Wiki: Difference between revisions of "Composer Interview: Alexander Brandon"

m (New page: left|Alexander Brandon Interview Logo '''[ Alexander Brandon]''' wrote the book on video game m...)
Line 238: Line 238:
[ John Romero] is really the guy who [ pointed me in the direction of OCR]. At that point there were no remixes of my stuff, but there were some incredible renditions of ''[ Final Fantasy]'' tracks. Some with just piano, some with a jazz ensemble, but all of what I heard was surprisingly well done in quality.  
[ John Romero] is really the guy who [ pointed me in the direction of OCR]. At that point there were no remixes of my stuff, but there were some incredible renditions of ''[ Final Fantasy]'' tracks. Some with just piano, some with a jazz ensemble, but all of what I heard was surprisingly well done in quality.  
Then, the work that [ Jimmy (BGC)] did on [ "Club Showdown"] and [ Mazedude] on the ''[ Jazz <nowiki>[</nowiki>Jackrabbit<nowiki>]</nowiki> 2]'' medley again blew my mind. Those guys have some serious talent and if they don't get jobs in the biz, I'll keep singing their praises until they do. Take [ virt], [ his ''Contra'' remix] was astounding, and he ended up doing ''[ Contra 4]''. That sort of remixer success story should be true for all these composers.
Then, the work that [ Jimmy (BGC)] did on [ "Club Showdown"] and [ Mazedude] on the ''[ Jazz <nowiki>[</nowiki>Jackrabbit<nowiki>]</nowiki> 2]'' medley [ <nowiki>[</nowiki>"Jackrabbit Transformer"<nowiki>]</nowiki>] again blew my mind. Those guys have some serious talent and if they don't get jobs in the biz, I'll keep singing their praises until they do. Take [ virt], [ his ''Contra'' remix] was astounding, and he ended up doing ''[ Contra 4]''. That sort of remixer success story should be true for all these composers.
[[Category:Interviews|Alexander Brandon]]
[[Category:Interviews|Alexander Brandon]]

Revision as of 06:56, 8 October 2009

Alexander Brandon wrote the book on video game music. No, he really did - literally (Audio for Games). Ever since bursting out of the demo scene with his work on Tyrian, then contributing to the legendary soundtracks of Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and Deus Ex, Mr. Brandon has been a consistent, articulate voice in the world of VGM - both musically and through his words, online and off.

We caught up with Alex for some Q & A after he'd just finished teaming up with Big Giant Circles on OC ReMix's first composer/fan collab, Deus Ex "Siren Synapse".

Alexander Brandon profile
  • Real Name: Alexander Brandon
  • Aliases: Sandman, Siren, Chromatic Dragon
  • Date of Birth: 1974/09/29
  • Birthplace: Cleveland, Ohio, USA
  • Websites: Official Alexander Brandon Website / Club Silicon Online
  • Family: Wife, Jeanette Brandon; sons, Nicholas, Conner and Sean
  • Education: High School, some college
  • Tools: Cubase 5, Yamaha Clavinova, Alesis MasterControl, Native Instruments Komplete, Waves, Sound Forge, ProjectSAM Orchestral instruments, Vienna Instruments: Symphonic Cube, Peter Siedlaczek's Orchestra, Zoom H2 handheld recorder


Conducted September 30, 2009 by Jimmy "Big Giant Circles" Hinson, David "djpretzel" Lloyd & Cain "Fishy" McCormack:

Big Giant Circles: First of all, thanks for the interview! You've had a busy year - leaving Obsidian and moving from California back to Texas, continuing work on your album, and it seems you're expecting another Alex/Jeanette Jr. Congrats on that, by the way! How has Heatwave Interactive been treating you since the move?

Much obliged! The move has been great for us. While I do miss Obsidian, California hit me and my family pretty hard in the wallets and commute departments. Texas is much more sane, if more laid back.

Heatwave has been definitely a different experience. Greatly exciting since what's in the works is very ambitious, but also a waiting game at times since it's a combination of development, prototyping, and business development support, with the latter being the lion's share of the work.

