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RPGFan Interview Series - Grant Kirkhope

RPGFan Interview Series - Grant Kirkhope
By: Stephen Meyerink and RPGFan Staff
March 9, 2012 – You may know Grant Kirkhope from his work on such classics as GoldenEye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, and Perfect Dark, but he's still going strong and recently branched out to another AAA title, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. Mr. Kirkhope was gracious enough to sit down and answer some questions for us, and he had a lot to say! Also, he likes John Williams! Read on to see our questions and his responses!
RPGFan: Can you give us a little bit of your musical background? How did you become involved in scoring games?
Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning Grant Kirkhope: I played trumpet and recorder at school and was a member of the usual school and county orchestras. I also taught myself guitar and played in rock/metal bands from the age of 12 or so. When I left school I went on to attend the Royal Northern College of Music and spent four years there majoring in trumpet. After I left I played for a number of different bands over the next 11 years, some did ok some didn't ... heh! I was mostly on and off unemployment benefit during all that time.

I had met Robin Beanland through playing in bands over the years and we were good friends. He was always writing music that could be used in video games and eventually landed a job at Rare. It was him that suggested I have a go at writing music for games as he knew that the bands I was still playing for were starting to crumble!! I sent five cassette tapes off to Rare over the course of a year and never got a reply and then out of the blue I got asked to attend an interview and to my surprise got the job.
RPGFan: How did you approach the score for Reckoning? I know you've worked on games like the Banjo-Kazooie series and Perfect Dark, and those definitely have a different flavor to them than a high-fantasy action RPG.
Grant Kirkhope: I think any composer will have an instant idea when he looks at something he needs to write some music for. It was obvious from the outset that Reckoning was going to be a huge high fantasy game that would need a large high fantasy orchestral score. The first thing I did was have a go at writing the main theme for the game. I think I had one other attempt besides the piece that I ended up using. The first area that got modeled was Dalentarth, it had a very fairytale kind of look to it so that was the kind of music I wrote for that area. I think as the game went on that changed so the music I wrote changed to match the visuals.

Even though the games I'd done at Rare were very different to Reckoning I don't think my process is any different. I think you just have to write what's right for the game, your personal preferences shouldn't come into it, if they did all my scores would sound like Judas Priest ... heh! You look at the game and think about what kind of music or sound design would suit the visual style and try to convey that in what you are making.
RPGFan: Did you have any particular influences you wanted to incorporate when you composed Reckoning? Was there a certain style you wanted to hit upon? Did you compose the music for the game before or after you saw it in action? In other words, how closely do you work with the game's developers when it comes to composing the soundtrack? Are pieces tailor-made for scenes or are they fit into the game after they're produced?
Grant Kirkhope: I wanted to have memorable thematic elements to the music as well as some really exciting stuff. My main influence when writing the music was the three Harry Potter scores that John Williams had written, certainly for the boss pieces. I really liked the way he wrote his action pieces in those movies and how he could slot in a huge melody amongst all the exciting stuff that was going on. For the ambient pieces I just relied upon what was in my head at the time and how I felt the regions of the game looked. I remember for Alabastra I had sampled myself playing wine glasses filled with different amounts of water for the ambient sound effects, so when it came to writing the music for that region I wanted to try and capture that ethereal sound. I ended up using an instrument called a Waterphone which is a circular device made up of metal rods that you can scrape or bow, if you listen to the Alabastra track on the CD you should be able to hear a weird metallic sound.

Grant Kirkhope I composed some of the music to things I could actually see but sometimes that's not always possible as they haven't been made yet, so in that case I'd talk to the designers or read the design docs to get a feel for what I'm writing for. At the start of development I would play what I had written for the lead devs but after a while they started to trust me so I pretty much had a free hand ... Heh!

All the music is tailor made inasmuch as it is written for a specific area or character, this is even more so for the cinematic sequences. I don't think I wrote anything without some reference point in the game to link it to.
RPGFan: What type of software do you use when composing?
Grant Kirkhope: I use Pro Tools, Kontakt, Vienna Pro Ensemble, Vienna Symphonic Library and Hollywood Strings mainly. I have to say I don't really think it matters what you use, they're all pretty much the same. Pro Tools is a bit annoying as it's so expensive and to get full functionality they always charge you for extra add ons like Surround Sound. There are lots of other software packages out there that give you it all for half the cost. If I can make myself learn something new I'll probably change to something else.
RPGFan: What is the most satisfying part about composing a soundtrack?
Grant Kirkhope: I've been very fortunate to have had the last few scores I've written be recorded by live orchestra and that without a doubt is amazingly satisfying, I don't think I'll ever get used to that, it really is incredible. Aside from that, just hearing what you've written turning up in the game and fitting is great, and if my fellow team members comment on what I've done and like it that's also fantastic, and a relief!
RPGFan: A question I always like to ask when I'm interviewing musicians is what YOUR favorite soundtrack is? Why that particular soundtrack?
Grant Kirkhope: I don't think I could choose just one. It would have to be John Williams' scores for Harry Potter, so that nearly counts as one. Those scores suit the movies so well and the main theme is so memorable, I really think the movies lost a little bit of magic when he stopped writing the music. I would also like to mention Ilan Eshkeri's score to Stardust. I loved that score, it had all the right elements for a fantasy score, some great melodies and some great action music.
RPGFan: Are you working on anything else that you're free to talk about right now?
Grant Kirkhope: Heh... I think you know the answer to that one!!!

©2012 EA, Big Huge Games, 38 Studios. All rights reserved.




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