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Kevin Smithers talks composing for new PlayStation VR game World War Toons

Kevin Smithers

Growing up in Mexico City, Kevin Smithers’ first dream was to be a video game developer. Despite having no idea what this meant at the time, as a child, it seemed like a pretty cool job. His passion for music took him into a career in film composing, but he now has come back full circle, and re-entered the gaming world through music.

Smithers composed the music for the new PlayStation VR game World War Toons. The game, developed by Studio Roqovan, is a first person shooter built from the ground up to be played in virtual reality. Even though it’s based on World War II, it has an animated style similar to Looney Tunes and Disney. It is currently in beta and available on the PlayStation store.

“Working on World War Toons was a fantastic experience. James Chung, the CEO of Studio Roqovan, invited me to write the music for the game and it’s been nothing short of incredible,” said Smithers. “James is a very musical person who understands and enjoys music, so I had to bring my A game.”

Bringing his A game is not an unusual experience for Smithers, who is a very experienced and sought after composer. Despite this, World War Toons was his first experience with working in the newer world of virtual reality video games, which made the project that much more enticing. But it was looking at the experience of those he would be working with that really made him want to work on the project. Many of people at Studio Roqovan has previously worked at Disney and Infinity Ward (Call of Duty: Modern Warfare). James Chung, the CEO and creative director, described Smithers’ passion behind the project as awesome.

“Kevin’s interest in the technical aspect of game making was super helpful. Also, his desire to accommodate our need for specific issues within the game really paid off. I want to feature his work more,” said Chung. “There are many talented composers out there, but Kevin is one of the few who gets the interactive side of the music making. He understands layering of music that can scale up during the gameplay is very important. But at the same time, Kevin pulls it off so smoothly and makes sure the music itself is rich. World War Toons is lucky to have such composer on board.”

Smithers was responsible for composing and producing the main theme of the project, as well as the music that went into the trailers, having to overcome the challenge of getting the tone of the game. Blending a goofy looney tunes type of feel to a somber theme of World War II required the perfect musical blend, which Smithers delivered.

“When I first spoke with James he asked me to send him ‘cartoony war music’. I wasn’t quite sure what that meant, but after meeting with the team and seeing what they were building, it was clear to me that we needed a good balance of cartoony music while also ‘playing it straight’ sometimes,” described Smithers. “We had to have the game be light and fun at all times which seems contradictory to heavy World War II music. However, playing it straight over crazy silly moments tends to be funnier as it falls on the side of parody.”

Smithers decided to compose some of the music in the style of Carl Stalling (Looney Tunes) and Scott Bradley (Tom & Jerry). For the crazier cartoony moments, he created more serious World War II music in the vein of Michael Kamen (Band of Brothers) and John Williams (Saving Private Ryan).

“Working on the score for films and video games are similar in many ways. You create a concept that will work for the project based on what the director/developers want the film/game to be. The process is also very similar in the sense that you then mock-up the cues and send them back for notes and revisions,” he began. “Where they differ, is in the way the music has to be played back, and thus, the way you structure your music. While film music is linear, you go from point A to B, in games this is not necessarily true, you need interactive music. The player can go from point A to B, C or D, or just stay in A for an hour. Because of this, I have to write the music in way that can be programmed into the game to be interactive”

Smithers has had a career filled with success. He has worked on the film On the Roof, where he was recognized for the score at various film festivals and won awards. He has worked on over 20 films, and will be doing the music for the upcoming web series The Storybox Project, with Studio Roqovan’s side company Rascali, but he working on World War Toons sticks out in his brain as a highlight of his career.

“Conducting a suite of my music for the videogame with an orchestra, on a battleship, for the game’s launch has to be up there,” he said.

It is without a doubt that virtual reality is changing the way video games will be played forever, and with Smithers working on the music for the games, we can be sure to expect great content.

You can download World War Toons from the PlayStation store now.

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