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Gamer Melodies: A Composer Explains Her Career And The Need For Pixel Prison's Harmonica

photo courtesy of Alyssa Menes

People who love games – everything from ones on the computer to board games – will dominate downtown Seattle this weekend attending the convention known as PAX Prime. People there can try out brand new games, learn how to make their own, or attend panels, including one about writing music for video games.

Alyssa Menes, a young woman composer from New Jersey, is one of the panelists.   

She grew up playing classic Nintendo games from the 1980s, games such as The Legend of Zelda, Mario, and Kid Icarus, and fell in love with those tunes.

“The melodies were just so catchy, it was like after you’d stop playing the game, after I’d stop playing the game, I would still hear that melody in my head,” Menes said.

She studied classical composition and learned lots of instruments – guitar, bass, ukulele and saxophone. At the same time, she’s always been into playing video games.

“One day it just hit me, I was like, you know, I can write music, I’m pretty good at this, I should make music for games,” she said. “Why not combine these two things that I love?”

Breaking In

She immersed herself in the world of game development and started getting hired. One of her recent gigs was to write music for the multi-player cops and robbers game called Pixel Prison Blues. Menes says she hired a harmonica player because she wanted to evoke a jailhouse feeling.

“I really just wanted something gritty and bluesy but also something that wouldn’t take over the whole game while the game was happening,” she said.

Menes says it’s kind of an intellectual puzzle putting the music together for a video game because it’s not linear.

“You have to make music that loops and also changes with what the player is doing, so the player is almost controlling the score in a way, which is really interesting,” she said.

There aren’t all that many women composing video game music. She’s hoping that when she gives her presentation at PAX, one or two women in the audience will be inspired to follow her lead.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.
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