I studied the Tonmeister (Music and Sound Recording) course at Surrey University, graduating in 1993 and have worked in the games industry ever since. During that time, I have worked on 30 games, notably receiving G.A.N.G awards for Best Interactive Score and Best Non-Original Score for James Bond 007: Nightfire (2002).
[Mark] Hi my name is Mark Griskey, I have been composing music for video games for about 7 years now. Some of my credits include The Chronicles of Narnia, Rayman Raving Rabbids, and Star Wars: Knights of the old Republic II. I have a degree in classical percussion performance from California State University Northridge, and have studied composition privately and at UCLA. I also have a background in Jazz, Latin and other ethnic music styles. In terms of composing for orchestra, I am influenced by many of the great film composers including John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, and Bernard Herman.
[Steve] I don’t play them at home – I have young children and a garden, and therefore precious little time outside the office!
[Mark] I love video games, but I honestly don’t have as much time to play them these days either (too busy working on them). The level of technical capabilities of the latest video game systems is pretty amazing these days. It’s a very exciting time to be involved in making games right now, I am very happy to be doing what I do.
Can you tell me about the origins of the project ? The idea of appealing to two composers?
[Steve] Eurocom was contracted by BVG to develop At World's End in 2005. As in house composer, I began scoring for demos early 2006. In summer 2006, Producers Nick Bridger and Ian Riches began talking about recording the music live for the game and involving Mark Griskey who had experience in live work. Nick and Ian were familiar with Mark’s music for The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe game, and felt it would be good match for World's End. Nick and Ian made the original introductions between us, and we were then left to our own devices to figure out how best to work on the project together.
[Mark] I think that Steve and I were both a little apprehensive about the idea of two composers at first, especially since we hadn’t worked together in the past (we didn’t even know each other), but we quickly worked out a way to collaborate that was efficient and successful.
To you, what does this game, Pirates of the Caribbean 3, bring of new from the musical point of view?
[Steve] The aim was to create a powerful orchestral game score which reflected the same strong thematic traits of the films, (such as Jack’s light hearted character, or Will and Elizabeth relationship), whilst satisfying the dynamic and unpredictable requirements of the game play which were mainly combat driven. As such, there are short action scores which switch in dynamically for roaming sections, large action tracks for the big battle sequences, as well as more dramatic and emotional music for the cutscenes.
[Steve] The plot for the game unfolds via Cutscenes and player missions. In the current-gen version, these are interspersed with interactive action scenes where the player must perform button presses at specific times to avoid detection, say. These scenes were fun to do, as the music is highly stylized (at times comical) to emphasis the quirky character of Jack.
[Mark] A lot of the Cutscenes were finalized after the score was recorded, so in anticipation of this we recorded a lot musical elements that could later be edited together to match the final picture
How did you work together ? One in England, one in the US?
[Steve] Mostly over email, via ftp and with the occasional late night / early morning phone call.
[Mark] Steve also provided me with the latest builds of the game (prototype versions of the game on CD), concept art and game design documents so that I wasn’t working in a vacuum.
Did you get some special requests from the director? The producers? How did you work with all of them?
[Steve] We were left very much to our own devices – they trusted our judgment and liked what we were doing with the music, so did not interfere.
[Mark] It was clear that Disney wanted the musical direction of the game to be consistent with the music of the films, so as long as we didn’t stray too far from that, we were free to do what we felt was appropriate.
[Mark] The project’s schedule had a lot to do with how we initially divided up the work. Steve had already been working on the project for several months before I came on board and he already had composed a lot of great action/adventure music for the game, but had not yet tackled some of the darker action cues… so that became my first assignment by default. We both felt that this arrangement was working out well, and our styles were complimentary so continued with this arrangement for the most part.
Were you familiar with the former Pirates of the Caribbean games and music? Did you play them?
[Mark] No I did not play them or listen to music. I mostly used the music from the films and the music Steve had already composed for the game as reference points to help guide me in the proper direction for my musical contribution.
[Steve] The property has strong themes which were established in the first film, and added to in the second, so I spoke to the producers about continuing that thematic reference in the video game, to help strengthen its links with the rest of the property. Of course, we had to get permission for their use, which Nick kindly pursued.
[Steve] A lot of it came down to choosing the themes that were more generic to both films, as they also tend to be the ones that identify the property most. The exception was the Kraken since we have a big level devoted entirely to the sea monsters attack, and we really liked Hans’ unusual treatment of this section of the film.
