Entrevista para o site My Gamer (05/02/2004)
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Em janeiro de 2004, o InSoc Brasil foi contactado por uma pessoa que queria fazer uma entrevista com o Kurt. Contactamos e ele autorizou informar o email dele para a pessoa do My Gamer. No final das contas, acabamos sendo a ponte para a realização da entrevista abaixo. Ela foi dirigida por R. E. Peterson.

Question 1: For those not familiar with your style of music, how would you best describe it?

I'm not sure which style you mean. If you're referring to the first few Information Society albums, that music was late-80's synth-pop Top 40. If you're referring to the album entitled "Don't Be Afraid", which was released in 1997, it's goth-industrial with a serious overly-dramatic nerd edge. If you're referring to all my game music, the styles are widely divergent and range from spooky orchestral to aggressive, outlandish synth-pop. If you're referring to Soul Reaver/Legacy of Kain music, then I suppose you'd call it moody cinematic music with a lot of home-grown sound design.

Question 2: I've often felt that music is treated as an afterthought in most video game productions. Do you think this is true, and if so, what do you think will change the situation?

I think that it was true when the audio capabilities of the game machines was as primitive as it was. Audio hardware has always and still does lag FAR behind the visual hardware in game consoles. There was little incentive to create great audio for a game console which could only make 1 sine wave at varying frequencies. I think that set a deep and still-present precedent which has been hard to shake off. I believe, however, that it will be shaken off and IS BEING shaken off now. Audio was an afterthought in development because audio was an afterthought in the hardware. Now that we have the X-Box, we have a console that can put out reasonably good audio. The next Sony product may also be able to. As a result, developers are becoming more committed to producing games with good audio.

Also, various organizations of game audio people have been carrying the torch for better audio throughout the last 15 years. Two of the more obvious examples are: www.iasig.org, www.audiogang.org. So, to summarize: The situation will be changed by people and hardware.

Question 3: How does the composition for a video game differ from your regular creative process?

The main difference is that music for a game has to be able to play repeatedly for hours without becoming annoying or useless. This is a very different duty than that which is served by a regular pop song. A good pop composition will drive you nuts before you've heard it even 10 times, and game music has to loop hundreds of times.

For example, I try to make my game compositions have a musical, compositional structure, but then stretch it out in the extreme, so that instead of taking 8 measures to build up to a certain musical event, it may take 64 or 128. I will allow the "song" aspect of the composition to dwindle and fade away entirely during the piece, and then bring it back in later.

Another key difference in the music that I do for games is that it is interactive. By this I mean that one cannot predict exactly how the music is going to play back, because it is influenced by the state of the game being played, and therefore, influenced by the player. If you recorded the output of the X-Box while someone was playing Soul Reaver 2, for example, you'd never get the same recording twice. You'd recognize that it's the same composition, of course, but the music would swell and fade at different times, bringing in new parts and dropping them at different times, all according to what the player does.

Composing music which has an unknown final playback state is challenging to say the least. In short, it has to be able to sound ok under a wide variety of musical events which may take place.

Question 3a: Did the game designers give you specific demands when they asked you to do the music for the Soul Reaver games?

No, the director, Amy Hennig, was very smart about painting for me a vision of what the overall sound should be, and then letting me figure out how to enact it. She was more likely to show me pictures than play me music when telling me what she wanted. She would point out that such-and-such area looks like this (picture) and is inhabited by these creatures (story) and should therefore reflect such-and-such aspect of the world we were creating.

Of course, if what I composed didn't seem to fit, I was asked to alter the music. This only happened once or twice though, as Amy's direction was very clear and made it easy to know what sort of sound to create.

Question 4: What was your inspiration for creating the music for Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver?

See question 3a, and then: Amy heard my song "Ozar Midrashim" on "Don't Be Afraid". She told my friend who was music director at Crystal at the time, Mark Miller that it was exactly the sound she wanted. So in essence, my own song was my first inspiration, followed by the world of Nosgoth itself, to which the people on the team gave me a thorough introduction.

If you are now tempted to ask what was the inspiration for "Ozar Midrashim", then... um... Well... I was dancing... at a club... goth club... On skates of course... and uh... I was thinking about that main low percussion pattern... and... uh, and everything.

Question 5: Do you play video games, and if so what are your favorites?

Yes, I have been playing video games intensely since they were first widely available, in about 1975. (At the time, my friends and I called them "TV games") I played mostly in arcades, and then on my home computer. Ironically, although all the music I've made has been for console products, I skipped the entire home-console phase for the most part.

I have many favorites from different eras, so I'll just make a list here:

70's - Space Wars, Tank, Space Invaders, Asteroids, Missile Command, Tailgunner

80's - Defender Stargate, Major Havoc, Rastan, Final Fight, Gravitar, Pengo, Sinistar, Joust, Spy Hunter, Roadblasters, NARC

90's - (PC) Tetris, King's Quest, Heart of China, Red Baron, Welltris, Wolfenstein, Doom, Doom 2, Hexen, DESCENT, DESCENT 2 (!!), Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Age of Kings

00's - Command and Conquer Generals, EVERQUEST (!!!)

Question 6: Are there any games that you think have exceptional music? Truly awful music? (Feel free to name names.)

Really good game music is like a film soundtrack. If it's truly good, you probably won't notice it consciously. It's supposed to enhance the game, not draw a lot of attention to itself. Some stuff I have noticed, though:

Very good - Rastan (Arcade), Rise of the Dragon (PC), Descent 1 and 2 (PC), Toejam and Earl (Genesis console), Darkstone (PC)

Not so good - Dead or Alive 2 and 3 (X-Box console), Super Puzzle Fighter (Arcade), Everquest (PC)

Question 7: In Japan, video game soundtracks are popular and widely available in stores. Why do you think the same trend hasn't evolved over here in the states?

