Grant Kirkhope Im a Big Believer in melody

In an earlier interview, Grant Kirkhope told us about his career as a composer at Rare. He was 15 years there, putting his musical talent in games games like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, Banjo-Kazooie series, Donkey Kong 64 or Viva Piñata. At one point, the magic had gone from Twycross, and he wasn’t happy being at Rare then.

But life must go on and shortly after he joined Big Huge Games. BHG is a kind of all-star game developers, with Ken Rolston (lead designer of The Elder Scrolls Oblivion and Morrowind), Brian Reynolds (designer of Civilization III, Alpha Centauri and Rise of the Nations) and, of course, Grant Kirkhope. The upcoming game Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning is based in a universe created by R.A. Salvatore create, with Todd McFarlane, (creator of Spawn) working on the artwork. In the aforementioned interview Kirkhope told us that music for Kingdom of Amalur: Reckoning is the biggest score he has written to date.

Both, the game and the original soundtrack (in retail and digital format, available in iTunes, Amazon, etc) will be released on February 7, 2012, and we take this opportunity to talk again with Mr. Kirkhope.

Kind as always, he has shared with us, with you, two themes from the Reckoning soundtrack. Both themes proves something we already knew, that doesn’t matter if Kirkhope is at Rare or at Big Huge Games; with a guitar in his hands, playing a MIDI keyboard, or writing for an orchestra; sad or happy; with or without magic… He is one of the greatest game composers.

Hi again, Grant! About the main theme of the game, some people says that it sounds like Danny Elfman score for Spiderman, others can see bits of your unreleased OST for Dream… Was there a particular music or composer that have influenced you when writing this score?

I can see the Elfman comparison, the arpeggiated strings at the start of the piece are reminiscent of the Spiderman Theme, but I think the comparison ends there …. heh!

I think for most of the in game music I just drew from my own brain really but for the boss pieces John Williams was my main influence. I love the way he writes such exciting action music.

In a big open world, being a non-linear RPG, gamers can be in the same location for hours. How have you faced this fact from the musical point of view?

It was obvious from very early on that Reckoning was going to be a huge game so rather than having music playing constantly I decided to have smaller pieces play in a random order on a random timer in all the big ambient areas.

I have a “first play” piece that always plays first in an area and then some “standard play” pieces that do the random play thing. It’s similar to the way that the music worked Viva Piñata.

Reckoning is a game very different from your previous work.  How did you discover the sound of that new universe?

I did my usual thing of reading the design docs and looking at the game. Initially I think Reckoning had a dark fairytale feel to it as the first main area of Dalentarth suggested that to me, that’s why the main theme sounds the way it does. Later on as more of the game began to take shape I think that changed so that was reflected in the pieces that I wrote later in development.

Have you changed the way of composing or the orchestral set-up in order to get the huge sounds of Reckoning?

I don’t think I’ve changed anything about the way I compose, I just think about how an area should sound and make a start. I think I do have a good idea of what harmonic palette I’ll use before I start, I think most composers have a pretty good idea from just seeing something.

Plus we’ll probably have a good part of the sound design for the areas done which also helps to give me ideas for music. I consciously made sure that I had a large orchestra in mind for the score as the game needed that to match the way it looked.

As composer you are very famous for your catchy melodies (some of them comes to my mind while writing this). Is there room for that kind of tunes in Reckoning?

Heh! …. I hope so. As you know I’m a big believer in melody, I’ve really tried to write some strong themes throughout Reckoning, I won’t know if I’ve succeeded until you all get to play it so I’m keeping my fingers crossed! When people buy music from their favourite popular artists they’re usually able to remember how the songs go and can sing them to themselves, that’s how I think music should be in games and movies.

Obviously you can’t have wall to wall melody everywhere but I do think that people like to hear a good tune and I think hearing snippets of the themes throughout the game really adds to the immersion. I can still sing the tune to Zelda: A Link to the Past and I haven’t played it in years, I wish I could say that about other games I’ve played. It does seem to be the trend these days to lean towards more of an ambient score, maybe I’m just behind the times.

It’s the fourth time that you recorded with The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra When you go there and finally hear the music in all its orchestral glory, does the result differ much from the original idea?

Not too much. My midi placeholder pieces are mostly identical to the finished recording, they just don’t sound anywhere near as good! Because I knew from very early on in development that I was going to be using full orchestra, I didn’t have to polish my midi stuff too much, so they’re good enough to be in the game so as everyone at Big Huge Games can hear what I have planned but I wouldn’t want to ship with them. There are one or two midi pieces still in the game that I felt didn’t need the full orchestral treatment.

The City of Prague Philharmonic really rose to the occasion and played it all fantastically. I know all the team there very well now, it really is an honour and a privilege to work with them (Nic Raine, James Fitzpatrick and Jan Holzner).

With the release date so close I guess now you have well deserved a good holidays…

Holiday???? ….. heh! There’s always stuff to do here at BHG. We’re all working away as usual, we have our ship the game party soon so that will be a nice bookend to the whole project. I’ve been working on this game for three and a half years now and a lot of the people here have been on it even longer!

In the time between projects, you use to keep thinking in new melodies or do you prefer to disconnect?

I’m always thinking of tunes, I just bought the soundtrack to Tin Tin by John Williams and it’s got me all fired up again!!

What kind of music, or game, you’d want for your next project?

Hmmmm ….. I honestly don’t really mind. I’d love to have a go at scoring a movie, maybe one day, before I get too old …… heh!

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