Kris Straub
Kris Straub Google+

Kris Straub on video game music, webcomics and horror

How did you get involved with Symphony of Legends?

Andrew Pogson who works for the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra contacted Scott Kurtz and I about doing a show last year hosting Symphony of Legends: Video Games Unplugged in Melebourne. We said yes, and I mean, we thought, why did you contact us?

We thought it had to do with the fact that we were Penny-Arcade adjacent, Mike and Jerry were not available I guess, so the next step down is us. But we're happy to do it, we're happy to go to Australia, why not?

We're both avid video game players of course and there's something amazing which we didn't experience till we got there of having this stuff performed life because it's honestly, video game music is a very intimate art form.

Typically you're experiencing by yourself. You're at home, in your pyjamas, but now you're getting dressed up and going to the orchestra to see it performed. It really changes it. I think it's very effective for it to be presented that way in a huge hall.

So do you think it's worked as a concept as far as audiences are concerned?

Oh yeah, absolutely. I think that the idea that video game music is, in the same way that it's intimate it is also very emotionally effective.

This is music designed to be queued to events in a game and it's not always just combat music, its not always just a main theme. So many games like Skyrim or Uncharted need music that's there for thirty to forty hours of content and this music has to carry these moments including the quiet explorational ones.

So I think that it can be a very solitary and personal experience to hear these tracks that you play at home then it completely changes the context of it when you hear it outside. It makes it that much more emotional and that much more effective when you're sitting there in room full of three, four thousand people and you hear the opening choir of the Skyrim main theme, it's pretty spectacular.

Where do you think game music changed? I remember as a kid getting Red Alert for Christmas and opening the box to find an audio cd with a full album on it, when did things go from Midi blips and terrible electronica to the works of art we get today?

I think the budgets grew as the industry improved, there's as much money being poured into any one of these given video game titles as there is in any hollywood blockbuster movie these days. There's millions of dollars being spent on this and there's very little differentiation in terms of quality in the way that these tracks are being written and produced and performed versus the soundtracks on a movie.

I think that for me, I remember being astounded when, what game would this have been, I'm going to say Descent 2, I remember it had Redbook audio on it for the first time and instead of it being some MIDI blips, I could take that CD and then skip the first track, the data track, and you could just play that in a CD player and I was amazed, like "Oh, that's how they store it". I think that as soon as you can make that jump, video game music can hold its own space.

I remember when I was younger, getting video games that I liked on the NES or whatever and holding a tape recorder up to the screen so I could have [the music] for later. I've been asked at what stage did I really think about video game music for the first time and for me it was very early on and it was the game Bionic Commando for the Ninetendo, the 8-bit one. That game affected me very much, I liked the gameplay obviously and the big spoiler that you're actually fighting Hitler who's been reaniminated. I remember toward the end of the game and that showed up and I was nine years old or something and I was like "Woh, that's Hitler,"

And then in another part of the game when you're a little further on and Hitler was like "You think you're going to stop me? You damn fool," and you're like "woh he said damn, God I shouldn't be watching this."

I spent so much time with that game that I came to love those themes and the lull music and I beat the game and the end credits would roll and and I wondered "Who made this? Who made this music that I have spent so much time with?"

The credits came up, and because it was translated, the name in English was 'Gondamin'. I don't know what kind of name that is, it's like a pen-name. This is before the Internet and everything and I thought "Gosh, I will never be able to find more music from this person, how will I ever be able to locate it there's just no way" and I thought about this person thousands of miles away who wrote this music that affected me and if I wanted to hear more I would never be able to, I can't. And I was very young when I thought about that stuff, like I was nine or ten years old.

Have you later gone back to find out who that was?

You can now, yes, and I forget her name, but it was a woman and she did a couple of other video game themes from games that I don't know but of course now it's so easy to find that out, it's so simple, but back then I was like "Arrgh, how would you even begin to research that? Who would you call?"

What was it like hosting the Melbourne show with Scott Kurtz and Wil Wheaton?

They were great, it was amazing, I don't know what accounts for this but I've done smaller shows by far, I mean this is the largest thing I've ever done and there was maybe forty-five hundred people in that audience and I have been more nervous for smaller shows of a couple hundred people. I don't know why.

I think that the show was just so big that I was no longer able to fathom it. It just broke me. But it was a great experience, there was a good chemistry on stage I enjoyed doing it. I wish I had more of a chance to actually listen to the tracks 'cause there we were backstage still going over our lines. I remember the opening themes of World of Warcraft and Skyrim, of course, they're so identifiable, you're right on stage and it's so loud that it's pretty amazing. Those are the moments that I remember from that show: being backstage and getting ready to go on while this amazing thing is happening that I don't even get a chance to listen to.

Last question, if someone was wondering if they should go to symphony but were kind of 5050 on it, how would you convince them to come along?

