Ivor Novello Award-nominated Richard Jacques, is a triple-A games composer, who has scored soundtracks to hit games franchises including James Bond 007: Blood Stone and Mass Effect.
His score to the 2001 hit Headhunter was the first ever games score to be recorded at Abbey Road Studios with a full orchestra, paving the way for a new standard in the industry.
For our Sound Chip Symphonies feature in the latest issue of M magazine, we chat to Richard about his experiences as a classically-trained composer and self-confessed games geek working at the vanguard of digital media…
What advice do you have for composer looking to move into videogames?
If a composer has traditionally been composing for linear media they will need to learn about interactive music as it does involve composing in a different way.
Two of the main audio middleware technologies we use are FMOD and Wwise. They’re two very well featured audio engines and I believe they can be downloaded for free for evaluation and learning purposes. There are other technologies proprietary to the individual game companies that are not available to the public but they work in a similar way.
So that’s one thing that people can do to actually learn interactive scoring. It’s a different kind of mindset really; you have to think about what the player is going to do at any given time and how the music’s going to react to that. You need to actually create all the assets to be able to change the music on the fly at any specific time in the game.
Once a composer’s got their head around that it’s fairly straightforward. It’s just a different way of thinking because there’s no beginning, middle and an end like there is in a film, or a TV show, or an advert, or something like that.
How do the briefs differ?
In the gaming world it would normally be an audio director who provides it. Or even if it’s a smaller team it might just be a producer, or a lead designer. They normally look at composers who are competent in the style they’re after.
On a medium sized game you’d probably be pitching against five to 10 people. Probably more on a big game, and probably less on a smaller game. They often ask for some demos too. Sometimes they’re paid; sometimes they’re not, again, it depends on the size of the game.
How important is past form in this field?
Experienced music supervisors and audio directors specifically pick composers they know as they’re familiar with their styles and they know some of the games they’ve worked on. So you know, past credits and previous experience are quite important, as is an understanding of how games are made.
Do you need to be a gamer to get into it?
It’s a big advantage. I’m not saying it’s a prerequisite but you will certainly do better if you understand how games are put together and different styles of games. That does put some composers off, but in my experience it will put them in better shape if they actually play games and understand.
Your score to the Headhunter game was a watershed moment, wasn’t it?
Yes, it was the first soundtrack ever recorded at Abbey Road. I approached the production in the same way as you would a Hollywood A-list film score, although the composition was slightly different because it’s interactive.
However, yes, a lot of people sat up and took notice of that. Lots of orchestral scores have been done since and they’re now common place in big triple-A game soundtracks.
How else have game scores changed over the years?
As the gaming industry has matured you’ve seen wonderful jazz scores and electronica scores, and other ground-breaking scores. Which is good to know: that music supervisors and audio directors are starting to think very creatively now. It shows the games industry has come of age. People are really thinking about the creativity of the music and that’s really good to see them taking it seriously.
Do you find more freedom then within the games score world?
It depends who I’m working with. In general, I find games to be quite free yes. Unless you’re working on a licensed product, which of course does come with some stipulations.
But, games are quite abstract; they can be quite artistic. So I would say there is an awful lot of creative freedom.
Are the music and gaming industries working closely together these days or are you still seeing a big divide?
I think due to the contraction of the recording music industry, music publishers and record labels have taken note of the games industry being another opportunity for revenue streams for them and their artists.
You know, sometimes that works, sometimes that doesn’t work – it depends. If they just see it as purely a revenue stream then they need to learn more about it, as we’re quite an advanced industry now. Gaming isn’t a cash cow if you don’t know what you’re doing.