Big Giant Circles: Your album Era's End is fantastic; what was the inspiration behind it? Any anecdotes you can share regarding its creation?

Thanks, glad you liked it. Era's End has songs written ten years ago and songs written just a few years ago. At first, we planned to release the album through Warner Bros. Records and a company called Stealth Media, which operated out of Beverly Hills. They flew us (myself and Bryan Rudge) to California, put us up in a nice hotel, and took some photos. We planned for some studio time as well. In the end, the company went under before anything further could take place, but it was fun while it lasted.

djpretzel: You got into game composing the "old-fashioned" way, starting off in the tracker scene, learning the ropes, and eventually applying that knowledge to your work in the industry. These days, there's more and more crossover between film music and game music, with many composers entering the field who (while successful and talented) don't necessarily have an appreciation for the "roots" of VGM. Is something intangible being lost? Do you feel like part of being a good game composer is having a deep knowledge and appreciation for the history and culture of VGM, or is simply writing great music enough?

You're hitting on something that is a huge issue. Game music is mostly the same sort of music you find in film and television now, which is something I really don't like, but simultaneously is gratifying. A strange paradox. At last we have recognition just like the John Williams and Danny Elfmans of this world, but our music is harder to discern than it was.

I think it is very important to understand game music's roots. Some film composers get it, and some couldn't care less. In fact, one of my favorite pieces of "game" music is Morrowind's main theme by Jeremy Soule, who wrote some terrific music for the SNES game Secret of Evermore, and yet his true desire was to be a film composer. So to be honest I think game music needs to distinguish itself more overall. It isn't as though it's all bad. Braid had licensed music and it was used beautifully, because it meshed completely with the gameplay as well as its meshing with the visual style of the graphics.

djpretzel: In your book, Audio for Games, you spend a good amount of time talking about adaptive audio, and it's discussed in several of the composer interviews you conduct. While this technique/process has become more common, it still seems like the soundtracks gamers remember the most are the ones following a more traditional model, with repeated "themes" tied to specific areas of a game. From a musical perspective, does adaptive audio necessarily end up diluting the strength of melodic motifs, or do you think a balance can be reached? Can you discuss any examples of either case? Is the term itself still relevant, or has it become just a "buzz word"?

I would definitely agree that "themes" are what people remember. And it all comes down to how often they hear those themes. But, repeat a theme too much and you get players that start listening to their own music collection and turning the game music off. Striking the balance that you mention is really, really hard, but when it's done right it achieves something that nothing linear could. Oddly enough, the most time on this has been spent on games like Rez, but it also shows up in more subtle ways like Super Mario Galaxy. Listening to that game more and more reveals an awful lot of adaptive technique, such as changing instrumentation when Mario goes underwater.

Big Giant Circles: Some non-VGM questions just to give you a break: Between California and Texas, who's got the better cuisine? Where can you get the best lunch for under $10? What's the last great movie you saw?

Texas, hands down, without question, has better food than California. The average restaurant here has at least decent food, whereas most places we tried that weren't chains were just awful, from Asian to BBQ to pizza. Under ten bucks, you're hard pressed to get something that isn't fast food in Cali, whereas here you can get a variety of meals for that much. Indian, Mongolian, Italian, burgers, Vietnamese, Persian, and of course insanely good BBQ! The last great movie I saw would have to be Serenity. Jeanette and I, along with many others, are really upset that Firefly never came back for a second season. Star Trek runs a close second.

Fishy: In your blog, Club Silicon Online, you write about game design and philosophy. From process and management fundamentals to the importance of graphics and even the relevance of breasts, it seems as though you are passionate about many aspects of games, not just audio. Is it ever tempting (or possible) to try and influence the development of a game, and have you ever considered trying your own hand at other aspects of game design?

Funny you should mention that. I think I've grown a lot since I started composing. In fact, I interviewed for a game design position at Ion Storm before I ever came onboard as an audio director. I stupidly praised the design work of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night right and left, where what they were looking for was someone with more interest in an immersive simulation, sandbox technique and more plausible storytelling. In general, I'm on a path to own my own company really, whether it be game focused or audio focused. But I'm not quite ready to hit that just yet.

