Best video game music: AZ composer talks tunes

chrisVideo games soundtracks are becoming “too Hollywood,” according to Arizona composer Christopher Norby. Some games avoid this trap, he said, but the true potential for games composing has still not been fully realized.

A native of Derry, Ireland, Norby now lives in Tempe and has worked on three mobile games: JellyFlug, Fionn Folk Tales and Grand Theft Seagull. All were developed by Ireland-based Troll inc.

He started playing the piano at age 6 and became interested in composing at age 11; films were his first inspiration, he said.

“The one that really stood out to me first was Aliens, the James Horner score,” he said.

While games composers owe a good deal to film soundtracks, Norby thinks games should avoid copying the style of film soundtracks too much, he said. Bioshock did a good job of keeping an orchestral and cinematic feel while staying original, he added.

“Some games have started to lose their originality,” he said. “But I think games are a brilliant media for writing music.”

Norby is looking to build contacts in the local gaming industry after he moved to Arizona with his wife two years ago.

As a child, Norby became interested in the soundtracks to video games, particularly the Silent Hill, Tomb Raider and Resident Evil series.

He was especially impressed by Akira Yamaoka’s work on Silent Hill and the music’s ability to create a unique atmosphere.

The best video game music, he said, “enhances what you’re feeling in the game at the time.” The Dead Space series uses an aggressive orchestral soundtrack to do just this, he said.

Norby said one of his favorite things about composing for games is how it allows him to work the player’s actions into the music. For example, moving to a new zone or facing a new enemy can trigger a new layer of sound.

In addition, he feels games are coming up on an “interesting experimental period” with the opportunities offered to composers by virtual reality devices such as the Oculus Rift.

He mainly uses computer programs to develop game music although he also likes to layer real instruments over the top.

“I can do it both ways,” he said. “A lot of times on games you’re using programs because the budget isn’t there to hire musicians.”

Norby hopes to concentrate in composing for games because his music “fits” that medium, he said.

His music is similar in sound to Danny Elfman, he said, but he has experience adapting to different situations.

“Maybe I’ll do a techno score for this part of the game and mix in orchestral sounds later,” he said.

Norby developed a demo track, titled “.38 and a Ration Pack in the Snow,” with a specific type of game in mind. He said it would go with a survival game where the player is seeking shelter in a harsh environment with nothing but a pistol and limited food.

While Norby has only worked on mobile games so far, he’d like to branch out into other genres.

“I’d love to get in a big sci-fi game or in a war type of game,” he said. “As well as psychological horror – I think that’s where my music would work best.”


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