When people meet me in the flesh for the first time one of the things they tend to notice is that I am a pretty passionate fellow. Lots of cussing, flying spittle, schoolgirl-like giggles and intense stares permeate most discussions.
I find that for me, the greatest wellspring of this passion and inspiration is from being around other individuals who also have a genuine passion for what they do.
From all walks of life, hobbies, vocations, whatever, the single underlying string that laces them all together is their unstoppable torrent of zeal for whatever it is that they do.
Without a doubt, one of the finest examples of uncorked enthusiasm (and unbelievable humility) is my audiophile hombre Mick Gordon who I met and worked with earlier this year on a cool game project.
He has been an audio director in the games industry for over half a decade and successfully runs his own award winning studio, Game Audio Australia, servicing most of the big boys, from EA, Sony Entertainment, THQ, Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, Marvel, Ubisoft and continues to work at a fervent pace to add to this already impressive client list.
His resume reads like a treasure trove of delights, he sports a luscious mane of hair along with ass kicking tattoos and is regularly invited to speak at large game conferences such as the GDC in San Francisco earlier this year because of his unique combination of accomplishments and electric personality.
Recent commercial work on Need For Speed: Shift and the historical museum exhibition A Day in Pompeii have netted him a slew of nominations and awards. Rather deservingly I might add!
Mick's continued enthusiasm for what he does so well, his positive demeanor, genuine character, his business sense and work horse ethic all continue to inspire me.
So how have you been mate? How is life and humidity over in Brissy treating you?
Mick Gordon: Argh! Life's been a complete whirlwind of sound, deadlines, ones & zeros, fast cars, superheroes, demons, elemental powers, monsters and machine guns!
Sounds like you have been busy as heck since we last caught up.
MG: It has been crazy busy man, but incredibly fun nonetheless!
You know what it's like -- we tend to lock ourselves in our studios for days on end without sunlight or human contact and we start to go a little crazy!
So whenever I get the chance, I try to get out and get involved with any events that my schedule permits.
I was recently on a design portfolio panel at QUT where members of the audience showcased their game design ideas and we got to see some incredibly creative bright sparks that are going to do wonders for the future of the game industry!
Hey, that sounds really cool! I've never been to one of them myself, but I'd imagine it would be inspiring to meet all these developer cats throwing new ideas into the mix.
MG: Yeah definitely! My quest in life is really to surround myself with creative people who fight tooth and nail to bring their ideas to fruition and getting out to these events is an amazing way to find and be around these people!
Amen brother! So, for those of us who don't know, what exactly do you do in your job, Mick?
MG: I pretty much get to be a kid all day!
I have the awesome gig of being able to make music and sounds for the wonderful world of video games!
This basically comes down to a game development company dropping me an email that says something like "Hey Mick, can you make us some cool music for this game with fast cars" and I'm like "HELLS YEAH!"
Or "Hey Mick, can you make us some cool monster sounds for a creature that looks like an extra out of a Saw film" and I'm like "HOLY CRAP COOL YES!"
It is a completely dynamic job and I'm always doing something different -- recording a different sound, trying to find a different melody, meeting different people, travelling to different parts of the world or having a chat with the awesome Daz from Stylus Monkey!
Haha, too kind mate. What does the average work day for you look like?
MG: Well, to give you an idea of what I might get up to in a day, I logged what I did every 30 minutes on a Tuesday...
2:00am - The terrible sounding rooster alarm on my phone goes off and I pry myself from bed and splash some water on my face. I've got a tele-conference with one of THQ's US studios in 30 minutes time.
2:30am - After going over notes and points for the meeting I start dialling the long line of numbers into the phone to start our teleconference.
3:30am - Still on the phone...discussing a bunch of points to do with a new Marvel game that they're developing.
4:00am - Finished the teleconference.
The developers have a new level for this game that is ready for me to start scoring and they're going to send me a video of one of them playing through the level for me to write music to. Back to bed.
6:00am - Alarm goes off and I pry myself from bed for the second time today.
I fill up my big water-bottle that I take everywhere with me (I don't drink coffee...or anything else besides water really) and begin reading the news.
6:30am - I spend an hour each morning reading game industry news.
I don't concern myself with world news or "regular" news 'cause I find a lot of it depressing and negative and that's two emotions that I have to stay away from if I'm to comfortably handle a heavy workload.