Big Giant Circles: Since you're a family man, and an increasing number of folks here at OCR are finding themselves married, engaged, or parenting, the topic seems relevant: How has being a husband & father had an impact on your music or the writing process?

At first, it put a huge dent in it. I stopped writing seriously for quite awhile. Then you learn to just make better use of your time. And understanding from your significant other is insanely important to making that happen. I can't thank Jeanette enough for how patient she's been, but also, we like our own time once the kids have gone to bed, so we have a good system going now I think. I have to admit though, the mind (at least mine) doesn't like to sit down and say "okay, time to write music." I used to laze around all summer and only write when inspiration hit. When that happened, I wouldn't stop for weeks. Bryan, on the other hand, really hasn't been prolific in years and I keep pestering him to write more. Awhile back, Andrew Sega (Necros) told me "dude, SIRRUS is incredible, he's gonna be the musician we all look up to in a few years!" Bryan scoffs, but I keep telling him to let the great Necros prophecy be fulfilled! He's got a great girlfriend and son now, and he's way into family life.

Big Giant Circles: You've mentioned your wife is a percussionist, and she has also contributed vocals on some of your latest tracks. Would you say the two of you generally share the same musical tastes/tendencies? Has that evolved at all over the course of your relationship?

We're definitely not the same in terms of taste. We share a lot of the same bands and singers, but I think I'm more diverse in that I listen to rap/hip hop, prog rock, and the occasional bit of old symphonic (classic, baroque, romantic). Not that she isn't into those at all, she actually likes the odd Dream Theater song, but the style I usually follow is a little too busy for her. When I've written songs for her, I really try to keep it simple. And I really think she represents more of what most people prefer. Ugh, it practically sounds like I'm insulting her, but I really value that quality as a sounding board for what I write. And, musically, it's great to have someone that knows what you're talking about when you discuss details.

Big Giant Circles: Do your children seem to take after you musically? Will we ever hear a song written and performed by "The Brandon Family"? :)

So far the boys love music and like to play. Nicholas likes to sing, especially while Conner is plunking away at the keys. Nicholas in particular seems to have good pitch and memory, so that might just translate into a Super Brandon, especially if he can combine Jeanette's physical skills with my comping. The Brandon Family may yet make an album!

djpretzel: In Audio for Games you also discuss many aspects of workflow, interacting with directors, producers, etc. I think many aspiring game composers envision themselves writing music in a vacuum - being given a beta, artwork, or just a written description, and then being completely free to write finished tracks that will end up in-game, unchanged. Can you talk about how, in many cases, this is naive/optimistic, and how the reality can differ from the dream?

Unreal was very much a situation where I just wrote music and it magically went in. I haven't been that lucky since but Deus Ex followed that tradition, except that I had a very good idea of where the locales were beforehand as well as game movies (I wrote most of the music in Colorado before I moved to Austin). It's really up to the composer to push themselves into the process, and do it intelligently depending on what the design of the game might or might not call for. It's also up to producers to be able to respond to this openly, at least up to a point where budget and schedule permit.

djpretzel: Following on that topic, you're now intimately familiar with the audio production ins-and-outs for larger titles, but indie games on PSN and XBL - especially XNA community games and smaller iPhone games - are changing the face of game development. Traditional development workflows can now look very, very different - what would you say are the core elements of music and audio production for games that should remain intact, even for indie developers with shoestring (or worse) budgets?

Oddly enough I recently finished some music for Dust: An Elysian Tail, an indie XBL project that won the Dream-Build-Play contest at PAX. The process was very similar to other projects I've done out of house, except Dean [Dodrill] (the sole developer on the project except for music) even wanted to send me a build of the game. Uncanny, as many developers just ask composers to "throw it over the fence".

The core element (there's only one, really) that needs to stay put is that a composer needs to see and play the game they work on. You can get away with the over the fence technique, but imagine what it would have been like if Harry Gregson-Williams was really involved in creating a much more adaptive soundtrack for Metal Gear Solid 2? So for the big budget or little budget, you need to know the material you're writing for intimately.

