Minecraft And Celeste Composer On Nintendo Influences And Writing For The Biggest Game In The World – Feature

Lena Raine
Image: Lena Raine

Lena Raine’s meteoric rise over the past few years has taken her from working in Quality Assurance at ArenaNet, all the way to being nominated for a BAFTA and an award for Best Music at The Game Awards — pretty impressive for someone who’s technically only nine years old, due to her birthday being on February 29th.

Raine’s love of video game music goes back a long way, all the way back to NES games, where the likes of Koji Kondo and Hirokazu Tanaka wove their musical magic into some of the best soundtracks of all time. As part of the new generation of video game composers, Raine’s soundtracks evoke a feeling of nostalgia, harking back to Saturday mornings cross-legged in front of the TV, controller in hand.

Yet, at the same time, Raine’s style of music is entirely its own, recycling her inspirations into something entirely new. Her work on Celeste mirrors the tone of the game by jumping between synth-heavy pop and gentle, soothing piano melodies; if you’re into Minecraft, you almost definitely know the glorious, bass-boosted bop that is Pigstep.

As part of the Nintendo Life Video Game Music Fest, we spoke to Lena Raine about her work, the composers that inspired her, and what’s next for music in games…

Nintendo Life: How did you get your start in composing for games?

Lena Raine: I think there’s a bunch of different answers I could give for this question, but the most honest one is that I was determined from a pretty young age that I wanted to write music for games. So everything I ended up doing after high school just kept funneling me towards that path, in one way or another.

I went to school for music, tried contracting for games for a while, got a job in QA and eventually a design position at ArenaNet. I still wasn’t doing full-time music work, but I kept picking away at it in the background. It wasn’t until I was just turning 29 that I began writing music for Guild Wars 2, but I kept writing and hoping that I’d get an opportunity. And then I just used that momentum to keep doing music and eventually turned it into my full-time career.

Lena Raine's Celeste Album, Farewell
Image: Nina Matsumoto / Lena Raine

Were there particular game soundtracks/composers in your childhood that inspired you? How have they influenced your style?

I grew up playing a lot of Nintendo consoles, as early as the NES and Gameboy at six years old, so I was subconsciously absorbing a lot of the house Nintendo style from Koji Kondo’s Mario and Zelda music, and Hirokazu Tanaka’s contrasting sounds of Metroid and Kid Icarus.

As I got older, I ended up getting absorbed in JRPGs, starting with Chrono Trigger and became a lifelong fan of Yasunori Mitsuda’s combination of orchestral and folk instruments as well as some sneaky samples and synths. And honestly I’ve just kept an open ear over the years, always listening for new sounds developing in both the games space and outside of it in pop music, electronic music, and new experimentations. It’s a huge pot of music fusion.

Have you ever been told that game music isn’t “real music”? What would you say to that?

I don’t think I’ve ever been told it isn’t “real”, because I’d never let that fly. It’s a silly argument. Music is music, no matter what it’s for or what its intent is. Closing yourself off from that argument is just being deliberately obtuse, I feel.

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