September 18, 2014

Interview with Composer Ryan Richko

Ryan RichkoWith the Telepath Tactics soundtrack close to finished, I figured it would be a good time to sit down and chat with Ryan Richko, the man behind most of the game’s score. Here, he talks about composing for video games, and about composing the music of Telepath Tactics specifically. Read on, and plug in some good headphones while you’re at it!
Hey Ryan, why don’t you introduce yourself?

Hello! My name is Ryan Richko. I’m a composer for film and video games residing in the Los Angeles area.

How did you first get into music?

I’ve pretty much been a musician my whole life. I grew up in the Chicagoland area where my grandparents put me through piano lessons around the age of 6. I mostly studied classical music and various film scores like Forrest Gump. Once I turned 14, my father handed me his fender stratocaster guitar and it completely changed my world. I instantly wanted to become a rock star! I practiced 8 hours a day for years and even went on to study guitar performance at Columbia College Chicago. The program really helped solidify my knowledge of music. Later on I moved to California (go figure!) to find more session work and be involved more directly with the music industry. A few months later I found myself scoring my first student film. That’s when I realized I wanted to start composing. I found it more interesting, rewarding, and fun! So I changed gears just a little bit.

What other works have you scored?

The most notable work I’ve done was in the short film “Slate” directed by Eric La Barr. The film won many awards at various film festivals around the world. I also happened to pick up a best score award for the film. I really didn’t expect that at all! Aside from “Slate,” I’ve worked on various independent short films, feature films, and I’m currently working on a long list of video games none of which have come out yet. I’m quite new to the scoring world. I started out in 2011 and I’m still getting my feet wet! It’s been an amazing journey so far and I’m loving it.

What first attracted you to working on Telepath Tactics?

I’m a HUGE fan of role playing games (RPGs). I grew up with video games in the 80’s when Nintendo first came out. My first RPG was Final Fantasy. It changed my life. I was so drawn into the story, music, and tactical gameplay. It was really fascinating. To this day, my favorite series is Final Fantasy and I continue to play RPGs almost exclusively. So naturally, when I saw an opportunity to score a game like Telepath Tactics, (which reminded me of Final Fantasy Tactics) I was pretty excited. It seemed surreal to be able to score a game that so closely resembles the joy of my childhood. Telepath Tactics has so many new gameplay features never seen before in a tactical RPG which makes it unique and interesting. Also the developer was from my hometown of Chicago. =P

What have you learned from working on Telepath Tactics?

Oh man what haven’t I learned! To be honest I think this project is what officially made me a “real” composer, whatever that means. I learned so much. I started working on this game in January 2013. This is technically my first shipping video game title. I started out with some not so great gear, decent sample libraries, no idea how to manage multiple projects, and literally no orchestration software. Fast forward to today. I have all industry standard software, plugins, and audio interfaces. I’ve learned how to create high quality midi mock-ups. I recorded my first live orchestra with the help of an amazing orchestrator and wonderful friend Susie Bench. And I’ve learned how to balance my time between projects more efficiently. It was a big transition for me.  I am truly honored to be a part of this game, and I’m glad I was given a chance to prove myself.

How do you think scoring music for a game differs from scoring for film?

It’s completely different, in most cases. Every project is unique. Some games/films require a unique perspective on scoring. And most developers/directors have a clear idea of what they want and how they want to do it. In a general sense though, scoring for games is harder in my opinion. You have to be a lot more musical, memorable, and keep the player engaged at all times. Not to mention the songs have to loop seamlessly. In film, there are only special moments to bring out great music with a wonderful melody. But if you overdo it, the film will be ruined. You never want to be bigger than the characters. You’re only accenting whats happening on screen. In games you can really go all out and I love that!

Have you used any new techniques working on the Telepath Tactics soundtrack?

There are a lot of cool tricks I used on the soundtrack. I’d say one of my favorite techniques I used was in the song “Village Theme.” It’s a cute waltz-like song, with a jazz chord progression, played by an orchestra. But it doesn’t really sound like jazz. I wanted it to have a very interesting chord progression with a lot of tension and resolution, but still retain the classic home “RPG vibe” of a town theme. The melody had to be very simple and easy to remember. I also arranged it like a pop song. But the real trick lies in the chord progression. The second chord you hear when the song starts is totally wacky and unexpected! It’s a Bbdim7 chord coming from a C and resolving to a Dm chord (C — Bbdim7 — Dm). Most people would make that second chord an A7 or a C#dim7 for a nice chromatic approach. I found the Bbdim7 to be more colorful and silly (which is an inversion of C#dim7 anyway and also is related to an A7(b9) chord). So really, the Bbdim7 chord is just a C#dim7 or A7(b9). The only difference is the root note I decided to choose. I just took that A7 chord and moved the root up one half step and was like whoa!

Of all the pieces you’ve written for Telepath Tactics, which are your favorites and why?

This is a really hard choice. Most of these songs are so different from one another. And they all make me feel different emotions. “Sisters” is probably my favorite. It’s a very dramatic piece of music. It’s one of those songs that will resonate differently with people depending on their life experience. Some will find it sad, others will find it hopeful, and some will find it’s both. It’s meant to be bittersweet. This song probably best describes my personality as a composer and as a human being. It really moves me and came from the heart. My favorite type of music to score is drama. I love the soft stuff. Pertaining to the game, it’s sort of what I think of as the main theme. These two sisters go through a pretty hard time in the story. I wanted to capture the beauty, spirit, and experience of these two women. I could have done a heroic theme or something, but I wanted it to be more personal and real.

Other notable favorites are Bustling City, Frozen Memories, Lizard Tribe, Onslaught, Village Theme, and Tarion’s Theme. These all demonstrate very different approaches to scoring both technically and stylistically.

What are you looking forward to doing going forward?

I’d like to keep composing! I’m currently working on 3 games and a couple films. I can’t really imagine doing anything else with my life. I finally found something that I truly believe in and it doesn’t feel like work at all. =)