Michael Giacchino to score Call of Duty franchise

The Medal of Honor composer has signed on for Activision's upcoming PC and console games. Exclusive interview inside.

Publisher Activision has announced that it has signed on composer Michael Giacchino to compose the score for its upcoming action games in its new Call of Duty franchise. The composer will put together the score for Call of Duty for the PC, which is in development at Infinity Ward, and Call of Duty: Finest Hour for consoles, which is in development at Spark Unlimited. Giacchino had previously worked on the TV series Alias as well as on soundtracks for various games in EA's Medal of Honor series.

We recently had a chance to sit down and interview Giacchino about his present work on the new games as well as his previous work.

GameSpot: We know you've worked with some of the Infinity Ward team members on the Medal of Honor games, but could you give us some more information on your background and how it's helping you put together the score for the next Call of Duty games?

Michael Giacchino: I started my career as an assistant producer for Disney Interactive. This was about 1997. It was while working at DI that I began writing music for games. My first game was a title called Maui Mallard. Once DreamWorks was created I went to work for them first as a producer, and over time, I began writing more and more music for their interactive projects. My first big project was the PlayStation game The Lost World. That was my first chance with a live orchestra, and it was that title that really got me started. Shortly afterwards, we were planning orchestral scores for most of the titles at DWI. This, of course, led to me working on Medal of Honor, which led me (interesting enough) to working on Alias with series creator J.J. Abrams. The producers/writers of Alias were big MOH fans, and they contacted me out of the blue, based on my work for the games.

GS: What will be some of the major differences between Allied Assault's soundtrack and that of the Call of Duty games?

MG: I feel as though the scores for the MOH series were based more in the adventure realm than the reality realm. With the exception of a few cues, the MOH music always seemed to lack the ugliness of war in its more combat action moments. I really thought the Call of Duty score should be far more visceral and brutal. I want it to be more indicative of the chaos that surrounds you in times of combat and also of the millions of prayers that must have been said in the darkest of moments. In talking to people who have survived these experiences, the one thing that they all talk of in one way or another is the idea that in a war, you are in the eye of a chaotic storm, and you are struggling to control just one small piece of that chaos. It's about being uncomfortable, even when you have the upper hand. Heroics only play a part in the retelling of war stories. I want Call of Duty to be more about the actual experience of war.

GS: Could you also outline some of the differences between the score of Call of Duty for the PC and Finest Hour for the consoles? What kind of differences do you perceive between PC and console game fans, and how are those differences figuring into your compositions?

MG: I don't approach composing in that sense. For me it's always been about the story that is unfolding for the player. Platform is not so much an issue. However, what is at issue is the idea that I want the music to serve the subtext of the story, enabling the players, regardless of platform, to have a consistent tone and an emotional tour guide to lead them through the game.

GS: In your opinion, what are some of the most crucial musical and audio elements of helping bring a wartime story to life?

MG: Games are at a point where we don’t need to constantly beleaguer the player with nonstop music in order to fashion a mood. Audio design has advanced to the point where a great sound designer can produce a soundscape that works to create an emotional atmosphere not unlike that of major motion pictures. Instead of having a blanket approach to music and sound design, we are attempting to be more cinematic in our approach. A moment of action in gameplay doesn't always call for an action cue in the score. In fact, some action plays best unaccompanied by music and vice versa. It's about finding those moments and letting the story and gameplay do the rest.

GS: What are some of the challenges, technical and otherwise, that you've faced in composing music about war-related games?

MG: As for technical challenges, there really are no limits as to what can be done as far as comparing traditional scoring for film/TV and game scoring. The two mediums have really come together in a way where most of the technical issues that have long kept us in the shadow of the film music world have since been eliminated. We still have the issue of the type of gameplay we are scoring to. Some of it may be scripted, which allows me to approach it no differently than scoring an episode of Alias. Some of it may be a more random style of play, calling, perhaps, for a more loopable or endless feel to the music. In either case, we are at a point where we are really able to heighten moments of a game's story rather than just provide a vast landscape of notes that will hopefully not become annoying to the player after hearing it loop 50 times around.

Creative issues are something else. I constantly worry about my ability to find inspiration in a historical area that I have so heavily traveled. However, it never ceases to amaze just how deep the historical backdrop of WWII can run. With so much at stake for so many people at the time, I am repeatedly humbled and inspired to do right by those who participated in the event. That is something I try never to forget.

GS: Thanks very much for your time.

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