[Steve] We both worked by ear, transcribing from the OST CD.
[Mark] I was already pretty familiar with the scores having listened to them several times, but had not actually sat down and transcribed any of music until we got the green light to use the themes. In addition to the musical themes from the scores I also did a lot of listening of the production style, orchestration and instrumentation to help guide me in my approach to producing the live recording dates. There was talk of some possible consultation from Mr. Zimmer, but in the end it was decided that our ears could guide us in the right direction to get the results we were looking for.
[Steve] Indeed, the game covers the time frame set out by films 2 and 3. It would have been great to have heard the music from the third film, but at the time of production, it was unavailable to us.
[Mark] Development schedules are extremely tight when releasing a big video game title on multiple platforms and the music often needs to recorded pretty early so it can be available to accommodate the schedules for all of the platforms. Unfortunately none of the music from the POTC 3film was available before we went into the studio in January.
[Steve] From an audio point of view, unfortunately we had no access to anything from the third film.
Usually, videogames derived from movies try to bring something new, a new mythology or a new vision of the original universe or characters. To you, what does the game’s story bring to the Pirates saga?
[Steve] At Worlds End video game covers the same time frame and generally follows the same journey around the world as is seen in the films. There are game play sub-missions that mirror some of the story line that is seen in the film, such as rescuing Jack from the depths Davy Jones’ Locker. But as an overriding plot for the game, the design team picked up on the notion of the Pirate Lords and their Conclave and expanded this idea to become the main objective for the principle characters – playing as Jack, Will, Elizabeth and Barbossa, it is therefore your mission to convince, bribe, or cajole the entire Pirate Lord counsel to attend a great Conclave in the final stages of the game.
[Steve] When I started the project, we weren’t sure if we would get permission to use any themes from the films. I didn’t like the idea of going too much down the sound-alike route for the score because I envisaged a score with strong melodies (like the film), so I set about creating a whole new set of themes that I hope compliment the property. I think this approach paid off - we subsequently got permission to use some of the themes from the film as well, which are heard in conjunction with our original material, so have ended up with a game score that is thematically rich.
[Mark] Since Steve’s themes and the film’s themes were already being used I didn’t feel that I needed to contribute much in terms of a completely new thematic material. The one exception is a level that takes place in Hell… It seemed different enough to warrant a new theme and even a different compositional style than the rest of the swashbuckling pirate music in the game. I ended up featuring a lot of choir with that theme which was a nice contrast to other music in the score.
[Steve] Yes, Will has his own motif in the game. Having not known his father, and having the love interest with Elizabeth, I guess I saw a certain amount of torment in the character Will. Will comes across more serious than Jack and I recognized that this was an opportunity to put a more sorrowful emotion into the score and I therefore wrote a melody for Will that was adaptable to a wide range of emotions – action, love, sorrow.
[Steve] Whenever appropriate, we tried to refer to Jack’s quirky character and add some cheek to the score, which is heard most often during the cutscenes. Elizabeth and Will tend to share themes when they are on screen – a subtle reference to the fact that these two characters are a couple.
There are some new characters like Vasquez, Chevalle, etc. How did you represent the different nationalities through music?
[Steve] With the way in which such characters featured in the game, it didn’t seem necessary to reflect this kind of detail in the score. To me it seemed more relevant to reflect the mood of the environment and action, and setup the musical score to hear the players’ character theme as they approached eventual success on each level.
Can you tell me about your using of the cello (brilliant!). How did you write for him? How did you work with the cellist from the interpretation point of view?
[Mark] Solo cello was used a bit in the 2nd POTC film, and that is where the inspiration came from. We recorded the cellist separate from the orchestra so that we could concentrate on getting the performance we wanted. The cello music is featured in the Drunken Pirate level of the game, so I actually wrote the words “Play Drunkenly” in the score as well as some notation showing when to slide into or out of certain notes. We also directed him verbally about what we wanted. He did several fantastic takes and I was able to edit between them and find my favorite bits for each phrase for the final mix.
[Steve] I found the solo cello a very intimate and rewarding experience. It was a fabulous way for everyone to end two days of hard work in the studio.
[Mark] I provided Disney with quotes for several orchestras and in the end the producers felt that the Philharmonia was the right choice for this project. This was my first experience working with the Philharmonia, and I had high expectations for their level of musicianship. I was definitely not disappointed with the results. They sounded great.
