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"Raiders of the Lost Arts" Interview with BAFTA award-winning Danish composer Jesper Kyd
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Music4Games brings you its definitive interview series on the lost art of experimental, alternative and unique approaches to writing game music, introduced by Paul Taylor.

Danish-born composer Jesper Kyd writes and produces award-winning soundtracks for video games and movies. He is best known for the multi-million selling Hitman series starring Agent 47, the epic action/adventure Freedom Fighters, and the CGI movies in Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory directed by Andy Davis. Earlier this year Kyd's evocative soundtrack for Hitman: Contracts was awarded Best Original Music by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts at the BAFTA Games Awards. He is currently scoring a next gen title for UbiSoft. For more information visit

M4G: What was the project which caused you to "break through" into a career in game music?
Jesper Kyd: I scored Bioware's MDK2, Shiny's Messiah and IO's first Hitman game around the same time. These titles had a good amount of interest and Hitman did especially well.

M4G: What do you think about the current state of "original" music for games?
Jesper Kyd: I have been an advocate for better game music since game scores changed format into CD based music from chip based music.

The birth of game music to me is not about the bleeps and bloops in Pacman or Space Invaders. Game music became "real" music when composers were able to start adding emotion into the music. This first happened on the C64 because this computer actually had a real music chip, the SID chip. This is a completely different sounding music chip from bleep PC audio at the time, since the PC was lacking a sound chip. This C64 music revolution can still be felt and heard in music today and this music is what inspired me to start writing music with computers. Listening to Martin Galway, Rob Hubbard, Tim Follin, Ben Dalglish…I think that was just such an exciting period. From that moment on, I started to create music with C64 music programs. When I crossed over into the game industry from the European Demo scene, I wanted to add the same kind of excitement and experimentation into my game scores as the early C64 pioneering composers. During this time I was working in the Amiga demo and game scene and there was lots of experimentation with new and interesting music being written and invented. After leaving the Amiga scene to start writing music for the Sega Genesis/Megadrive, I continued my approach to music by utilizing everything I learned from writing music on the C64 and Amiga. A few years later the SEGA CD came out followed by the Saturn and PlayStation 1. All of these machines had the capability to play CD based music.

I thought CD based music was a great new way to compose music for games and couldn't wait to see where this new method of creating game music would take the game music scene. But what occurred was very different than what I had hoped would happen. Simply put, the music became more generic, boring and predictable; One reason for this was that suddenly everyone could write music for games - you no longer needed these hardcore music programs that took years to learn. People could just go buy a CD with some drum loops and put this in a game and they thought they would have decent sounding music. Experiments in game music styles almost died overnight and the quality of game music started a long downward spiral which I don't think we are quite over yet. There is still way too much conservative thinking going on with some aspects of games today.

M4G: As the lines between game music and film music continue to blur, how do you think game music will evolve/survive as an artform in its own right?
Jesper Kyd: I have no doubt that game music will survive in its own right, but it will take some time before this will evolve further. Right now I think that some publishers would rather work with A-list Hollywood composers than with game composers. I do understand this viewpoint and the fact that many of the best composers today work in film. But what people will eventually realize is that there are a handful of really good composers working in the game industry that better understand the game medium and can take game scores to a very interesting and fresh sounding place. Game composers are also gamers and fully understand the medium and technology. I work a lot with interactive music systems and have helped design the music engine behind the Hitman games and Freedom Fighters and the game composers can make the music implementation process run smoother by their understanding of the technology of games.

Making a game sound like a film is a major letdown to me as a gamer. I want something more modern than a film. I mean, the game industry is THE most modern and advanced entertainment industry out there, and just doing what Hollywood does is just not enough for me as a gamer. We need to move away from generic Hollywood scores and go our OWN way and use only Hollywood production values to enhance the game experience, including voice acting and perhaps even sound effects creation.

There's always so much talk about cutting edge graphics, AI, game engines, physics, but when it comes to the music, this philosophy becomes more like, "Which Hollywood composer do we want the score to sound like?" Hans Zimmer or John Williams are usually the 2 most requested music styles composers are asked to copy so if I can't change/educate the developer to go for something more fresh and custom built for their game, I often turn the project down. If I can't make someone understand that it's better for the game to write something new that will make the game atmosphere stand out, instead of writing a score that sounds like it would fit any other action game out there, I move on to the next project.

M4G: Do you believe that game scores should strike out in a different direction from film soundtracks?
Jesper Kyd: Film soundtracks are there to enhance and provide support to a film, not a game. Game music should be able to be listened to repeatedly and most film music is only designed to be heard for that one specific scene. Repeating themes throughout the game experience is a technique used in film music and I use this technique when writing a more thematic game score. Of course when writing music for cinematics I use my film music experience and approach it in much the same way as when writing film scores.

M4G: Why do you think game companies are so obsessed these days with hiring film composers to score their games?
Jesper Kyd: Some game companies look up to Hollywood and think by making the game more Hollywood-like, it is going to make their game more successful. This is not the reality though, since gamers and game journalists seem to enjoy more creative and unique-sounding scores.

M4G: Do you find the constraints of working for today's games to be liberating or merely annoying?
Jesper Kyd: Most of the time I find writing music for games liberating. When working on game projects, usually the developer/publisher encourages me to experiment and come up with something different.

M4G: Do you / did you find scope to experiment within your work, or do you find yourself falling back on recurring motifs and approaches in order to meet deadlines?
Jesper Kyd: I always try to do my best on every score I write. I got into this industry to try and continue a tradition of game music writing which started with the C64, embracing experimentation while still being fun to listen to. Few people are doing this in the game industry these days so I feel it's my obligation to keep alive what the pioneers on the C64 started.

M4G: What is the most irritating thing a producer has ever asked you to do?
Jesper Kyd: Nothing major to report….when working on Messiah I was asked to remix some Fear Factory music. After the remixes were done, the band approved the mixes, but the label stepped in and didn't want any remixes in the game…kind of disappointing to find out after the remixes had been done but that's showbiz!

M4G: Do you consider music to be a component of the overall sound design of a project, or a unique creative facet in its own right?
Jesper Kyd: I see it as a unique, creative facet that must fit in with the sound design.

M4G: What are your core beliefs about a piece of game music?
Jesper Kyd: Given the limitations of the music you are asked to write, make it as interesting, innovative and entertaining to listen to as possible.

M4G: Who do you rate as a contemporary composer or musician?
Jesper Kyd: Vangelis and Jerry Goldsmith are contemporary. Their music is entertaining to listen to.

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Paul Taylor

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