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Co-op Interview: Dante’s Inferno And BioShock 2 Composer Garry Schyman!

Adam and I got a chance to interview Garry Schyman the composer behind the amazing music for Dante’s Inferno and BioShock 2. Garry has also done such games as BioShock 1 (which he won several awards for), Destroy All Humans and Voyeur, among others, t.v. shows and films.

Head past the break to check out the interview! Adam: You’ve composed the soundtracks for several games, are you a gamer?

Garry: I guess that depends on how you define gamer. I don’t have a lot of time to play games (don’t watch much television either for that matter) but when I do I love to play. I am a BioShock fan and that would be true even if I hadn’t scored the games. Loved Portal and played World of Warcraft for a year. Even play Plants Versus Zombies when I need some stress release.

You know there was a French philosopher who lived in the late 19th Century that, though he was deeply depressed, decided not to commit suicide because he wanted to find out what would happen next in French politics of the time. I on the other hand just want to live a long life so I can see what happens next with video games. It is the most interesting and compelling entertainment going on right now and it has an almost infinite potential to do amazing things as the technology and creativity continue.

TJ: When you did the music for BioShock and Dante’s Inferno, how exactly did you insert the music into each section of the game? Were the games played level by level in front of you, and you had to insert the music
where necessary and as you saw fit?

Garry: I had nothing to do with placing the music into the game. That job is done by the audio director or audio professional who is hired to oversee and implement all sounds in the game including music, sound effects and dialogue. In essence I am contracted to provide an asset to the game (namely music) that is then rendered into the project. The audio director is usually the person I speak with from day to day and the one who gives me creative input into what specifically they need for the score in general and what each musical cue should do or how it should feel emotionally.

The games are not played in front of me generally (though that would be helpful) because they are usually not sufficiently far enough along to do that when I am hired to start. In addition I am working in my home studio and not on scene at the developer’s office. In fact we are generally in different cities. What they do send is gameplay movie captures (when they can) and scripts and screenshots, artwork etc. Really anything that can help give me a feel and sense of the game.

Adam: Between BioShock 1 and 2 the underwater city of Rapture has since fallen apart; is that reflected in the music?

Garry: I try to reflect that in the music though I am not certain that comes through entirely. Rapture in both games is pretty scary. But that said I think the scores are quite different mainly because BioShock 2 is a different game with different musical needs. There’s lot’s more combat music in BioShock 2 as well.

Adam: Did you assist in selecting any of the vintage music used in either of the BioShock games?

Garry: No – that was done by the Audio Director for each of the games.

TJ: Do you prefer composing video games, tv, or film?

Garry: There’s good, bad, and great things about all three mediums. In some ways video games is the best at this moment because they want strong music that is iconic and interesting and so much of TV and many films these days have very ambient and uninteresting music. The biggest budgets are reserved for the big studio films of course. And most composers aspire to get involved with them. But the pressures are enormous as is the competition to get those gigs.

I am very happy with what I am doing right now and feel it is permitting me the most fabulous creative opportunities of my career.

Adam: You’ve composed for a variety of mediums ranging from television to film to, of course, video games. How does your approach to composing for games differ from the others?

Garry: With games, other than when I am scoring cut scenes (which is nearly identical to scoring for film or TV) I am writing music that will become part of an interactive system. Thus you are not locked to a specific scene forever as in film music. The score needs to reflect the feel and action of a particular part or level of the game though it is not precisely locked to a specific scene or action, as each player will play at least slightly differently. Additionally, though this can vary dramatically from project to project the implementation of the score can be quite tricky and complex. The music may have to be created in layers to permit interactivity based on what a specific player is experiencing at any one time. So implementation issues (how and when the music plays in a game) are perhaps the biggest difference.

TJ: When creating the music for Dante’s Inferno, did you base the music for each circle of hell, off of the names themselves? And by that I mean did you say to yourself, “Ok, this is what Greed needs to sound like, and this is what Heresy needs to sound like, etc.”

Garry: Yes in a sense. Each level as Dante described them in his famous poem has a different purpose in the netherworld. Of course the developer’s visuals and descriptions of action and their intentions are critical in influencing how each level’s music should sound and how the score should differentiate itself on each level of hell. My favorite is Lust! Not for personal reasons, of course, but because I just love the music I wrote for that level. So I was really responding musically to the direction of the game – including how the gameplay unfolds and how of course the intense visual world they created based on Dante’s descriptions of hell.

Adam: What’s it like creating music for a game before it’s done then seeing your work incorporated into the world as a finished product?

Garry: It’s interesting writing music for a game and really having no good idea how your music will sound and feel in the finished product. I always play my games when they come out to see how it all feels and sounds. In the case of BioShock 2 I had a bit of an idea as my discussions with the audio director led me to believe the music implementation would be similar in the 2nd game to what it was in the first. That said I have been happily enjoying hearing my music in the game as I have been playing through BioShock 2.

TJ: Do any video game companies have you compose the game as it is being made? Or is it always a finished product before it touches your magic fingers?

Garry: I have always been hired to score the game while the game is being made. With films the score is one of the last things done, as you need a finished picture to score to. But with games you’re hired somewhere in the middle of the process and finish well before they are finished as the music has to be incorporated into the game along with all of the other audio as they go.

Adam: There are rumors that a BioShock film is underway; if that’s true do you have any interest in composing the music for the film?

Garry: As far as any movies are concerned – there has been much in the press about that potential for a BioShock film. Though the idea seems to ebb and flow. If there were to be a movie I would love to score it.

TJ: Seeing as we are mainly a horror movies site, we like to ask, what are some of your favorite horror movies?

Garry: Oh well – I have many but here’s a few: The Shining (Kubrick’s of course), Carrie, Rosemary’s Baby, The Thing (1951 version), Dracula (with Bela Lagosi of course), Jaws was pretty amazing. I could go on and on. But as you can see I tend to love the vintage ones the best!



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