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Music Games

Ask "The Fat Man" George Sanger About Music and Computer Games 66

"The Fat Man" George Sanger has composed the music to hundreds of computer and video games since the 80's and remains one of the most influential people in game audio. Some of his most famous tunes can be heard in Maniac Mansion, Wing Commander, and Tux Racer. Team Fat, a band that includes fellow video game music composers, creates music, sound effects, and voice work for games, television, and films. George has agreed to give us a bit of his time and answer any questions you might have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.
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Ask "The Fat Man" George Sanger About Music and Computer Games

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  • Hey George! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by globaljustin ( 574257 ) on Monday February 17, 2014 @12:51PM (#46267793) Journal

    Mr. Sanger, thanks for taking the time. I was a fan of yours and didn't know it until now ha.

    My question: Did you find the limitations of 8-bit computing sound to be a fun creative challenge or was it more of a slog of process and reduction to make it work within limitations of the sound system?

    • Exactly: 8-bit composing was indeed, as you say, a fun creative challenge. The feeling that I might have been "limited" in some way translated in my mind immediately into a positive: "OK, I'm writing for a new medium that has these requirements and these superpowers. What will I do with it?" I just couldn't imagine Bach being bugged by having to write for "just a string quartet." My players (the oscillators that were available to me) might have a tone less thrilling than Bach's target platform, but m
  • on your business.... not being rude; just a rhetorical question about the business climate for music.

  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Monday February 17, 2014 @12:56PM (#46267849) Homepage Journal

    I'm playing some of the Master of Magic soundtrack right now, when this article appeared. I love the sheer range of composition you managed over the course of the 90s.

    Anyways, my question is: Has the demand for live instrumentation on soundtracks negatively impacted the flexibility of game composers like yourself? Or were the midi device days harder?

    • by andrewa ( 18630 )
      Do you mean the Commodore 64 Master of Magic, or the Microprose PC one? Not entirely sure about the Microprose one, as I don't see it listed in his Wiki page. If you mean the Commodore 64 one, then that was Rob Hubbard I think. I played a bit of the Microprose game, but don't specifically recall anything about the soundtrack, the Commodore 64 game though - that's a different matter and that's a very memorable piece of music for me...
      • Rob Hubbard actually ripped off a track by "Synergy" called "Shibolet"... although to be fair he improved on it for the Commodore 64 rendition.

        I think the OP means the PC game.

  • Mr. Sanger,
    If you could point out just one favorite advancement in gaming audio, be it hardware, software, or something else in your experience what would that be?
    Thank you.
  • Getting Started (Score:4, Interesting)

    by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Monday February 17, 2014 @01:11PM (#46268013) Homepage Journal

    How did you get into the video game music business, and what advice would you have for aspiring artists looking to follow in your footsteps?

  • I used to run into you at trade shows . . . gosh, going on 24 years ago.

    Do you still have that big red jacket with the gold coins?

    Is your comic book a collector's item?

    • Like every good suit, they have a story: []
      • Wow ! Thanks for posting that link.

        And we thought we had a bad day ... LOL ...

        3. The Nile Valley

        "On the next plane, from Phoenix to LA, I was ready to sleep. But I got to talking to the guy next to me, who was into Big Investments and moving money through time and all that cash stuff. He seemed pretty "up." He especially was excited about model trains. When I asked him what motivates him, this is what came out: "I had a rough divorce. My wife set fire to my house, destroying everything I owned. She w

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What software do you currently use for creating music?

    • by sycodon ( 149926 )

      What would you consider to be the dream workstation for a composer?

      Any specific sound cards or other equipment a "must have"?

  • by holiggan ( 522846 ) on Monday February 17, 2014 @01:24PM (#46268143)

    Uau, can't believe nobody mentioned the 7th Guest and 11th Hour soundtracks, some of my all time favourite game music :)

    Anyway, my question to Mr. Sanger is this: how was it to be part of some of the first "digital media" titles? To live in the middle of the hype and be part of some ground breaking works of art?

  • by Dan East ( 318230 ) on Monday February 17, 2014 @01:25PM (#46268153) Journal

    Back in the late 80s, computer music was written in 4 channel trackers (Amiga, I'm thinking of you), and you had to try and cram as much "music" into just 4 channels as possible. Now the sky's the limit. I'm curious which you like better. The old days, where hardware limitations were always in your face and you had to use clever tricks and a lot of thought to work around them and keep it all in a few kilobytes of space, or the way things are now, where you have an unlimited number of tracks and instruments available and you just blow out static audio tracks (aka mp3)?

    • And following up on that...........

      Mac or PC?
    • 4 tracks? Sampled sound? Luxury! [] Extravagance! [] Decadence! []

    • I suspect this isn't just true of games.

      The Beatles (a.k.a. the white album) was recorded on 4 tracks. The Dark Side of the Moon and Tubular Bells were recorded on 16 tracks. Pro Tools gives you a few hundred tracks, and it's fair to say that modern musicians don't do proportionally more with what they have. You get pretty much the same "amount" of music/production (less, sometimes; as Arnold Schoenberg famously pointed out, a rest is never a wrong note), but you get it faster and cheaper.

      • But a distinction must be made here: Protracker and friends may have had "tracks" that work more or less like a professional studio, but the thing is, the *other* limits of the format meant that making music with a module tracker was a WHOLE different beast than doing it with a recording studio.

        With module files/trackers, you could play exactly one sound sample at a time on each track - which is why many of us preferred to call them channels rather than tracks.

