Recently I had a chance to run some questions by Cole Marshall, musician, game developer, father, and all around creative guy. In the music world he is known as Commercial, and you can check out some of his tracks on his SoundCloud page. My personal favorite songs of his are STAT and I'd Rather Slay Dragons Than Hoes.
Brian Riggsbee: Let's start by talking about your music. How did you get involved in composing?
Cole Marshall: Magix Music Maker. I honestly forget how I first got my hands on that program but it had to be 12-14 years ago. I remember thinking, "I can take sounds, put them together, press play, and it plays back!?" This was when I was just getting into Techno/Electronic and there was a decent library of samples and loops. Once I finished my first real "song" and felt that rush of endorphins the second time you play back a track that you've produced I was hooked.
BR: What is your process like when writing music? Is it very experimental or do you have a clear vision in your head?
CM: It's a smattering of a few different things. Sometimes I'll start with a nifty melody I discovered on the guitar or keyboard (I'm by no means a decent player of each of these instruments). Sometimes I'll just fool around in Reason until I get a nice Timbre out of one of the synths and that'll be enough inspiration to make a nice lead out of. Other times it'll be an inspirational track I hear that gets me to sit down and churn something out. I think my most successful songs have all come from 100% improvisation, though. Nothin' beats tinkering on a melody until you find that note that makes it all come together.
BR: We live in an age now of self-publishing, where an artist can skip the studios and producers, and instead create their work at home and upload it to their website or iTunes. As someone who has tried out this new method of development and distribution what are your thoughts on it?
CM: This is a depressing topic for me. Not because I think ease of distribution is a bad thing for individual artists, but because it's a bad thing for the art. The internet, while a wonderful tool, has diluted a lot of creative avenues. I'm very confident in saying there will never again be a Beatles/Rolling Stones/Michael Jackson. Lack of talent is not the reason, it's over-saturation. The death of truly famous artists has already happened in the visual arts. The last famous artist was Warhol and there will never be another because "art" is such a broad spectrum now. Music is almost there. I think Daft Punk and Radiohead are our swan songs.
There are so many options for visual and audible entertainment that it's paralyzing. Our attention span shrinks by the nanosecond. We all think we're artists. Nobody is special. It's a bummer.
I'm sorry if it seems as though I'm a bummer. Life is still great!
BR: Are you working on any new music?
CM: I wish, but no. I've got a 15-month-old and work full-time on top of a lousy commute. When I get home from work, I eat dinner, watch Mad Men, then go to sleep.
BR: Which musicians inspire you the most? Which artist or band would you like to see removed from the Earth?
CM: It's hard to compile a list of all-time-most-inspirational musicians for me. Recently, I'd say Com Truise. His tracks make you feel so cool. An unattractive man could be rolling an d20 saving throw while simultaneously popping a zit on his nose and still get babes to fawn over him as long as Com Truise was supplying some beats. The dude's a beast. I also admire Dosh very much. He's a super talented musician and I've rediscovered this gem recently: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=my4zz0P5Ic0
As for people I'd like to kill... I don't know. I really hate the B-52's "Love Shack". I'd erase that song but I don't think I'd want to erase them. I'm sure their nice enough people.
Let people express themselves even if it's annoying :D
BR: What are your thoughts on the importance of music and SFX in video games? Do you feel that music takes a back seat in development too often?
CM: I'm not sure if it takes a backseat too often, because making the game fun is the most important thing. If investing heavily into the soundtrack isn't in the scope of a great project I don't think it's the end of the world. That said, a lot of my most cherished songs come from video games ( ahem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WnRmY7fsGdM ) and I don't think it's too far-fetched to think that the next Mario theme is out there. I'm sure every developer would want the first song in their game to be that iconic.
Most of the best songs came from an era when the hardest decision you had to make about art was what 8 colors should be used. Because of that, I think music selection was more focused and significant.
I'm not sure if I've answered the question but this is what my brain made me type.
BR: Speaking of video games, as a developer who has worked in a variety of departments ranging from design to promotion, what interests you the most in game development and why? Are their tasks you just dread?
CM: I have a bad case of development ADD. Sometimes I'll look at a piece of concept art and think, "Man, this is so badass. These guys have it made! They just draw monsters all day. They are the pioneers of development! I want to be that!" Other times I find myself writing probability charts for outcomes from opening a dusty treasure chest. Currently my ADD has focused on story-telling. I'd love to have people mad at me for killing off a character or deciding to make the hero a boy instead of a man. It's all fun to me. If I can imagine the person I'm designing for appreciate my design choices, I'm happy.
I dead any task that I think wont have an outcome that our target audience will be excited about. How are you gonna make an awesome laser cannon if you don't think your target audience will appreciate that a laser cannon is mounted to your hero's terrier?
BR: If you had one piece of advice for someone looking to start a career in the video game industry, what would it be?
CM: To get your foot in the door, play a lot of games, work on your own projects, and apply to QA positions at your favorite studios. If you don't get a call back, apply again in 2 weeks. If you don't get a call back, apply again in 2 weeks. Rinse and repeat until you get a call back. Once you're in the building be excited. I'm not saying foam at the mouth and spike your hair with LA looks. I'm sayin' be noticeably appreciative to have the opportunity to interview at a gaming company. Nobody wants to hire someone because they like Final Fantasy games. They want to hire someone that likes Final Fantasy and wants to make them better.
Once you get the job, have an opinion about everything while avoiding being an annoyance. This is the most difficult part. If you don't like the way the enemy's AI causes unrealistic behavior, tell the designer what you like about it and offer ways to improve it. If it's a good idea, awesome! If it's not a good idea, "Hey, that new QA kid is motivated."
Also, learn Outlook.
There's a bunch of other crap you should know but I didn't know at the beginning so neither will you :D
BR: Favorite video games of all time. Go.
CM: Since this list could be anywhere from 1-100 I'll settle with the middle decimal point and make a top ten list in no particular order:
Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy 7, Golden Eye, NHL 94, World of Warcraft, Diablo 2, Starcraft 2, Street Fighter 2/3/4 (can't choose), Ogre Battle, WCW vs NWO
Brian Riggsbee lives in San Francisco CA. He enjoys gaming, writing, creating art, practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife and boy.