Teaming with fellow Epic MegaGames alumnus Dean Dodrill, Alex provided the soundtrack for Microsoft's Dream-Build-Play 2009 winner, Dust: An Elysian Tail

Big Giant Circles: I know you've also done some voice acting as well as general audio for some games as well. How do either of these stack up against writing music? Do you wish you could do more of either?

Voice acting is my strongest talent, followed by music and then SFX. I haven't done that much voice acting, but I plan to do more in future. All three relate to each other across the entire landscape of audio. The most recognizable SFX from Star Wars are musical, the lightsaber hum and the tie fighter scream. The latter was part SFX, part music, part VO, since it was an elephant's voice.

Fishy: Your blog also has a variety of interesting posts on many non-game related subjects as well. What made you want to start writing Club Silicon? Do you get much fan response/interaction through it?

Club Silicon started as a paper newsletter created with Arts and Letters and at times CorelDRAW. It was written just for myself. Since the advent of the blog, it seemed super easy to format it that way even if it isn't quite as pretty and magazine-like. It has been around for about four years and in that time it's grown to about 50 views a day / 1500 a month with at least a few comments on each post from the hardcore readers. I'm gratified that so many share my interests. I just need to find time to update it more often, but some of what I do now has transferred into the Expert Blogs on Gamasutra, since that reaches a wider audience.

Fishy: Since you mentioned them both in one of your blog posts, I've got to ask you: Satch or Vai?

Vai. Satch is talented as hell, but Vai has achieved more transcendence as a rock guitar player, I think. Oddly enough, I met them both at a music conference (NAMM) a few years back. I had a "let's work together on a game soundtrack" speech prepared for Vai that spilled out like vomit all over the table at which he was signing autographs. Jumbled words and stutters = Vai was not impressed. He was polite, but short and obviously ready to talk to his next fan. Since I wasn't nearly as intimidated by Satch, as it turns out he was far more talkative, shockingly polite and courteous, and a huge fan of games. It'd be a total thrill to work with either of those guys; hopefully one day I'll find a way.

Big Giant Circles: You've written articles and conducted interviews of your own throughout your career, most recently with Spencer Nilsen (Ecco the Dolphin, Sonic CD). What are some of the standouts you've had? If you had the opportunity to interview anyone, past or present, in the music or game music industry, who would it be, and what would you ask them?

My magnum opus interview to this day has been my chat with Hirokazu Tanaka. Tanaka-san revealed so much amazing stuff about the game that got me interested in composing in the first place, the original mixes for Metroid, for example. Learning about the technology he used, his entry into the industry, his inspiration and creative process was like coming full circle for my career (well, next to actually collaborating with him). He wrote me a letter about being honored to have been interviewed by a "US sound designer". I framed it and it'll hang on my wall until I die.

If I could interview anyone, it'd start with Club Kukeiha, move on to Miki Higashino... Brandon Sheffield beat me to the punch interviewing Michiru Yamane, the bastard ;) And, of course, the composer for Strider & Bionic Commando Junko Tamiya. From the US, I know most of the guys already I'd want to interview. I've already interviewed Marty O'Donnell (Halo 3) and Brad Fuller (golden age Atari classics like Marble Madness). But these days Garry Schyman, Jason Graves, Jeremy Soule. The list is actually much longer, but these'd be at the top, I suppose.

Big Giant Circles: As the Unreal Tournament series has moved forward, a lot of the original music has stuck around, in one form or another. How do you feel about the remixes that have appeared in those sequels that are based on your original work?

I chatted with Kevin Riepl at this year's AGDC and we had several laughs about working with Epic. There's plenty of fun to be had making games with that team, but getting to the point I'm pretty happy with the remixes and am really glad the songs have kept up, particularly the title, which got remixed twice for Unreal Tournament III by Jesper [Kyd] and Rom [Di Prisco]. I'd probably remix them a bit differently if I had a crack at it, but I have a feeling they want to keep them close to the original.