Can you tell me about your using of the choir (Inferno)? Its meaning within the game? What kind of choir did you appeal to? What are the lyrics they pronounce?
[Mark] This is the music I referred to earlier for the level that takes place in Hell. Jack is running through Hell fighting assorted undead creatures. Although this sounds very dark on the surface, the fact that this is Jack Sparrow and it is Pirates of the Caribbean made me think that I should approach it differently than straight horror music. I felt the choir helped create a feeling that you are battling forces of darkness but the overall tone of the music is still very adventure action oriented. This was the only piece of music in the game that features choir, so I was unable to justify the added expense of hiring a live choir so I combined samples from several different sources to create a faux choir. The lyrics are actually just nonsense syllables.
Can you tell me about your using of the organ? And was it acoustic or electronic?
[Steve] It was electronic. It features as a reference to the organ Davy Jones plays in the depths of his ship, the Dutchman.
[Mark] The sessions went fantastic. The musicians were excellent and had a great attitude. We did one day of recording with 50 strings and 15 brass players (mostly low brass), and a second day of recording with strings only. We used samples for everything else. We used the brass and string group for all of the really driving action cues, as well as some of the more important dramatic cues where we felt we absolutely needed live brass. The strings-only group was used for everything else with an emphasis on some of the more atmospheric music and orchestral effects that we could use for cutscenes. It was a tough decision with some of the material in terms of which orchestra to use… we ended up using brass samples and live strings with some of the music to better balance the workload between the 2 orchestras. My orchestrator Jeff Marsh conducted the sessions, and he developed a great rapport with the musicians right away. Jeff made it a point to learn and use all of the British expressions for musical terms rather than the U.S. ones… he also has a dry sense of humor that helped keep the atmosphere light and fun.
Did you record the same way as Hans Zimmer does (one session of one family of instruments), or all together.
[Steve] I wish there was the budget to do it that way.
Can you tell me about the technical aspect of the recording? Now, Playstation and others are in 5.1. Does that have any importance for you or any consequence in the way you record? In the way you structure the orchestra in space? In the way you compose?
[Steve] The music was mixed in stereo. 5.1 would have added extra complications to the music production process and technical challenges at the console level that would have outweighed the effect.
[Mark] Most games take advantage to 5.1 technology to some extent (environmental audio/sound design), but I have actually not ever worked on a title that really features true 5.1 music. I think that this will become more common with the “next gen” consoles.
[Steve] When we recorded, many of the cinematic sequences were incomplete animation wise. We had to record and create a construction kit of musical motifs, effects and stringers that I could use to subsequently score the visuals. Fortunately this approach worked out just fine.
[Steve] The score needs to support the action and reflect what it is the player is doing. Often in game play design, there is not much room for many sensitive emotions such as love, or sorrow, but we were fortunate in this product, as its story line and character relationships allowed us to stray into these areas for some of the cinematic sequences.
[Mark] Video games tend to be pretty action oriented, but I think there is certainly an emotional element involved as well. The emotional element might not be tied directly a particular scene as precisely as it is in film, but it needs to be there. I definitely try to pour some emotion into any game I work on and I hope it comes through to the player.
Can you tell me about your projects, now?
[Steve] Sorry I can’t, but Eurocom have several unnannounced releases for 2008, and 2009 and beyond.
[Mark] Right now I am working on Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 being developed by my favorite French game makers Ubisoft . I have also been commissioned to arrange a medley of my music from the original Raving Rabbids score for a concert during the Game Convention in Leipzig Germany, http://www.vgmconcerts.com/ . I am currently in talks with publishers for several games that I can’t talk about yet. Steve and I expressed a mutual interest in working together again sometime in the future, so I hope that happens at some point.
Video game is now so close to feature film. Would you be interested in scoring a movie? What kind of a movie?
[Steve] I think scoring a movie would be an interesting challenge. I am used to scoring for video game, which often means scoring a certain mood that may loop for several minutes and changes only depending on what the player does, which is unpredictable. I always enjoy scoring the cinematic sequences in our games.
[Mark] I am not actively pursuing any film work right now, but I would certainly be open to the idea of working in that field. Film and games are different in terms of how music is used technically, but similar in that music supports and reinforces the experience of the observer (film) or participant (Video Games), I think we will see more cross pollinization of composers between these two disciplines in the future.