Music is such a big part of video games nowadays. It takes so much work and passion to be able to create the music that fuels video games.
So how did you decide you wanted to make music for video games?
Writing music for games is something I’ve always wanted to do but it seemed so unattainable. How does one even get into that industry? In my head I had a better chance at success playing in rock bands than working on games. But my own writing was very influenced by game music. I was obsessed with the greats like Nobuo Uematsu and Koji Kondo. At the same time I was moving away from playing in bands and becoming more interested in music production with software. Sequencing like the Elders did. I spent a lot of time composing video-gamey music just for fun. Ironically this also led to a love of orchestral music. I could hear the lush sounds that the old video game composers were trying to convey, but the tools they had kept them in that 8bit world. So they compensated by writing fantastic, memorable music. Come on, the Mario Theme Song has got to be one of the most widely recognized pieces of music in the world. But if you listen closely, the writing is absolutely brilliant. These guys were geniuses to me. Nobuo Uematsu wrote 4 discs of music for Final Fantasy 7. That blows my mind to this day.
So I was studying music composition at Berklee College of Music and they started offering classes in Interactive Music (which is a fancy word for video game music). Immediately I was super intrigued. Is this my way in?
Turns out that video game music is complicated. It has to be able to change and adapt around what the player is doing. The music has to be cut up into several small pieces so the game can weave in the right emotion or dynamic for what's going on in the game. To me this is a whole new way of writing and experiencing music. Music that you interact with. This was all very exciting to me.
Have you always been into music?
I’ve been a musician since I can remember. I took piano lessons as a kid and used to write and record tunes on dinky casio keyboards. I sung, wrote songs and played in several rock bands in high school and early college. But I always liked writing more than I liked playing. Dont’ get me wrong, I had some great times playing gigs and jamming with my musician friends but I knew that I wanted to be a composer, not a singer songwriter. It wasn’t until my mid 20s that I started working towards a career in professional music production.
Are you a gamer yourself?
Aw yeah! I play a bit of everything. I’m obsessed with Dark Souls II (and I) but I love Blizzard stuff aswell: Starcraft II, Diablo 3, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm. Also CSGO is usually in the rotation. Loving Transistor! Awesome music. Rocking out Watch Dogs and Infamous on PS4. But of course they’re all half finished. So many games so little time!
Did you get to play Entwined at all?
Did I ever! I worked very closely with PixelOpus through about 90% of development. In addition to the music production I also architected the interactive music system and implemented into the game. I had to do a lot of testing and tweaking with in the game engine so I’ve gotten pretty darn good at Entwined. I was very fortunate to be brought on early in development. Since we are a small team we had a lot of positive influence on each other's work. I would write music to the concept art and the artists would create content while listening to my ‘in-progress’ music. It was a very symbiotic and rewarding experience.
Do you have any other hobbies?
Honestly not really! I pretty much spend all of my time writing music or playing games. Both the music and game industry are very demanding. Lots of deadlines, late nights, scheduling, meetings, recording sessions… I don’t really find time much for anything else. But I’m fortunate that I love what I do and I wouldn’t trade it for all the free time in the world. Also Burning Man.
Why is music so important in a video game?
Music operates on the emotional plain. I think music has the unique ability to make us feel abstract intangible things. I think a good soundtrack is scoring the things that are off screen as well as on screen. Music can tell us how to react to a situation or how to feel about a character. Music in games helps reel you into the moment. Games are all about immersion and music plays a deep roll if portraying the feeling(s) of a world or arena. To me, the visuals tell you what’s happening directly but music is more like the voice in your head, or your thoughts and emotions. Things that you can’t put into words or would be tacky or generalized if you did. Entwined, for example, is a deliberately abstract game. We want the players to project their own love stories and experiences onto the game. This is one reason I prefer to write instrumental music. Sometimes music doesn’t tell you how to feel, it just tells you TO FEEL. Feel whatever is inside of you. Music will have a unique meaning to every listener and I think that’s beautiful.
Anything interesting we should know about you?
I have a project called ButtSaM which is video game music influenced EDM. You can get a preview on soundcloud!
My brother and sister are both musicians too and they play in an awesome synth-pop band called Paperwhite. Any Entwined music fans should definitely check them out. My remix of their latest single ‘Magic’ is coming soon!
Also the Entwined Soundtrack is available on iTunes and PS3!
Big thanks to Sam for taking the time for this interview.
You can follow Sam on Twitter here: Sam Marshall Music