Greg Wal, Music Composer and Programmer

I’ve been interested in video games and music composition since early childhood, but the moment when I chose my professional path happened when I was around 12-13 years old. At the time, I played Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, and it was the first game to fascinate me on many levels. Most important, thanks to Michael Giacchino’s soundtrack, I realized how powerful music in a video game can be – it gave me goosebumps, thrilled me, and gave me a feeling of power. This experience inspired me to become a video game music composer.

My name is Greg Wal and I compose music for video games under a pseudonym, ‘Draco Nared’. Almost all my life, I’ve lived in Kraków. I moved to Wrocław for a year – during that time, I started my first serious job in a video game industry. I worked as a tester at Green Genie Games. However, after some time, I had to return to my home city and I haven’t moved since.

When I was 6-7 years old, I found a phonograph record from my family’s big collection of vinyl records and it changed my life. It was a recording of a Piano Concerto op. 11 by Fryderyk Chopin, performed by Krystian Zimerman at the final concert of the International Chopin Piano Competition in 1975. I was amazed by the piece and immediately felt that I want to compose music as well. I’ve had ups and downs, and I’ve considered alternate jobs, but creating music was always my main goal. For over 20 years, music has been following me everywhere.

At some point in my life, I was fascinated by the music of Peter Tchaikovsky, Anton Bruckner, and Mieczysław Karłowicz; at some other, I loved the music of Philip Glass, John Adams, and Joe Hisaishi. As regards video game music composers, I enjoyed works by Michael Giacchino and Jeremy Soule; now, I’m interested very much in works by Austin Wintory. However, there is one piece that I consider the best, which I can listen to all the time: Hebrides Ouverture by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy. If somebody asked me what is my favourite piece, it is this one.

I usually start composing with piano, paper, and pen, in this order. I’ve always been connected to a traditional way of creating. Before I got my first professional sample libraries (which happened a dozen or so years after my first composition trials), I used a piano to create pieces and I used paper and a pencil to write them down. It all ended up with a huge pile of paper written with ideas that had never been performed. However, when my task is to create a textural soundscape (like ambiance in games such as Agony), which is impossible to create with standard 12 pitches in an octave, I reach to software synthesizers. Then I prefer to go with the flow and grab something from the chaos that will play its role in the whole piece.

I’ve scored several horror games (3 are done, two are in development), a warplanes action game, a handy-man simulator, a rogue-like game, a strategy game and many more; apart from that, I have a lot of smaller or bigger pieces that can be found on my YouTube channel. Each of those works has a different style and sound. Though I mostly rely on traditional ensembles like orchestras, I don’t close myself on other approaches and like to experiment from time to time. However, if I had to describe my favourite ensemble, it’s orchestra with electronics. This area of music has something in it that my thoughts go there from time to time, and I’m still waiting to score my own Mass Effect-like game (which is one of my dreams).

There are two things I love about composing music. One of them is the transfer of emotions. I’ll begin with the view that music surrounds us in modern times: we listen to it in shops, in travel, at home, in media. But the choice of what we want to listen in a particular moment is usually based on emotions we feel or want to feel; if it is anger, we’d play a death metal piece rather than a Gregorian chant; if it is a joyful, party mood, we’d choose salsa over hip-hop. Each piece brings us on an individual emotional journey.

The other, more significant thing for me about composing music, is creating something. Once, I talked with a friend composer, Mikołaj Stroiński, about a drive to writing music to games. I then realized that the possibility to create music is the most important factor. Whether it’s for myself or someone, a short or a long piece, for a small or large ensemble, the process of creation, being able to paint with a sonic palette and melodic brush, brings an enormous joy to me.

When I create a piece “for myself”, I have the sole control over the process and how the journey will look like. Metaphorically, I write a book I’d like to read, meaning I pour emotions that I’d like to feel. What makes me even happier is when somebody, while listening to my piece, feels the same emotions or even sees the same image in their head as I do.

When I create a piece for others, this journey is a result of a collaborative work. I become a member of the team, not only a “guy who writes the soundtrack”. I translate what others created (if it’s game mechanics, artworks, or a script) into music, making sure that the team-leader is happy with where it is going. Sometimes, I have a lot of creative freedom; sometimes, I have to comply with the restrictions of the client’s vision.

