Fall 1995, my new best friend suggested I come over and try a new video game on his brand new, top of the line gateway computer. Being a military history geek at the snot nose age of 11, my buddy knew this cutting edge Real Time Strategy game would be my new obsession.
He was right.
As much fun as I had, planning attacks, outflanking unsuspecting enemies and wreaking general havoc, it wasn’t merely the game that enthralled me. It was Command & Conquer‘s Unbelievable soundtrack. Until that point I, and most video game geeks at the time for that matter, had never heard a video game soundtrack that, for lack of a better word, completed the game.
In a time of Super Mario world, F-Zero, and Donkey Kong Country. A time were the music was merely jingles, pretty much elevator music for the mundane button pushing. This soundtrack was not only daring but was groundbreaking in the world of game music.
As the C&C franchise grew, so did our love of the music, for us it became the soundtrack to our close knit group of socially awkward history nerds, music we could rally behind.
For how much we loved and grew with it though, we had no idea how Serious it was about to get.
August 27, 1999
Steve Brown and I raced to the local video game store to grab the latest and, in my opinion the greatest, installment of the series. Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun. I remember opening the box, seeing the video game…and then a most peculiar site. The game came with a separate CD just for the soundtrack of the game. Now, I can’t say for certain that this was the first time this was ever done for a game, but it was the first time I had ever seen it. Taking it as a sign, I geeked out to this unbelievably rich musical piece until I fell asleep.
Don’t let my nerd tirade fool you. To call this pioneer heavyweight of the game music industry just that would be a disservice. With credits that not only include Star Wars: Empire at War and Universe At War: Earth Assault, but Ultimate Fighting Championship, Americas Got Talent, Top Gear and commercials for MTV and Spike TV to name a few.
The hardest working man in electronic composing doesn’t stop there, he squeezes in time for side projects such as his latest solo album “Viratia” and his musical power trio “The Bitters”.
Continuing our nerd indulgent Influential People in Sci-Fi series, I had the absolute honor and screaming fan pleasure to chat with the much revered Frank Klepacki.
You have a decent amount of Sci-Fi in your credits. What if anything, makes you gravitate toward the genre?
Frank: Well I have always loved sci-fi. First thing that meant anything to me as a kid was Star Wars. I have been a life long fan since, and its one of the things I’ve never outgrown. I’ve seen them all countless times, been to some of the conventions, and of course lived the dream of officially contributing to their games Empire At War and Forces of Corruption. That being said, I’ve enjoyed several other sci-fi films through my whole life such as Dune and Blade Runner, on up through Firefly / Serenity, Transformers and Tron Legacy. The first time I saw Dune as a kid I didn’t appreciate it as much as when I watched it again before working on the games. Then I really appreciated the other-worldy atmosphere more and David Lynch’s take on it – the cinematography was pretty cool for it’s time. Blade Runner has always been great to me, the ironic thing about that film to me was the fact that the whole point was to want to be human and have more life. And that when you think about it, we do indeed often equate everything to metaphor. And the all synth soundtrack. You see the soundtracks are so unique and memorable in all these examples of movies I like and it enhances the films as a result. You walk away with a sense of really having been lost in the experience instead of it being just another movie. I’ve never been a Star Trek fan, but I can still appreciate how it was unique and memorable to people as well. Ironically, I did enjoy the recent movie reboot of it.
What does Sci-Fi mean to you?
Frank: I love the idea of these fantastic imaginative gadgets, weapons, creatures, being in space, alien races, all of it. The thought of existing in a world like that is surreal and the more imaginative the story is the more I lose myself in it. For me Star Wars had it all. Characters you could connect with, awe inspiring things like lightsabers, lightspeed, cool looking ships, creatures, robots, a tough princess, and one of the best memorable soundtracks of all time of course. 2nd to that, Transformers, the 1986 animated movie was a huge impact on me as well. It dared to take chances like kill off characters, use a touch of profanity, and really felt larger than life and uniquely visual for its time. Again, it had the next soundtrack to really resonate with me. You could say the same about many other films too, but those started it all off for me and developed my appreciation of the whole genre. I even became inspired on my last cd I released, Viratia, to make my own sci-fi comic that draws from many of the elements that I love about sci-fi. Obviously though, there has a to be a compelling story behind it all otherwise there is no reason for all the fancy tech stuff to exist.
How do you feel about the current state and credibility of video game music?
Frank: Video game music is no different than any other form of music in quality and execution now, and in the last decade for that matter. It should be more recognized, awarded, and televised. So now I feel that composers should be allowed more by their clients to be more creative. We’re in an age now where the quality is on par with any other type of soundtrack so lets allow the creators of it to thrive and add personality that is unique to it instead of asking them to copy the sound of other works again and again. Rather than use temp score that will lead to you getting used to it and asking for the same sound, involve composers early, and give them a blank slate. The credibility is there, the quality and skill set is there, lets take it to more unique places.
What has been your favorite work to date?
Frank: The Star Wars games of course, for the reasons I mentioned. Aside of that, I’m proud of the Command & Conquer work I’ve done, Red Alert’s soundtrack has resonated with so many people that it really means a lot to me, and I never tire of listening to or performing Hell March. It’s always been a bad-ass song in my eyes whether it would have been a hit or not. Dune 2000 was always special to me too, it had a lot of my own personality in that soundtrack. Yuri’s Revenge was a lot of fun to me as well, because I got to take my style and add this sci-fi ‘B-Movie’ component to it to give it some charm, mixing a dated feel with a modern feel. To me the whole thing with Yuri and his mind control schemes screamed for that.
Anything in the works we should spread the word about?
Frank: Talking about sci-fi, I’d like to mention that my last cd I put out, Viratia, was in fact my own sci-fi based concept album that plays as what I thought would be a soundtrack to my own sci-fi story. I had a comic I wrote and produced which tells part of this story I wrote. I think it has potential to be expanded on into further episodes and or perhaps a graphic novel, since I had to limit the pages in the insert to 18. We’ll see. I’d like to invite sci-fi fans to check it out. You get the comic either physically as the cd insert, or digitally if you purchase from my web store.
I’m currently working on a new solo album I hope to release late in the year that will cover styles I’ve written in over the years from my humble beginnings til now, featuring all new material. More details will follow. On the game front, I’m currently working hard on the game End Of Nations, which I believe will be some of my absolute best work to date, which we plan to utilize a live symphony atop my signature rocktronic approach to composing, it will be very militant, atmospheric and also very in your face. Also working on a MOBA style game called Rise Of Immortals which will be more loose and fun, blending fantasy with contemporary stylings. Both of course being developed by Petroglyph.”
Now That You’ve Been Fully Educated, Check out his work!
I recently had a chance to sit down and check out Viratia and wow. First things first, if you are like me and obsess over the Tiberian Sun soundtrack, this is absolutely the music you’ve been waiting for. Expect a full review in the near future.
In a time of transition, not only for Video Game but for all technology, Klepacki was exactly what the internet generation needed. He’s someone who could connect to the stories and struggles being conveyed in a particular game and illuminate a musical score that would speak to all of it’s emotional levels. In a world where a video game music concert travels from city to city playing the classics. It’s no secret why this pioneer in truly an
Influential Person In Science Fiction
- Brandon M. Brevard