It's important to keep tabs on what's going on in the industry so I go through all the new announcements, rumors, teasers, trailers and interviews as well as browse LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and other various social sites.
I find some talk about a project that I'm keen on working on so I tap out an email to the developers and see if they'd like to make contact.
7:00am - I quickly throw some oats, water, soy milk and a bit of butter into a pot and turn up the heat to make some breakfast while I go through my list of what to do today.
7:30am - I find a new video from THQ waiting for me of this new level and I watch through it a couple of times with a notebook making notes as to where I think it needs music, what sort of music would suit, ideal lengths and styles of the different tracks, etc.
...Is that the smell of my porridge burning? Oops!
8:00am - I've got the level mapped out on paper and I start eating my burnt porridge while I wait for my template to load.
A scoring "template" is basically a whole bunch of "virtual instruments" that make writing and producing music quite easy, especially on a deadline.
A virtual instrument is basically where someone has recorded, say for example, every single note on a Trumpet and then they've arranged these sounds in a way that I can play them on my MIDI keyboard.
As good as that sounds, they're definitely not the real thing and I absolutely hate using these "fake" instruments to be honest, but it certainly helps in giving you a good idea as to what the finished song will sound like, which is a blessing while you're writing it.
It takes a while to load because these virtual instruments take up a lot of RAM.
Imagine how many notes a Trumpet has, each one played a few times and at a few different volumes. Each one of these is a separate file.
Then we do the same for Trombones, then Horns, then Tubas, then Saxes, Flutes, Clarinets, Oboes, Bassoons, Violins, Violas, Cellos, Basses, etc, etc, etc!
So, I end up having to load all of these on a few different computers and I have a separate computer for the actual writing of the music.
These computers talk to each other over LAN and then Marty engages the flux capacitor and we travel back to the...
Wait... what? Porridge.
8:30am - I start fleshing out an idea for a style and melody.
Inspiration and creativity are a tricky thing. I use to wander around aimlessly looking for it and then something would just hit me.
Usually it was a bus or something from a well-fed bird flying high above, but it was enough to snap me out of my head space and give me an idea.
But, as I kept doing this for a while I realised that the best way to find inspiration is to do just that -- find it. Go looking for it.
Don't wait for it to come to you, start hacking away at something and bend, mould and shape it until its "cool".
9:00am - Level has lots of bugs. Bad bugs, evil bugs.
Looking for something that represents bugs and I'm liking this weird sound I made in Absynth by messing with a recording of me rubbing my wet fingers over the window glass.
9:30am - Got a set of "musical" bug textures, now to start on a melody.
There's a lot of combat in this level, but I don't want to go for tons of drums and percussion, although I'm thinking of diminished scales and col legno strings (where the players "hit" their Violins with their bows).
Sounds like spiders.
10:00am - Yup, I'm liking where this is heading -- still working on it, only have about 30 seconds of music so far.
10:30am - Because deadlines on this project are tight and there's a lot of interactivity involved, ie. the music isn't just simple loops, it needs to react clearly with what the player is doing, I'm taking more of a "musical editor" approach by writing a bunch of combat and idle music first and then I chop it up later to fit the level.
It's a quick approach that seems to work. Just over 1 minute of music done now.
11:00am - Pretty happy with my 90 seconds of music so I start mixing and adding my bug sounds and textures... just like cooking, although I'm using fake bugs.
11:30am - Take a quick break to check emails as the US is about to log off for the night.
Surprisingly, the developers I contacted this morning are going to be doing a pitch round in a few weeks so they send me an NDA.
Cool. Horror. I like horror. Horror is my favourite.
12:00am - Mixed, chopped and prepared.
I start going about setting it all up in FMOD so it reacts to what the player is doing.
What do you mean I can't fade-out a layer? Hmm... might have to make this baby an event.
12:30pm - Lunchtime!
Not feeling like cooking... I am feeling like getting out of the house.
I pop up to this awesome Organic Sourdough cafe up the street where they have some amazing Cinnamon and Ricotta bread thingy -- sounds like a plan.
1:00pm - Nom.. nom... nom.. nom.. nom.
1:30pm - Back to work.
I check my morning's worth of tracks to make sure they don't suck then I send them off to the developers. Cross that task off the list.
