Q&A: Dan the Automator on tuning NBA 2K7

The producer of Gorillaz, Deltron, and Handsome Boy Modeling School talks about bringing beats to the virtual basketball blacktop.



Gaming's love affair with movies has been going full steam ahead as the two industries attempt to blur the line between passive and interactive media. But it's not just those on the big and small screens getting into the act. In recent years, publishers have been signing on musicians to score, contribute tracks, and produce entire game soundtracks.

2K Sports has taken an interesting step with the soundtracks of its latest crop of sports titles. Instead of relying on big-name hits and artists, the publisher has gone indie, enlisting the help of smaller labels Matador Records and Sub Pop for its MLB 2K6 and NHL 2K7 games, respectively. For NBA 2K7, which is being released next month, 2K is going underground once again, with the help of Dan "The Automator" Nakamura.

Most of Nakamura's notoriety comes from his work as producer for the cartoon supergroup Gorillaz, the zany, futuristic sounds of Deltron 3030, and the Chris Elliot-obsessed Handsome Boy Modeling School.

The Automator sat down with GameSpot to chat about what the difference is between making a mix tape and making a game soundtrack, the need to represent all of the US and multiple hip-hop styles, and why making records is easier than playing today's games. The full interview is available over at sister site MP3.com.

GameSpot: So let's just start off talking about the soundtrack. How did this gig come about?

Dan the Automator: Well 2K had got in touch with me through a third person. They were like, "Would you be interested in doing this video soundtrack for this game?" And they told me about the limitations as far as time and this and that and asked if I was still interested and I said, "Yeah, I'll give it a shot."

GS: OK. And what drew you to it? Was it something that you knew you wanted to do immediately?

DA: Well, I saw it as an opportunity to work with a lot of different people, and it's a lot easier to work with people in some respects when it's not for their own record because then they don't feel as constrained.

GS: When they came to you, was 2K6 something of a blueprint, or did they start it off in a different direction?

DA: The only thing that was in common was they wanted it to be a hip-hop thing, but they wanted to change it so that one person could shape it and produce it.

GS: Right. 2K6 was just compiled.

DA: Yeah, it was just a straight compilation.

GS: When you say you wanted to bring some different people into the mix, give me a sense of who that was and who stayed from the original list and that kind of thing.

DA: Well, the original idea was a little bit more underground. I wanted to bring in, regionally speaking, people from the Midwest, people from the South, people from New York. All over. And then I wanted to bring in rappers that would appeal to the underground, certain rappers that would appeal to mainstream, some that are a little more hardcore, some that are backpack. I just wanted to get a cross-section of everybody.

GS: And what's the difference between doing a mix tape or a normal kind of compilation and doing a video game soundtrack like this?

DA: Well, in this case I think the soundtrack element really is only about two things, which is basketball, obviously, and then also the idea of keeping it upbeat. I don't think you want to have really depressing songs for a video game. That's not too much of a restriction though.

GS: What about games? Do you play a lot of games?

DA: You know, I experiment with games a lot. I sit in front of computers a lot, and I'm in studios a lot where there are games around, so when I have free time I have a couple of choices, you have the pool table, the TV, or the games. So I don’t really ever try to do too much of one thing because I don't want to focus too hard while I'm trying to not focus. But I do really enjoy, like, the racing games and like the manhunt kind of games. And I play the sport ones a little bit. But with the sport ones, people who are really good, they tend to take it very seriously. And I can't quite hang on that level.

GS: All right, so last one. If we were to get Gorillaz--you, Del, Damon [Albarn], and [Kid Koala]--on the basketball court, who reigns supreme?

DA: Well Damon is English, so he doesn't really play basketball. I know this for a fact. Koala's Canadian, so I don't know what that means. He's little, and you know he's got fast hands. Del probably wouldn't be that interested. But if it was the video game version, I'm going for Del. Any video game, for that matter, and I'm going for Del. I'm taller than Eric, but Eric is faster than me. I'm going to say, with him being Canadian, I'll give him the edge because of this [Canadian NBA MVP Steve] Nash thing. After that, I'm not really sure.

GS: Well, that's it. Thanks very much, Dan. We really appreciate it.

DA: No problem. Thank you.

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