In Deus Ex: Invisible War, I took a COMPLETELY different tack on the title music and people really, really dug that direction (not quite the same for the game itself, but that's a different story). But in the end, it was a remix of the main theme. I kinda hope Mike [Capps] and Zach take that direction for future iterations, but it's really up to Epic as they own it, after all.

Big Giant Circles: How has your studio evolved over the years? Are you pretty content with the modern marvels of music gear, or do you tend to miss the nostalgia of your older setups? Any new tools or technologies that you find especially exciting?

I really like to keep it simple. A Clavinova, an Alesis MasterControl, a laptop, and a hard drive full of instruments and samples. Oh, and of course Cubase 5. I keep the odd tracker around like ModPlug Tracker and mean to dive into FruityLoops but I find the more I stick to a single composing medium the more effective I get at being able to realize my ideas faster. First, there was the Ad Lib Visual Composer, next there was Scream Tracker 3, then Impulse Tracker, then Nuendo, now Cubase (though the latter two are pretty much the same program). And in between, Absynth, Stormdrum, all the orchestral stuff, it really overwhelms you. So I'm sort of keeping this setup my main setup for awhile. The most exciting new stuff is the Melodyne tech. The ability to take audio and break it up and edit it like a MIDI file is just insane. I mean really insane.

djpretzel: Finally, last but not least: You've written scores for classics like Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex, interviewed other game composers, blogged about VGM, and literally wrote the book on game music... you yourself have been interviewed numerous times and have answered hundreds of questions. In all of those interviews, including this one, what was the one question you were hoping would be asked, and never was? What would your answer be?

Wow, that's a really cool question. And I don't know if I have an answer to it, or at least I'm pretty sure I never hoped someone would ask me something in particular, but I'll try:

"Hey Alex, are you a kickass composer? Better than everyone else?"'

And my response would be:

"Yes, I'm kickass, as humble as that sounds. No, I'm not better than Jason Graves or Jeremy Soule, but I'm not far off." :-)


The following are standard questions asked of all interviewed composers:


What was the first video game you remember playing?

Asteroids Deluxe.

Did you have any formal musical training or education prior to becoming a video game music composer?

Piano lessons were first, with the great John Cooper, one of the best organists I've ever heard, let alone met. I was in church choir, followed by chorus in high school and college, where I sang John Rutter's "Te Deum" (Rutter was conducting) at Carnegie Hall.

How did you become a video game music composer?

Was it more by chance, or was it something you knew you wanted and had to fight for?

It was something I wanted to do since I was about 15.

Was there a specific inspiration that lead you towards the profession?

It started in earnest when my friend Jason Emery (now a programmer at Griptonite) called me up and played the Metroid title music over the phone. It was such a huge step forward and I was astounded at not just the extra voices, but the composition was so different than anything I'd ever heard, in such an inspiring way. It happened again when I heard the music for Ultima VI and Wing Commander on the Ad Lib.

I needed a job and I'd never had one before... all I could do was try to have a go at composing!

Was breaking into the industry easy or difficult?

I'd say it was fairly easy. Jason eventually wrote an engine that had parallax scrolling and I threw together some documentation and made a demo for both Apogee and Epic. Epic, more specifically Cliff Bleszinski, thought it had potential and we were given a contract. The result was the shooter Tyrian. Several vids are on YouTube. There's a remix here on OCR, but the piece was actually written by Andreas Molnar in point of fact.

What was the first week on the job like?

It didn't really start as a day job type situation. I started writing tunes on the AdLib Music Synthesizer Card from the moment I got one, and some of those songs ended up in Tyrian. Andreas had a great audio engine called Loudness that sounded like the Ad Lib on steroids, more like a Sega Genesis actually. It was fantastic. Kudos to our producer Robert Allen for tracking that down (he wrote the music for Epic Pinball and Jazz Jackrabbit. It's a shame he still isn't writing, he's a great composer and musician).

With a rock groove by Alexander Brandon setting the pace, the gun totin' Spaz Jackrabbit plows through Jazz Jackrabbit 2's last levels.

What was the most difficult thing to learn?