2:00pm - The groovy peeps at EA has asked me to put together some tunes for Need for Speed: World.
Time to get stuck into one of these bad-boys.
2:30pm - No longer in bug mode.
Now in grit and grease mode. AWESOME!
3:00pm - Love working on this stuff -- fun music, and I feel like recording some Guitar!
3:30pm - Got very inspired with the guitar and am going to attempt to make as much of this track out of Guitar as possible.
Someone at GDC this year asked me what my "thing" was and I feel it's musical design.
"Musical Design" is basically the process of making music out of non-musical things, or using musical things in a completely different way.
Turning a squawking bird into a cool sonic riff, messing with Trombones until they sound like a pipe-organ from Hell, using a Violin bow on a music stand to scare people or throwing a cheap microphone down a stairwell. Anything to create new and exciting sounds!
For this track, I'm going to trying a make everything out of Guitar, but not make it all sound like a guitar.
4:00pm - Meeting time!
An awesomely talented colleague/client pops around to talk about a new project.
4:30pm - Engine evaluation with said colleague. Holy crap CryEngine 3 is cool.
5:00pm - Meeting goes well, back to NFS World and messing with Guitars.
5:30pm - Track not quite finished, but off to an awesome start.
6:00pm - Break time!
It's completely mad to sit in a studio chair all day so I try to get out and do some exercise each night. Bought myself a cheap dodgy bike -- off for a ride around the city!
6:30pm - Ride went well. Don't feel like cooking...again, do feel like Indian.
7:00pm - Veggie Korma and settle in to watch an episode of The Pacific.
7:30pm - Ha cool! That's Gary Sweet! We recorded him for a part in Edge of Twilight. Have a little cry.
8:00pm - Go over new emails.
I used to have emails open all day but I found it was way too distracting.
I now restrict myself to checking emails three times a day when possible.
Have about five projects on at the moment so it's important to keep a pretty strict schedule with these things!
8:30pm - Social event to head to, this time at a University.
Have a shower, change out of "studio uniform" and jump on the bus.
9:00pm - Meeting, greeting, chatting, catching up.
See someone that I haven't seen in five years, someone else I used to work with at Pandemic and a bunch of people who I'm currently working with.
9:30pm - Meeting a bunch of cool people with awesome ideas and passion -- always inspiring.
10:00pm - Event finishes and I leave with a pocketful of business cards and a few demos to check out.
10:30pm - Return home. Go through cards and email the people I've just met.
11:00pm - Chill out for a little bit reading Cormac Macarthy's "The Road".
11:30pm - Sleep!
Is this what you always wanted to do or did you want to be something else growing up?
MG: I don't know man. I enjoyed a lot of Martial Arts when I was younger and then when I was about 12 I picked up one of Dad's Guitars and started trying to learn Sweet Home Alabama.
That was it man, all I wanted to do was play Guitar forever.
I use to play it all hours of the day & night and I'd often wake up with it in my hands after falling asleep practicing.
Sources tell me you were a country lad? True?
MG: Well yeah man, I was born in Mackay but I lived in a small town about 45 minutes in land from there called Mirani.
Then when I was 6 we moved to a tiny central Queensland town called Capella which back then had not much more than a pub and two grain silos.
What was it like growing up in such places?
MG: Well, dad worked for the shire council and our house had the best backyard ever -- the shire's showgrounds, football fields and dams. I'd spend any spare moment I had riding my bike around getting up to all sorts of mischief.
There was a really big radio tower next to the grain silos which was about 35 meters tall.
There were three standing platforms all the way up to the top which were linked by these ladders. The ladders had old and rusted cages around them with a gate at each end that were always padlocked.
One day, I rode my bike down there to find that someone hadn't bothered to close up the padlock and I decided it might be fun to climb up there and check out the view.
I climbed up a squeaky ladder to get to the first platform, then up the second ladder to the middle platform.
So, here I was about 25 metres up in the air and it felt really high especially since the platforms themselves only had a dodgy-looking single handrail around them and the whole tower shook in the wind.
The view here was nice, but I wanted to see what it was like at the top. I started scaling the third tall ladder but halfway up both my feet slipped off the step.
My little arms gave out under my weight and I fell backwards. My back hit the cage around the ladder and I fell about three meters onto the second platform.