Most of the space in my portfolio takes games from the horror genre, though each has a different mood. The first I will mention is Phantaruk by Polyslash, which is very important to me because it was my first creative achievement as a game developer and composer – I was the only programmer on the game and provided music for it. It started as an after-hours project with Patryk Polewiak – after some time, we co-founded Polyslash and ended up on a small team that released a full game (Patryk was the main designer on Phantaruk and later co-designed and co-produced We. The Revolution). Looking back, I would have changed a lot during the development, but that’s probably a common thought among creators.

The next one, and the most important so far, is Agony created by Madmind Studio. I had a lot of creative freedom in sound that resulted in 2.5 hours of various music, and I am really proud of what I created. I wrote epic orchestral music and haunting ambients, and I could experiment with ideas I hadn’t had an opportunity to try before. The most significant tracks for me are especially ‘The Fall’, which plays in the intro sequence, and ‘Once Again’, a song I co-created with Liane Silva, a Portuguese singer.

Among other titles, you can find:

  • Lust for Darkness, combining erotica and Lovecraftian horror
  • House Flipper, that gives you a possibility to renovate houses
  • We. The Revolution, that takes place during the French Revolution
  • Red Wings: Aces of the Sky, that allows you to control and fight warplanes during the 1st World War.

In 2016-2019, I did a personal challenge which I called Woodvember. Partially, it was a reference to Inktober, but the idea was to create short pieces for woodwinds only, once a day in November. In that time, I created almost 120 sketches which I haven’t had time to develop into full pieces.

My favourite experiences with my music composition are when I hear my music played live. I won’t lie, I was really proud when Phantaruk, the first video game with my music, was released. I was also really proud of my work for Agony, which I consider my biggest achievement so far. As a person who spends most of his time working on samples, there’s something amazing when I hear somebody performing my piece, especially ‘Once Again’, a song with Liane Silva. The music was written by me, but it was her performance that gave wings to the piece.

The most important memory of this feeling is from many years ago. I was probably 15-16 and was attending a summer music school in Rabka-Zdrój, organised by my piano teacher at-the-time, Łukasz Dębski. I had an opportunity to write something for a string trio. In a haste, after 2 or 3 days, I created a short piece and played it with a violinist and cellist that were present at the place. It wasn’t very complicated, but when I heard it and it all worked as I imagined, I was incredibly happy. I’ve never played it again with anyone and never had an opportunity to play something similar, but the memory is still strong and I like to remember it from time to time.

My short term goals with composing music are to write down scores of all my pieces for video games. Even if it’s only for myself, I like to have things on paper. This way, I also practice score writing in case I might record with an orchestra or somebody who needs an orchestrator. What’s more, I plan to finish two albums. The first one is in the process of creation and is based on another sci-fi idea; the second one is a remake of music I created for a fanmade modification of a strategy game set in the Mass Effect universe.

A long-term goal is to hire an orchestra to record some of my music. Though I write orchestral music, it’s mostly sample-based and I’ve never had an opportunity to work with a big ensemble before. I hope to make this wish come true someday.

There are many similarities between composition and programming, which are both about solving problems. In both areas, we have an objective to complete and we have to put all available elements together to get a desirable result. Sometimes, we do everything from scratch; sometimes, we use already-created templates. The difference is how those elements look like – in music, we have sounds, melodies, rhythms; in programming, we have chunks of code with different functionality.

What’s more, in both areas, it’s hard to give feedback to someone who isn’t in touch with the things we do. Once, I had a very interesting short conversation about it with Łukasz Hacura, a CEO of Anshar Studios: saying if something fulfills our expectations, it is easy, but elaborating is much harder if we don’t have enough knowledge or experience in the job we do. In my opinion, that’s why it is important to find a common ground as soon as possible to avoid conflicts and misunderstandings.

There is always more than tech – there are people. People who stand behind the tech and people who use the tech. Tech (which is a way to see progress) never exists in a void; it is a result of communication between people. And it’s never a communication between giver and receiver – both sides give and receive; it’s an exchange of ideas. It is very important to be able to share our creative passion, whatever we do. Exchanging and confronting ideas is how we evolve.

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