Best of ND 2011: Interview: David Wise

Nintendojo interviews video game music legend David Wise.

By Lewis Hampson. Posted 12/28/2011 09:00 Comment on this     ShareThis

ND: What made you leave Rare, and go freelance?
David: There were a combination of factors, from a professional point of view, I did not have the creative freedom to do what I would have liked to do. Obviously Mircosoft were in charge of what Rare were doing, I felt there were too many musicians or audio people and I was not entirely happy doing what I was doing, so I thought it was time to move on. Microsoft are very effective developers and a good company to work for, however, it was sadly just not the right fit for me any more.

Above: Viva Piñata: Pocket Paradise, one of the last games Wise worked on with Rare.

When you are in a small company, I think it’s a lot easier to be creative than when you’re part of a bigger company, because quite rightly they have shareholders to please and deadlines to meet. The difficulties are, you then have a hierarchy of management, and the whole process becomes a bit more convoluted. So it’s much easier to make progress within a smaller company– from a purely creative point of view that is. Having to go through differing levels of people to get an idea across to the right person is obviously much harder than going directly to the studio head and giving your ideas or thoughts directly.

ND: What are the main differences between in-house and freelance work?
David: Prior to the Donkey Kong Country series, I was freelancing for Rare, and it is a nice position to be in. Keeps you on your toes, and you have to keep yourself fresh. So in that respect it’s very good. The downside is, that you are a little more aware of time limitations, so you perhaps can’t dedicate as much time to specific areas as you would perhaps like.

ND: Is it difficult to secure work?
David: Yes, it can be very difficult, because you can think you have a contract only for it to be withdrawn at the last minute. There is a mixture of me contacting developers and them contacting me, but until something is signed on the line, everything is very much in the air. Fortunately because of my days at Rare, I have a large portfolio to fall back on, but for anyone starting out as freelance it would be a very tough cookie to break into. There is a lot of competition not only from video game composers, but also people who produce music for films, so for any licensed games, like Star Wars, they would just take use the music from the film, rather than create a brand new score. It can get to where you are up against composers who are well known for films scores, and who are really your heroes, people you’re influenced by, so it’s definitely a very competitive global market. You have to be very driven and I enjoy that challenge.

ND: What direction are you moving into musically, e.g. more orchestrated or keeping in with the tone of past music?
David: I try to make the sound fit with the game. Whilst I love big orchestral scores, sometimes I get the feeling these are a little overused where a lighter, more subtle touch may be more applicable.

ND: Where do you see the future of video game music going and how might cloud services affect the music?
David: I think you would have to look at data as a whole rather than just music or games. I would not be happy leaving my data in the cloud and would rather have information, if only a little, on a memory stick. I still feel that most things need to be tactile rather than virtual. So take a video game for instance. I still feel there should be something physical that you can hold and call your own. I’m not yet convinced by cloud services. Through my experience I would rather have my cartridge of my game that I can plug into my system and play it, but if it’s something that doesn’t really exist, then the connection is almost lost, and it becomes cheap and expendable. In the same way, it is like downloading a CD from Amazon, which I could do, but if I really like something I want the artwork to go with it and the tactile experience of knowing it’s there on my shelf, ready to be played whenever I feel like it. In my opinion, I don’t think people will want to lose that experience.

ND: How do you feel about Retro Studios’ reboot of Donkey Kong Country, and how do you feel they handled the compositions of yours in particular?
David: I thought it was very good, and they did a great job with the music, sound effects and implementation. I personally find it very hard to remix my own music. I find it hard to have an independent evaluation of past compositions, as I’m too attached to the originals. So in that context it probably helped that Kenji Yamamoto was responsible for the music. It is very much an honor for them to have reused the original tracks, and retold them, much the same way that Nintendo did for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It’s very humbling to know you have written music that has a lot of mileage and will be remembered many, many years down the line after they were created.

ND: Obviously music is very artistic– do you see the whole of video game medium in same way, as an art form and a serious media platform?
David: I have never really considered it to that extent. I see them primarily as entertainment, not necessarily an art form, but if people want to call it an art form then that’s their persuasion. I’m not sure it is art really. If you compare video games to say classic compositions, it is the passing of time and sustained popularity which have turned them into classics and therefore an art. So by using the same analogy, video games may well be considered art if they have the legs to carry them through time in the same way.

ND: Christopher Tin’s (Civilization IV) “Baba Yetu” won a Grammy for “Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalists”– so is gaming becoming more respected for soundtrack in general?
David: Well yes, it clearly does, absolutely. As well as this, it gives the composer great kudos and also huge negotiating power for his next project!

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