Much like the game’s heroine, the soundtrack for Assassin’s Creed 3 Liberation stealthily crept up on many playlists around the world to become one of the year’s best scores. I was recently able to sit down with the game’s composer, Winifred Phillips, to discuss everything from her influences to her start in the industry. Head on past the break to check it out!
Piki Geek:What made you want to go into composing music for video games?
Winifred Phillips: I’ve been a gamer for a long time, ever since I was introduced to gaming as a kid. In addition to playing them, I’ve always been a big fan of game developers and the games industry. When I was in high school, I started subscribing to magazines and reading about the industry – I especially enjoyed articles that speculated about what’s going to be the next big thing in games. I guess that any fan like me would inevitably start thinking about how great it must be to work on a game development team, but at the time I couldn’t imagine how I would fit into that environment. My life was pointed toward a career in music composition, and it took a long time for me to realize that my desire to be a composer could fit together with my love of games. For a number of years I composed the music for a series on National Public Radio – this was the first time I’d worked with award-winning producer Winnie Waldron, who had conceived and developed the series for NPR. While I was working as the composer for that series, I kept gaming in my free time, and somewhere along the line, it finally hit me that I should be writing music for games. I started circulating my music demo amongst developers and publishers, and eventually I was hired to join the team of composers creating music for God of War. I asked Winnie to produce my music for my games projects, and we’ve been working together in the game industry ever since.
PG:One similarity all of the Assassin’s Creed soundtracks have in common is that they focus on the timeframe of the game. Did this play a role in how you created the score for Liberation?
WP: 18th century New Orleans was so important to the story and gameplay of Assassin’s Creed III Liberation that I concentrated most of my efforts on capturing the atmosphere and culture of that location and time period. The player experiences everything through the viewpoint of the main character, Aveline de Grandpré, who is the daughter of a French aristocrat and an African slave. She grows up surrounded by the European culture of her father, but is also very aware of her African heritage. I decided that in order to musically evoke these two disparate cultures, I needed to juxtapose the sophisticated French baroque musical style against the intricate rhythms and organic instruments of traditional African music. I also interwove folk instruments and techniques in the effort to create an atmosphere that felt convincing for a colonial city such as New Orleans. When the gameplay moved away from New Orleans and took the player to the Mayan ruins of Mexico, I kept the music focused firmly on the authentic Mexican sounds of clay flutes, shelled maracas and deep drums. My job as the composer on a project like Liberation is to write music that helps to immerse the player in the world of the game. That was my goal with every track I wrote for the project.
PG:While listening to the score, I was able to pick up on many different styles of music. From other composers to different genres, what have been the biggest influences on your career as a whole?
WP: I’m mostly guided by the artistic vision of the game development teams who hire me to compose music for their games. My job is to provide music that will enhance the experience they are trying to create. With that in mind, I try to stay flexible in terms of the styles of music I can compose. With each project, the development team will discuss with me their ideas for what the musical score should be. I’ll read through their design documents and experience as much of the gameplay as possible, then do my own research into musical styles and techniques that might be appropriate. Every game needs a different musical approach, and I try to stay open minded about musical genres, so that I can incorporate a lot of different influences into my music.
PG:While it must be exciting to have your music nominated for awards, I’m sure it’s a different story to have it win. How did it feel to be awarded multiple awards for best music?
WP: It was a little overwhelming. I was very excited that my Assassin’s Creed III Liberation music won a Hollywood Music in Media Award, since the award honors composers in all forms of dramatic media, including film, television and video games. It’s great that video game music is getting recognition as a form of mainstream entertainment. I’m also very grateful that my music has been recognized by the game industry press. The music of Assassin’s Creed III Liberation was included in Artastic Gaming’s Playlist of the Year, and has received several nominations from sites like IGN, GameSpot and GameZone, as well as G4TV’s X-Play Awards. The gaming press has very high standards, so recognition in their year-end awards is an honor for which I’m very thankful.
PG:Finally, with Journey being nominated for a Grammy, how does it feel to be part of an industry that’s really starting to gain recognition?
WP: It’s a great time to be a game composer, for a lot of reasons. Game soundtracks are achieving strong sales. Game music concerts are selling out all over the world. Plus, the game industry itself is getting increasing mainstream attention every year. I think it’s exciting that companies like Ubisoft are forming their own film production companies so that they can develop their intellectual properties across all forms of media, while retaining creative control. The game industry is expanding its influence. I’m very enthusiastic about the future of the video game industry, and I’m glad to be a part of it.