Kevin Riepl began his music career at the age of six when his uncle taught him to play Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Today Kevin is living the geek dream, composing music for such video games as “City of Villains” and “Unreal Tournament.” He’s currently working on music for “Gears of War” and “Unreal Tournament 2007.”
Kevin recently subjected himself to the Geek of Doom interrogation…
Geeks of Doom: Tell us about your musical background.
Kevin Riepl: My interest in music started when I was young. I started out on trumpet at age seven or eight, along with that came the piano, then the guitar. After high school, I studied performance and composition under a private instructor. Following the private instruction, I went for further compositional and orchestrating studies at Mannes College of Music in Manhattan.
GoD: How did you get your start scoring video games? What was the first video game you worked on?
KR: It was actually a combination of two things. Soon after meeting a great artist, Steve Garofalo, he was brought on by Epic Games to work on their “Unreal” titles. I was always sending Steve all my latest demo work and at one point he threw my CD to the lead designer for “Unreal Tournament 2003″ right at the time they were looking to go in a new musical direction for their game. That was what started the long working relationship I have had with Epic Games to this day. The other way of me getting experience in the video game music field was through another composer who was established already doing games. It was a matter of timing. At the time, I sent him my demo he was actually looking to bring on another composer for his company. Working with him, I was able to write music for a lot of games helping out his company and building a nice resume for myself.
GoD: Can you tell us a bit about what it’s like working on extremely popular projects like “Gears of War” and “City of Villains”?
KR: It is really great that these games are popular and I do love being a part of such quality work. However, how I approach the music and creative relationship of each game does not change from project to project. It is great and extremely rewarding to be working in this business, and I am honored when any client comes to me with their music needs.
GoD: You also do work for TV. Tell us a little about working on the Disney Channel show “Brandy & Mr. Whiskers.”
KR: This is a project that I worked on (second season just finished up) through long-time collaborator Kevin Manthei. He secured the gig through his business KMM Productions, and then asked me to write for the show. It has been a lot of fun working with Kevin and Disney on the show. I love the weekly deadlines and the steady stream of writing that is needed for creating the music for a TV show. The music has been a mixture of wall-to-wall, fun, silly cartoon music, over-the-top serious orchestral and a lot of Latin-influenced pieces. It was great.
GoD: What were your favorite games as a kid? What are your faves now?
KR: Hmmm, my favorite games as a kid… well I loved “E.T.” on Atari 2600…just kidding. As a kid I was addicted to “Yars Revenge” and “Pitfall” on the 2600, then “Lode Runner” on Commodore 64. Honestly after the Commodore 64, there was an absence of video games in my life. I did not get back into it until I got my first PC (a Packard Bell 100MHz w/ a 1G hard drive) and played “The Journey Man Project.” As for my favorite games now, I have really enjoyed playing “LOTR: Battle for Middle Earth,” and any good RTS. I am also a fan of any good FPS with a good story, a la “Far Cry,” “Beyond Good and Evil,” “Half Life,” “Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter,” etc.
GoD: How does the writing process differ when scoring a video game vs. a traditional composition?
KR: Well, first, the big difference from my experience is deadlines. Whenever I have done traditional composition, it has always been for myself and not for a client. So I was always able to take my time creating any piece of music. Other than that, there are creative guidelines you have to stay within when creating music for a game. A composer does have a lot of freedom most of the time on video games, but there are obvious requirements, that the music fits the feel and look of the content.
GoD: What’s your favorite type of game genre or scenario to score?
KR: I like scoring any game that has potential for a good story. I started doing music because I loved how I was able to create or evoke feelings through the music I wrote. That doesn’t come in handier than when you are supporting a good story-line in a game.
GoD: Do you have to play a video game before writing any music, or do you find you can write based on the game’s concept?
KR: Most, if not all of the time, the composer is brought on to the project before the development is completed. So, for the most part, all I have to go off of is concept art, screenshots or sometimes if I’m lucky I get video footage of game play from the developers, or if I’m even luckier, I am given a build of the game so I can try it out and get a feel for the movement and game play.
GoD: Do you prefer to collaborate when scoring a video game, or work solo?
KR: I love working solo, but I also think there is a benefit working and collaborating with other creative people because a lot of the times ideas are introduced as a result of creativity bouncing off one another that might have not surfaced otherwise.
GoD: What kinds of budgetary constraints are there when planning a project? For instance, can you contract orchestral arrangements with live musicians?
KR: Well, the budget constraints are basically at the mercy of the developer or publisher. If the budget is there for live musicians, then I will definitely utilize that. Up until Epic Games’ “Gears of War,” I have not been fortunate enough to work on a game that has had the budget for live musicians. From here on out, it is definitely something I plan on pushing for on each project I work on.
GoD: How have technological advances affected your creative process?
KR: Now with everything computer based and digital, it is A LOT quicker to get ideas down. It doesn’t affect the creative process per say, it basically enhances and just speeds it up.
GoD: Are there any upcoming video game projects that you’d be able to discuss with us (or at least hint at)?
KR: Other than working on Gears of War now and being a part of the upcoming Unreal Tournament 2007, unfortunately there is nothing I can say now, but if you hit my site in a few days, there might be news of a new big game project I am creating the score for :o).
GoD: Do you have any plans to do scoring for movies or projects outside of video games?
KR: I sure do! As awesome as creating music for games is, I really would also like to write for a live-action television show and films. The independent films I have worked on have been a lot of fun and creatively inspiring. I want more of it. As I said earlier, creating music to support a good story, to me, is extremely rewarding.
And now, 5 Random Geek Qs:
- GoD: Capt. Kirk or Capt. Picard?
KR: Darth Vader.
- GoD: Who would you rather see impaled by the Highlander’s blade: Jar Jar Binks or that annoying robot girl Vicky from “A Small Wonder”?
KR: Jar Jar, definitely Jar Jar. As annoying as Vicky was, I never really watched the show or for that matter had any emotional investment in it. Having Jar Jar be part of the universe I adored as a kid and still do hurt extremely too much. When first seeing him on screen, it’s like, “What, huh? Wuh? Are you kidding me?!?!!? Who did this? IS THIS STAR WARS??????
- GoD: Comic Books or Graphic Novels?
- GoD: Original or Director’s Cut?
KR: Well, I always pick up the director’s cut, thinking that it is actually what the director wanted the audience to experience. I am still uncertain if that is the case with the “director’s cuts” or is it just another marketing ploy.
- GoD: Carrie Fisher or Natalie Portman?
KR: Definitely Carrie Fisher. I don’t remember seeing Natalie’s breasts so elegantly caressed by a wet, white dress or being seen in a skimpy revealing slave outfit, in any of the three movies she was a part of. I also do recall as a young boy seeing Carrie Fisher in the movie “Under the Rainbow” appearing in her undies, inside a meat locker. So, yes, the young boy in me says definitely Carrie Fisher.
Check out Kevin Riepl’s music at KevinRieplMusic.com.