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High Score: The New Era of Video Game Music
by Christopher Coleman

August 2, 2008

LucasLand: A visit to LucasArts (Photo by Mary Bihr)I am starting off this update to HIGH SCORE talking about one of the video game world's most important locations - LucasArts Entertainment, which recently relocated from Marin county, California to San Francisco's Presidio (virtually the only spot in California not engulfed in the smoke of uncountable Summer fires).  This incredible campus is also home to the effects company, INDUSTRIAL LIGHT AND MAGIC and a portion of LUCASFILM LIMITED.   I start here because, if you haven't started talking about their next game release, THE FORCE UNLEASHED, you will.  For some of you, this groundbreaking game's score will also be a popular topic.

Back in July, my gracious host for an afternoon's lunch and tour of just a small segment of "Lucas-Land" was Vice president of Sales for LucasArts, Mary Bihr.  Props and costumes from the Lucas empire adorn the foyer (the only place photos are allowed) and within the halls and offices are gobs of original conceptual art pieces and models from countless ILM projects.  Echoing off of the paintings, models, and sculptures was positive buzz over the recent worldwide launch of the new Indiana Jones Lego video game.  Having just spent the day previous at "The Ranch," where the other half of LucasFilm remains located, as well as SKYWALKER SOUND, and seeing original props from the Indiana Jones franchise like "the fedora," "the whip," and newly added "Crystal Skull," I have to admit that I felt a little Indiana Jones buzz myself. 

There, at Skywalker Sound, I met up with composer MARK GRISKEY where he recorded his score for THE FORCE UNLEASHED.  Visiting the incredible scoring stage, it was bewildering to think that THE FORCE UNLEASHED was the first LucasArts video game to have its score recorded there!  In the mixing room, I met Dann Thompson, audio engineer who mixed Mark Griskey's THE KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC: THE SITH LORDS score. While still in the mixing suite, I briefly met the Director of Recording and Scoring, Leslie Ann Jones, who worked on THE FORCE UNLEASHED with Griskey.

"LucasLand" is indeed "Disneyland" for the film and game geek in all of us. (Ok...in me, then.)  A large portion of this update to HIGH SCORE revolves around the release of THE FORCE UNLEASHED.  You'll find a full review of the promo soundtrack as well as an exclusive interview with MARK GRISKEY.  In addition you'll find full reviews of KEVIN RIEPL's HUXLEY and WINIFRED PHILLIP's SPEED RACER: THE VIDEO GAME.  Finally, we've added two new SCOREFRONT profiles:  COLIN O'MALLEY and DUANE DECKER, both of whom have a number of significant video game projects under their belts.  And don't miss the new music above from titles such as:  PRINCE CASPIAN (Mark Griskey), SUPERMAN RETURNS (Colin O'Malley), HEROES OF MIGHT AND MAGIC V (Paul Anthony Romero).

 

Original Introduction (2007)

The days of the stunted, electronic, jingles which cued up with the drop of each quarter or token into those hungry, little, metal slots seem like a century ago. As the world of video games has become increasingly sophisticated (not to mention lucrative), so has the music associated with it. While the musical jingles from Donkey Kong, Dig Dug, or Ms. Pac Man have become icons themselves, an increasing amount of today's video game music is sharing more in common with many of the iconic film scores of the last thirty years.

The world of film music continues to ebb and flow...to evolve. Post-modernism, minimalism, and electronic instrumentation are ever-present in today's soundtrack landscape. Some of film music's stalwart composers are well into their twilight of their careers - "matured" sound and all, and yet their names still dominate credit rolls. Such observations can leave a fan wondering when and where the next Raiders of the Lost Ark, Conan the Barbarian, or Braveheart will come from. There are, of course the Brian Tyler's, Michael Giacchino's and John Powell's, those from a new generation of composers, who offer a bright future for such film music fans. And still for other daring composers like: Kevin Riepl, Mark Griskey, Colin O'Malley, Winifred Phillips, Duane Decker, the growing medium of video games is opening wide to showcase their talents.

Some of today's most captivating scores are written, not for the big screens and blockbuster-Summer-films, but for the slightly smaller screens connected to Xboxes, Playstations, Wiis, and personal computers. Tracksounds is thrilled to turn the spotlight on this genre of music through this feature, High Score: The New Era of Game Music.

Here you will find full reviews of some of the most recent video games soundtracks to cause a stir within the circles of soundtrack enthusiasts as well as interviews with those who painstakingly create this music!
 

