Posted on September 20, 2007,

Gaming Today Q&A: BioShock Composer Garry Schyman

Garry Schyman2K Boston’s BioShock has been receiving critical acclaim ever since it’s release almost a month ago. The terms “Game of the Year” and “Masterpiece” are being thrown around more than a Frisbee during a dog show’s “Best Tricks” competition. Although it’s true the storyline and the enemy AI engross the player to believe they really are in an underwater utopia that’s been torn to shreds, gamers need to realize that the soundtrack has also been fueling the flames of insanity that’s prevalent in the city of Rapture.

Gaming Today had the opportunity to conduct an interview with the man behind the soundtrack, Garry Schyman. In the interview, you’ll learn Garry’s influences on creating the soundtrack, his thoughts on the media’s take on “The Little Sister”, and future projects (BioShock 2 maybe?)

GT: Now that the game has finally been released to critical acclaim, what are your thoughts on the public’s response to BioShock?

Garry Schyman: It is very gratifying to see this game not only getting the critical acclaim it has received but also appealing to the public/gamers. Of course it is always great to be associated with a successful project but it is particularly cool when a game like this, which took so many risks creatively, is embraced. It easily could have been a quirky niche game but instead seems to be slated to become an important milestone in the industry. My fondest hope is that it encourages game companies to take more risks and make really interesting games.

GT: Are there any tracks you composed that still gives you goosebumps by how well it came together?

Garry Schyman: I have received many emails from people who love “Cohen’s Masterpiece” a piano solo that I wrote in the style of the late romantic composers with a touch of modernism from the early 20th century. Many pianists have asked me for the score so they could learn it. That has been very satisfying and frankly unexpected. It was a lot of work to compose and it’s just so gratifying to have people respond so positively to what is essentially a classical piano solo.

GT: 2K Boston recently made your work available as a free download so those who played BioShock can truly get a sense of how epic your work was on the game. Have you been getting more attention since the release of the soundtrack?

Garry Schyman: I have received many very kind calls and emails of appreciation for my score and that has been wonderful. So yes I have been getting a lot of very nice attention for my work on the game. Lots of good things have been flowing from my work on BioShock and I consider myself lucky to have been hired for the project. It was just such an amazing palette for a composer.

GT: What were some of the challenges in creating an original score for BioShock? Were there any tracks in particular you had difficulty in putting together?

Garry Schyman: The greatest challenge was figuring out how to approach the score in general. They wanted something very different and original and it took a while to find it. I had three or four different themes/approaches politely rejected. But once I found the approach I ended up taking it was fairly straightforward to compose the score. It may seem like a cliché but I really had an epiphany one day while working to find the right approache and I said to myself ‘Yes that’s it!’. When I played it for the audio director she said the same thing. It was a very satisfying moment because I knew the score would be very unique and would really work well with the game.

GT: You previously worked on the soundtrack to both Destroy All Humans games as well as Full Spectrum Warrior: Ten Hammers. Was it difficult to transition from writing soundtracks for those games to BioShock’s?

Garry Schyman: No not really, I love taking on different challenges and writing in different styles of music. Frankly I am experiencing the ideal situation in my career right now, each project has been quite different and that makes my work so much more interesting. I am a lucky composer indeed.

GT: What were some of your influences during the creation process for BioShock’s soundtrack?

Garry Schyman: Alban Berg’s violin concerto is one. I have always loved that piece and I listened to it a lot when I was coming up with ideas for the score. I ended up having a solo violin being central to the score. Additionally I used 12-tone rows (Berg was a serial composer) for some of the melodic material that the violin plays. Additionally, the music of Witold Lutoslawski was influential. He is one of my favorite 20th century composers and he did it all from traditional tonal writing to aleatoric and avant-garde. He was awesome and I particularly love his Concerto For Orchestra. But I really used nearly everything I had learned about classical music in this game, which was amazing.

GT: The mainstream media recently has been negatively reporting on the characters known as the “Little Sisters” in the game and how the player interacts with them. What are your thoughts on BioShock’s testing of the player’s ethics when it comes to interacting with the Little Sister character and do you believe the media is blowing the interaction out of proportion?

Garry Schyman: I think that is one of the most interesting aspects of the game. Those in the media who are critical don’t really get it in my opinion, or more likely haven’t taken the time to play the game and really understand what this is about. It is actually challenging the player to be moral and make a positive moral choice. In so doing you have to delay gratification but in doing so there is a big reward in the end. That’s the whole point to moral choices they are not usually expedient in the moment to make. So if anything there may be a benefit to playing the game if it inculcates a sense that moral choice can have profound outcomes for good or bad.

GT: The City of Rapture really seemed like it was the place to be before all hell broke loose. Would you have wanted to visit Rapture during its hay day?

Garry Schyman: Absolutely! It was an artist’s paradise. It’s a gorgeous place that is endlessly fascinating and yet like all utopian dreams it crashes and burns. So if I really think about it perhaps a short visit when it was first built! Haha.

GT: Do you have any projects coming up? Maybe a sequel to BioShock?

Garry Schyman: I am just finishing Destroy All Humans 3 which is set in the 1970’s. It was a blast writing in the style of film composers of that period. I recorded the orchestra earlier this week and I had absolutely brilliant players.

No word yet on sequels to BioShock. If they do make a sequel and if it is anywhere near as amazing as this game is I would be honored to work on it.

Gaming Today would like to thank Garry Schyman for taking time out to answer our questions. We wish him the best in all of his future endeavors…especially if it’s BioShock 2. If you would like to listen to the BioShock soundtrack for free, make sure to check it out here!

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