John Robert Matz Interview
Composer for Fossil Echo Soundtrack
I hear that you have recently won a GANG award for your work on Fossil Echo. Congratulations!
Thank you! It was an incredible honor to be nominated, and an entirely unexpected win. 2016 was an amazing year for video game music, and we were nominated alongside so many of my favorite games, scored by truly outstanding composers. I'm still a bit in awe that we won.
Could you tell us a little bit about what it was like working on this particular indie project?
Certainly. Fossil Echo was very much a labor of love, for all of us. When I joined the project it was just our artist and designer, Philippe Crifo, and our programmer, Thierry Boura, working on it. I joined the team very early on, when large sections of the game were still incomplete, and the mechanics were still in a state of development and flux. That gave me some unique opportunities to influence the game's development in some interesting ways. I was able to bring in my good friend Gordon McGladdery and his team at A Shell in the Pit Audio to do our sound design, and there's an entire sequence in the game that was designed around a piece of music I wrote, rather than the music being written to accompany the sequence.
What was it like working with guest violin soloist Michaela Nachtigall?
Michaela is always incredible to work with. I've been fortunate enough to pull her into several projects, both directly game-related, and in the world of remixes, with her featuring on a number of tracks I arranged for the albums released by The Materia Collective. Michaela is wonderful, and plays not only sterling violin and viola, but also a mean Otamatone.
How did working on Fossil Echo compare to some of your other projects?
Fossil Echo required a rather unique approach, both to melodic/thematic writing and to orchestration. The world of the game is very much not our world, nor a traditional Western fantasy world. Rather, it sits in a strange universe half inspired by the culture of New Caledonia, the small Pacific island chain where the developers grew up, and half inspired by the continental French culture of their schooling. As such, I didn't want it to sound like generic epic fantasy, or traditional Western film music or, really, anything else out there. Instead, I strove to choose instruments and techniques that blended Western and Eastern sounds in a new and special way. In addition to that, Fossil Echo tells its story entirely through wordless cutscenes and environmental storytelling. The instruments had to become the voices for the characters, to communicate where words couldn't.
Could you tell us about one of your favorite moments from working on Fossil Echo?
Because of some of the eccentricities of our game engine, I didn't get to play most of the game until a few months before release. Everything I'd done up to that point had been in theory - writing the music, planning out points of interaction/reaction, watching gameplay capture, programming audio middleware, and directing implementation - all without seeing if any of my work actually functioned the way I intended it to. When I finally got to sit down and play the game proper, at the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing, I was blown away with how much of it worked exactly as intended.
What other recent projects have you been working on?
For the King is a turn-based roguelike boardgame-inspired PC title with JRPG combat, optional co-op play, and beautiful low-poly graphics, with a score inspired by Renaissance and Early Music. It's out on Early Access on Steam right now.
Dad by the Sword is a first-person swordfighting game with "highly realistic" 1:1 mouse-to-sword combat where you play as your own Dad, delving deep into the darkest dungeons in search of the Infinity Nut, the sacred nut from which all salted snacks spring.
The Rise of Mooncrest is an old-school turn-based strategy game developed by a Bioware alumnus, set in a classic fantasy world, with a score filled with pretty much every brass instrument I've got under my roof. It's currently up on Kickstarter!
Finally, I've been involved with The Materia Collective on several of their album projects, but this year I've teamed up with my good friend and fellow composer Jeff Swingle to craft an officially-licensed musical theatre/audio drama adaptation of the classic JRPG, Final Fantasy VI. It goes by the codename Project ESPER, and, while we're currently in pre-production, it's shaping up to be something to keep an eye out for!
When did you first start working specifically with video games?
My first video game score was for an interesting game that has achieved a sort of "cult classic" status, entitled Artemis: The Spaceship Bridge Simulator. It's a game that casts you and you and five of your friends as the bridge crew of a Star Trek-style starship, requiring five computers (or phones, or tablets) to serve as the various bridge stations. First-time players always result in hilarity and a ton of fun, but seasoned veterans who run a tight ship can achieve some truly remarkable feats of teamwork. As a Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar, and otherwise general sci-fi nerd, it was blast to get to craft its musical world.
What is your favorite video game soundtrack?
A nearly impossible question! However, I'll call out two scores that were particularly influential on a young me: TIE Fighter (Michael Land, Clint Bajakian, and Peter McConnell) for the extreme interactivity of Lucasarts' brilliant iMuse interactive music system, and Outcast (Lennie Moore) for being not only a stunning musical work, but also introducing me to the idea of a videogame score being fully realized by a live, world-class orchestra.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Recently I've been approached more and more by composers who are just starting out, just beginning to dip their toes into the world of composing for video games, and I'd like to share a quick word of encouragement. First: the game audio community is really and truly one of the best artistic communities in the world - supportive, helpful, and full of wonderful people. Second: there's never been a better time to get into writing music and creating audio for video games. Hundreds of new indie games are being developed every day, and all of them need amazing audio. Participate in game jams, make friends with developers and artists, and listen to as much music as you can, but remember that it's your voice that makes you unique.
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer our questions!
Thank you for having me; it's been a pleasure!
Official Website for John Robert Matz
The Rise of Mooncrest Kickstarter