Playable Cinema

by Christopher Coleman (September 21, 2007)


As I finished up both my review of BIOSHOCK and my interview with the composer of the game's score, GARRY SCHYMAN, that phrase "playable cinema" kept running through my mind. That is where the gaming and film industries have been moving toward for a number of years now. With the release of games like BIOSHOCK and perhaps even moreso, HEAVENLY SWORD, we might just be there. I can't say that I've ever seen any game like the visuals of HEAVENLY SWORD or been as enveloped by a games atmosphere like BIOSHOCK. I've been addicted to the short animated back-story shorts presented at the HEAVENLY SWORD site. I've been swept up in the depth of 2KGames' official sites for BIOSHOCK. Both of these games and LAIR as well, have created new, detailed worlds, that are as interesting as the games themselves. For as long as movies have been made, audience members have said to themselves "I wish I could do that!" ...and the day has come where they can.

If you look at the history of it - the two mediums have been on a collision course for decades. We first saw game-spin-offs of movies and more recently movie spin-offs from games. As processing power continues to exponentially increase, the merging of the two seems only natural...if not inevitable. I, for one, am ecstatic at seeing this media evolution continue. As I've remarked elsewhere, with the storage, bandwidth, and processing power available for game development ever on the increase, this affords game producers what they need to hire grade-A composers and grade-A orchestras for these game scores. And we won't even speak about the budgets. They certainly have plenty of bucks now-days.

Let's not underestimate the power of symphonic music in these games. While the visuals cause our jaws to drop, just how much less impacting would the game play be without the contributions of a MICHAEL GIACCHINO, INON ZUR, or JESPER KYD? As it's been said before "Audiences will put up with bad picture, but they won't put up with bad sound." 128-bit+ graphics with 16-bit sound would be unforgivable. So as we are witness to "playable cinema" emerging before our very eyes, I hope you'll join in the anticipation for where this will lead musically. If the music matters within film and it matters within a game - just how much more when the two become one? As gross as it sounds...my ears salivate at what's to come!

 

 

 
 

 


Jesse HarlinComposer Mark Griskey
Composers Kaveh Cohen and Michael Nielsen Composers Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco
Jesper Kyd Garry Schyman
Jamie ChristophersonHoward Shore
Graeme Revell Christopher Lennertz
Erik Lundborg Michael Giacchino

 

 

Lair by John Debney

Lair (Promo Release)
by John Debney

Bioshock
by Garry Schyman

Medal of Honor: Airborne
by M. Giacchino

Soul of the Ultimate Nation by H. Shore

Final Fantasy XII by Hitoshi Sakimoto

The Best of LucasArts Soundtracks

Black by Chris Tilton &  Michael Giacchino

Enter the Matrix by Erik Lundborg

Icewind Dale II by Inon Zur

Medal of Honor by Michael Giacchino

Medal of Honor: Frontline
by Michael Giacchino

Medal of Honor: Rising Sun
by Christopher Lennertz

Medal of Honor: Underground  
by Michael Giacchino

The Path of Neo
by Tobias Enhus

Shenmue by Toshiyuki Watanabe

Sounds of Onishuma
by Mamoru Samuragoch

Tomorrow Never Dies
by Tommy Tallarico

 

 

 

What's New: Updated 1/31/2009

Brotherhood of Duty (Brothers in Arms/ Call of Duty)
Interview: Inon Zur / Stuart Chatwood
Mirror's Edge: Still Alive Remixes
Review: Fracture (Giacchino, Tilton, Seiter)
Interview: Jesse Harlin
Review: Fallout 3 Sampler (Inon Zur)
Interview: Mark Griskey
Scorefront: Colin O'Malley
Scorefront: Duane Decker

New Music:

22 Soundclips from Fracture
11 Tracks from The Force Unleashed by Mark Griskey
Superman Returns by Colin O'Malley
Prince Caspian by Mark Griskey
Heroes of Might and Magic V by Paul A. Romero
Rise of Nations, Rise of Legends by Duane Decker

Other Titles:

Huxley by Kevin Riepl
Speed Racer by Winifred Phillips
Crysis Trailer by Inon Zur
The Golden Compass by Jamie Christopherson
Beowulf by Sascha Dikiciyan and Cris Velasco
Assassin's Creed by Jesper Kyd

 

 

Fracture (M. Giacchino, C. Tilton, C. Seiter)

Fracture (Soundtrack) by Michael Giacchino, Chris Tilton, Chad SeiterPromo Release (2008)
Rating 7/10

