Garry Schyman

- Destroy All Humans
- BioShock
- Dante's Inferno

Official website


Composer Garry Schyman has written music for such popular games as Destroy All Humans, BioShock and Dante's Inferno. We talk with the composer about his work in games, the challenges of working with live orchestra and choir as well as his thoughts on the future of game music.

Hi Garry, thank you 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 business?

Before I worked in games I scored television and films. In 1994 I had the opportunity to score my first video game for Phillips Interactive called Voyeur. Because it was CD Interactive I was able to record with an orchestra which was perhaps one of the very first games scored with a live orchestra. I worked on a few more titles for them but when Phillips folded their video game tent I went back to film and television. Then in 2005 I was offered Destroy All Humans which was a wonderful experience. I have been working in video games ever since.


Let’s start out by talking about BioShock. When and how did you get involved in that project?

As it turns out the audio director for Destroy All Humans, Emily Ridgway, was hired by Irrational Games for BioShock and she was keen on using me for the new project because she had been very happy with my work on our first collaboration. Though the scores were very different she trusted me to write something interesting. It all worked out very nicely.


How much creative freedom were you given by the developers in order to find a unique and creative soundscape for the game?

Quite a lot – I could do anything I wanted so long as they liked it! :) I suppose that is always the case. But seriously, I was encouraged to try something very different and I experimented quite a lot until I found it. It really was the collaboration with Emily and Ken Levine pushing me to “go for it” so to speak. They permitted me to do some pretty experimental stuff that perhaps could have been considered outside the norm. But Ken really wanted to make something different so he was pushing the entire team to think outside the box.


What were your specific goals with the score and are you happy with the end result?

On one level I am always happy when my clients are satisfied with my work. But in retrospect I do feel that the score was very special and that perhaps somewhat groundbreaking – certainly for video games. I was very happy with the results in the end – as was my client. The positive press and awards were the icing on the cake. Composers only hope for this kind of reception to their work.


You’ve also worked on BioShock 2. What are the particular challenges of writing a sequel score?

I suppose it was walking the fine line between maintaining the style that I had developed in the first game without repeating myself. In the end that turned out to be easier than I originally thought because the game was different enough from the first that all I had to do was write what the asset list required and it turned out different while maintaining the style. In some respects it was a better, more refined score.


One of your latest projects is Dante’s Inferno. How did you first start out writing the music?

Really as I always do, I start with extensive discussions with the audio director about the needs of the game and discussing what the style should be. With a game like Dante’s Inferno I had an amazing project to work with. Literally I had to score Hell in all of its dark glories. I started by trying to find a style that fit the images Dante described in his epic poem without being cliché. It was a fantastic challenge and I enjoyed it immensely.


The score’s most striking aspect is its extensive use of choir. Could you elaborate on the specific challenges associated with the usage of human voices?

Writing for choir is to some extent like writing for any instrument of the orchestra. Each section has a range they can sing in and they have to breathe like woodwinds. At times I was imitating medieval choir writing and at other times I challenged the singers to do some very strange and novel effects. The good news is I had the most fantastic choir to work with in London – Metro Voices! I can’t say enough about their abilities and professionalism. They quickly grasped and nailed pretty much everything I threw at them and there was some very challenging music they were asked to sing. It was great fun working with them.


Overall, how would you describe your score and what aspect of it are you most thrilled about?

The game required a variety of styles. There’s a lot of intense and violent combat music and grotesque sounding music as well as scary and eerie cues to fit some of the amazing images you see as you traverse the game/hell. Additionally you have cues that are romantic in scope a la Mahler or Bruckner. One of my favorites is “Storm of Lust” which fits into the romantic style – very intense and awe inspiring.


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 that people care enough about my scores to discuss it. We depend on interest in our music to generate work.

I think game music has become as interesting as film music in terms of the scope of the work and how interesting the music can be that we're being asked to write. So there is a lot of interest from the film composer community to find out what it’s all about. Not only that but because the game industry has grown so much budgets have increased quite a lot permitting game developers to pay some of the higher salaries that “film” composers demand. Interestingly enough it’s not the film composers who are doing the best work in my opinion. Perhaps they are not taking it seriously enough – I don’t know.


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

I wish I knew. I would like to see games evolve to becoming even more interesting, especially in terms of story and plot becoming more and more sophisticated and integrated into the game. I think that’s where we’re moving but you never know where things are really going. If that is the case game music has the potential to be some of the most interesting and challenging music around from a composers POV. That is already happening with games like BioShock and Dante’s Inferno but it could get even more interesting. I could see games evolving into movies unfolding with the player participating in the film and composers creating the interactive score. But who knows. Time will tell but it is a VERY interesting field right now.


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

For me anyways, the most difficult and challenging task has been that I have to create entirely novel approaches to the scores and that is a fairly difficult and challenging task. It’s great fun once you find it but a lot of experimenting and work is required to accomplish it. So, to answer your question, it is both the most challenging and enjoyable task I have. Tons of work but very satisfying once I get there.


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 am a Mahler fanatic. If I had to be stuck on a desert island with the music of one composer it would be Gustav Mahler. I am a huge fan of soundtracks and I love the usual suspects like John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. At the moment I have been listening to two old Goldsmith scores: Island in the Stream and Chinatown - both wonderful scores. Also John Williams’ score for the second Harry Potter movie as well his scores for AI and Catch Me If You Can - brilliant stuff! You’ll also find Corigliano’s 2nd Symphony on my iPod at the moment. I am pretty eclectic with my musical tastes. Don’t much love hip-hop however.


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

I am not sure I have a favorite. I have had a blast these past few years working on video games. Three that stand out are the first Destroy All Humans game, BioShock and Dante’s Inferno. Inferno was a particular blast because I got to go to London and record with the Philharmonia orchestra at Abbey Road.


What would be your dream project?

This may seem self-serving but I am really getting to work on one dream project after another. My latest project is just so interesting and I am getting to write in styles I have never heard in films or television let alone games – so it just gets better and better from my standpoint. I get to work with orchestras on nearly every gig and that is my favorite thing to do.


What are you currently working on?

I have an amazing project that I am working on at the moment - but unfortunately I am unable to say anything about it because the developer wants secrecy. I think it will be made public in the next month or two.


Do you play PC or console games yourself?

Yes - I have an Xbox 360 and a Wii. I play adult games like BioShock and Portal on the 360 and kids games with my 9 year-old son on the Wii. Video games are an amazing form of entertainment and I love playing when I have the time.


Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.

You’re very welcome!