The force and the direction of my landing made me roll towards the edge of the platform but, thankfully, I got wrapped around one of the handrail's supports before falling off completely.
There I was, about 8 years old, dangling from a rusted platform about 25 meters above a concrete ground after a nasty fall. It took me a good 30 minutes to work up the courage to climb back down.
Luckily I didn't break anything otherwise Dad would have kicked my arse!
MG: After 6 years in Capella my Dad got a new job in Emerald so we packed up and moved to an old and spooky country house on some Cotton property about 20 minutes from Emerald.
We were there only for three months while a house became available in town.
I no longer had football fields, dams and a showground as a backyard but we certainly had lots of countryside play in.
I always loved exploring and digging holes to see what treasures I could find -- we'd find old camps from people long gone and dig up their old cans, pots, pans, bits of glass and metal. It was always great fun.
One day I was digging about 100 meters from the house and I started to uncover a cool-looking metal pipe that was clogged with dirt and grime. I kept digging pulled up a 12 gauge shotgun!
Its butt was fairly rotted from water damage and the chamber was home to bugs and worms but the firing mechanism still worked.
I told Dad and he said to put it back and cover it up real good, because there's only a few reasons why you'd want to bury one of those!
After 18 months in Emerald we moved to Rockhampton where I spent most of my early teenage years.
I picked up a Guitar a few weeks after we settled in and spent every moment either practicing to get better at it or getting up to teenage-mischief!
Crazy stories man! My childhood was pale compared to all that. So, how do you go from being a small town kid to a big city audio director?
MG: Ha! Well, I certainly miss the wide-open spaces at times but life's nothing but one big adventure.
We moved around a lot as I was a kid and I think that has stayed with me as I hate being stuck anywhere for a long period of time.
I've been kicking around Brisbane for a bit and I lived in Santa Monica for a while -- thankfully these days I can pretty much work anywhere with an internet connection.
Other than that, I dunno... my city friends call me "Bogan" a bit.
Note: Bogan = Aussie slang for redneck
Can you tell me about your start in the industry, as the readers are students. Was it tough? How did you get your foot in the door?
MG: Sure! Well, after years of playing guitar I figured I was starting to get the hang of it.
However, turning that into something financially viable was a different story -- my breasts weren't large enough to be a pop star and I couldn't find a hat big enough to be a country music star.
I needed to find a way of making money out of music because I'm not good at anything else.
I originally was keen on writing music for film but that's a tough industry and I didn't get anywhere.
So I decided to look elsewhere. I always loved video games and I have lots of fond memories of my original Atari 2600, so I set out trying to get into games.
How does that happen? Well, like anything -- you meet people! I put myself where the developers were.
I went to conferences, IGDA meetings, other creative events, and started handing out demos of my music.
I eventually started making some good contacts and these ended up leading to my first gigs. That's pretty much it!
Knowing the gloriously tumultuous nature of our industry, were there times you wanted to throw in the hat?
MG: No way man! Definitely not! My first and only regular "job" was as "track maintenance personnel" for the Rockhampton horse racing track. This sounds fancy, but all I did was walk around the track after a race filling in the holes that the horses made with a bucket of sand.
This took 15 minutes, and there was a race every 45 minutes, so for the rest of the time I'd sit on the big tractor they gave to me which I sometimes used to shift the barriers.
One day, the final race was on for the big Spring Carnival and as the horses sped passed in front of me one of them tripped and threw the Jockey a few meters.
I rushed onto the track just as the Ambulance arrived but the Jockey was already back on his feet. Then I saw the horse.
The poor thing had broken its fetlock, half of its leg was torn opened and understandably it was very distressed. As I knelt down to comfort the animal, the Jockey stormed over and started cussing at the downed animal, calling it all sorts of profanities.
The Ambulance officer arrived and told me to wait for the vet as he helped the jockey into the Ambulance.
As the vet arrived, the horse pulled himself up on his three good legs and the doctor instructed me to hold the reins as he pulled out a big syringe filled with some nasty looking blue liquid.
He injected this straight into the horse's neck and it fell down immediately with a terrible thump. He then asked me to take the horse down towards the back of the property past the big hill and rushed off.
I drove my tractor out onto the track, back it up to the horse, rope its lifeless body to the back brace and drag it down the back.