Having worked with composer MICHAEL GIACCHINO and his team at EDGEWATER MUSIC on past games such as SECRET WEAPONS OVER NORMANDY, developers LucasArts and Day 1 returned to them to provide the fully symphonic backdrop to the story and game-play for their latest gaming creation, FRACTURE. Once again it fell on the shoulders of LucasArts staff-composer and music supervisor, Jesse Harlin to take the musical output of the trio and give FRACTURE it's final shape. The story is set in the 22nd century where war has broken out in the United States. Due to the melting of the polar ice cap, the Mississippi river has flooded - destroying the central portion of USA and leaving two factions to its east and west: The Atlantic Alliance and The Republic of the Pacifica. In the single player campaign you play the character of Jet Brody who is a part of the Atlantic Alliance. For FRACTURE, the amount of time and energy sunk into the development of all of these story details is important in terms of the game's score and would be apart of the challenge for Giacchino and his co-composers, CHRIS TILTON and CHAD SEITER.

Read the full review of Fracture
 

Fallout 3 Sampler by Inon Zur

Fallout 3 Sampler Soundtrack (Soundtrack) by Inon ZurPromo Release (2008)
Rating 5/10

In the ever-growing process of pre-release hype (ie. marketing), Bethesda Softworks offered a special sampler soundtrack in its $5.00 pre-order package. Included inside the standard DVD, snap-box comes a FALLOUT 3 poster and this sampler CD. Roaming an alternative timeline of post-apocalyptic Washington D.C., your highly customizable player will see familiar monuments and vistas of "the district," but complete with post-nuclear holocaust "renovations." Additionally, there are some true baddies that also roam the lands. No, not politicians, but mutants, and ghouls, and other monstrosities. Gaming insiders are saying that FALLOUT 3 promises to be one of the most anticipated action-rpgs for the Xbox 360 and PC since OBLIVION (also from Bethesda).

What helps to define the FALLOUT franchise is it's setting. Marked by the quirky and somewhat misguided worldviews of the 1950s and certainly by the visual design style of the era, the environment of FALLOUT is an odd juxtaposition of idealism and destruction. Fortifying this very feeling are the musical choices for the game. On the one hand, music from the 40s and 50s is again integrated into the game experience and on the other, composer INON ZUR provides an uneasily mournful, but powerful score - at least as measured by the two tracks released here.

Read the full review of Fallout 3 Sampler
 

The Force Unleashed by Mark Griskey

The Force Unleashed (Promo Soundtrack) by Mark GriskeyPromo Release (2008)
Rating 9/10

Of course, as with any good STAR WARS episode, whether film, television show or game, the associated music has to go beyond "good." Expectations are for the spectacular. As a one-time LucasArts staff member, MARK GRISKEY already had KNIGHTS OF THE OLD REPUBLIC II: THE SITH LORDS, under his belt as wells as contributions to games like: EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, STAR WARS: RACERS REVENGE, and STAR WARS: OBI-WAN. Even with such vital experience, THE FORCE UNLEASHED had to remain an incredible pressure in living up to the John Williams musical legacy. For LucasArts latest effort, expectations have again risen to the level of "spectacular" and famed gaming company would probably not have it any other way. The final game score includes extensive use of John Williams' expansive library of music from the six films and so GRISKEY's score had the unenviable position of being set right along some of the most recognizable film music of all time.

Read the full review of The Force Unleashed
 

Huxley by Kevin Riepl

Huxley (Promo Soundtrack) by Kevin RieplPromo Release (2008)
Rating 7/10

One video game that is poised to have a huge, long-term impact on the gaming world is Webzen's HUXLEY. The title has been on gamer's radars for quite some time. With engineers in the midst of crafting up the next-gen engine, Unreal Engine 4.0, HUXELY is another title that will be launched on version 3.0 of the popular and still impressive graphics engine. The story of the game reportedly has been inspired by Aldous Huxley's BRAVE NEW WORLD. As per usual, with the world in utter chaos, humans and non-humans alike are fighting over the world's resources...for survival. In the case of HUXLEY, the two main combatants struggle over control over a potential society-saving power source, called Lunarites. It would seem with that story as background, gamers would have enough to hang endless hours of frag-time on. Yet HUXLEY goes further as it is no run-of-the-mill FPS (first person shooter). This time out webzen has created a MMOFPS (Massively Multiplayer Online First Person Shooter). This time you don't just have a single session of fraggin' fun, but now your efforts are a part of a persistent world...where everything you do, every battle you have, impacts the greater world in which you play...not to mention your team-mates. The game is scheduled to release on both PC and Xbox360 - the biggest difference being the X360 also receives a single player campaign in addition to the multiplayer play. For HUXLEY, veteran video game composer KEVIN RIEPL was brought on to provide the game's musical score.


