Interview with Ari Pulkkinen - soundtrack creator of Shadowgrounds and Super Stardust HD
Interview with Ari Pulkkinen - soundtrack creator of Shadowgrounds and Super Stardust HD
Hey, everybody! Today we have something special for you - interview with hot Finnish guy Ari Pulkkinen. If you played Shadowgrounds you must surely remember his cool sympho-electronic music. Anyway, read below to learn the Truth.
Hello Game-OST staff and readers!
Game-OST and our community just want to know more about you :) How did you manage to get into video game business, when did it start and how did you became a musician?
I'm from a musical family and my father was a talented all-around musician and a singer. I trained classical piano until the day I found out that Amiga had a MOD tracker software. I wasn't exactly a piano virtuoso and I always liked to play my own tunes anyway, so digital environment fitted me perfectly. I mainly did MODs for my own delight from dance music to folk and experimental music. I resently counted that I have done over 280 unfinished and 70 finished MODs.
So, the story how I got in the games...Back in '97 I was in a LAN-party near my summer cottage held by local buddies and other comrades. So, there I met this odd geezer who turned out to be the creator of the StarFight -game series Jukka T. Paajanen (JP-Productions). What are the odds? While fragging each others in Duke 3D, we discussed that StarFight VI: Gatekeepers could need some help with the soundtrack. Back then it was a huge project, even my MOD files were over 40Mb. SFVI became the biggest and the most ambitious freeware game out there - and it was also a huge success. There I was, at the beginning of my game audio highway.
Demo-scene guys also know you and there are rumors that you won some awards on Assembly. Tell us about this.
There was this competition called Fast Music compo in 2001, where you had 1.5 hours to make music with any tracker software. Sample-pack was released when the competition begun. I won it three times and one time i was second... I personally found it very fun and interesting competition because of the time pressure and the crappy instruments that were given. You just had to make the best of it. They changed the rules four years ago - now there's pre-defined chords that need to be used in the song. I wonder if this was done because of me...;)
Currently you are working as in-house composer for Frozenbyte. How did you get there?
After StarFight VI release I did various indie projects and participated in a demoscene parties. In '03 Frozenbyte Inc. reached for me about making music and sounds full time and I went for it - no steady salary in sight and no other benefits than free meatballs with french fries every day. Oh those were the days! We were first making this RTS-game that we eventually axed and changed the design to a top-down shooter called Shadowgrounds. I've been doing in-house game audio and music ever since.
Do you think about go freelance? What advantages of being in-house composer do you see?
This is a subject that I could talk for hours, but I'll try to let you guys easy. I have been in-house audio director over four years now and also done audio outsourcing for different game companies through Frozenbyte, so I've already been a 'semi-freelancer' also. As for the future, I'm starting my own company named AriTunes. AriTunes is concentrating on game music and audio design & production - and other services like consulting and lectures about game audio.
In-house composer and audio designer however have a very good situation compared to the freelancing on a game productivity standpoint - you just have much more time to polish everything and more dynamic and active resources (storywriters, designers and graphicians always in the next door). Let's keep in mind that average game should make the player interested about 10-20 hours - and if this game has an audio solution that ain't interesting and gets on to players nerves, developers have just messed up the most cheapest way to improve the game quality. By cheap I really mean that best audio money can buy is ridiculously more affordable than the best graphics out there.
In my point of view, too many games have their audio done in a hurry and it really vibes badly and disturbs the overall feeling - like too few audiospheres and music tracks that make you numb after few hours, not enough alternative sounds, annoying UI sounds and whatnot.
Big game project is usually a huge bloater, and these games need lot's and lot's of attention in every scale. Even the planning is a huge project itself and requires much attention and resources. The scale ain't daily basis, time estimates are measured in months and weeks. Time schedule overruns are to be expected and there's always something that would be nice to implement in the game..
