As we were collecting music for the Epic Games 20th Anniversary Original Soundtrack, we knew that the final product would not be complete without the work of Dan Froelich. Dan’s music set the tone for a majority of the very first video game title’s that Epic MegaGames produced. Jill of the Jungle, Xargon, Kiloblaster, and Solar Winds were all early PC games that set the foundation for what Epic Games has become today. Each of them featured Dan Froelich’s unique talent for video game music.
Dan is a classically-trained multi-instrumentalist and composer based out of Boulder, Colorado. He has written soundtracks for several other computer games and independent film projects. We caught up with Dan to ask him about his experience working with Epic in the early days.
PixelK1tty: When did you first begin composing music?
Dan Froelich: I studied music in college, but it really came together for me in 1985 when I got a 4-track recorder and a Roland drum machine. That was the real start.
PK: How did you first become involved in creating music for video games?
DF: Tim Sweeney put a post on usenet (in rec.music.synth) looking for a composer for a game he was developing. A couple of years before, I had scored an instructional video on how to paint science fiction and fantasy miniatures. I sent a tape of that soundtrack to Tim as an audition, and the rest is history.
PK: What was the process like working with what was once Epic MegaGames (now Epic Games) on the Jill of the Jungle soundtrack? How did you collaborate?
DF: Early on, Tim and I talked on the phone, and sent 3.5″ disks back an forth through the mail. Later, we upgraded to modems and Compuserve. Tim had always been very easy to work with, and encouraged me to write whatever I wanted.
PK: What inspires you most when creating music for a video game?
DF: The artwork. Once I see that, I start hearing music in my head. The gameplay also helps define tempo and groove.
PK: How do you feel music adds to or enhances the gaming experience?
DF: I think it helps the player become more immersed in the game. Good game soundtracks transport you into the game just by hearing the music.
DF: In the early 90s, I used the AdLib Visual Composer with the SoundBlaster sound card. Back then, PCs didn’t make sound (other than beeps). You had to spend $100 for an SB card, crack open your PC to install it, then get the drivers to work with all of your games. The AdLib Visual Composer software I used didn’t support MIDI, so I had to input each note with my mouse. Now I have a ProTools studio with lots of cool plug-ins, hardware and software synths and samplers, and lots of acoustic instruments to add realism to my compositions.
PK: Can you tell us about any of your current/upcoming projects?
DF: Right now, I’m playing in a couple of bands in Colorado. While I get a great deal of satisfaction composing music by myself, making loud music with a group of very talented musicians has its own appeal.
PK: Can you tell us about the bands you are involved with more recently: The RetroSonics and KonaBound?
DF: RetroSonics keeps me the most busy. It’s a 4-piece cover band that focuses mostly on the European pop of the 80s (Duran Duran, ABC, Depeche Mode). I play guitar and bass in RetroSonics, and do most of the synth sequencing. Kona Bound is a Hawaiian band where I play lap steel guitar and uke. That’s more of a specialty band, but a lot of fun.
DF: I don’t play video games as much as I’d like, but I get to see and hear my teenagers play them all the time. I like the Assassin’s Creed and Gears of War franchises for the gameplay and beautiful scenery.
PK: What advice would you give someone who wants to get into composing music for video games?
DF: Try to be different! When I started writing game music, the field was dominated by simple (but very catchy) melodies. I went for a more atmospheric, moody approach. To a large degree, the technology of the time influenced what could be done musically, but I tried to use it in ways that were unusual. Now that we’re another 20 years into video game soundtracks, the technology has gotten out of the way and a distinct style has emerged for the music. I’ll be interested to hear innovative, edgy soundtracks that challenge the conventions.
Special thanks to Dan for sharing all this great background information and advice. If you’d like to learn more about Dan, check out his website here! Also don’t forget to download the Epic Games 20th Anniversary Soundtrack to hear a track from Jill of the Jungle!