I would say that you're gonna hear amazing music all night long and you're gonna get comedy from me and Paul that's also very enjoyable, we both have beards, and they'll be in full display all night long. They're really the big ticket items. I know that Queensland Symphony Orchestra didn't want me to discuss the beard situation but it's gonna be intense.

We've actually managed to book them both. The beards have their own agents. They're kind of a tough get but the QSO paid top dollar for them.

Just to let you know it's actually my beard doing this interview. Kieran's back hiding under his desk trying to make the day go faster.

He's asleep somewhere?

Yeah, real journalists are kicking him as we speak.

Real journalists?


Has Wil Wheaton asked you on to Table Top yet?

No he has not and I'm so mad. You let him know. I didn't go on table top but I did go to his house. We played Settlers of Catan Star Trek edition so it was like a demo version - he vets the games to see if they will work on camera, are they too complicated, are they fun, will they work out, so that was a fun night and I enjoyed it very much. But I did not have to do it in front of a camera.

When is the next Blamination coming out?

Oh gosh, there is nothing in the works yet, yeah, those are tabled, how much content do you guys want from us? We're doing two strips a piece.

Have you ever missed your mouth while drinking from a water bottle?

Is this the speed round? From a bottle? No, I've never been asked to take stock photos of being at the gym and having to refresh myself by splashing the front of my body.  That has not happened yet.

Do you and Paul Verhoeven frequently synchronise your bowel movements or is Symphony of Legends a special occasion?

Well the reason why he and I have had a lot great chemistry since first I met him last year is because of the variety of our bowel movements. Now, I'm a solid man and Paul keeps it liquid so, you know, that's two combinations that can't be beat and I think that magic's going to come alive on stage.

That almost sounded like I was going to get a legit answer I could use. I'm thinking there'll be a blooper reel for this.

I like the understated a little bit more.

Are there other Bad Mood priorities beside Alpha-1 Zero Zero Zero and can that system help me get out of work for the rest of the day?

You know, I want to say that it's true, but I am feeling like, in all honesty, today has been, we're trying to buy a house and there's all kinds of other stuff going on so I've been under a lot of stress so I'm like, how do I give vent to this?

Even the Chainsawsuit I did yesterday was kind of a downer. It's not the funniest one I've done. How do I produce entertainment when I am feeling under such pressure. I'm very fortunate to have the audience I do who've been very supportive but I hope to never find another bad mood beyond this current phase.

I'm actually surprised at the jovial nature of this interview so you should be counting your blessings.

I am very grateful, I'm curious to know how you do it.

I think it's something that plagues all creative people is that they ... we're afraid that the things that give us our creative ability are also the things that sometimes make us miserable and if you solve them will you be creative anymore?

That's a big worry, I've heard that a lot, a lot, a lot.

Congratulations on beating the final boss of Kickstarter with Broodhollow, can you give us a hint or the story behind the person that kickstarted with the unknowable level?

That, okay, the uknowable level? Nobody got to that one. The hightest bid and also one of the very earliest bids was Mikey Newman, my cohort on the Chainsawsuit podcast as well as the writer of borderlands, borderlands 2, he's a writer in his own right as well and he's a, he's a good friend of mine. He's been very supportive of my efforts.

As part of his bid he's slated to appear in Broodhollow as a character. And I'll work him in as, pretty significant.

You said in the video about Broodhollow that you've enjoyed it more than any of your other strips so far, I mean, Starslip went for seven years, that's a pretty high bar to hit.

It is, and I love scifi and when it ended I kind of went 'well what do I do next? Do I do more scifi? Cause, I have other ideas, for worlds for science fiction, but it just felt like 'how do you break away from that universe'.

I would have just continued it but I was running out of stories that I wanted to tell in those universes.

I've always been interested in horror. What was interesting in getting into [horror] was realising how much more near and dear to me horror ended up being.

Where for the science fiction aspect of Starslip I was tapping into things I was thinking about in high school and junior high ... where else is there to reach?  In Broodhollow I started tapping into things I'd been afraid of when I was in grade school and younger. I think that it's made it feel authentic because, I mean, the fears of the protagonist are just pretty much my fears straight across. It's the exact same concerns and I'm just working through it in a narrative.

I suppose it's helping

I hope so. If it helps too much though I won't write anymore so I have to go visit some graveyards at night and get scared again.

Bonus question, will you be coming to PAX Australia next year, 2014?

Yes, I will come to PAX Australia next year. It's November right? I'm sorry I missed this year's but I had decided to go to San Diego Comic Con instead which I will never do again. It is not a very good show for creators of my size, that's my belief.


It's just gone down every year. It has to do with the show getting bigger and getting much more movie and TV oriented so when I show up there with my small book people are "this isn't Batman, this isn't Supernatural" it's just not a show for a small creator. PAX however, is my audience, it'll be great.

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