Hi Howard, 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?
Prior to video games I worked at a commercial recording studio where I met renowned sound designer Frank Bry. We became friends and eventually I joined Frank over at Gas Powered Games.
Let’s talk about your score to Supreme Commander 2. When and how did you get involved in the project?
Being on staff at Gas Powered Games I was able to work on all their titles in several capacities. I had already done the score for several of their games and we had established a great workflow with me composing on-site. I started working on Supreme Commander 2 right from the beginning. I was involved in creating the audio pipeline and audio systems as well as the sound effects and music.
How did you first start out writing the music? What were your inspirations?
I had just finished the music for Demigod and dove right into SC2. I drew inspiration from the epic grandeur of Holst and the openness and triumph from Aaron Copeland.
Did you listen to Jeremy Soule’s score to the original or did start from scratch? How much creative freedom were you given by the developers to come up with the soundscape for the game?
I had already worked on Supreme Commander and Forged Alliance and had the privilege to enjoy Jeremy’s music throughout the process. In any media knowing the context is very important for a composer. I always do my homework and due diligence.When working on the sequel, you want continuity but have to differentiate yourself, and give it your own flavor. Everyone at GPG was great and very supportive with giving me creative freedom and direction.
Did you work with themes in your score? And how did you approach the interactive aspect of the game musically?
I had several themes in the score. There were themes for each of the factions as well as sub themes for the main commanders in each faction. Because I had created the game audio system design for the game, I was able to interweave faction specific themes depending on which factions were in battle. It was a lot of fun because I was able to manipulate how each sound cue triggered and under what conditions it would change. I like to push the envelope, and discover new ways to enhance game play with music and sound.
You’ve also written music for Demigod, a tower-defense-style game. Could you talk a bit about the particular challenges and rewards of writing the score?
One challenge that I had early on was creating a music system that responded well to this style of game play. I initially created music that was based off the characters state in the game. I was writing shorter pieces that layered together differently depending on your characters state but I found it was jarring and did not enhance the tone of game. I ended up implementing a whole new system that tracked data from the game and changed the music progressively based on game stats and character level. This allowed me to write more long form music with the game as a whole in mind and better ensure that the music continued to build with the intensity of the match.
What were your goals with the music in Demigod? Are you happy with the end result?
My main goal was to immerse the player in these stylized grandiose battles between Demigods. I wanted the music to feel epic, somber and ethereal.
I am satisfied with the end result. The positive response to the music was great.
Are there any cues or musical passages that you are especially proud of?
One of my favorite pieces was the release trailer for Demigod:
It was especially memorable because I got to work with cinematic director Steve Thompson.
You’ve written music for games since the early days of the medium. How do you think game music has changed over the years?
New technology allows for different textures and tools in creating music, but I think the actual process of writing is still the same.
Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?
Music technology is advancing at a fast pace, it’s a very exciting time. I think more and more composers will get into the tech aspect of making games and incorporate it into their tool belts. This will better enable composers to control how their music is triggered in game. I think this will lead to more interaction and better integration with sound effects.
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 am pleased to have my scores discussed. It’s a great compliment. I think a lot of film composers are getting into games because of the popularity and success of the video game industry and it‘s got a fantastic fan base! The video game industry just might have the best fans/supporters out there and the movie industry is taking note.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
I would have to say that the most challenging thing when writing music for games is to remain compelling while not getting repetitive throughout multiple listens. When I write for linear media I write differently because I don’t have to worry about how many times the player might hear one particular piece.
I really enjoy how diverse writing for video games can be. Some days it will be writing serious epic music but other days it might be a funk tune or a chip tune.
What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3 player right now?
Some of my greatest influences are Beethoven, Stravinsky , George Gershwin , Duke Ellington, and Stevie Wonder. On my iPhone right now? Brahms Symphony No.1 and Roy Hardgrove (RH Factor.) Some classical and some funk! : )
What is, so far, your favorite project you’ve worked on?
So far Super Monday Night Combat has been my favorite project. It’s allowed me to write in many different styles. I‘ve been having a blast.
What would be your dream project?
I am hoping to one day have the budget to record a full orchestra at Abbey Road.
What are you currently working on?
I am creating the music for the recently kickstarted Planetary Annihilation. It is a spiritual successor to Total Annihilation.
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
I love playing games but I don’t get to play them as much as I’d like to. If I let myself I would stay up all night playing like I did when I was younger. Now you’re more likely to find me staying up all night writing music.
Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavors.