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Ask "The Fat Man" George Sanger About Music and Computer Games

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the to-soothe-the-savage-gamer dept.

Music 66

"The Fat Man" George Sanger has composed the music to hundreds of computer and video games since the 80's and remains one of the most influential people in game audio. Some of his most famous tunes can be heard in Maniac Mansion, Wing Commander, and Tux Racer. Team Fat, a band that includes fellow video game music composers, creates music, sound effects, and voice work for games, television, and films. George has agreed to give us a bit of his time and answer any questions you might have. As usual, ask as many as you'd like, but please, one question per post.

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First Question (-1, Troll)

CheezburgerBrown . (3417019) | about a year ago | (#46267791)

Whats it like living in your moms bassmint all these years?

Hey George! (3, Interesting)

globaljustin (574257) | about a year ago | (#46267793)

Mr. Sanger, thanks for taking the time. I was a fan of yours and didn't know it until now ha.

My question: Did you find the limitations of 8-bit computing sound to be a fun creative challenge or was it more of a slog of process and reduction to make it work within limitations of the sound system?

Re:Hey George! (2)

George A. Sanger (3541037) | about a year ago | (#46270121)

Exactly: 8-bit composing was indeed, as you say, a fun creative challenge. The feeling that I might have been "limited" in some way translated in my mind immediately into a positive: "OK, I'm writing for a new medium that has these requirements and these superpowers. What will I do with it?" I just couldn't imagine Bach being bugged by having to write for "just a string quartet." My players (the oscillators that were available to me) might have a tone less thrilling than Bach's target platform, but my guys would never miss a note, and could play as fast as I wanted them to, make huge leaps--all kinds of things. And one of my favorite things was, I very seldom felt insecure about "am I done with this piece yet?" When a piece was done, I felt like, no, there's not much more I can squeeze into this. So it's time to move on to the next task with a clear conscience.

When will the 'Fat Lady' sing? (1)

jkrise (535370) | about a year ago | (#46267823)

on your business.... not being rude; just a rhetorical question about the business climate for music.

My favorite, ever. (2)

i kan reed (749298) | about a year ago | (#46267849)

I'm playing some of the Master of Magic soundtrack right now, when this article appeared. I love the sheer range of composition you managed over the course of the 90s.

Anyways, my question is: Has the demand for live instrumentation on soundtracks negatively impacted the flexibility of game composers like yourself? Or were the midi device days harder?

Re:My favorite, ever. (1)

andrewa (18630) | about a year ago | (#46270051)

Do you mean the Commodore 64 Master of Magic, or the Microprose PC one? Not entirely sure about the Microprose one, as I don't see it listed in his Wiki page. If you mean the Commodore 64 one, then that was Rob Hubbard I think. I played a bit of the Microprose game, but don't specifically recall anything about the soundtrack, the Commodore 64 game though - that's a different matter and that's a very memorable piece of music for me...

Re:My favorite, ever. (1)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | about a year ago | (#46394125)

Rob Hubbard actually ripped off a track by "Synergy" called "Shibolet"... although to be fair he improved on it for the Commodore 64 rendition.

I think the OP means the PC game.

Where does your music come from? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46267933)

Some people can turn what they see into sounds, some people can do the reverse. I can "hear" new melodies and rhythms in (almost) random noise.

Do you have a favorite source for new tunes?

Enquiring minds wanna noe (0)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | about a year ago | (#46267989)

> fat

My 10th grade English teacher was hot in the extreme, but married a fat jazz musician because she (in her words) absolutely had to marry a jazz musician. I mean like 400 lbs. fat.

Have you experienced pulling lots of hot tail because your musician status vastly outweighs, so to speak, both your weight and nerd-game status?

Favarite advancement (1)

Traksius Egas (12395) | about a year ago | (#46267999)

Mr. Sanger,
If you could point out just one favorite advancement in gaming audio, be it hardware, software, or something else in your experience what would that be?
Thank you.

Getting Started (3, Interesting)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#46268013)

How did you get into the video game music business, and what advice would you have for aspiring artists looking to follow in your footsteps?

Re:Getting Started (1)

SeePage87 (923251) | about a year ago | (#46268213)

I second this question! I love production and composition, and feel I should use my talents toward beneficial ends. Thanks!!

Re:Getting Started (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#46268451)

No problem; hey, maybe we can collaborate! Sure would beat sitting around my office jamming alone, and the prospect of actually making a few bucks off my musical abilities is rather enticing as well.

Re:Getting Started (1)

SeePage87 (923251) | about a year ago | (#46271241)

Sure, dude, I'm always down for creating music with others. I typically produce (and DJ) in Ableton, but have been looking into FMOD for video game work.

Here's links to some of my music:

https://soundcloud.com/mdmt-de... [soundcloud.com]

https://soundcloud.com/mdmtmus... [soundcloud.com]

Feel free to drop me a line at seepage87 at the gmail

Re:Getting Started (1)

CanHasDIY (1672858) | about a year ago | (#46275213)

https://soundcloud.com/flammab... [soundcloud.com]

Not a lot on there at the moment, mostly just me plinking around on a couple CBGs I built

The Suit (1)

StefanJ (88986) | about a year ago | (#46268045)

I used to run into you at trade shows . . . gosh, going on 24 years ago.

Do you still have that big red jacket with the gold coins?

Is your comic book a collector's item?

Re:The Suit (1)

NJRoadfan (1254248) | about a year ago | (#46268783)

Like every good suit, they have a story: http://www.fatman.com/stories.... [fatman.com]

Re:The Suit (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about a year ago | (#46270681)

Wow ! Thanks for posting that link.

And we thought we had a bad day ... LOL ...

3. The Nile Valley

"On the next plane, from Phoenix to LA, I was ready to sleep. But I got to talking to the guy next to me, who was into Big Investments and moving money through time and all that cash stuff. He seemed pretty "up." He especially was excited about model trains. When I asked him what motivates him, this is what came out: "I had a rough divorce. My wife set fire to my house, destroying everything I owned. She was convicted of arson, so there was no insurance. She then killed my 14-year-old daughter, and herself. That changed my priorities. Now--I have good days, and great days. That's it."

audio production software (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46268067)

What software do you currently use for creating music?

Re:audio production software (1)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#46269817)

What would you consider to be the dream workstation for a composer?

Any specific sound cards or other equipment a "must have"?

7th Guest and the dawn of digital media (2)

holiggan (522846) | about a year ago | (#46268143)

Uau, can't believe nobody mentioned the 7th Guest and 11th Hour soundtracks, some of my all time favourite game music :)

Anyway, my question to Mr. Sanger is this: how was it to be part of some of the first "digital media" titles? To live in the middle of the hype and be part of some ground breaking works of art?

Re:7th Guest and the dawn of digital media (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46269117)

I have to second this. The 7th Guest had possibly the most amazing soundtrack ever. I still listen to the main theme occasionally, and I haven't played the game in over a decade.

Re:7th Guest and the dawn of digital media (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46269583)

Also, he did sound effects and music cues for Aibo, Sony's first little robot dog. I have no question really, just filling in his CV details.

The olden days (2)

Dan East (318230) | about a year ago | (#46268153)

Back in the late 80s, computer music was written in 4 channel trackers (Amiga, I'm thinking of you), and you had to try and cram as much "music" into just 4 channels as possible. Now the sky's the limit. I'm curious which you like better. The old days, where hardware limitations were always in your face and you had to use clever tricks and a lot of thought to work around them and keep it all in a few kilobytes of space, or the way things are now, where you have an unlimited number of tracks and instruments available and you just blow out static audio tracks (aka mp3)?

Re:The olden days (1)

phantomfive (622387) | about a year ago | (#46268335)

And following up on that...........

Mac or PC?

Re:The olden days (1)

wonkey_monkey (2592601) | about a year ago | (#46268337)

4 tracks? Sampled sound? Luxury! [youtube.com] Extravagance! [youtube.com] Decadence! [stairwaytohell.com]

Re:The olden days (1)

Captain Sarcastic (109765) | about a year ago | (#46268381)

Witchcraft! Deviltry! Sorcery! Isolationism! Free Silver!

Re:The olden days (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | about a year ago | (#46271313)

I suspect this isn't just true of games.

The Beatles (a.k.a. the white album) was recorded on 4 tracks. The Dark Side of the Moon and Tubular Bells were recorded on 16 tracks. Pro Tools gives you a few hundred tracks, and it's fair to say that modern musicians don't do proportionally more with what they have. You get pretty much the same "amount" of music/production (less, sometimes; as Arnold Schoenberg famously pointed out, a rest is never a wrong note), but you get it faster and cheaper.

Re:The olden days (1)

VanessaE (970834) | about a year ago | (#46274039)

But a distinction must be made here: Protracker and friends may have had "tracks" that work more or less like a professional studio, but the thing is, the *other* limits of the format meant that making music with a module tracker was a WHOLE different beast than doing it with a recording studio.

With module files/trackers, you could play exactly one sound sample at a time on each track - which is why many of us preferred to call them channels rather than tracks.

Each sound might be a single key on a piano, a single string on a violin, a crash of a cymbal, or whatever. If you needed a chord and you didn't have enough spare channels to play it (which was often the case), then to did it the hard way: you either composed and edited that chord in your favorite sample player/editor program and and loaded the result into your tracker or you sought out someone else who had already done the work... and that's if you only needed one type of chord for just one specific instrument (say, a major chord on a piano). Wait, you need a minor chord for that instrument also? Oops, better go compose/download one. Oh, need a few chords in one of the other instruments? Crap, gotta go do those also.

A module artist had, at most, only 31 sound slots to work with back in the day, so it was pretty easy to run out - and that's before you even start laying down you actual tracks.

With careful attention to note durations and use of the "set sample offset" effect command, you could combine several shorter samples into one "conglomerate" multipurpose sample that you could pick-and-choose from as needed, giving the appearance of more than just 31 samples. Problem is, this came at a price: You couldn't use this trick on anything that might need an effect command, there was no way to set custom sample loop endpoints (that I remember), and you only had 128 kB of sample data per sound slot, so it was only useful for short percussion-like instruments and sound effects.

When you laid down your tracks and assigned pitches, durations, and various effect commands to the samples (I mean the regular stuff like vibrato or portamento) is where the music was actually made.

Newer module formats eliminated the sample lengths, counts, and limits on the numbers of channels, of course.

Re:The olden days (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | about a year ago | (#46282717)

I wrote my fair share of MODs back in the day; I'm familiar with all the tricks. Writing MODs was a different kind of fun than modern systems, but it was still fun.

The question was which one you like better. My personal opinion is that not being forced into technical limitations is easier, but it doesn't necessarily make you more creative to have more options.

Re:The olden days (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46275035)

I seriously doubt DSOTM was recorded to just 16 tracks. Alan Parson knew how to synch up recorders so they could use two or three 16-track recorders at the same time.

Re:The olden days (1)

Pseudonym (62607) | about a year ago | (#46282729)

I may have misread my source. DSOTM was mixed with a single 16-track mixer, but I'm certain there was a lot of two-generation mastering going on.

How a title's fanbase accepts change (0)

j-stroy (640921) | about a year ago | (#46268185)


How have you dealt with fans reactions to influences of change over the years. Give them something new? or Keep giving them the familiar that they want?In the same vein, have you ever had to scrap a body of work entirely?

Thank you

Interactive music (1)

Gibgezr (2025238) | about a year ago | (#46268267)

Have you tried composing interactive music, that dynamically changes according to choices the player makes "on-the-fly"? If so, what technology do you prefer to use when composing for interactive soundtracks?

The first time I remember hearing highly interactive music in a game was "Shogo: Mobile Armor Division", back in 1998; they used a program that was similar to the old Amiga "Bars & Pipes" to help compose that music. All I remember is that the program was part of the DirectX suite at the time.

Re:Interactive music (1)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | about a year ago | (#46272991)

You need to go back and play the original X-wing and TIE Fighter. (Not the Windows 95 ports, the DOS versions.)

Also, possibly Wing Commander 1 & 2 (scored by The Fat Man). But I'm embarrassed to say that I haven't played them yet, despite owning the GOG rereleases.

7th Guest 3? (1)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | about a year ago | (#46268279)

Hello Mr. Sanger,

With Rob Landeros trying to bring The 7th Guest 3 to life, one of the more asked questions was whether you would be doing the music for it. At first, there was not much of an answer except "No. Licensing problems." Then it came out that he got licensing worked out to use music from The 7th Guest and 11th Hour, but not any new music. So what is going on with all of that?

Re:7th Guest 3? (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | about a year ago | (#46268507)

I doubt we'll get a good answer on this. But Sanger's involvement was my number one question when I first heard about efforts to make a T7G3. I was really bummed to hear it wasn't going to work out. The replacement guy is obviously very talented, but still...The music isn't just a character of its own in those games, it is practically a lead role...

Project Bar-B-Q (1)

key45 (706152) | about a year ago | (#46268287)

Project Bar-B-Q gathers an interesting cast of characters from the interactive audio world every year. The annual reports are full of interesting results from their brainstorming. Which working group report coming out of Bar-B-Q are you the most proud of, and which do you wish had received more attention from the industry?

interaction between game designers and soundtrack (2)

mandginguero (1435161) | about a year ago | (#46268517)

Greetings George, thanks for taking the time to do this. Video games were some of my earliest exposure to types of music that my parents never played and has stayed a consistent influence on the music I create now some 20-30 years later.

I'm curious how much of a back and forth process it is to design music for games. At what stage are you often approached about creating music? Is it when there is a finished product for you to see, or during the early stages are you brought on board to share some sounds to inspire coders? Is there a standard timeline for bringing together visuals and gameplay and sounds, or does it vary from project to project? And if it does vary, has there been a general shift over time in the interaction between gameplay design and music design?

Tongue of the Fat Man (2)

doti (966971) | about a year ago | (#46268549)

Is this related to the game "Tongue of the Fat Man"?

Re:Tongue of the Fat Man (1)

ArundelCastle (1581543) | about a year ago | (#46273823)

+1 for referencing a ridiculously awesome game.
-1 for it probably being a tired joke for Mr. Sanger.

The "Fat Man?!" (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about a year ago | (#46268707)

Sydney Greenstreet would enjoy having you at his business.

Peter Lorre could also assist with customer relations?

Like the MIDI music in the 80's-90's pinballs (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about a year ago | (#46268785)

Did you play alot of them they have some of the best midi music what game was one you liked the best?

Re:Like the MIDI music in the 80's-90's pinballs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46269475)

Did you play a lot of them? They have some of the best midi music. Which game was one you liked the best?


Re:Like the MIDI music in the 80's-90's pinballs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46273315)

Did you take your pills today they have some of the best pills now what pills are the ones you like the best?

Old games still kicking today (1)

Sowelu (713889) | about a year ago | (#46269175)

No questions here, but I'm impressed by the lifespan of a lot of your music. The soundtrack in Furcadia is still iconic of the game, and it's still going strong online about eighteen years later. It hasn't even fallen into 'old nostalgic retro game' territory.

Tell us a joke (2)

spyrochaete (707033) | about a year ago | (#46269241)

Anything that comes to mind.

Thanks, love your music and love your book!

Chiptunes scene (1)

Destoo (530123) | about a year ago | (#46269821)

Do you follow the current chiptunes and retrogaming music scene and if so, do you have suggestions for them?

Compose and then Render? (1)

sycodon (149926) | about a year ago | (#46269833)

So you use separate software to compose (Finale, Sibelius) and take the midi from that and run it through a separate synthesizer to produce the sound?

If so, can you speak about to the products and process?

Favourite song from the technical side (1)

zaibazu (976612) | about a year ago | (#46269897)

Hello Mr Sanger !

Do you remember when you felt really satisfied when working around technical limitations while implementing your artistic vision ?

