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  • Greatest Video Game Composers: Graeme Norgate

    January 9th, 2018GamespotUncategorized

    Most video game composers begin their careers by creating music for small, relatively risk-free projects, allowing them to break into the industry without feeling pressured to deliver something great from the get-go. Graeme Norgate did not have that luxury when he first entered the world of video games. He was immediately thrust into the limelight, largely because the company he joined had recently become one of the highest profile developers in the world.

    That company was Rare, and what had pushed the developer into the limelight after years of existence was the news that it would be handling the next game in Nintendo's Donkey Kong series. This was the moment when Norgate joined Rare to work as one of the developer's in-house composers. While Norgate didn't work on Donkey Kong Country, all eyes were now on Rare to see how it would perform, and every game made by the developer went under much greater scrutiny than before.

    Graeme Norgate joined Rare in 1994 and immediately began working on his first score for the studio, which was for the game Killer Instinct. Together with Robin Beanland he created the score for the game's Arcade, SNES, and Game Boy versions. While Norgate composed just four of the game's songs, his electronic style was already clear for everyone to hear. My favourite songs of his from the soundtrack are ´Full-Bore´and ´Controlling Transmission´, both of which show his considerable talent at work.

    Following the release of Killer Instinct Norgate quickly moved on to his next project, this time working together with David Wise to compose the music for the 1995 Game Boy title Donkey Kong Land. Around this time he also worked on the score for the SNES version of Killer Instinct 2, but the port was never released despite apparently being fully completed, probably because an N64 version was in development at the same time. Nintendo likely didn't want the two versions to compete against one another, especially in light of the fact it was heavily shifting focus to the newer platform, and as such decided not to release the SNES version at all.

    In 1997 Norgate finally got the chance to work on a solo composition when he was assigned to develop the music for the N64 title Blast Corps. The game's soundtrack is a rather eclectic collection of songs featuring a number of different genres of music, all of which somehow still fit into the game's overall aesthetic and style. From jazz to rock and country, every track has its own unique tone that is often made specifically to suit one of the game's vehicles. The above track, for example, is essentially the theme for the largest of the game's three mechs.

    In addition to Blast Corps, Norgate kept very busy throughout 1997, as he also composed music for another N64 classic - Goldeneye 007. This was done alongside Grant Kirkhope and Robin Beanland, with Norgate also creating many of the title's sound effects. In addition, he aided in the development of Diddy Kong Racing, working on that game's sound effects as well, while David Wise composed the actual in-game music.

    His next project was composing music for one of Rare's more experimental N64 titles, Jet Force Gemini. The game became one of the developer's lesser hits on the system, and the music composed by Norgate and Beanland is often overlooked in favour of their more well-known works around this time. Norgate's time at Rare came to an end while the game was still in development, although he did contribute to the music of one other Rare title before he left.

    That final contribution was a handful of tracks for the developer's spiritual follow-up to Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark. The few tracks he did compose show Norgate's penchant for creating dark, foreboding themes, the best of which is perhaps the one you can listen to above. The rest of the soundtrack was then completed by Grant Kirkhope and David Clynick following Norgate's departure.

    Alongside several other notable employees, Norgate was part of the mass exodus from Rare between late 1998 and early 1999, which resulted in the formation Free Radical Design soon after. This new team consisted largely of people who had been working on Goldeneye 007 and Perfect Dark while at Rare, and as such it made sense that the new developer's first game would be another FPS. This game would be released in October of 2000, and went on to spawn one of the generation's best FPS franchises. It was, of course, TimeSplitters.

    From its inception Norgate was essentially the main composer for every single game made by Free Radical Design, beginning with the release of TimeSplitters in 2000. The soundtrack for the game is massively varied, featuring a huge number of different musical styles, as seems to be the norm for all of Norgate's scores. Every track weaves a unique atmosphere for every one of the game's many locations, from the haunting Graveyard theme to the Bank theme that is somewhat reminiscent of some of Goldeneye 007's music.

    Norgate's next project was TimeSplitters 2, which spent nearly two years in development before releasing in late 2002. The game's score very much continues and builds on the style Norgate used with the first title's music, with various different genres mixing together to form an excellent whole. As with many of Norgate's scores, the music in TimeSplitters 2 is often quite dark in feel, creating an interesting contrast with the game's overall rather humorous tone. However, there are certainly some very upbeat tracks to be found in the score, with the Nightclub theme perhaps being the most obvious example.

    After TimeSplitters 2 Free Radical Design took a break from the series and decided to try something quite different with its next title. This would turn out to be Second Sight, a third-person stealth action game released in 2004, and the only non-FPS title the team would ever develop. Norgate's score for the game was yet another example of his considerable skill in creating deeply atmospheric music filled with suspense and dread. This was also the first of three times Norgate worked together with Christian Marcussen on a score.

    The second time the two collaborated on a soundtrack would follow in 2005, with TimeSplitters: Future Perfect, the third and to this day the last entry in the series. Up until this point Norgate had been undoubtedly been the leading composer for every Free Radical game, but this time he split the workload fairly evenly with Marcussen. Norgate was still responsible for many of the score's standout tracks, though, including themes like ´Scotland the Brave´, ´What Lies Below´, and ´Spaceport´.

    After Future Perfect Free Radical moved on to a project that at one point in time was described as a “Halo killer”, which was supposed to be the launch of the next big FPS franchise, but upon release proved to be anything but. The game was Haze, and it effectively killed Free Radical and resulted in the developer being bought out by Crytek in 2009, less than a year after Haze's release. The game's music was once again composed by Norgate and Marcussen, the final time the two worked together on a score.

    Fittingly, the Haze soundtrack was originally planned to match the ambition and hype behind it, but as with apparently many other aspects of Haze, time ultimately ran out before these plans could be implemented. Originally it was supposed to have a full radio station the player could listen to from the HUD during gameplay, and much of it was even recorded and can actually be heard if you stand in the right spot of the game's first level.

    After Haze's failure the studio was bought out and renamed Crytek UK. At this point it began working on the Crysis series, beginning with Crysis 2. However, Norgate's next project was actually a small Facebook game called Gansta' Zombies, which released in 2010 and was developed by a team founded by David Doak, who over a decade earlier had left Rare with Norgate to help form Free Radical.

    Around this time Norgate began to slowly transition more towards a producer role on the scores he worked on. He was the audio director on the console version of Crysis, which released on the PS3 and 360, and retained that same role on Crysis 2, both of which were released in 2011. The following year he composed music for two mobile games - Twist Pilot, and perhaps more notably, The Snowman and The Snowdog, which was based on the animated short of the same name.

    Since this Norgate has continued working as a sound director and in other producing roles, although he still composes some music for the games he works on as well. In 2013 he was part of the sound team for Crysis 3, and composed some additional music for the game as well. After this he took a short break from video games, but returned in 2016 to work on Homefront: The Revolution, for which he took on the role of audio director while also composing some of the game's incidental music.

    Out of all the extremely talented composers who worked for Rare during the developer's golden era in the 90s, Norgate is often overlooked in favour of others like David Wise, Grant Kirkhope, or Robin Beanland. However, over the last nearly 25 years he has created a vast library of exceptional music, first at Rare and then later at Free Radical and Crytek.

    While he hasn't been quite as celebrated a composer as some of his peers, Norgate deserves to be acknowledged in the same group as one of the best composers still working in the industry today. His skill at creating beautifully haunting and atmospheric tracks, as well as some delightfully upbeat themes, is extraordinary, and should be recognized alongside other industry greats.

    -Norgate's official site
    -Norgate's IMDb page
    -Norgate Interview (Designing Sound)

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