Composer Matthew Carl Earl Discusses Contributing Music to Video Games Such as Arena of Valor & Assassin’s Creed Syndicate
To say that the world of video game music has changed greatly since the days of Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog would be an understatement. With recent scores such as Austin Wintory’s Journey earning the first ever Grammy nomination for a video game in the ‘Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media’ category and The Legend of Zelda’s sweeping melodies warranting numerous world tours with huge orchestras and choirs, there is no question that their main purpose isn’t just to serve as background music anymore, it’s about creating an overall emotional experience. We decided to speak with accomplished video game composer Matthew Carl Earl from Hexany Audio about working on one of the most popular games in the world, Arena of Valor, and more.
How did you find your way into making music for video games?
M: It was a long-term goal of mine. I’ve played music and games my whole life and was always thinking about how cool it would be to put the two together, I just had no idea how to start doing it. So I went down the path of playing in bands, working as a sound engineer, teaching music, scoring the occasional film. But I knew I wasn’t doing what I really wanted to do.
I made a mental shift in the direction of games and I learned as much as I could about video game audio/music and starting creating my own video game style demos I could pitch around which led to my first video game gig ever. Creating music for a fun little game called ‘The Last Anteater’ developed by the Laguna College of Art and Design.
Could you tell us about some of the games and experiences that led you to love video games like you do today?
M: Probably my biggest influence that tipped me over the edge into the world of game music was World of Warcraft. I was playing pretty much non-stop in my jr. high and high school years and it really opened my eyes to how great it would be to write for games specifically. The thing that really stood out to me was how strong the thematic content was in the music and how closely it is tied with the story and lore of each zone. It’s really powerful stuff that you form a relationship with over the years.
Another big one that really showed off what can be done with interactive music is Austin Wintory’s score to ‘Journey’. It taught me that a video game’s score can be just as full of intent as a movie’s with careful design and writing.
You are in the band ‘Xanthochroid’. How does writing original music for video games differ from writing music for your albums?
M: There are many differences. One of which, most obviously being that video game music will be accompanied by visuals in the end which brings it’s own set of challenges. Another difference is that the styles of the arrangements are quite different as most of my games aren’t riddled with blast beats and screaming vocals (That would be cool though!). On the other hand, there are actually many similarities too. Xanthochroid has rich lore and a detailed story line that has been developed over many years. And when writing for the band we always take into account our melodic themes and motifs we have established in previous albums that are tied to certain characters or places in the story. I feel that Xanthochroid has actually trained me in a lot of ways about how to approach a game score.
You are one of the composers of the widely successful Arena of Valor. Was there a particular sequence in the game that you found challenging to produce? If so, why was it challenging?
M: I thought that the Christmas music I wrote for the game this winter was a pretty interesting challenge. The biggest issue was balancing both the fun and magic of traditional Christmas music with the dark, epic sound that has been created for ‘Arena of Valor’. It ended up being one of the most fun experiences I’ve had writing music.
Tencent recently announced they are talking to other IP owners about bringing more champions to Arena if Valor that people can relate to. Who would you like to see them add?
M: Oh man … It depends on how crazy they want to go with it. But running around slaying Batman as Link or Mario sounds like a pretty cool mash up.
You worked on one of the Assassin’s Creed Syndicate tv spots. Can you tell us what exactly you did for that?
M: Of course. I wrote the music and Jacob Rhein and Richard Ludlow worked on the sound. It was fun challenge to go through the different directions we were perusing to try and nail the style of turn-of-the-century England while still keeping it ‘in your face’ and exciting for such a short trailer.
Because Assassin’s Creed is already such a popular title with a built in sound and fan base were you nervous at all?
M: Absolutely, there is always that initial scary feeling that you will be responsible for the way something sounds, especially when it’s going to be viewed by so many people. But that is also what pushes you to do your best work. I was also a huge fan of the series and I was elevated to be a part of it, even in a small way.
What techniques would you like to pass on to aspiring video game composers for making a score work?
M: Being really, really familiar with the music you write, I feel is super important. That way you can take your themes and motifs and contort them into every which way to get the most mileage out of the same material. I think it helps the cohesion of the whole score and still allows you to try new things.
I would also say to try and record as much live as you can. And if players aren’t readily available, record as much as you can yourself, even if it’s something small. Adding your own musicianship to the tracks really helps mold the music in the direction that you want.
LEARN MORE: Head over Matthew’s Website