Interview with Sam Hulick

Could you tell us how you landed yer first gig, and maybe give some
advice to others who are trying to also break into game composing?

It was actually thanks to GANG that I got my first gig, working on Maximo
vs. Army of Zin
with Tommy Tallarico. I participated in a GANG composer
contest and won, and that got enough attention to where I think Tommy
must’ve liked my work and put me on a team of composers working on Maximo.
I think the best advice I can give to any aspiring composer is to be
persistent, be confident in your skills, get your name out there, and
always make sure people are hearing your stuff in some capacity.

In both ME1 and ME2 you were working with a team of composers: was
there a lot of exchanging of ideas, themes etc between everyone throughout
the process, or was everyone just kind of working on their own and working
with Jack Wall directly? Assuming there was interaction between the
composers, was that a process you enjoyed and why?

We mostly worked on our own as far as writing and producing cues. Of
course we kept the soundtrack thematically consistent, and worked through
Jack to get cues approved or get constructive feedback. So for the most
part, it was more of a “we have 100+ minutes of music to write, here’s
your chunk, GO!”

So you worked on this upcoming game Red Orchestra, and it sounds like
it was epic! From what I understand you wrote both Russian inspired music
and German inspired music. What composers (or techniques) did you use as
models to achieve a distinctive sound for the German/Russian sounds? That
must’ve taken some time to study up on your approach.

There was a pretty good chunk of study time involved, yes. Lots of
listening and developing my own rules of thumb I could use to make subtle
hints at certain composers or styles. It was also through this listening
process that I ruled out certain composers and chose others to emulate.
Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov really had that sound I was looking for, and
there’s a tiny bit of Mussorgsky here and there. I tried to keep it subtle
in my references. On the German side, it’s mostly Beethoven, Wagner, and a
bit of Bruckner. Major Wagnerian stuff going on for the triumphant pieces.

Could you talk a bit about Red Orchestra, as far as how much music was
written for it, did you record live musicians, if so how did you handle
the music prep/orchestration, how long did the project take? Did you get
to see much of the game before you got started, or what did you have for
reference material (pictures, story etc)?

It was about ninety minutes of music total and the project took me roughly
six months to complete, from the early stages of studying to the delivery
of the final mixes. I had planned to incorporate a live violinist and live
choir into the final mix, so I hired someone to take care of music prep
for the choir parts. My violinist, Jeff Ball, worked off my MIDI files and
violin sample mixes in order to record live parts, so I didn’t have to
have printed music for him. He did a really killer job and brought the
perfect level of loneliness and sadness I wanted to convey in the music.

I always had access to the game in its various alpha or beta stages, but
mostly I based the music off of artwork from the game, actual history, and
what I’d learned about the Battle of Stalingrad from the Tripwire VP and a
documentary. This wasn’t the kind of game you could just score to whatever
was going on in the game, otherwise we would’ve wound up with nothing but
intense combat tracks and it wouldn’t have made for a playable or
listenable experience. So essentially it’s “mood music” that adaptively
changes based on how well your team is doing.

What’s your favorite part of the composing process? maybe finding a key
theme, or narrowing down the template to key instruments? do you typically
have a moment like that, or is it more exciting to look back after the
project and see what you did? do you remember moments like that from past

I think my favorite part of the process is when the music seems to be
writing itself. I’ll be in the middle of writing something and I come to a
point where everything just falls into place and it becomes effortless.
For a while, anyway. That’s probably the most magical thing for me about
composing, but there are so many other things that I enjoy about the
process as well. Definitely looking back after a project is done and
hearing it gives me a real sense of accomplishment. It’s a bonus if I can
listen to my old stuff and still like it.

Can you share some of your favorite games or gaming moments?

Most recently, Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood and Red Dead Redemption were
big favorites. I’m also slowly making my way through the Tales of Monkey
Island episodes, meaning of course that I’m still on episode one. I really
like the classic adventure genre, I played a lot of those growing up
(Monkey Island, the Sierra games) so there’s a nostalgic value for me.

Dennys or Mels?

Mel’s, all the way