Mark Morgan

Credits:
- Fallout 1 and 2
- Planescape: Torment


Official website

 

Mark Morgan is the acclaimed composer of such classic scores as Fallout 1 and 2 and Planescape: Torment. After a long absence from the video game music world, he returns with new projects on the horizon. In this interview, he talks about creating music for games, the challenges of the interactive media as well as the differences and similiarities between game and film music.

Hi Mark, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music industry?

I was already working as a composer for films and television. I was doing this dark, ambient music for an ABC/SciFi network show called PREY. Bob Rice of Four Bars Intertainment heard the show and thinking my style would relate well to games, called to ask me if I would be interested. I was excited to undertake the challenge of writing for a different medium and said yes.

 

Let’s talk about Fallout. How and when did you get involved in that project?

I had already done a couple of games for Interplay, so when, for some unknown reason the publishers lost their first composer, the lead designer, Tim Cain and sound supervisor Charles Deenan, called to ask me to come onboard.

 

How did you approach musically the game’s dark post-nuclear war atmosphere? How much creative freedom were you given?

I was already experimenting with ambient music and its impact on story-telling. So other than the publisher’s desire that the music fit the post-nuclear world of Fallout, I was given wide latitude. The challenge to me was to blend a kind of odd ethnic and industrial sound design into something not only musical, but emotional.

 

You’ve also scored Fallout 2. How would you describe the particular challenges in scoring a sequel?

The real creative challenge was in designing the first game. In the sequel, it was simply trying to sustain the impact of the first.

 

Planescape: Torment is probably your most famous work and our personal favourite. Tell us a bit about how you first started out writing the score?

Glad you liked it. The developers, anxious to get the game to market, came to me with a truncated time frame to provide a score. Fortunately, they wanted an underlying theme that could be played in many variations to fit numerous characters. Once the basic theme was written, it was a matter of reworking it to fit the game play.

 

What were you specific goals with the score? How did you deal with the interactive side of the game? How important were themes and theme development as opposed to ambient underscore?

My goal was to create emotional reactions for the player appropriate to the characters and the story onscreen. As far as the interactive aspect of the game, that was not one of my priorities in this particular instance. The score for Planescape: Torment felt like a film to me, in that the themes were primarily character driven.

 

Are there any cues/musical passages that you’re especially proud of?

There are two passages in the game that I particularly like because of their simplicity and emotional sensibility. Deionarra’s Theme, which is a restatement of the main theme, played slowly and simply. And my most favourite, Annah’s Theme which is a departure from the leitmotiv, but is for me the most evocative.

 

The credits list Richard Band as additional composer. How does composing in a team work?

Richard and I didn’t work together on this project. We wrote separately.

 

Fans were looking forward to your score to Giants. As we understand it, Jeremy Soule had taken over the project after you had started it. Were there any particular reasons why you weren’t able to finish the score?

Scheduling became an issue. My prior commitments prevented me from finishing the entire project. Fortunately, they were able to get Jeremy to step in and I believe he did a great job.

 

Ever since, you’ve been absent from the video game music business. Any plans to come back?

Absolutely! I love the medium and missed it while I detoured into television these past few years. I’m currently involved in two new games and I can’t wait to get started.

 

You’ve also written music for film and television. How would you compare movie and game scoring?

In television and film, it’s really all about the story and the dialog. Your job as a composer is to underscore certain emotional moments. Consequently, timing is critical. In video games there is more freedom. Once I am able to find a vibe appropriate to the game play, the constraints of timing are much more flexible. I believe games allow me the most creative latitude.

 

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?

Of course I’m pleased when an audience likes my work in whichever medium it can be heard. Games are an exciting way for an artist to offer unique approaches. Some composers are always looking for new ways to express themselves and I believe games offer more latitude for experimentation than more established media.

 

Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?

As long as the music stays cutting edge and game producers don’t fall into the same trap that plagues film and television scores -- the “sameness factor” -- I think game music will only get better. Also, I’m certain technology will allow the music to integrate even more effectively with game play.

 

What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?

That’s a complex question. Challenges that are difficult are the most enjoyable. Let’s just say that I am always really excited and inspired the first time I get to watch the visuals of a new project. The challenge then, is in trying to find the sound that fits the picture.

 

What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3-player right now?

Through the years strong influences have been Peter Gabriel, Miles Davis, Paul Bley, NIN, Massive Attack, Kraftwerk. As far as film composers, Clint Mansell, James Newton Howard, John Powell are always in my iPod. As of late I have been listening to a lot of avant garde electronic music such as Alva Noto, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ryoji Ikeda and Kangding Ray.

 

What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?

I really don’t have a favourite project, but if I’d to say, in games it would be the Fallout series mainly because I was given a lot of latitude and very little oversight, and I love to write in that style. In television it would be the ABC show Prey. Not only because it was my first show but the story was written so well and the visuals were so dark it felt as if the music could become a third actor.

 

What would be your dream project?

I would love to collaborate on a game or record project with Peter Gabriel or Trent Reznor. They both in different ways have this amazing sonic thing going and also an emotional quality that just seems to speak to me. It would also be great to play live with either of them.

 

What are you currently working on? Are you involved in Bethesda’s Fallout 3?

As I said earlier, I have just started writing for one project and am in negotiations on another, both are very cool. I don’t mean to be vague but I’m not at liberty to discuss the titles as of yet, hopefully I can divulge them soon. As far as Fallout 3, I am not involved in that game.

 

Do you play PC or console games yourself?

By no means am I a hardcore gamer, but I play a fair amount so as to try and understand more about the interactive side of game play.

 

Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?

Thanks, and I’m honoured you asked me to do this interview

 

Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.