Mike (RPGFan): When you were composing for Valdis Story, what was your creative process?
Zack: I would usually receive some concept art from Kyron for whichever area I was currently working on and proceed to pry as much information from him as I possibly could. I would usually ask Kyron numerous questions try to really get a good concept in my mind of what exactly the setting would be like if I was standing there in person and not just staring at a screen with an avatar swinging a sword.
Mike (RPGFan): So you approached it as if you were one of the characters in the world, instead of someone looking in.
Zack: Precisely. I don't feel like I can really capture the mood I'm after unless I place myself in the main character's shoes. To express his pain, I need to feel his pain.
Mike (RPGFan): Got it. I like that approach. How much creative control did you have during the composition process? Were there areas or moments when you were asked to create a certain mood?
Zack: Endless Fluff was actually very open to my ideas for how to handle the music in any given situation. Most often, the input I received from them was just to do more of something that was already in the track, or to merely keep going with what I was already doing. Some tracks I asked for more input on because I wanted to make sure I was progressing in a direction that everybody was content with. Other tracks I asked for them to trust me and let me try something out. For example, the track "Sanctuary" is a piano solo, and I insisted that I be allowed to do that track as a piano solo and expressed my reasoning for doing so. They were completely open to the idea and loved it when it was completed.
Mike (RPGFan): Sounds like it was a very healthy working relationship! What was the reasoning behind it being a piano solo? Or is that spoilery?
Zack: That response would probably ruin a lot of details of that point in the game. :)
Mike (RPGFan): Okay, then for myself and others, let us move on! Instead I'll ask: Do you have a favorite instrument?
Zack: I'm absolutely in love with the piano. Always have been.
Mike (RPGFan): Why piano? What draws you to it?
Zack: I think part of it might be a result of everybody in my family being able to play the piano when I was young, me being the only one not playing it at the time. My mom would play and sing, my sisters were playing some crazy classical music, and I found myself at some point listening to classical piano music on the radio and on cassette tapes. Over the course of my life, I have just grown more and more attached to the timbre of the piano, from playing delicately soft to ear-bleedingly loud. I also find it fascinating; the amount of depth of expression that can be heard when someone is playing a piano. It's an instrument that can so easily become an ensemble in itself to express a world of emotion by one person.
Mike (RPGFan): So piano has just always been a part of your life. Good thing you like it so much! What common (or uncommon) sources of inspiration do you draw from when composing? Either on Valdis Story, or just in general.
Zack: Really, I try to avoid any outsourcing in terms of inspiration when I'm writing music for a project. I avoid listening to music from other musicians, avoid playing other games, etc. I invest my emotions into the world of the game I'm working on at the time. Basically going back to the first question, where I get art assets, back story on characters, vivid descriptions of locations and their history, and just anything else about that "world" I can use as fuel to really feel as though I'm there. Once I have a good grasp of things, I will sit at a piano and just start playing the first thing that pops in my head until I really connect with an idea.
Mike (RPGFan): Okay, so it's very... organic, I suppose is the word. I like that. Besides, of course, the piano, what tools do you use when creating music?
Zack: I pick up the guitar at times, ukelele, Native American Flute, Irish Whistle, sometimes load up random instrument libraries on my PC and play random stuff on my MIDI Controller using those sounds. It differs from track to track because of the style that might be involved with writing it.
Mike (RPGFan): I'll admit I don't know what an Irish Whistle is, but I'll find out. Are there genres/musical styles that you haven't tried yet but would like to in the future?
Zack: I love trying new styles when I have the chance, but what I love most is mixing several elements together that typically wouldn't be heard in such a way.
Mike (RPGFan): I picked up on that! Some songs on VS go in very different directions than others, so it's a very interesting mix of styles. One more specifically about Valdis Story. Andrew — who reviewed the game for RPGFan — asked if you've had a chance to actually play through the game, and if so, did you find it difficult?
