Hi Inon, 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 business?
I was born in Israel and music was my passion from a very early age. I played piano and French horn and studied composition at the age of 10 years old. Later on I came to the US in 1990, and studied at the Grove school of music and at UCLA. Afterwards I started composing music for TV and some movies including more than 300 TV kids shows like Power Rangers, Digimon, Escaflowne and more. In 1997 I composed my first game score, Klingon Academy which features a Klingon opera, and since then I’ve scored many titles including the EverQuest and Prince of Persia franchises.
Let’s talk about your latest project: Crysis. How and when did you get involved in that project?
Like lots of other projects, I pitched my music, I knew the audio director at Crytek so we already had a relationship. Initially they actually wanted to give it to somebody else, but then they came back to me.
How did you first start out writing the music? How much creative freedom were you given?
Every score starts with understanding the storyline, the conflicts, characters and the geographical elements involved. Then, as a composer you choose your musical pallet, of course you consult the audio director and the producer in order to get some artistic directions. I must say that with Crysis I was given a lot of creative freedom, which made the process very interesting, challenging and enjoyable.
What were you specific goals with the score? How did you deal with the interactive side of the game? Are there any cues/musical passages that you’re especially proud of?
Music in most games has the same goal – to serve and portray the emotional and dramatic dimension, and this was my main aim in Crysis as well. The interactive element is a very critical part that we spent lots of time and effort to make it work as smoothly and effectively as possible within the game’s audio engine’s limitations. We ended up putting together a system that was based on 3 variations per musical cue. This enabled us to address the level of intensity of the fighting in the game, and by this we achieved a score that is very interactive with seamless changes. In general, I really like the alien’s music the most; I think the combination of orchestral weird effects combined with some unique synth sounds created a very compelling and bizarre musical effect.
The score was performed by the Northwest Sinfonia in Seattle. Did you enjoy working with a real orchestra? How much does the overall composing process differ when using a live orchestra as opposed to a sampled score?
I think that overall, for games with a cinematic scope the live orchestra sound can make a HUGE difference. I love to work with the Northwest Sinfonia – I know them for many years and recorded with them many game scores (SOCOM II, Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest) and other cinematic projects such as movie trailers. It is always a pleasure!
As far as the composing process and how it differs between synth score and orchestral score – well, when you know that all you have is your samplers for the score you really make an effort to make the synth sound as authentic and believable as possible, and this is time consuming, of course.
On the other hand, when you know that a real orchestra will be involved then you make less effort to sound real on your synth orchestra, but you need to take into consideration all the time and costs of music preparation, recording, mixing and mastering, which again, is a time consuming process.
You’ve also worked on Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia series. What was your involvement with the different games? How would you describe the scores and the particular challenges with each?
Prince of Persia is a very unique franchise, one that I feel I really have to stretch my composing muscles to achieve the musical goals there. I shared the score with my fellow great composer Stuart Chatwood. He did a lot of the in-game music and I handled all the big battles and cinematics for Prince of Persia: Warrior Within and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones.
The score is a mixture between orchestral sounds and Middle-Eastern instruments and musical pallet. This created a very interesting sound that is very suitable for the world of Prince of Persia. Of course, it also presented quite a challenge for us – how to combine these east – west musical elements and to keep the score very cohesive at the same time.
The adventure game Syberia II features imaginative visuals by artist Benoit Sokal. Did you see the final artwork when you scored the game? How important is it for a composer to be able to work on a finished product and how often does that happen in the gaming industry?
I can say that the visuals of the game are the second most important inspirational factor for a composer. The first, of course, is the actual story. So, when I first saw the artwork for Syberia II, I was quite astonished, and it immediately evoked a lot of emotions, so the composing process was a great experience. I could almost feel that I was actually there – which I think made my music very loyal and attached to the game itself.
You’ve written music to a great variety of genres ranging from strategy, to role-playing and action. How do you approach each genre musically? Are there any Zur-techniques that you apply to every genre?
First and foremost, I want to reiterate that for me – no matter what the game genre is – music always has to carry the emotional and dramatic element, and this is my general approach to any game I’m involved in.
However, as we know, these genres are very different, which the musical style and technical aspects should accommodate. I have quite a vast experience in how to approach each genre, but I must say that for every game I’m usually encountering some new elements that I didn’t anticipate. This makes my job always exciting and challenging. For every game I’m involved with I’m trying to think about the techniques that will work for it best, and not try to apply previous techniques even if it was proven successful in previous games I worked on. My goal is always to try to make the music as dynamic and interactive as possible, and this is the general guide to which method I will use.
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?
I think that video games present a different set of challenges than film or TV, so I can understand why so many film composers are interested in the medium. In video games, for about 80% of the time the composer is required to write freeform musical cues, which has no direct link to the picture. This allows the composer a lot of creative freedom as a composing venture, much like the old days of classical compositions, and I think that many composers find this aspect very attractive.
Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?
Game developers will always strive to make the gaming experience more exciting, realistic and riveting, so I think we can expect more and more high level gaming experiences. However, in my opinion, it will always eventually be up to the core of good storytelling to make the game as entertaining as possible. The technology is getting better all the time, so no doubt the games will look and feel better as years will pass, but we always need to keep in mind that even the best visual and audio effects will never be able to replace a good story.
What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?
A composer needs to find the real identity of the game, and apply his own identity in it. This is the real challenge when composing for video games. The search for it is a challenging itself but most of the time a very enjoyable process!
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 love Sergey Prokoviev, Beethoven, Brahms, and contemporary composers like John Williams and Tommy Newman. I also love to listen to Jazz – Hereby Hancock, Keith Jarrett and other great jazz musicians. I’m always trying to learn from many composers and sometimes try to apply some of their techniques in my music when appropriate.
What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?
They are all my sons so I don’t have a favourite. :)
What would be your dream project?
I think that in many ways my dream has already come true – I’m writing music and get appreciated and compensated for that. Isn’t that enough? :)
What are you currently working on?
Upcoming projects include the new Prince of Persia (http://prince-of-persia.ubi.com/) and Fallout 3 (http://fallout.bethsoft.com/). I’ve scored some other big projects which I can’t talk about yet. Stay tuned to my website.
Do you play PC or console games yourself?
Only when I have time, this doesn’t happen very often, although I will play through the games I work on while writing.
Is there anything you’d like to say that I didn’t cover?
I want to truly thank you for the opportunity to sound my voice on your site. I really appreciate that. Thanks!
Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.