Renaissance Man

Fable is every gamer's fantasy come true: a role-playing experience where actions have lasting consequences. Danny Elfman is every movie-soundtrack lover's hero: a composer who, having fronted '80s rockers Oingo Boingo, went on to write scores for Tim Burton hits like Beetlejuice and Batman and for other films like Spider-Man 2 and Chicago. What happened when he teamed with Microsoft to create the theme song for its newest chart-topper? "I just pretended that the game was a movie," he said. "This was like writing the theme for a film I wasn't going to score."

Why did you decide to work on a videogame? It's a natural progression. Along with movies, I've done TV commercials and shows like The Simpsons. It wasn't an unusual fit.

Scoring movies, playing games . . . tough gig you've got there. You kidding? Fable was actually a relief to work on. Doing film scores kills me. They take three months at a time. I come out so thrashed afterwards that a job lasting only a week seems pleasurable by comparison.

But why Fable? It looked cool. Plus they had the budget for a real orchestra. And I got the feeling the guys [who developed the game] were fans.

Where'd you get the inspiration for the track you put together? A long line of movie scores, going back to Bernard Hermann - especially his collaborations with [visual-effects pioneer] Ray Harryhausen [Jason and the Argonauts]. I grew up on that stuff.

Who has it easier: you or your gaming counterparts? Game composers have to use sound loops and take into account that users will be doing the same things over and over. It's much more difficult. What I do in movies has a distinct beginning, middle, and end.

Surround sound has become vital to gaming. Did you take that into consideration when composing the Fable theme?No. To me, a good piece of music can work in mono. It's the effects people who go ape-shit with surround sound, not the orchestral composer. You don't need to hear clarinets zooming from the left to the right.

Then to what extent were you involved in mixing the music in 5.1 channels?As a composer, I'm an oddity. My hands are on the faders all the time. I do my own mixing. I can't trust anybody else to hear the specific noises in my head.

Did you use any special tricks to enhance the sound quality? I used synthesizers to beef up the sound. The only trick was trying to make it seem as if we used a 90-piece orchestra, not a 55-piece.

Do you think we'll see more composers getting in on gaming? Of course. The only things keeping them back are the small budgets of most games and all the synthesizer scores.

If Oingo Boingo were to do a song about videogames, what would it be called? "Arcade Addiction." It's so easy to get sucked into them. Then again, I'm a guy who finds Photoshop dangerous. I'll mean to sit down with the software for five minutes, then wind up spending four hours in front of the computer. All these things are time gobblers. I have to be careful around them. fable < < Back to Games Reviews for July/August 2004