Inon Zur: Videogame Music Composer
Chances are you have heard his work, even if his name is unfamiliar.
Music composer Inon Zur has worked in a variety of mediums,
but is gaining fame through his compositions for videogames.
His game composing credits include: Star Trek: Klingon Academy,
StarFleet Command 2, Fallout Tactics and Icewind
Dale II, all for Interplay, as well as Baldur's Gate
for Bioware and a shared credit on the just-released Run
Like Hell (also from Interplay).
talked to Zur to find out a little bit more about the process
of making music for videogames.
explained that he was fortunate to grow up with music, as his
parents used to listen to classical music constantly, "I
was nurtured on traditional music and began to love it."
soon became the center of my being," he added, noting that
when he was young and playing the piano, his teachers used to
get angry at him for writing his own music instead of playing
what was put in front of him.
all the other kids in his neighborhood in Israel (where Zur
was born) were outside playing, Zur was inside practicing on
the piano. After his required four-year stint in the Israeli
army (rising to an officer in the tank corps.) Zur attended
the Academy of Music at Tel Aviv for a couple of months before
realizing it was not the course of action he wanted to take.
Following friends advice that Los Angeles was the place to be
for a career in music, he moved there in 1991.
started off scoring movies, receiving a break when one student
film he scored (Yellow Lotus), received critical accolades
and gained him some notoriety.
led to a gig at Fox Family channel for six years, where he composed
music for over 300 episodes of various shows, including Power
Rangers, Digimon and State of Grace.
1998, Zur was approached asked if he wanted to try something
different. Respondin affirmatively, he ended up composing and
conducting the music for Interplay's Star Trek: Klingon Academy.
Thus a career in scoring for interactive games began, an occupation
Zur finds "very rewarding and challenging." Zur thinks
that gamers appreciate good music in games even more than moviegoers
do, "They really care about the music in games." He
reasoned that, "Because you hear it over and over again
(music in games) if it's bad you will really grow to hate it,
but if it is good, you will grow to love it." Zur added
that he receives a lot of fan mail from those who admire his
shed some light on the how the creative process begins for him.
"For every game I have a preliminary meeting with producers
and get their insight on the game," he stated. "Then,
I try and play the game a little, but usually the game is far
from done. If there is a similar game or previous title in the
series, I will pick it up and play it to get a feel for the
mood and type of game it is."
approaches game scoring from both an artistic and technical
point of view, to see the way the music will be used in the
game. If they are going to chop the music, or choose to play
a whole piece, the music has to be written a certain way.
time constraints for composing require about three weeks turnaround
time, with another week or so added for production and mixing
movies and television, since you are almost last in the chain
of production, by the time they get to you publishers and developers
don't have any time or money," Zur stated. "We (composers)
never have the luxury of plenty of time or moneythey finish
their budget and are running low on time and want to release
the game as soon as possible."
Internet connections and powerful computers have made Zur's
profession much simpler, "Today it's so easy. I'm writing
here (at home), and rough cuts can be trasnported almost instantly
to the game studio thanks to the Internet." Zur uses .asf
files which his employers can downloador even streamto
listen to his work.
home studio is mainly powered by two GIGA samplers, which he
dubbed the "last word" in music equipment. They are
actually a pair of very powerful PCs, which act like samplers
and play straight from the hard drive, eliminating the musician's
worst fear of running low on RAM. The extremely efficient setup
allows him to load as many samples as he wants.
still prefers good old-fashioned live musicians when his budget
can support it. "Musicians know they have a big enemy called
midi, which always sounds perfect, " he stated. While Zur
could mimic a full symphony in his studio, he feels that even
non-musicians can notice the difference between a synthesized
orchestra and a real one.
used the Seattle Symphony to record music for Star Trek:
Klingon Acdemy, Star Trek: Empire at War, and
writes the score, has his orchestrator break it down to individual
instruments and then puts the music in front of the orchestra.
Touting the professionalism of the Seattle group, Zur said,
"Musicians today know that time is money. If the arrangement
is medium hard, it might take one or two takes, if it's a real
hard one it could take three to four takes." Easy arrangements
are usually nailed on the initial try. With a fee of around
$24,000 per eight hours of use, time really is money with the
asked Zur if game developers ever try to pressure him out of
using a full symphony in order to save a couple bucks. He responded,
"They always try to save some money, but on the other end,
people like Adam Levenson (a sound and music supervisor at Interplay)
is very aware of the pluses of a real orchestra. So he will
always fight to get me my budget. That is why Interplay as a
publisher has always had great soundtracks."
Dale II had a little lower budget for its score, so instead
of using the Seattle Symphony, Zur used a scaled down orchestra
in Los Angeles, but doubled the instruments up in production
in order to project the effect of a huge orchestra.
estimates that the average game he works on has about 35-45
minutes of music. Run Like Hell, since it was involved
and a long game had about 60 minutes of music.
the fact that most of his work is done for Interplay, Zur is
not under specific contract with them. "Interplay just
happens to know me very well," he added, noting that he
is independent and is open to taking projects as they come.
In fact, he just finished working on a pair of European games:
Crusader Kings for Paradox Entertainment and War and
Peace for Microids.
think that there are enough great game composers and organizations
that I believe we could gain respect much like film composers,"
Zur responded, when asked about the future of videogame music
makers. Zur also mentioned that organizations like the recently
formed Game Audio Network Guild (headed by Tommy Tallarico),
could help flesh out more budding composers.