Sebastian “Mellotron Stew” Pfaller has worked not only with me on a number of games making music, but also provided music and testing for such popular adventure games such as The Vaccuum and Death Wore Endless Feathers Disk 1.

His quirky, colourful musical style is an ever changing kaleidoscope of ideas and experimentation and here we are offered a glimpse into the funk safari that is: Sebastian Pfaller‘s mind.

Ben304: Welcome to my internet chat couch, Sebastian, and do help yourself to a glass of melonade. Tell me, why did you choose to make music for adventure games, of all things, and not Mega Space Shooter/RPG Hybrids or some similar genre?

Sebastian Pfaller: Ah, thanks for the warm welcome and hello kids & parents. I think I chose not to do music for Extragalactic Space Shooters because there wasn’t much to innovate in the first place. I am not very good at composing, but I like to work conceptually. To work conceptually on a game that mainly consists of shooting things is pretty hard.

Also, I happened to stumble into this friendly AGS community when I just started composing music with my computer.

But I guess if somebody had an interesting idea for a hybrid multiverse space opera with randomized racial clichés and a fully functional onboard kitchen and was in need of music, I would give it a try.

304: Originally you were making music in the MIDI format, then later changed to the more modern .ogg. What prompted this change?

SP: It was public demand! And also Linux people couldn’t stop howling about how MIDI files wouldn’t play on their systems. I still love the cheesy sound, though, but I guess tracker music is the way to go nowadays if you want to keep the size small and the sound cheap. And .ogg because .mp3 stole my girlfriend.



304: Like any adventurous composer making music for deep sea explorations and interstellar quests, you change style depending on the project at hand. What elements of a game do you take into consideration when you start writing songs?

I work by reference, I guess. Most of the times, there is something about a game when I first play a prototype version before I start composing that my brain references to something else. Then a couple of deviations take place, and in the end there is a nice concept and some tunes. It can be the colour choice of the game, the story, a sentence describing the main character – almost anything.

For the Featherweight Soundtrack, for example, I thought of dystopian clichés. It occured to me that dystopian future almost always featured heavy guitar riffs at some point, so I took a very heavy guitar riff and threw it into a filter until it didn’t sound anything like it anymore.

And I kept going like that. In every track I deconstructed one dystopian cliché (see if you can find them all, kids!)

304: Hah, great, I never knew that! What are some of the strangest things you’ve found yourself doing when composing for a game?

SP: I remember playing Shadow of the Beast on Amiga for a very long time to get the Amiga tracker music feeling just right. Of course, like a real kid of the home computer age, I also composed music using a joystick. It’s not worth the coolness bonus. Sometimes I capture videos of the gameplay and let them run along while I compose.

Oh, one time I composed a tune at the airport and almost missed my flight. And I composed one MIDI tune in the park on my netbook once, and somebody wanted to steal my netbook, With my headphones on, I was much too concentrated to notice him sneaking up on me.

And I frequently cook while composing. You could probably say my cooking is much like my composition – it starts not with a real recipe, but most of the times I just take components I like and squeeze them together in one track/stew.

304: When working on a game project, is there a point at which you feel particularly fulfilled – as though King Aquidas himself had awarded you the Golden Crab or some similar great feeling?

SP: Yes. When the soundtrack is included in the game. I then play the game, listen to the whole soundtrack again and rejoice. Then I listen to the soundtrack again. Then I think “Oh, that’s not so good.” Then I don’t listen to the soundtrack again until somebody tells me he liked it. And I will only feel really fulfilled when King Aquidas finally recognizes my efforts and awards me that Golden Crab already!

I mean, he has plenty of them!

304: You’ve also played in a number of Real Life© bands and the sort. Do you write game music differently to the way you write music for the local barn disco and fondue party?

SP: When playing with bands, I have to make sure that the music is alright with the ladies. When composing for computer games, I assume that the ladies participating do not need to be specially catered, but have already overcome the gender obstacle that blocks the portals of computer nerd-dom.

Also, when composing for computer games, I normally don’t have the chance to write lyrics for my songs (to further interest or repel people of both gender, not only ladies), but must make my statements through music alone. And, of course, I shouldn’t make those statements too bold, because in a computer game my music is not the main act, but the background. I kind of forget about that sometimes, but I guess that’s also one of the advantages of my strictly indie-policy: I can’t not fulfill any expectations.

304: If you were the LORD OF VIDEO GAMES, what would you change about the way we design video games?

SP: I think I would use my powers as the LORD OF VIDEO GAMES to make people think about the endless possibilities of interactive narration. I would force the big companies to spend their money not on nicer graphics, but on people who know how to take advantage of the interactive potential of computer games.

There are 60 graphics guys and 40 programmers working on a game, I just made that up, but I imagine that’s how it might be – and then there’s maybe two or three that try to get the narrative right.

And I would abolish muzak! At least in computer games, that is.

And ugly war tunes that are nothing but deep strings and ridiculously dangerous drums.

And racing game menu music: Prohibited!

304: What is your favourite video game soundtrack that you didn’t make? What is your favourite video game soundtrack that you did make?

SP: One of my favourite video game soundtracks is actually from Heroes of Might and Magic 3. It loses all common sense and drops into a sea of kitsch at times, but it never, ever got on my nerves – if I started up that game now, I would listen to the soundtrack and think “That’s a nice soundtrack.”

And my favourite of the ones I composed…might be for The Vacuum. I tried scenic scoring for the first time then, and it worked really well, and also I gave the MIDI processor hell! It would be interesting to listen to it on a modern-day MIDI sound card once, I’ve never done that. Surely it would sound awful.

304: Let’s say I want to make a game where events revolve around a man whose only inventory item is an umbrella, and he must solve all sorts of situations and puzzles with just his umbrella. What sort of music would you make for this game?

SP: Ah, umbrella! That’s Mary Poppins, then Django Reinhardt, then grindcore played by a man with only two fingers, then a boy and his blob. I would lay emphasis on the sound effects the umbrella makes every time it is used.

I would also try and compose the music with a synthesizer that has a round GUI.

My main inspiration for the soundtrack would be the Olsen gang. Particularly tunes where they run away from the police, climb ladders and then jump down on the other side of the barn with their umbrellas. So it would be funky 60s space synthesizer music, as always! Maybe with a bit more Peter Thomas Sound Orchestra this time.

304: One last question: Do you feel like working on a game with me at some point?

SP: Hm, if it involves an evil conspiracy, the main hero is a girl and there will be lots of funky music – of course!

304: Great! Thanks for your time, and for this netbook I sneakily stole while you were in the park.

SP: I have to remind you it has a virus that has already transmitted onto your breakfast cereal by now. But anyway, it was a pleasure to be here! And thanks for the melonade!