You know, at no time in this process did I think anything was hard to do except actually getting the game finished and polished. All the little things you don't think about like writing a help file and putting the right order information into the appropriate screens, playtesting, etc.. All the tasks that aren't so inspiring, so to speak. The music was a breeze. I wrote it and it went in thanks to Jason. Since then, a lot has become extremely difficult because of how the industry has changed.

What was your first official video game soundtrack?

That would be the official Unreal soundtrack.

Were you happy with it at the time? Now?

I was indeed happy with it, and still am. I did the cover in Photoshop actually. If you're referring to a soundtrack in general, my first one was Tyrian. I was and still am proud of it, and a very nice fan made a Tyrian music player.

What lessons did you take away from it that helped you on future projects?

You're lucky if you get a promotional soundtrack for sale. Even luckier if you get a soundtrack sold separately. The next time a soundtrack got released for the Unreal franchise was in the Anthology, and after that, Unreal Tournament III. Over ten years had passed.

Have you collaborated with other composers on soundtracks, and if so, what was it like?

I have collaborated with a number of composers, most closely with Michiel van den Bos on Unreal and Unreal Tournament as well as Deus Ex. We actually worked on the same song in some cases and it worked out really well. For Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows I got to work with Jason Graves and Rod Abernethy as well as Alistair Cooper. Excellent composers, the lot of them. I shared the Deus Ex: Invisible War soundtrack with Todd Simmons, who did some cool ambient pieces, and Mark Lampert, who provided great guitar session work as well as his own improvisations. He's now working as the Audio Lead at Bethesda.

Do you prefer working alone?

Not particularly but that's usually how music is, a very personal thing. But larger projects usually demand collaboration so you roll with it, and it ends up being a pretty cool experience.

How does collaborating change your creative process?

Certainly, after all you have another "you" doing stuff to a song, or a body of work. So you play off each other's strengths and weaknesses, share samples, have a common understanding of your core styles and genres, and just rock out.

What was the last project you worked on? Are you working on anything currently?

The last project I worked on was Alpha Protocol, due out October 2009. When I left in January, Scott Lawlor took over as audio director at Obsidian. I am currently working on products related to Platinum Life, a hip hop franchise in the works at Heatwave. A very different tack but very exciting.

Based on your experience as a video game composer, what advice would you give those aspiring to succeed in the field?

I'd say play a lot of games, tear apart what you like and don't like, get video editing software, capture some footage and redo soundtracks yourself. Write a ton of music, get your chops up, join organizations like the Game Audio Network Guild and IGDA as well as the IASIG. Frequent sites like OC ReMix, Original Sound Version, Gamasutra, and Music 4 Games. If you can save up, go to trade shows like GDC, GameSoundCon and Project Bar-B-Q. Finally, but most importantly, be passionate about what you do. Sounds corny, right? Well, people keep saying it because that is the most high octane jet fuel for being successful at anything.

Big Giant Circles and Alex marked a milestone for OCR with the site's first ReMixer/composer collaboration, Deus Ex "Siren Synapse"


Who/what are your inspirations in terms of composing video game music?

I'd like to take charge of a large project again someday and have final say in what happens to the audio. We're working towards that at Heatwave but the business needs to ramp up. So many great ideas and a load of talent here, but startups need runways (a lot of plane metaphors I'm using now... odd).

Of the video game soundtracks that you have worked on, which is your favorite? Why?

I'd say that Unreal would be my favorite, with the work I did on Mask of the Betrayer a close second, and Deus Ex a close third. I like them all still. Unreal is my favorite because there were no restrictions really. We wrote what we wanted, the devs liked it, the players liked it. It was a win for everybody. I really do miss those days sometimes.

Which game composers and soundtracks do you admire the most?

Tanaka-san (Metroid, Kid Icarus, Wrecking Crew), Tamiya-san (Strider), Jeremy Soule (Morrowind), Garry Schyman (BioShock), Marty O'Donnell (Halo 3), George Sanger and Dave Govett (Wing Commander). I admire a LOT more composers, probably too many to list here, but I should send you my "VGM Greatest Hits" Excel spreadsheet one of these days.

What's one of your best or most enjoyable memories from working on a game soundtrack? Worst?

