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The Art of Video Games: The Music
April 24, 2012

Photo Courtesy of Austin Wintory.

Austin Wintory is the composer behind such video games as Journey and flOw. Wintory will be doing a pre-concert Q&A on April 29th at 2:30 p.m. before the University of Maryland Gamer Symphony Orchestra plays in the museum's Kogod Courtyard. Laurel Fehrenbach, public programs coordinator for the Smithsonian American Art Museum, asks Wintory how music is yet another form of the art of video games.

Eye Level: How did you get started in composing musical scores for video games?

Austin Wintory: Pursuing a composer career was a lifelong ambition for me, including films, games and concert music. When I got to college I linked up with some student game designers and got to get my feet wet on their projects. One of those projects ended up being Jenova Chen's thesis flOw, which of course led to the PlayStation3 and onwards from there. It was all very lucky! EL: Where does the process for video game music begin? Do you start by playing the game, or do you work with the design team while the game is still being created? When does the music become part of the game?

AW: It can begin at a variety of stages. In film, traditionally, you come in at the very last second. In games it's common to be on much earlier though there is no true formula or standardized time. In the case of Journey I was on from Day 1, literally 3 years before release. I was composing all through the process, constantly reiterating and adjusting it as the game became more and more polished. But in those first many months the game didn't really resemble what you can play now, so the music was being written based on my imagination of what it would become (aided by the gorgeous concept art of Matt Nava).

EL: How do you think the music adds to the experience of playing video games?

AW: Similar to film, it's a major component of the narrative. Scenes can be built around it and it can add subtext through means only accessible to music. I think we're only at the earliest stages of seeing music's evolution in games, since they are still in their infancy. Their artistic potential is only just now revealing its full scope.

EL: How has video game music evolved over the years?

AW: Game music has come a very long way in the last 20 years. The original composers were essentially programmers who had musical chops (and they wrote some genuinely wonderful, innovative music), but eventually the notion of a professional composer became the norm. In the last ten years the system has changed and come to resemble the model used in the film industry (freelance composers working with a production studio). The other huge change, of course, is that audio programming and fidelity have gone through the roof. We routinely record orchestral forces on the scale of major budget films now, and can implement it to be very deep in its interactivity. It's honestly one of the best times in history to be a working composer!

EL: What projects are you working on next? Are you working on other compositions besides video games?

AW: I am finishing a wonderful game called Monaco, due out later this year. I also have another game after that called The Banner Saga, which is in its very earliest stages. A few others I can't get into yet. Also some film projects I'm excited about, like reuniting with my friend Amin Matalqa on a film called Strangely in Love (we did his first film, and also the world's first Jordanian film, called Captain Abu Raed, which won the Audience Award at Sundance in 2008). A very busy and fun year ahead!

Posted by Jeff on April 24, 2012 in American Art Here


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