As mentioned in my previous article on MIGS, the gaming summit is as much about learning and connecting with industry professionals as it is about the games on display. I had the extreme pleasure to sit down with legendary composer Inon Zur at MIGS 2017 and discuss his work and process. Zur has been making music his entire career and composing for games for the last 20 years. His career is as diverse as it is prolific with huge successes in major franchises like the Dragon Age and Fallout series.
In speaking to Zur I was struck by how passionate he was about his career and the music he has created across his entire portfolio. He was not always a professional composer. Having grown up in Israel, he was in the military for four years and had a role as tank commander. After his military service he decided to return to his earlier musical passions and headed to the United States to study music and enter the industry.
He landed a role at the FOX Family channel as a staff composer and worked on hundreds of episodes for television series such as Power Rangers, Beetleborgs and Escaflowne. After working in television for years he eventually got an opportunity to be the composer for an Interplay game, Star Trek Klingon Academy. He told me that as he began his career making music for video games with that project, he was given the creative freedom to explore his vision for the score. One of the key pieces even had a full choir singing in authentic Klingon.
After that successful start Zur created music for many Interplay games such as Fallout Tactics, Icewind Dale II and Run Like Hell. His music was incredibly well received and within the developer community he gained a reputation as a talented composer who can add nuance and atmosphere to a game with his music.
In recent years he has worked very closely with Bethesda and BioWare on a number of their titles, most notably the Fallout series, Dragon’s Age: Origins and Dragon’s Age 2. These collaborations have brought his music to the forefront of the industry, leading to physical releases of his soundtracks, the most recent being Fallout 4: Music From Far Harbor & Nuka World.
Inon Zur has now been making music for games for over 20 years. He talked about how the evolution of technology has greatly helped him to create more immersive experiences. In the early days he was able to make only one track, and the only option was to loop it or chop and cycle through sections. Now he is able to layer multiple tracks and take advantage of much deeper levels of sound, giving him options that were just not possible when he started. One of his recent projects is a mobile game from Nexxon called Durango. He is thrilled with the music he is developing for this sandbox dinosaur game and has conducted several orchestral sessions for it already.
He said he works very closely with a game’s directors and artists to understand the look and feel. Having gotten a good feeling for the game, its world and motivations, he begins to compose. He collaborates closely with the studio and works over the duration of the production, on and off over the entire cycle, and develops a true vision for the project. As you see the images on the screen he really wants you to fall deeper into the world and emotions being conveyed through hearing the music. For Eagle Flight he worked closely with the audio directors to create a score they could use to make the game as atmospheric and dynamic as possible.
As the interview came to a close I asked what he likes to listen to in order to relax and unwind. Classical music from the masters was on the list, as was anything from John Williams, and jazz is another passion. In fact jazz is so close to his heart that when asked what would be a passion project for him, he suggested a game about or centered on jazz music would be ideal. So if any developers out there have a jazz-based gaming project, reach out to Inon Zur, he may just be interested!
It was a true pleasure to spend time with Inon Zur learning about his history, projects and recording process. What I truly enjoyed was the passion he expresses in body and spirit about the music he creates and the gaming industry as a whole. He is thrilled to be making music. In fact he commented that his real satisfaction is getting feedback that the music worked and had a personal effect on someone.
Please listen to and enjoy the entire interview with Inon Zur as he talks about his history, what he is working on right now and what it is like to record in the famous Abbey Road Studios.