Read the full review of Huxley
 

Speed Racer  by Winifred Phillips

Speed Racer: the Video Game (Soundtrack) by Winifred Phillipspromo Release (2008)
Rating 5/10

When it comes to racing game scores, there aren't a ton of options; that is, if the producers care about optimizing this very specific gaming environment. In a word, both the visual and audio components are most likely going to have to convey one thing: speed! Little needs to be said about the visuals of the game...it's all about speed, and reckless abandon, and loop-de-loops,...and "Car-fu!" In truth, almost everything in SPEED RACER: THE VIDEO GAME is to the extreme. Employing the Wii's unique wireless control system (this title is one of the first to be compatible with the Wii's special steering-wheel controller) or using the standard Wii remote in the horizontal configuration, the gamer already set to experience a racing extreme like no other. You can choose to battle-race with 1 of some 19 cars and characters including: Speed Racer, Trixie, and (my all time favorite) Racer X. While some gamers found the lack of track variety to be sorely "unextreme," the game's musical score certainly helps to keep the driver extremely invigorated no matter how many times they run a particular track.

Read the full review of Speed Racer

 


 

   
 

More Special Features

Interviews

Behind the Score: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow
Behind the Score: Killzone 3
Behind the Score: Assassin's Creed
Behind the Score: The Force Unleashed 2
Behind the Score: Lord of the Rings Films
Behind the Score: Lost Planet 2
Ponyo: Time to Get Pon-ed!
Tutti Tweet
Brotherhood of Duty
Scorefront
2007 Cue Awards
2008 Music Preview
Free and Legal
High Score
The Themes of Fall
Return of the Matrix
Music from the Films of Zhang Yimou
Faith and Film Music
Best Original Score of all Time
To Boldly Go

Gang-Tackle Soundtrack Reviews

Prometheus by Marc Streitenfeld
The Avengers by Alan Silvestri
Kung Fu Panda 2 by John Powell and Hans Zimmer
Thor by Patrick Doyle
Rio by John Powell



Double Soundtrack Reviews

Serenity / Firefly
Braveheart/ More Music from Braveheart
Gladiator/ More Music from Gladiator
Star Wars - Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace

The Grinch:  Battle for Christmas
The James Horner Compilation Showdown
Film Music From the East

 

Jeff Russo (2014)
Neil S. Bulk (2014)
Sean Callery (2014)
Trevor Morris (2014)
Oscar Araujo(2014)
Tom Salta (2013)
Jesper Kyd (2012)
Robert Duncan (2012)
Sam Hulick (2011)
Alan Menken (2010)

Mark Griskey (2010)
Tom Hajdu (TomandAndy) (2010)
Kevin Riepl (2010)
Jamie Christopherson (2010)
Tomoya Kishi & Marika Suzuki (2010)

Clinton Shorter (2009)
Brian Tyler (2009)

Ed Lima and Duncan Watt (2009)
Sean Murray (2008)

John Ottman (2008)
Inon Zur/ Stuart Chatwood (2008)
Jesse Harlin (2008)
Jeff Beal (2008)
Miho Nomura (2008)
Mark Griskey (2008)
Harry Gregson-Williams (2008) | (2005)
Jeff Rona (2008)
Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard (2008)
Ramin Djawadi (2008)
E.S. Posthumus (2008)
Tyler Bates(2008)
 

Scorefront Profiles

Assaf Rinde
Stephen Harwood Jr.
Colin O'Malley
Duane Decker
Karl Preusser

David Buckley (2008)
Kaveh Cohen & Michael Nielsen (2008)
Christopher Lennertz (2008)
Sascha Dikiciyan & Cris Velasco (2007)
James Dooley (2007)
Jesper Kyd (2007)
Garry Schyman (2007)
David Robidoux (2007)
Scott Glasgow (2007)

Tyler Bates (2007)
Jamie Christopherson (2007)
Mychael Danna (2007)

Howard Shore (2006)
Trevor Rabin  (2006)
Christopher Lennertz (2006)
John Debney

Greg Edmonson
Ron Jones
Edward Shearmur
Thad Spencer
Hans Zimmer
Don Davis:  1 | 2
Michael Giacchino
Jeff Rona

 

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