Composing for Video Games in the 21st Century: An Interview With Vinicius Barbosa
Music scores for video games have come a long way in the last 25 years. From the obviously synthetic but instantly recognizable notes of Super Mario to the heart pounding heavy metal ballad of Doom (2016), video game music has become more textured, more detailed, and ultimately more important as gamers expect every footstep, gunshot, or vehicle to have an accompanying sound. This notion in combination with the increasing validity of virtual reality have created a greater need among game developers for young, talented composers who can translate their talents to the gaming experience. Vinicius Barbosa is one such composer transforming the video game landscape through his works at Hexany Audio, engineering and composing the music for a wide array of projects belonging to different genres. From his beginnings composing music for film, Barbosa has combined a technical knowledge of music with a passion for gaming and creating the most encompassing experience possible. We had the chance to ask Barbosa about his past achievements as well as gain some insight into the life of a multi-faceted composer.
In 2016 you managed to score four separate films for director Brett McLoughlin. How were you able to stay creatively inspired and motivated to make unique music for each film and what film festivals were those projects shown at? What was the reception of these movies?
Barbosa: Brett is such an incredible filmmaker- the unique way in which he tells stories through his films really is mind-blowing. He constantly pushed me to be creative with my music and gave me the freedom to try out different ideas, even the ones that seemed a bit odd at first! Collectively the films were shown in quite a few festivals like Side Walk Film Festival, FSB Film Fest, McDonogh Film Festival, Daniel A. Citron Film Festival to name a few. We took home awards such as audience choice, category winner and festival winner.
How do you approach composing the music for a film or a game with only a script or general concept to go off of?
Barbosa: It really is a team effort. In these early stages there’s a lot of bouncing around of ideas, the team and I will talk about story, setting and the moods and emotions we’re trying to evoke. I’ll then try and pinpoint musical elements that are able to capture that. Sometimes that means writing specific musical themes or even simply creating “moods” and textures with instrumentation or music production / recording elements that effectively communicate the emotions we’re trying to achieve.
What was the experience like touring the United States while conducting the Berklee Silent Film Orchestra? What are some of the pressures or challenges of touring that most people may not consider?
Barbosa: It was a marvelous experience. I was working alongside composers and musicians that I truly admire and feel privileged to have shared the stage with. Being the opening act of the San Francisco Silent Film Festival and playing our custom score for The Freshman to silent film aficionados, including the original filmmaker Harold Lloyd’s granddaughter, was unlike anything else. Because we were performing music live to picture, a lot of the technical contraptions we used to things in proper sync were incredibly complicated. If we did our job well people simply did not notice those things, though!
What inspired you to want to compose and create music for video games?
Barbosa: From a young age I’ve had a very close relationship with music- my father loved to play the guitar and was really the one who introduced me to music. I’ve also always been a huge video game nerd- my brother and I would play together endlessly. When I was a teenager it occurred to me while watching an old video game trailer that there’s got to be someone that makes all the music that goes into games. From then on I never looked back.
Do you think that there is a greater need for video game composers now, than say, 10 or 20 years ago?
Barbosa: That’s a great question. I’d say so. 10 or 20 years ago games were more of an up and coming form of entertainment than they are today, and the industry was most certainly smaller, or so I’m told. Nowadays we have games being produced at every corner and in so many different scales, so I’d say the need for people to make music for those projects has definitely increased.
Are there any genres of movies or games which excite you most as a composer?
Barbosa: For me the exciting thing about these media is that there are so many different genre possibilities. Writing for games and films gives me the opportunity to make music in almost any style imaginable and really push my boundaries as a composer and a creative. I will say though, projects that focus on storytelling and the character interaction are always especially wonderful to work on.
What would you consider to be your favorite projects you have worked on over your career and why were those instances special?
Barbosa: I know it sounds like a cop-out because I already mentioned him, but working with Brett McLoughlin has definitely been a highlight so far. Before anything else he is a fantastic collaborator and when we work together there’s always an expectation to push ourselves far beyond what we’re accustomed to.
Is there any technical or networking advice you would give to a younger aspiring composer/producer?
Barbosa: I’d hardly call myself a guru, but I’d say start finding projects that need your music as early as you can and don’t wait until you feel like ready. Once you have a few of those under your belt, some experience and some connections you can start building and moving on to bigger and better work.
Looking forward, are there any notable projects you are currently working on?
Barbosa: With the Hexany Audio team we’ve been working hard on the audio for the upcoming virtual reality title Blade Runner: Revelations. I can’t share too much about it yet, but fans of the franchise definitely have something to look forward to!
by Giorgio Chang
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