I don't know. My understanding of Japanese culture is somewhat limited. What I'm about to say are just guesses and speculations.

Perhaps it's because Japanese culture is so much more cohesive than ours. By "cohesive", I mean that they seem to move more as a single unit when it comes to pop culture, as opposed to the vast cumbersome diversity of popular culture here in the U.S. Also, I think the Japanese are more likely to all jump on the same bandwagon with entertainment products, following the popularity, and rocketing certain games to mega-hit status more often than here. Add to that the possibly greater willingness to be told what to like and buy by entertainment corporations, and with all these features, it seems to me that it would be much easier to encourage people to go buy a soundtrack to a very popular game en masse there.

Question 8: Since Electronic Arts started licensing music for their series of games, it has become more of a standard for well known artists to allow their music to be used in games. Some mainstream acts are even writing music specifically for games. Do you think that video games are now being seen as an acceptable medium for their music?

I think they always have been, but the audio capabilities of game machines were so poor for so long that people just had to wait. DEVO was doing game music in the VERY early 90's (possibly earlier), and a lot of artists were trying to get their music in games around that time. The problem was that it was just too hard to get it into the game and sounding good.

Now it's quite possible, and so everyone's interested in doing it. I think it will be a very bad thing for game audio if the Hollywood music-biz machine targets games. You can forget interactivity in such a scenario.

Question 8a: Do you think that eventually video game soundtracks will follow the footsteps of movie soundtracks?

I hope not, but it's possible.

Question 9: What advice would you give to artists who wish to compose for video games?

Learn to compose interactively. If you just make nice music and hope to get it in a game, you're competing with everyone out there who has a computer with CuBase on it. If you can compose a piece which has the innate capacity to play in several different states (as opposed to creating SEPARATE pieces which can be switched in and out), then you will have an advantage. Also, be ready and willing to learn a scripting language. Maybe take a programming class. Have a GOOD text editor like Ultra-Edit. Be ready to spend more time scripting and thinking logically than rockin' out on your favorite instrument or writing lyrics.

Question 10: You have done music for the Sega Genesis, the Playstation One, and the Playstation 2, how different was it writing music for each system?

The PS1 and the PS2 are essentially identical. Sony decided to just not bother improving the audio hardware when the PS2 was designed. (They just added a second copy of the SAME music hardware, and added more memory, which helps some.) As a result, the X-Box is now a full generation ahead of the PlayStation in audio capabilities.

Anyway... It was night and day.

The Genesis could only do 4-operator FM synthesis, which is cool, but rather limited. It could play a maximum of 6 notes at one time. It could do one "sample" at a time, but it wasn't really playing it back the way you're supposed to, and you couldn't really use it anyway because everyone was using samples in their sound effects. I'm not saying you couldn't do good work on the Genesis, but it was an exercise in squeezing blood from a stone.

The PlayStation 1 could play 24 sounds at once (SFX and music combined) and they could all be samples. In theory, it could play 44khz audio, but the amount of memory was very limited, so usually the samples were played at 11khz or less. Nonetheless, it did mark an important boundary. Though extremely limited, you could actually make game music in the same way that you made it normally: A MIDI file (usually converted to a compacted form in-game), a set of sampled sounds, played back by the internal sequencing software.

The PlayStation 2 simply increased the memory and number of sounds you could have at once, but is the identical system.

Now, the X-BOX is a killer audio system. Unfortunately, most companies are primarily concerned with the PS2, so X-Box versions are generally a port, and no one wants to have their audio people going back and re-creating all the content over again to take advantage of the console's capabilities. As a result, you end up with PS2 music played by an X-Box. Here at Crystal, we are able to automatically create versions of our music and SFX sounds separately for each console, with different sampling rates, so the X-Box sounds are at a higher resolution, anyway.

Question 11: Do you have plans to produce more video game soundtracks in the future?

If you mean commercially-released music-only CD's like the ones done for X-Men 2 and Soul Reaver 2, then that's not up to me, and I don't know. If you are simply referring to game music, then yes. I work in-house at Crystal Dynamics now, and we have three games in production at the moment, each of which will need music.

The following questions are a bit tongue in cheek. Feel free to answer them if you like.

Bonus Question 1: How did you feel when you found out that your beautiful Soul Reaver music would be voiced over by the actor who played Handy Smurf and Wonder Twin Zan from the Superfriends? (No offense, Mr. Bell!)

I've never seen any of those shows, so I don't care. It was funny, however, listening to Michael do an entire Raziel soliloquy in the Grouchy Smurf voice. We preserve that recording here at the Crystal Dynamics vault.

But Michael's great, and a versatile actor. Besides, I'm primarily concerned with how the music sounds when you're playing the game, not when you're watching cinematic scenes.

Bonus Question 2: Did you record all those freaky screams in the Soul Reaver games or were they synthesized?

No, I gathered them from various sources.

I invoked a level 5 ScreamHarvester.

Bonus Question 2a: Was it your decision to have virtually no music in the game when Raziel switched to the spirit realm? [In Soul Reaver]

It was something the designers talked to me about in a general sense, and I implemented the idea. I think it's a good one, and might have done so even if they hadn't said anything. Music in games has to fade in and out of existence lest it wear out its welcome.

Bonus Question 3: Any chance for a follow up album for Don't Be Afraid?

Slim to none.

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