        Each sound might be a single key on a piano, a

        • I wrote my fair share of MODs back in the day; I'm familiar with all the tricks. Writing MODs was a different kind of fun than modern systems, but it was still fun.

          The question was which one you like better. My personal opinion is that not being forced into technical limitations is easier, but it doesn't necessarily make you more creative to have more options.

  • Sir,

    How have you dealt with fans reactions to influences of change over the years. Give them something new? or Keep giving them the familiar that they want?In the same vein, have you ever had to scrap a body of work entirely?

    Thank you
  • Have you tried composing interactive music, that dynamically changes according to choices the player makes "on-the-fly"? If so, what technology do you prefer to use when composing for interactive soundtracks?

    The first time I remember hearing highly interactive music in a game was "Shogo: Mobile Armor Division", back in 1998; they used a program that was similar to the old Amiga "Bars & Pipes" to help compose that music. All I remember is that the program was part of the DirectX suite at the time.

    • You need to go back and play the original X-wing and TIE Fighter. (Not the Windows 95 ports, the DOS versions.)

      Also, possibly Wing Commander 1 & 2 (scored by The Fat Man). But I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't played them yet, despite owning the GOG rereleases.

  • Hello Mr. Sanger,

    With Rob Landeros trying to bring The 7th Guest 3 to life, one of the more asked questions was whether you would be doing the music for it. At first, there was not much of an answer except "No. Licensing problems." Then it came out that he got licensing worked out to use music from The 7th Guest and 11th Hour, but not any new music. So what is going on with all of that?
    • I doubt we'll get a good answer on this. But Sanger's involvement was my number one question when I first heard about efforts to make a T7G3. I was really bummed to hear it wasn't going to work out. The replacement guy is obviously very talented, but still...The music isn't just a character of its own in those games, it is practically a lead role...
  • Project Bar-B-Q gathers an interesting cast of characters from the interactive audio world every year. The annual reports are full of interesting results from their brainstorming. Which working group report coming out of Bar-B-Q are you the most proud of, and which do you wish had received more attention from the industry?
  • Greetings George, thanks for taking the time to do this. Video games were some of my earliest exposure to types of music that my parents never played and has stayed a consistent influence on the music I create now some 20-30 years later.

    I'm curious how much of a back and forth process it is to design music for games. At what stage are you often approached about creating music? Is it when there is a finished product for you to see, or during the early stages are you brought on board to share some sounds to inspire coders? Is there a standard timeline for bringing together visuals and gameplay and sounds, or does it vary from project to project? And if it does vary, has there been a general shift over time in the interaction between gameplay design and music design?

  • by doti ( 966971 ) on Monday February 17, 2014 @01:56PM (#46268549) Homepage

    Is this related to the game "Tongue of the Fat Man"?

  • Sydney Greenstreet would enjoy having you at his business.

    Peter Lorre could also assist with customer relations?
  • Did you play alot of them they have some of the best midi music what game was one you liked the best?

  • No questions here, but I'm impressed by the lifespan of a lot of your music. The soundtrack in Furcadia is still iconic of the game, and it's still going strong online about eighteen years later. It hasn't even fallen into 'old nostalgic retro game' territory.

  • Anything that comes to mind.

    Thanks, love your music and love your book!

  • Do you follow the current chiptunes and retrogaming music scene and if so, do you have suggestions for them?

  • So you use separate software to compose (Finale, Sibelius) and take the midi from that and run it through a separate synthesizer to produce the sound?

    If so, can you speak about to the products and process?

  • Hello Mr Sanger !

    Do you remember when you felt really satisfied when working around technical limitations while implementing your artistic vision ?
  • Always enjoyed your music in the games I played over the years! Do you have a CD or .mp3's of all your work over the years? iTunes? :-)

      You are the perfect example (for music) of why "Games Are Art" that that blow-hard Roger Ebert never understood.

  • When you write music for a video game, how do you make sure that you don't end up accidentally copying too much of someone else's melody into your own work and thereby infringing copyright?
  • Over the past 15 years or so, a lot of publishers have been licensing pop40 tunes instead of writing custom scores. As someone who likes music that fits the game and reacts with events and player performance, how can the publishers be motivated to do this more often?

    titles with adaptive music that come to mind:

    The early Need for Speeds (2,3,4).
    Mortal Kombat series
    Earlier Street Fighter titles (before 4).
    Descent Freespace series

    Here are some games with great (imo) though mostly non adaptive soundtracks in n

  • The player can discover the temporal anomalies woven into Bioshock Infinite through the music which plays in the background.
    Which games do you think make the most creative use of music?

  • I still remember listening to this song on the "The Fat Man" sampler that came with The 7th Guest: []
  • Hello, as an avid videogame romhacker who digs your tunes considerably, I have a question; well, two actually. The Faceball 2000 Theme has a reference to the Seaseme Street melody that you also composed for the NES, was that an intentional reference to the former? Did you find working with the SPC700 challenging?
  • I, like so many, was blown away by the soundtrack for 7th Guest and a big part of that was the voice clips integrated directly into the music. Question: What do you think about integrating a games voice acting clips and/or sound effects directly into the music tracks?
  • Hello George,

    I love game soundtracks so much, that I have a folder dedicated to it on my drive, and it's one of my go-to when I do my work. I have played a number of games for which you composed the music, including Loom, Wing Commander II, Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra, Ultima Underworld, etc. and I love them all.

    Which one of your work do you look back on with the most feelings? Which is your favourite piece?

Nondeterminism means never having to say you are wrong.