Loved your music ! CD or .mp3's available? (1)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about a year ago | (#46270527)

Always enjoyed your music in the games I played over the years! Do you have a CD or .mp3's of all your work over the years? iTunes? :-)

  You are the perfect example (for music) of why "Games Are Art" that that blow-hard Roger Ebert never understood.

Your Music at Humongous Entertainmen (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46270645)

When you did music for the Famous Humongous Entertainment games did you enjoy working with Ron Gilbert and the gang there?
and also will ever sell your music for HE?

your Humongous Entertainment Music (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46270697)

Did you enjoy working with Ron Gilbert and Humongous Entertainment?

and also will you sell your HE Music?

Hey Mr. Sanger, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46270735)

Do you hate Beta as much as the rest of us?
Apparently you do, since you've responded I think only once in this discussion so far.

Re:Hey Mr. Sanger, (1)

ArundelCastle (1581543) | about a year ago | (#46273819)

Beta what?
I haven't been to /. in years and it looks exactly the same?

OPL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46270863)

Are those really your patches in the standard Windows 3.1/95 OPL synth MIDI driver?

Questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46272193)

What is the origin of the name Fat Man? Also, what is your favorite game musical composition?

Questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46272263)

Sorry, I didn't notice it said "One Question Per Post". Shows me right for not reading to the end. Well anyway, What is the origin of the nickname "The Fat Man"?

Another Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#46272323)

Out of all of the games you composed for, which one was your favorite?

Avoiding accidental infringement (1)

tepples (727027) | about a year ago | (#46272823)

When you write music for a video game, how do you make sure that you don't end up accidentally copying too much of someone else's melody into your own work and thereby infringing copyright?

Scored soundtracks vs licensed tunes (1)

epyT-R (613989) | about a year ago | (#46273009)

Over the past 15 years or so, a lot of publishers have been licensing pop40 tunes instead of writing custom scores. As someone who likes music that fits the game and reacts with events and player performance, how can the publishers be motivated to do this more often?

titles with adaptive music that come to mind:

The early Need for Speeds (2,3,4).
Mortal Kombat series
Earlier Street Fighter titles (before 4).
Descent Freespace series

Here are some games with great (imo) though mostly non adaptive soundtracks in no particular order:
Actraiser (SNES)
Contra (3, esp) (SNES)
Super R-Type (SNES)
Starfox (SNES)
Early castlevania.
Terminal Velocity (DOS)
Doom (DOS etc)
Descent (1,2,3) (DOS etc)
Wipout/XL/2097/3 series (playstation)
Unreal/Unreal Tournament
The crysis 3/blood dragon campaign.

Obviously, there are plenty more examples, all subject to taste, but all of these titles had soundtracks that really fit the gameplay and/or story very well. I'd like to see more of this. I am getting tired of hearing generic hiphop or whiny 'alternative' college rock tracks in games, especially action titles.

Using music to tell your story. (1)

westlake (615356) | about a year ago | (#46273571)

The player can discover the temporal anomalies woven into Bioshock Infinite through the music which plays in the background.
Which games do you think make the most creative use of music?

Ripper of SPCs form SNESmusic.org here (1)

nensondubois (3158339) | about a year ago | (#46282061)

Hello, as an avid videogame romhacker who digs your tunes considerably, I have a question; well, two actually. The Faceball 2000 Theme has a reference to the Seaseme Street melody that you also composed for the NES, was that an intentional reference to the former? Did you find working with the SPC700 challenging?

Integrating Game Voice/Sound into Music (1)

Jonah Hex (651948) | about a year ago | (#46282427)

I, like so many, was blown away by the soundtrack for 7th Guest and a big part of that was the voice clips integrated directly into the music. Question: What do you think about integrating a games voice acting clips and/or sound effects directly into the music tracks?

Favourite piece? (1)

JigJag (2046772) | about a year ago | (#46285359)

Hello George,

I love game soundtracks so much, that I have a folder dedicated to it on my drive, and it's one of my go-to when I do my work. I have played a number of games for which you composed the music, including Loom, Wing Commander II, Might & Magic III: Isles of Terra, Ultima Underworld, etc. and I love them all.

Which one of your work do you look back on with the most feelings? Which is your favourite piece?

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