Jason Hayes worked amongst others on the score of such famous Blizzard titles like ‘Diablo’, ‘StarCraft’ and ‘WarCraft’ which have certainly great music. Then, he produced as the lead composer the soundtrack of ‘World of WarCraft’. At the moment, Jason works as a Sound Director on a so far unannounced game for publisher NCsoft.
Hi Jason! What effects do you intend to achieve with your music on the players?
It is my hope to give the games some kind of emotional context – to make the player feel something, and get him/her emotionally invested in the experience. In the case of the cinematic trailers and cut-scenes, I try to help tell the story and convey its dramatic impact. When it comes to in-game music for a game like World of Warcraft, my hope is to develop a sense of depth and richness, to help create a compelling aesthetic environment that people will want to linger in and explore.
Ok. What comes first: the music or the game? Or can the sound even have an influence on the development work?
In an ideal situation, the music discussions begin very early in development. In this way, it’s possible to make important decisions about how music will be implemented in advance of actually writing anything. You can figure out when and why music should be triggered, and how long the musical cues should be. Also, in the case of interactive music, sometimes it’s necessary to set up a whole system in advance that will determine specific methods of how music will need to be composed. The benefit of all this is that you get music that is tailored to the interactivity, and is a powerful complement to the game play.
By contrast, even good music can sometimes fall a little flat or even be annoying and inappropriate when it is just thrown in without much forethought. The implementation can be just as important a factor as the music itself in getting really good results.
Let’s talk about your compositions. How does the production of a track for ‘World of WarCraft’ look like? Which characteristics are crucial for your inspiration and what equipment do you use?
For inspiration, I love to sit down with the designers and discuss the game world and particular situations that the player will come across. Also, looking at the concept art that’s being developed is very useful in getting a feel for the game. In the case of cinematic cut-scenes, there’s always a meeting where I go over rough storyboards with the director. This is always very exciting, as I get the chance to discuss the mood and help determine important moments in the script. These storyboards are often comprised merely of very simple block shapes and fast pencil sketches, but it’s so inspiring and a lot of fun to envision how cool it will look when it’s done, and the role the music can play as it all comes together.
As far as equipment, I use a Macintosh G5 running Logic Pro software. For sounds, I have 4 PC computers running Gigastudio – a great program that basically turns each computer into a powerful musical instrument. Into each of these computers, I load in sounds to comprise sections of the orchestra, as well as electronic software synthesizers and other assorted sounds.
Almost everyone in the industry, the media and even most of the players talk only about gameplay, features and technical elements of a new game. How does a composer feel about this kind of little notice of his work?
Well, thankfully, this has begun to change drastically in recent times. Events like the "Symphonic Game Music Concert", "Video Games Live", and "Play! A Video Game Symphony" are making great strides in the recognition of music in games. Of course as a game developer, I acknowledge the primary importance of great game play first and foremost. But aesthetic elements such as music are also crucial to a truly immersive game, and seeing this aspect start to get noticed is a real joy.
Are game soundtracks comparable to movie soundtracks? So would it be no problem for a composer to work in both industries?
I think the goal and aspiration to write excellent, compelling music is shared by all composers, regardless of the medium – film, tv, games, etc. So there is a similarity in that regard. But in addition to this, each specific field has its own special considerations that need to be learned. For games, it has to do with addressing the interactivity (the aforementioned implementation strategy), a puzzle unique to this industry. For film and tv, it has to do with scoring to picture, and developing the ability to tell a story with music that heightens the effect of the narrative.
Fortunately, there are also opportunities in the game industry to score to picture, and I feel lucky that I’ve had many of these kinds of opportunities, since it is a particular passion of mine.
It is said that current games are looking very good but suffer from a lack of innovation. Compared to the good old 8-bit days of the past and motivating squawking sounds: Do you see an analogy to the game music nowadays?
That’s a great observation! As a parallel to this, the advent of music technology advances has brought about many easy-to-use, quickly customizable music production tools. Anyone, regardless of ability, can pick up one of these hardware or software tools and quickly develop something that sounds quite polished and pleasant, in a superficial sense. But often, the results can come across as lifeless and uninspired, without any "heart and soul". However, in the right hands, these tools can be used to assist the production of some very interesting and innovative new music!
Do you sometimes dream about live performances of your works by a symphonic orchestra? Or ist there even something like this intended?
Absolutely! I love the expression and power of a live orchestra, and I am very hopeful to get more music produced in this way. In the realm of live performance, it was definitely a dream come true when "Video Games Live" debuted at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles in July of last year, featuring music from the Warcraft series. Then in August, I travelled to Germany to attend the "Symphonic Game Music Concert" in Leipzig [Games Convention], where a suite of music from ‘World of Warcraft’ was performed. It was my first time in Germany, and I absolutely loved it!
Upcoming events include "Video Games Live" in March during the Game Developers Conference in San Jose, CA, and the "Play! A Game Music Symphony" concert series which will make its U.S. debut in May at the Rosemont Theatre in Chicago, followed by a June concert in Stockholm, Sweden at the Konserthuset.
What are your plans for the future? Are there any new projects?
Right now, I’m audio director for NCsoft’s new game development studio in Orange County, California. We’re working on an exciting project that is still in its early stages and hasn’t yet been announced, but it’s going to be really cool! As soon as I can, I’ll post more information about it at my website.
Jason, thanks for the talk!