I'd never been down the back, but I knew I was in the right place when I saw horse bones scattered on the ground. I unhooked the horse and buried it the best I could. I felt like crap. I put the tractor away and walked up to where the punters were.
Absolutely covered in blood and horse waste, I walked right through the crowd of campaigned girls with expensive fancy hats and the drunken yobbos guzzling cheap spirits. There was one guy there screaming at the bookmaker about how his $300 bet was forfeit due to the horse not finishing the race. It was quite a big day for a 13 year old.
So nah man, this job is easy.
Tell me about some of the projects you've been working on.
MG: I've got two projects that are in full production at the moment - Need for Speed: World and a Marvel game with Spider-Man, Hulk, Ironman and all the other cool ones.
Stylistically they're polar opposites with NFS being full of hard-edged aggression and adrenaline, and Marvel being more epic, mysterious and, well, heroic.
I've got three other projects in pre-production which will kick-in with a massive workload in the immediate future and then there's a handful of fun indie stuff as well. The game industry is super secretive so I can't really say much more than that, sorry guys!
Earlier this year I finished scoring M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender which was a stack of fun and required a ton of music to be written in a few short weeks.
James Newton Howard is scoring the film but I had to score the game before he started writing music for the film. So, the challenge came from trying to predict what sort of music he'd be doing for the movie and then translate that into my score for the game.
I think it came out pretty well and it gave me the opportunity to work with some amazing musicians, such as the talented Jeff Ball on violin as well as recording Duduks, Ney Flutes, Ouds, Mijwizs and Bansuris -- awesome fun!
Early last year the Museum of Victoria called me up to produce and install the audio for their blockbuster exhibition entitled "A Day in Pompeii" which featured a large collection of artefacts from Pompeii which of course was destroyed by the volcanic eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD.
My awesome team and I ended up producing 13 hours of audio!
We wrote and recorded three hours of Latin dialogue, I wrote and recorded a stack of music, we installed 21 speakers in the venue and developed a dynamic playback system that ensured the audience was always going to hear something different.
We were able to treat the venue as a large, real-life game level. The exhibition was a huge success and is now in New Zealand, then it heads to Singapore, then off to the USA.
Earlier this year at GDC the awesome people at G.A.N.G. awarded us with the "Best Audio -- Other" award for our work on the exhibition.
Then later on through last year the groovy people at EA Black Box brought me on to do some work on Need for Speed: Shift.
This was amazing as I joined a team of incredibly talented and world-renowned audio-peeps and I learned so much from everybody.
My whole concept of "good work" completely changed for the better and I was blown-away at how quickly these guys produce award-winning work.
Can you recount to me the story of getting this last project, the NFS: Shift gig seeing as it was a product I'm sure most of us are familiar with being the best NFS since the early days?
MG: The awesome award winning composer Lennie Moore runs an annual competition at GDC where he tasks composers with a tricky and creative brief.
The entries are lodged online, people on the Internet vote on the best four or five, which then go on to be judged by the GDC audience to find a winner. They are always a hoot for the composers and audience alike.
In 2009, Lennie's challenge was to write some post-apocalyptic music using nothing but the human voice as an instrument which sounded like a stack of fun to me, so I decided to enter.
Figuring that most composers would do choir/orchestral type music, I opted to differentiate myself by creating a score that sounded like videogame music using regular instruments, except that I'd create every sound using the human voice...90% of which was my own!
I put some music together and I ended up being one of the four to show their track off at the GDC for the audience to vote on!
Instead of a PowerPoint presentation with a bunch of text talking about my tracks, I brought my session along and showed the audience exactly how I created the sounds out of recordings of my voice and then manipulating it in various ways to create new sounds.
Here's a link to the track -- first you'll hear an "ambient" layer, then you'll hear a "combat" layer come in. Everything is human voice, no other instruments were used whatsoever.
Anyway, sitting in the audience happened to be the Senior Audio Creative Director for EA, Charles Deenen and I must have impressed him, because a few weeks after the GDC, Charles contacted me and asked if I'd like to put a demo together for Need for Speed: Shift. Naturally, I jumped at the chance!
They liked the demo and I started doing some menu sound design, I was then asked to write some post-race music and ended up scoring the cinematics as well.