Zack: Yes, I have actually beaten the game 4 times. The mode I played on was originally called "Normal" and has since been renamed to "Hard." I will admit to rage quitting a few times, but not nearly to the extent that I have with some other games in the past. It's a game that was intended to be a challenge and definitely not the most ideal experience for a "casual gamer."
Mike (RPGFan): Stephen will be glad to hear it's a challenge, since he plays everything on Extreme difficulty [Editor's Note: Something our regular podcast listeners are no doubt aware of]. Oh, one more from Andrew: Do you prefer Wyatt or Reina?
Zack: I personally prefer Wyatt, but that's due to the fact that when I first played the game (prior to public release), Reina had not been implemented yet. I am so used to his mechanics that playing with Reina gets me all mixed up.
Mike (RPGFan): Fair enough! Next is a common, but favorite question we typically ask musicians: If there were no obstacles in your way, what would be your "dream collaboration" job (working with other composers or musicians)? They could be living or dead, related to game music or not related.
Zack: Nobuo Uematsu. Hands down.
Mike (RPGFan): Well, that was easy. Can you pick a favorite work of Uematsu's that makes him your go-to?
Zack: The very first Role Playing Game I ever picked up was a borrowed copy of Final Fantasy VII for the Playstation (before they had numbers). The game as a whole was mind blowing to me, and I had never fathomed that music could ever play such an important role in a video game. I obsessed over that soundtrack for the longest time, and it still holds a special place in my heart as the main reason I ever got into writing music for video games.
Mike (RPGFan): What are some of your favorite composers/songs/games?
Zack: Composers... Uematsu (of course), James Horner, James Newton-Howard, Danny Elfman, Stephan Fischer (also a friend). A few favorites of Uematsu's music would probably be the main theme of Final Fantasy IX, Eyes on Me from FF8, Melodies of Life from FFIX, Northern Crater music from FF7, Aeris' Them from FF7... too many to list, really. :)
Games... All Final Fantasy games up to FFXIII, haven't played anything past that. Also a fan of Little Big Planet... but I think mostly for the level design feature.
Mike (RPGFan): It's like you're creative or something.
Zack: I try to be. :)
Mike (RPGFan): What's the most satisfying part of being a composer, for you?
Zack: Just being able to create something from nothing. Much the same experience an artist gets when they take a blank canvas and paint their vision for the world to see.
Mike (RPGFan): Have you had any particularly noteworthy experiences related to your musical work? Feedback, life events, what have you.
Zack: I think the most recently noteworthy experience I had was the infatuation Stephen from RPGFan Music had with Valdis Story's soundtrack. His review kept a smile on my face for several days and I couldn't help but share it with everybody that was even remotely considered a relative.
Mike (RPGFan): He is quite a fan indeed! So what are you working on next? Also, do you have any plans to work with EndlessFluff on future projects?
Zack: I'm currently working on the soundtrack for "dʒrægɛn: A Game About a Dragon", and have another project upcoming (no details on a time yet) called "Garland's Quest". I am actually not done with Valdis Story's soundtrack yet either, as they plan on expanding the game further and adding more music for the new areas, characters, and bosses. They have also asked me already if I would work with them on their next project as well, and I most definitely intend to do so.
Mike (RPGFan): Sounds like you'll be busy for quite some time. Do you know which of those projects we'll see (and hear) first?
Zack: The dragon game seems the most likely to come out next, since it's nearing the end of development. Garland's Quest is still really early in development and the project lead plans on running a Kickstarter campaign for it.
Mike (RPGFan): Great! Finally, do you have anything you want to say to fans/potential fans, or do you have any projects or links you'd like to share with our readers?
Zack: If you are a fan, or even a potential fan, I really appreciate your support and I'm happy that you enjoy my music. I also ask, if you have any money to spare for a good cause I recommend tossing it here: https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-donations
. My family has 3 survivors, one of whom is my sister, and it's an experience I don't think anybody should ever have to go through.
Mike (RPGFan): I agree. I'm always fond of spreading awareness.