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A Peter McConnell Interview

"A beard before it’s declared stupid? Well, it’s not actually a graph that then goes up. There are bumps on it along the way, and it depends on the social context, you know?"

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Way back in May we got the chance to chat it up with Peter McConnell. As the composer responsible for the music in Full Throttle and Grim Fandango among others, anyone with half a brain should know to pay attention when his name pops up in the credits to two upcoming games.

Yes, both Psychonauts, and the ill-fated Full Throttle: Hell on Wheels were Peter McConnell projects. But, between the time we interviewed Peter and the time we actually ran the story, Full Throttle 2 went and got itself cancelled. (Fortunately Psychonauts is still decidedly not cancelled)

With that in mind, we trimmed a bit of the Hell on Wheels content from the interview, but we've left plenty in. Hey, maybe production will resume in a few months and we'll find ourselves sitting on some sort of brilliant year-old scoop? Anyway... we now take you to our story, already in progress:

Jake: I was wondering about Psychonauts. Since we've only heard the one song in the trailer, can you just talk about your influences and maybe the type of things we'll be hearing in the score?

Peter: Yeah, a lot of Bernard Hermann, a lot of Danny Elfman, a certain amount of the Twilight Zone music, John Williams always comes up somewhere in there. But I'd say those two guys especially in there.

Andrew: Yeah, it kind of has a Vertigo score to it, doesn't it?

Jake: Do you have a favorite track so far, even though we haven't really heard anything from it yet and won't know what you're talking about?

Peter: My personal favorite? The campground at night.

Jake: Is there going to be a soundtrack for Psychonauts?

Peter: I hope so. And I hope so for Full Throttle 2.

Andrew: And what about the balance between the live musicians in Psychonauts as opposed to the sampled instruments?

Peter: Absolutely as much live as possible. Still kinda working that out. That's a less developed situation right now. The score is still being fleshed out for Psychonauts. But for Throttle, it's interesting, because I was thinking about the influences for Full Throttle 2 as well. I'm trying to figure out what they are. It's sort of... I don't know... it's Ben, I guess.

Andrew: That's what I meant by saying it has a very distinct instrumentation to it.

Peter: Yeah, all that dark stuff. I'll definitely try to keep the flavor as much of Full Throttle 1 without... you don't just wanna knock it off. You don't want to rehash it, and since we'll be working with a variety of bands rather than just one band, and also Roy Rogers, working with his slide guitar playing will definitely take it in a certain direction that I'm pretty excited about.

Andrew: The original music for the first game – not the rock and roll stuff – there wasn't any live recording, right? Wasn't it all synthesized?

Peter: It was all synthesized, yeah. That's right

Andrew: Is this new one going to be a mix, or is it going to be all live?

Peter: Well, some of the sounds I wanted to use are synthesized sounds, but as much live players as I can. Live drums, live guitars everywhere, live bass, some live violin. I'm a violinist.

Andrew: So is there going to be some orchestral stuff? Because there's kind of some sprinkles of orchestral in the original game.

Peter: Yes, there will be. You know, I can't guarantee it'll be done with full orchestra. [Laughs]

Andrew: Emperor's Tomb?

Peter: [Laughs] Yeah, but there will be some string stuff, for sure. I guess what I would say about it is it's definitely going to be a brooding, moody score. It's going to have that vibe that the first score had. It'll be more be more extensive than the first score. The first score is pretty spare, and this will be... the music will be more present. But there will also be a lot of situations where you just kind of have that lonely feeling of the guitar strums, you're all alone, and nothing's going on. It's lonely out there in the desert.

Jake: Is the score going to be "interactive" like in Indy, where the music will kick up more when a fight starts?

Peter: Well in the game, there's a pretty hard distinction I would say between exploring situations and action situations. When you're in an action situation, it'll be pretty obvious, so you won't be going in and out of those things that much... that often... frequently... yeah.

Jake: I think Spaff has a question.

Spaff: [Sighs] I apparently have to ask this to everyone today. How long in centimeters does a beard have to be before it is declared stupid?

Peter: [Laughs] A beard before it's declared stupid? Well, it's not actually a graph that then goes up. There are bumps on it along the way, and it depends on the social context, you know? I mean, ZZ Top... you might think of them as having stupid beards or you might think of them as having very cool beards. You might think of Don Johnson as having kind of a stupid beard in the 80's. [Looks at Spaff's stubbly face] Actually you probably wouldn't, because you're close to Don Johnson there. [Laughs] Uh, if it gets too white and you're too young, that's not cool. That's a problem that I have, definitely.

Jake: But you've got the hat.

Peter: Oh yeah, that kind of offsets it a little bit?

Jake: The lollypop's good, too.

Peter: [Looks at the purple lollypop he's holding, which is in the shape of some kind of weird creature.] Oh, okay. Actually, this is just a Kojack thing, I guess.

Andrew: I've got one final, really generic question.

Jake: Is it the toothbrush question? Because you're not allowed to ask that.

Andrew: No, no. I was just going to ask, do you have a favorite of all the LucasArts scores you've done that really stands out?

Peter: I think that would have to be Grim Fandango, yeah. Yeah, that's the one to beat for me. And I'm very determined to beat it. [Laughs]

Andrew: Well thank God there's a soundtrack.

Peter: Yeah, that was a great thing. I still enjoy listening to my own soundtrack which is saying a lot.

Don't forget the MP3 downloads! See, the title of the article wasn't lying to you. We've got three music clips from Psychonauts here for you to enjoy. We threw in the old Psychonauts trailer just to refresh your memory, and your allegiance.* Download:

Download section missing

Thanks to Peter McConnell for taking time during E3 to sit down with us. Double thanks to Peter McConnell, Jon Lenaway, and Tim Schafer for the music clips. Look for Psychonauts Winter 2004, probably.

Interview conducted by Andrew Langley, Jake Rodkin, and James Spafford. Illustration by Kingzjester.

* For the record, we've got no idea if the screenshots we used for the download buttons actually correspond with the music, we just made educated guesses.

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