currently working on?
Apart from the Star Wars RTS, I’m about to release a new solo CD in my electronca/rock C&C-ish style called “Virtual Control” via my website www.frankklepacki.com Expect it out within a couple months. Some of my current music from my other cds, Morphscape and Rocktronic, will be featured in UFC 52 on pay-per-view April 16th. I am also beginning recording with my side project “The Bitters,” an instrumental power trio doing heavy progressive music in which I play drums. We’ve played a few shows locally in Vegas that have gotten good response so far.
Do you play PC or console games, yourself? If so, what’s your favourite one and why?
Both, but I lean more toward console in general though because it’s fun to play against friends in the same room. Favourite PC games, Unreal Tournament 2004, C&C. Console, Mario Kart, Star Wars Rogue Leader, Mortal Kombat Deception, Tony Hawk, Midway Arcade Classics.
Favourite game of ALL TIME though is 720, the skateboarding arcade stand up from 1986, in my garage! hehe
Several reasons why: Extremely challenging to play, you play for high score, and/or a medal score, against a timer, and with a finite number of lives. Doing well in this game requires great hand eye coordination, knowing when to escape death at the last minute, and making it to the end of the game with only twice that you can continue before you die for good.
Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?
Nope I think that about covers it!
Thanks again and good luck on your coming endeavours.