What sort of marketing do you do to get work? You already mentioned trawling social media and news sites, is there anything else you feel is noteworthy to mention?
MG: Yeah marketing is a tricky thing I guess. I definitely don't pay for advertising anywhere but I do spend a lot of time meeting people and keeping tabs on the industry that we work in.
Keeping strong relationships is the most important thing in life and I guess that's the best thing anyone can do to help their success, and that definitely applies to a lot more than making noises for games.
It's no secret the recent tough economic conditions have really affected the games industry here in Australia? What are your thoughts on the current climate?
MG: I think the toughest thing for me to see in the last 18 months has been so many of my friends lose their jobs. I used to work at Pandemic Studios and seeing those guys go down was rough, especially next to Interzone, Transmission and a whole swag of others around the world.
The toughest one for me was a project that I held very dear, and one that had an incredible team behind it, which was Fuzzyeyes and poor ol' Edge of Twilight.
This game was an absolute blast to work on and I'll be releasing some of the cool work we were doing on the game over the next few weeks.
Lots of people were digging what we were doing too -- when we released the "Someone Special" E3 trailer in 2009 I had over a thousand emails in the following week from people saying how much they loved the trailer and couldn't wait to play the game. Unfortunately, the studio ran into troubles and shut down before the game was released.
A lot of those talented people have moved onto studios such as THQ, Rocksteady, Rare, Grasshopper Manufacture, and Quantic Dream and are working on some of the coolest projects around!
One of my childhood idols who I played with in a band for a few years, Peter Daley, once said to me "a door never closes without a window opening. And if that doesn't work, squeeze through a mouse hole or grab a sledgehammer and knockdown a wall."
And another childhood mate of mine, Big KJ, used to say "Smile, it's free!"
Yeah, it's a shame, but thing will inevitably turn back around like they always do. So, what do you see on the horizon for yourself and the games industry?
MG: Oh man! Well, there's lots of cool stuff going on! The trouble is there's a sniper sitting in the building across the street, who thinks I don't know he's there but I do, and he'll shoot me in the forehead if I say much about it!
I'm mega busy with Need for Speed: World and Marvel, and I've got a bunch of E3 trailers to work on at the moment too. What would I like more of on the horizon? Just cool, fun and awesome projects man!
I really, really, really want to do some more horror stuff as I totally love that.
As for the industry, despite the recent scaling back, I think it will get back on track, it will keep getting bigger and better and games will get cooler and cooler dude!
Every time we think someone has topped the bar it gets raised again! The caliber of games coming out now is incredible -- look at stuff like Uncharted 2, Red Dead Redemption and God of War III -- amazing! I can't wait to see what's coming up and being a part of all of this is absolutely brilliant.
What are some problems in the industry currently that you have experienced?
MG: Well every industry has problems really and it is how that industry deals with those problems that determines its longevity and prosperity and I don't think you can ever question the resilience and determination of young creative minds. The game industry is full of these!
The best part about the game industry? We help people working in other jobs and industries forget their problems when they sit down to play one of our games for a few hours. How cool is that?
Advice for people breaking into the industry?
MG: Well, I think the two things that people look for when hiring anyone for any job are:
1. They like your skills.
2. They like you.
If you've got good skills and you're easy to get along with then it's only a matter of time, perseverance and energy.
When I started out I asked an agent the same question, his reply was "do good work and don't be a dickhead".
Makes perfect sense!
Last question, have you always been such a positive energetic person?
MG: Ha! Man, you ask some fun questions!
Look man, I remember realizing when I was about 12 or 13 that unless you've got a reason to be negative, unless you've been walking down the street and your clavicle falls off, or the Earth suddenly gets knocked off the billiard table, or a bolt of lightning destroys your favorite pair of socks -- unless you've got an absolute, legitimate, solid reason to be down...then being positive is nothing more than a choice.
And it's easy, because that choice is up to you. And being positive certainly makes the punch line of life a whole lot easier to swallow.
As long as the sun comes up in the morning, then everything else that happens that day is a bonus!
Darren Yeow is a 29 year old senior artist hailing from Adelaide, Australia who has worked as a concept artist, user interface designer and art director in video game companies for the past 7 years. He currently lives in Melbourne running his own design studio Stylus Monkey Design.