You became well-known composer with release of Shadowgrounds. Electro-symphonic mix with heavy riffs of Lordi’s guitarist Amen – that’s cool stuff, we think. Tell us about creation process of this soundtrack and who is responsible for Amen invitation? Maybe you are friends, guys :)
Heh, Amen is a cool fella. I met him when Lordi and Frozenbyte was talking about possible collaboration before Shadowgrounds release. And Yes, Shadowgrounds would have had Lordi songs in it, if not for the record company and Finnish Composers Copyright Society TEOSTO. It's a shame. We even had design suited for Lordi - remember that concert hall scene in New Atlantis (Shadowgrounds)? Well, let's just say Lordi cancelled their Universal Monster Tour and Rtzon King took it's place. Hmm.. maybe that's why the aliens really attacked Ganymede.
I actually did ask for Lordi himself to ask Amen to perform in Shadowgrounds soundtrack, Amen was really interested and came and played.
How it was to work in collaboration with Amen? Were there any difficult or maybe funny moments?
It was pure awesomeness. We didn't actually had to take so many cuts because Amen really handled my riffs quite easily and made them even more bad-ass. Well, there is this one song called Prey On This - and the riff there is pretty kinky. Funny thing there is that I can't play guitar, I'm all keyboards with Guitar Rig. You can imagine how hard some riffs can be if the timing and the notes aren't exactly optimized for the guitar..
Amen's guitar was recorded back then in my crappy office-studio in two weekends with just one pre-amp, Marshall and one microphone. Authentic indie feeling you know. We had fun also with the blues song that is heard in the first Shadowgrounds in-game cinematic. I think in the bottom of his cold, heavy infested heart, Amen is truly a blues man.
Amen visited in my studio this spring we talked about their jolly adventures after the Eurovision song contest and possibilities of future soundtracks. He's interested.
Again, your next big soundtrack (Super Stardust HD) is mix of symphonic and electronic styles. Is it your unique style? What can you say about your methods of writing music?
My unique style… I think it has a lot to do with strong melodic themes combined with different electronic genres. I usually prefer electronic styles, but not always. Everything depends much of the project too but I see my music somewhat 'unstandardized' what comes to genre. I like it somewhat edgier. General Midi instruments aren't the only choices in my list, thats for sure!
I take much inspiration from feelings, situations, story and overall athmosphere. It's important for me to thoroughly know what I'm doing so that I can perfectly create the right feeling. I like to find the right kind of instruments and samples and have little fun with them. I've searched a lot of chord combinations that bring the right mood and work seamlessy together. It's easy to bring the melody in. If I'm doing more traditional song, I'll usually just play my vision with piano first.
What equipment do you use? What instruments can you handle?
My basic instrument is a USB keyboard hooked on a PC or a Mac. Then there's sequencer, multi-track program and sh*tloads of virtual samplers and instruments. Native Instruments, East West and other Kontakt featuring samplers are really nice. I do however have some nice 'real' synthesizers and hardware samplers which I occasionally use when I need the sound. My new Mobile Music Station (tm) is on Mac.
If I need live performances or more professional mastering, I'll outsource it. I'm not a much of tech geek what it comes to sound quality, I still prefer melody over sound. Actually, there's a lots of over-compressed and overmastered pop&rock music out there that makes you wish if only it was the 60-70's again. And not just the sound quality, some producers now tend to use everything they got in a one fricking song. Oh..! Back on the subject again…
I can handle piano and keyboards, and some drums too. If I'm bit drunk and right mood, I'm native good with bongo-drums as well.
Our favorite question: have you ever tried to write music under alcohol/drugs? :)
Hah, who hasn't? ;) My big beats, blues and rock person comes out when I'm taking some booze. My clients however have said, that I'm more efficient when suffering from a hangover. Go figure.
