Just mix it up a little
Ben Prunty is the composer for the acclaimed FTL soundtrack. He is currently working on a number of upcoming games, including Star Crawlers and Gravity Ghost. Ben has also has published two of his own albums which be found at his bandcamp. Ben spoke to us on our podcast last year, and was reportedly confused by talk of Pokemon, so we’ve called him back in order to make sure he says good things about us.
(This interview was conducted over skype text chat, we’ve cleaned it up somewhat.)
VGCC: So, you’ve gotten involved in a lot of stuff since you were on our podcast last year! Would you mind giving us a quick overview of what you’re working on?
Benjamin Prunty: Sure! I’ve actually been working on the soundtrack to Gravity Ghost since 2010, and it should be releasing this fall. http://gravityghost.com/ and I’m nearly finished with Star Crawlers, a first-person sci-fi RPG. http://starcrawlers.com/
VGCC: Since 2010? That was before FTL even came out right?
BP: Yeah, I didn’t start on FTL until late 2011.
VGCC: You mentioned that you were using an old song you wrote as the base of the Gravity Ghost soundtrack. Is that what you mean when you said 2010, or has Gravity Ghost just been in production that long?
BP: Yeah, it’s been in production for a while. Erin Robinson, the creator, took a hiatus on the game midway through production. It’s looking pretty great these days. I’m excited for it to finally release. I wrote some pretty neat stuff for it. So besides Gravity Ghost and Star Crawlers, I’m also working on FranknJohn, which is currently running a Kickstarter.
VGCC: Oh? I didn’t actually hear about that one.
BP: It’s lagging behind in funding right now. I really hope they can make it. It’s been really fun to work on. The Kickstarter can be found here. (Editor’s note: the game was unsuccessful, but we’ll come back to it should it go for a second round)
VGCC: So you do music for games obviously and I’ve been curious: Why games? Are they just what pays the bills?
BP: It’s a culmination of many factors. When I was 11 or 12 I played EarthBound for the first time and it showed me that games could be an artistic medium. I’m sure everyone has had a game that did that for them. Mine was EarthBound. I thought working in games would be really cool, though I was a terrible student and didn’t know how I would get into it. When I was a teenager I discovered bad German trance music and thought it would be pretty cool to make music with computers. So I bought a copy of Sonic Foundry’s ACID music program from a paper catalog. I feel old.
VGCC: Oh god, catalogs…
BP: Yeah. I just kept making music and eventually decided that making music or sound for games would be cool. I wanted to go to school for game development, but at the time the only schools that offered it were DigiPen and Full Sail, and they were both clearly schools for rich kids. There was no way I was getting in. So I went to a two year Audio Engineering program in Bangor. I grew up in Maine, by the way. Then I spent the next ten years working random jobs while I practiced the hell out of making music. I tell you all this because it’s important to note that I didn’t have some sort of epiphany or divine calling, as we so often attribute to successful people.
VGCC: Random jobs? I heard you got a gig at Google?
BP: I did work at Google for a few years. I had a friend who worked there and I told him I hated my job at GameStop. He said, “Do you know Linux?” I said “No.” and he said “Do you want to work at Google?” and I said “Hell yes”.
VGCC: That’s a helluva way to land a job.
BP: This was in 2005, when Google was much smaller, right after they went public. I tend to interview well and they all thought it was cool that I made music. It was much easier to get a job there back then.
VGCC: I see. Still, cool to be able to say you worked there.
BP: It was really fun.
VGCC: So, you have a background in audio engineering. Do you only ever do the soundtracks for games or do you do the sound effects as well?
BP: No, I hate doing sound effects. I did the sound effects for Gravity Ghost, FTL, and Dungeon Hearts, and that’s it. Audio Engineering mostly meant recording rock bands. I didn’t quite belong there.
VGCC: Not enough people who’d get your God Hand references? (Ben Prunty is very public about loving the PS2 title God Hand)
BP: Haha, that’s a good way to put it. Most of the students there were openly hostile to electronic music. Rock is the only REAL music, if you know what I mean. Or punk, or metal, or whatever they happened to like.
VGCC: Oh, ouch. I’ve been hooked on electronic music ever since my sister brought home a Daft Punk album.