Best moment was when I got my music performed by an orchestra, the Seattle Northwest Sinfonia at Bastyr University Chapel. They're the most prolific orchestra in the business and they've improved a LOT over the years. Another great moment was working with BT, though I'm not sure I can mention the project yet, as it isn't officially announced. Worst experience. Hmm. Well, it's a toss up. Before I left Midway, I was told the programmers on a certain game might not be able to loop a music file seamlessly on the PSP. They were using FMOD as their engine. Not even the lead tech guy at my office could help. Everyone's hands were tied. Tiny budget, etc... I'm sure they got it done in the end, but it's one of the things that contributed to my decision to leave. There were great people at that company, just terrible circumstances. Next, I'd have to say it was when Epic was preparing for an E3 long ago, when Unreal was still in early stages of development. Apparently they wanted 8 songs and only had 3 or 4. James Schmalz threw a hissy fit and cursed like a sailor over email because the deadline for having everything ready was looming, and I guess I was either lazy or didn't get the request. To say the least it freaked me out a little, but a few years later I saw James and it was as though that exchange never happened. Friendly as can be. That was a relief.

What's the most difficult thing about being a video game music composer?

Reinventing music every time you sit down to write. If you go with your gut, you pretty much write the same stuff. Not that it isn't bad or varied, but you need to try new things and explore, which for some composers is harder than for others. In fact, think of a band that has completely changed its style and still was able to produce a hit. Very, very rare. I just released a single that is stylistically very different from my usual music and my fans are raising eyebrows, yet non-fans or fans of other music are being brought into the fold because of that variety. However, my next album is very much a return to roots.

Over the years, video game music has evolved from chiptunes to full orchestral scores. Some still prefer music from the 8-bit and 16-bit era due to its simplicity and melodic emphasis, while others appreciate newer, more cinematic scores.

Alexander Brandon in-studio
How do you view this evolution?
Are there pros and cons to both types, or have things clearly gotten better as technology has progressed?

Ho boy, this is a hot topic. I think there's a way to combine the two. Chip music has integrated itself into pop music in quite a big way, and orchestral scores are more the norm in games. However, 90% of the time I think you'll find that if game music composers had a choice between chip and full studio, they'd go full studio. And I don't mean orchestral, I just mean more options to create something appropriate as well as unique, the latter being tougher with more choice, oddly enough.

So I view the evolution as perfectly natural, just not all that exciting, because there's so much music that sounds the same in games as it does in other media. It just means game composers need to stick to their guns, the guns not being 8- or 16-bit, but that unique quality that got attention, while being able to produce the texture and depth that has culturally worked its way into the public's consciousness and expectations.

"Better" is a tough adjective to apply. I'd say more mass market, and less restriction on the composer, but far greater a challenge to stand out and make something cool.

Fan Community

How has your work been received by fans? Is fan appreciation a rewarding aspect of the job?

Fans seem to love the stuff I do, and I'm really honored and surprised at how many people enjoy it. I want to keep providing music for them so they can keep getting that experience. Some fans just shock the hell out of me for how much they know about songs I wrote years and years ago. That kind of interest in something I did just floors me. I don't have that kind of passion for Peter Gabriel (my favorite popular musician to this day), so if someone has it for my work, it just blows my mind and I'll always be grateful for it.

What are your opinions of fan-created video game music arrangements or "ReMixes" (

John Romero is really the guy who pointed me in the direction of OCR. At that point there were no remixes of my stuff, but there were some incredible renditions of Final Fantasy tracks. Some with just piano, some with a jazz ensemble, but all of what I heard was surprisingly well done in quality.

Then, the work that Jimmy (BGC) did on "Club Showdown" and Mazedude on the Jazz [Jackrabbit] 2 medley ["Jackrabbit Transformer"] again blew my mind. Those guys have some serious talent and if they don't get jobs in the biz, I'll keep singing their praises until they do. Take virt, his Contra remix was astounding, and he ended up doing Contra 4. That sort of remixer success story should be true for all these composers.


Latest Albums

Latest ReMixes