Game Show

by Luke Taylor, Minnesota Public Radio
July 1, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — Emily Reese loves blasting away at the bad guys on her Playstation 3. She's also a host at Classical Minnesota Public Radio and a music nut.

That's why Reese, who joined MPR in 2008, wanted to do something that combines her love of music with her love of gaming. Over recent years, Reese has observed that composing music for video games has become big business. "They're investing as much money -- if not more -- for the music in gaming as they do for a film score in Hollywood," Reese says, "so I went to Daniel Gilliam and Brian Newhouse and said, 'I'd love to do more with this.'"

Gilliam and Newhouse, the program director and managing director, respectively, at Classical MPR, suggested a podcast. The podcast, called Top Score, is described at the top of each episode as the "podcast where we talk to composers about their experience writing for video games." Reese hosts the program and MPR's Sam Keenan is the producer.

The first episode featured composer Inon Zur, whose newest score is for a game called Dragon Age II. Zur has also written music for Dragon Age: Origins and for Fallout. Reese describes Dragon Age as a role-playing game where the player controls a character who moves through a fantasy world on a sort of quest. "Music enhances the experience because it adds to the interactivity," Reese explains, "so instead of having music that is stagnant through the entire game, the music is mirroring the emotion and behavior of the character throughout the gaming experience."

In another episode, Reese interviewed the team behind a game called Stacking, which is set during the Industrial Revolution. That game's soundtrack includes music by Chopin, Vivaldi, Paganini, Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.

Reese has also interviewed Jason Graves, a composer who wrote original music for the games Dead Space and Dead Space 2. "I am just so amazed at that writing and how good it is," Reese enthuses. "Any one of those pieces of music could be performed on stage and you would have no idea it's from a video game. It's remarkable."

Composing for video games is demanding, Reese notes, given that game manufacturers want to avoid repetitive music (the days of looping digital ditties in games such as Frogger and Donkey Kong are long gone). Some role-playing games, such as Dragon Age, can take a player 100 hours or more to complete.

Despite such arduous demands, Reese extols the music these composers are creating. She foresees a day when music from video games may be as comfortable in the Classical MPR playlist as the works of Vaughan Williams, Bernstein or Mozart. "There are some scores where absolutely that will happen," Reese says. "Some of these composers should be remembered in 100, 200 or 300 years. They're that good."

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