BP: Nice! Daft Punk’s first album was a pretty big inspiration for me when I was a teenager. It’s interesting how they went from ‘just another electronic band’ to ‘well-respected veterans’. They really seem to keep challenging themselves.
VGCC: So, I’ve been wondering how working on FTL and Gravity Ghost were different. Is being on a kickstarted project different from one that isn’t?
BP: From my end, not really. My job is mostly the same either way. Though when there’s a kickstarter happening, I do as much as I can to support it. I send out an email newsletter and spam twitter about it.
VGCC: What’s the actual production pipeline look like? Do you just compose the music and send it over to get OK’d by whoever’s in charge? Do they ever send it back and ask for changes? Etc.
BP: You pretty much nailed it. Though these days there’s less and less sending back. I talk with the developers about what needs to be made, and then I make a to do list out of it. Then I just get to work. Most of the time it’s a pretty simple job.
VGCC: How’s it different from composing your own albums?
BP: That’s a good question. My last two albums are actually just compilations of random stuff that I made, either for unreleased games or personal experimental projects. Back when I had less work I would come up with exercises for myself to challenge my music writing abilities. I’m currently working on a standalone album, however, where everything is written specifically FOR the album. This is new for me. It’s interesting to see how it takes shape. I guess it’s not too different from writing for games, except that I have more freedom to change gears midway through, both on the song level and on the album level.
VGCC: So, if say, FranknJohn doesn’t get funded you’ll keep the rights to its music?
BP: I actually keep the rights to all my music. I own FTL’s soundtrack and everything I make. This is one of my conditions as a composer for games. It’s my main source of income.
VGCC: I’ve heard you’ve made some pretty awful music before learning music theory… I must know. Does any of it survive?
BP: Haha! Pretty much all of it survives. I think there’s only one old track of mine that went missing somehow. I’ve kept everything. It reminds me of how far I’ve come. Rich Vreeland recently released an album of his really old stuff, and I’m considering doing something similar, though I haven’t decided for sure yet.
VGCC: Hahaha, I was about to ask!
BP: There are a couple of fun tracks in there. It’s a question of whether I really want this super-unprofessional stuff out there with my name attached to it.
VGCC: It’s kind of embarrassing in a way huh?
BP: More like I’m afraid of getting self-indulgent.
VGCC: Self indulgent? How so?
BP: Well, it’s making the assumption that people actually want to listen to my old, less-developed stuff. I was thinking of simply putting it all on SoundCloud, but I’m old-fashioned and like the album format. But then being on an album implies value, or worth. It’s subtle, but it still makes me hesitant.
VGCC: You don’t want to suggest it’s good basically?
BP: I have a policy of only releasing something if I think it’s stellar.
VGCC: Rumor has it that you *really* love God Hand. I’m curious whether it’s just that game or whether it’s a hard-games thing in general?
BP: I do tend to love hardcore action games. Really I just love anything Shinji Mikami makes. The guy’s a genius. Resident Evil 4, God Hand, Vanquish. God Hand just has the distinction of also being absolutely hilarious.
VGCC: You play Devil May Cry 3?
BP: Nope. I played the first one and didn’t really enjoy it. I might enjoy it more these days, I’m not sure. I played the recent American one a bit too. It had an amazing presentation. It was all really well designed, but I just couldn’t get into it’s groove.
VGCC: Oh, the reboot? I didn’t play it, but the impression I got was that it was OK. (Editor’s note: that game is rad as hell) Someone thought it was a good idea to have platforming sections apparently. (Editor’s note: yeah because they were RAD)
BP: Whoops, not American, Ninja Theory made it. UK. The game was definitely high-quality and had a thoughtful combo system. It’s probably worth checking out if you’re a fan. It looks incredible, if nothing else.
VGCC: So, it seems things are winding down. You were on our podcast last year, and ah… The readers need to know. How awful *were* Mike and John?
BP: Haha, it was a while ago, but I seem to remember having a good time. They talked a lot about Pokemon, which is definitely not my area of expertise.
VGCC: I see haha. Alright, thanks for speaking with us today!
BP: No problem! It was fun.
[Afer the interview, Ben also mentioned that he’s considering releasing a single track from Gravity Ghost as part of the marketing campaign leading up to release.]