Rob King has been doing sound work in the video gaming industry since the early ’90s. While he’s probably best known for his work on the Might & Magic and EverQuest series, he’s also done work on Prototype 2, Jade Empire, and the Fable series.
Rob’s work extends out from music composition to general sound production, having won the Grand-Prize for the 2004 Yamaha International Music Production Contest and winning of the 2004 Los Angeles Music Awards for “Best Engineer”. He has also worked various film and TV projects, including The Legend of Korra. Rob has also made music with various bands, winning “Modern Rock Album of the Year” for his work on the CD Addictions & Scars by his band Red Delicious.
Sound by an Order or Magnitude More Complex
Rob has loved video games from a young age, having played his Atari 2600 quite a bit back in the late ’70s and early ’80s. Rob has also loved music for roughly as long, though he never expected to have a career that would eventually incorporate both of these passions. Rob interviewed with New World Computing in late 1993 before joining on in early 1994, having mostly written pop/rock/alternative music and doing most of his sound design with samplers.
Having worked on sound since the early ’90s, which was the dawn of CD-quality audio in video games, Rob has a unique perspective on how audio has evolved in the medium. Without a doubt, he says that technology has helped sound design be both higher quality, quantity and complexity.
“Back in the early 90’s you would be lucky to have 2-5 sounds for a character animation,” said Rob. “Today you can work on one creature that has 50+ sounds attached to the animation. Also the quality of everything is better now. The playback medium, the consumer gear, the quality of recording and gear available to manipulate it. It is a much better time, without a doubt.”
Finding the Heart of Things
What really helped Rob make his name was working on the Might & Magic series in its various incarnations. Rob noted that he mostly just wrote “from the heart” and that the publisher only provided “loose direction”
“From the beginning of the series back in 1994 I have always had the luxury to do what I wanted to do,” said Rob. “At this point we can only hope the fans of the series keep enjoying what we have done. I think it is important to take risks with the music to keep it fresh. The HOMM (Heroes of Might & Magic) music has always been about beautiful melodies. We try to make a connection with the listener similar to writing pop music on quite a bit of the arrangements over the years.”
Similar to what his experiences were with Might & Magic, Rob thinks that game developers should give music composers some creative control in their work if they want the best out of them. “I think creative people need to express themselves the way they envision it as well. It can be surprisingly wonderful,” he explained. “If there is something very specific as far as a style, send them some music references or video clips with sound design. That gets everyone on the same page pretty quick. Also as developers/directors/producers, do not get attached to the temp music! You want it to be your own and something special and unique to your project.”
The Challenges of AAA Sound Design
Having done remixes, made pop music and worked in audio production, Rob’s expertise extends far beyond simply knowing how to compose music for games. He says that all this knowledge and experience has helped him in all facets of his career.
“I have literally split my duties pretty evenly over the past 22 years doing music, sound design and dialogue production for games, simultaneously writing pop/rock music, producing, engineering and mixing,” says Rob. “The last couple years have been a bit more on the dialogue side and I’d also like to do more mixing for other composers. The more you do and the more experience you gain, that just keeps you evolving till the end.”
With all that experience in non-interactive fields like film and TV has made them appreciate how much more challenging video game sound design/composing is harder and takes longer to produce. “Where as film and TV/video have a strict linear workflow you always have to think of multiple variables to whatever you are doing,” they detail. “With interactive music you have stems and layers playing and mixing on the fly, transitioning to other cues randomly based on events. You might have up to ten sound effects for the same thing just as random variables to make it feel more ‘realistic’ and less repetitive. Doing a AAA game is like making 3-7 movies at the same time.”
Having a background in recording and engineering has given Rob a natural progression into the field. He tested a lot of things out and was a bit stressed out in his first crunch time, though he has adjusted. Now, Rob has a system in place that involves working from a sound template and going from there.
“Today that template is about 400 tracks covering an entire orchestra and world sounds as well as an arsenal of percussion. Once that is complete we start writing. It always starts with a melody,” notes Rob. “As far as sound design goes it is similar. If you are working on something like a creature or spells I will build a ‘Sound Palette’ of selected material from a sound library and original recordings and start there with the design process. With dialogue it starts with a working script then we do auditions for the characters before choosing the right performer for the role.”
Inspiration can come from innumerable things, from a single image to the music of others. Rob works so that inspiration flows and creative blocks are rare. “When we sit down and write, it is usually always for a purpose or at least it feels that way,” details Rob. “If things tend to slow down on something we are working on, taking a day off from it always helps to refresh.”
Networking and Being Humble
Most of the work in making music is writing catchy melodies and well thought out arrangements, according to Rob. Making the music mesh with the visuals and not be repetitive over a long time is also key. As far as doing the job, Rob suggests talking to everyone you can and being humble.
“This field isn’t for a 9 to 5’er. You can work 14 hour days easy as I often still do juggling things,” Rob said. “It is a way bigger industry now then back in the day. Opportunity will come with persistence and knowledge of your craft. Get as much experience as you can. Also remember this, there will always be someone better than you, or someone that perceives another to be better than you. You just gotta do your thing and keep the quality up.”
Having kept up with networking, quite a few of the people Rob knows work in the same field. “A few of my friends are composers and they are doing really cool things like Steve Ouimette, Cris Velasco, Richard Jaques and Jack Wall,” he detailed. “Another guy I do not know personally but have always admired was Bill Brown. He has a great sense for melody.”
The Ultimate Compliment
Rob considers himself lucky for the career he has had and the special projects he has been able to work on. “The most rewarding is when you get fan mail that is inspiring,” he said. “When people genuinely love what you have done and it makes a special moment for them in their lives, that is a pretty powerful thing. When you go on YouTube and see people covering your songs in their own way with their talent, that always puts a smile on my face.”
Having had a long and rewarding career, Rob still has an eye towards the future. He notes that game audio tends to follow the general trends of games, and right now VR is expanding hugely. “I have been working with a good friend and college on a new VR Audio company,” Rob explained. “As oversaturated as the mobile market may seem, I think that has a huge future as well as technology grows and expands the technical abilities on delivering for that platform. The mobile business feels like the PC market in the early 2000’s and VR is about to explode in a huge consumer way over the next 2 years starting this Christmas.”
David Radd is a staff writer for GameSauce.biz. David loves playing video games about as much as he enjoys writing about them, martial arts and composing his own novels.