The Fat Man, George Alistair Sanger, has been creating music and other audio for games since Thin Ice for Intellivision in 1983, which means that, with only one known exception, he has been in that business longer than any American game composer. He is internationally recognized for having contributed to the atmosphere of well over 250 games, including such sound-barrier-breaking greats as Loom, Wing Commander I and II, The 7th Guest I and II, (re-released for iPhone in late 2010), NASCAR Racing, Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo, and ATF. He was recording orchestral instruments for games as early as 1992, pressing to raise the quality of the gaming experience by using live instruments, lyrics, music videos, and digital recordings in games when they had not been used before. For The 7th Guest, the first CD-ROM game to sell over 1.5 million copies, he created what is thought to be the first General MIDI (what computer users now generally refer to as “MIDI”) soundtrack for a game, at the same time developing the FM tones that shipped with Microsoft Windows for years, allowing playback of GM files for users with low-level soundcards. He pioneered direct-to-MIDI live recording of musicians, and early on scored a soundtrack included with the game as a separate audio CD. His renditions of seven movements of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake contributed to that game’s being considered a “work of art,” and the score for Wing Commander was, if not the first, among the first soundtracks considered a selling point for the game. Most of this was done alongside his friends, the three other composers of Team Fat. For several years, Team Fat’s music and sound effects dominated the American PC scene. Musicians were frequently directed by their employers to imitate Team Fat’s work rather than that of artists in other media–a phenomenon that resurfaced recently with the sound design Sanger has done for slot machines.
Sanger joined as the 21st member of the International Game Developers Association in 1994. In 1991, at the first Game Developers Conference awards show ever, the audio award went to Sanger’s Wing Commander. Sanger helped pave the way for the first audio column in Game Developer magazine in 2001. In 2007 he was honored with the Developers’ Choice award for Community Contribution. At developer conferences, Sanger hosted “Demo Marathons” to allow game producers to be exposed to the music of many musicians from all over the world in a single sitting.
He got his AB in music from Occidental College in 1979, then while still in LA, studied television production at Loyola-Marymount before attending USC film school. In 1980-1982, his band played at Doug Weston’s famous Troubadour for standing-room only crowds and up to 6 encores.
Along with Bill Bottorff and game legends Richard Garriott and Warren Spector, Sanger co-founded the Videogame Archive at the Center for American History at the University of Texas, Austin. He has served on the board of advisors for Game Developer Magazine, and Full Sail’s Game Development Degree program. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors for the Austin-based Game Audio Conference (which became the audio track of the Austin GDC), has served on the Board of Directors of the BEAM Foundation, and has headed several peer committees to judge awards for game audio. In 1995, he was the first music producer to be accepted into the National Recording Academy based on his work in games rather than in CD’s, film, or movies. He worked toward the goal of establishing a Grammy category for games, first independently with the Texas branch of NARAS, then years later in the group led by Chance Thomas that achieved this goal.
Sanger was deeply inspirational in the founding of Game Audio’s professional organization, the Interactive Audio Special Interest Group (IASIG). He worked for many years with the IASIG to establish a compatibility spec for General MIDI. He also established Fat Labs, which tested GM hardware and software in order to create the best possible experience for listeners. For a while, you couldn’t sell a GM chip to a Taiwanese manufacturer without the “Fat Seal of Approval.”
For the 15 years from 1996 through 2010, on the edge of the Canyon of the Eagles over the Colorado River, The Fat Man hosted the annual Texas Interactive Music Conference and BBQ (Project Bar-B-Q), the computer/music industry’s most prestigious and influential conference. Based on the success of BBQ, for the 5 years from 2006 through 2010, he hosted Project Horseshoe, an intense think-tank aimed at solving game design’s toughest problems.
He has lectured, taught, and run workshops at learning establishments and for game development companies around the world, including such events as a full-day brainstorming workshop with Harmonix’s audio team in Boston, and a keynote at Poland’s first symposium on game design.
Sanger is mentioned in almost every book on the topic of Game Audio. His own book, The Fat Man on Game Audio: Tasty Morsels of Sonic Goodness, published in 2003 by New Riders and due for re-release in 2011, is well-loved and much-quoted, and a very desirable collectors item. IMS ExpertServices, the premier subject matter search firm in the legal industry, rates Sanger as one of their small handful of EliteExperts.
His writings in his Music and Computers Magazine column, “Ride the Wired Surf,” were meant to promote ideals and attitudes that would lead to better music on computers. He currently writes the blog, “Shortcuts and Big Pictures,” on ProAudioCoalition.com.
Sanger hosted the weekly webcast, Fatman and Circuit Girl, (http://fatmanandcircuitgirl.com), in which, through the process of inventing and prototyping, he and the well-known circuit design prodigy Jeri Ellsworth explore connections between art, science, fun, and creativity. He is a founding member of a San Diego hacker space, and an active member of a “green transportation” think-tank group there.
Sanger was member number 1 of GANG, left for a while, and now is back.