In my lectures I start by enlightening people about game music and audio history and where it's today. I have group exercises where they invent audiospheres for different designs, I show how different game development tools work and how to plan you music and audio. Then I have some hands-on exercises too where students can make their own sounds and try to invent something new and how to use games unique dynamic environment for their advantage. Though I have lot's of raw information too I want to keep my lectures interesting and fresh, we've seen too much powerpoints anyways. It's real fun, so much interested listeners!
Can we name you a hardcore gamer? What games are you playing right now?
I'm more like seasoned hardcore gamer. I really need the right game to get obsessed, usually an RPG, though I play some casuals with friends almost in every week. There are games like Monkey Island's, Fallouts, Diablo2, Warcrafts, C&C's and WoW (pre-expansion) what I have played a lot. Currently I'm playing Mass Effect again. I'm more of a gamer who wants to explore and make changes the world. A Dreamer. I'm now waiting to get my hands on to Dead Space and Fallout 3.
What groups or composers do influence you the most? What you favorite game music composers?
I have always been really interested in games, and I really liked those strong themed games like Monkey Island's, Warcrafts and Fallout where the music was one of the key elements.
But it must be the movie music that has affected me the most on the grander scale. There are so big and different emotions that we really haven't been seen in game-screen so far. Recently I've really liked James Newton Howard's, John Murphy's and Steve Jablonsky's work. There's such amount of good movie scores that I really cannot list them shortly. There's composers like Williams, Elfman, Zimmer, Silvestri, Shore and all the other big ones who should be listed separately along their magnificent work. Still, not all movies have memorable soundtracks, and not all movies are memorable.
Though few of those names above have already contributed for games successfully, there's some particulary good composers in the game industry who I really like - Mark Morgan, Michael Land, Glen Stafford, Matt Uelmen and Jeremy Soule.
We are sure you have some plans for the future. What are they?
Go big, play big. I want to build my share of the game music industry. I want to create other feelings than fear and agression in games. Since my father passed away last June, I've more and more came to realize there's need for complex emotions in games. I have said I like scores bigger than life and deeper than death and I really do mean it. In a certain point in life there are holes in our souls that need to be filled and music is sometimes the only way. I think the game industry and the gamers themself have grown to accept that you can expect more from games – if you can experience beautiful and memorable moments in a movie, why not in a game that is in your control to see and listen.
What are you working on at the current moment?
I'm working with an untitled game project that is hopefully out in Q1/09 on Playstation 3. It's totally different style for me and the soundtrack will not consist any electronic instruments or samples - only classical ones! It's going to be really interesting soundtrack, themed on middle-ages and fantasy. The fans of adventure and fantasy games and movies will be praising this one, I'm sure!
Predict the future for the game soundtracks! :)
It'll draw more and more attention every year. It'll go 'mainstream' without being mainstream, just like movie music. More and more people will collect the best ones. And, more and more some pop, rap and rock artists would like to sell their left nut for having just one track in a big titled game. And one thing we must get rid off is the availability -problem with game soundtracks – if you like one particular game score, you should be able to buy it or get it for free if nothing else. This is the part where publishers should come forward also.
We are sure that you can (and need!) say something to our community. Maybe advice for amateur composers, maybe just “Hi, guys!”. Let’s go!
Firstly I like to thank Game-OST for the great website - actively and constantly updated, good interviews and interesting articles. Good reviews too! Websites like this really make a difference when making game music more interesting and 'mainstream' (in a good way) - and people get to know the composers as well! Hell, making someone find his/her favorite game composer through your site saying "hey, i really like your music" is really worth all of this. :)
For you amateur composers - get into some freeware or indie projects, get yourself recognized and get your fine products online! But be careful what you're releasing - if it ain’t good enough for you, it probably ain't good enough for most of the people either. Now go and deliver! ;)
And, thanks that you wasted some time to answer our boring questions!
These were actually really great! Thank you. :)
Don't hesitate to visit Ari's official site aripulkkinen.com where you can purchase cool Shadowgrounds soundtrack.