Alyssa Cristina (“A.C”) Menes is a composer/sound designer who specializes in game audio. She’s also a huge Smash fan (She mains Pit), is a professor at Bloomfield College and is a conductor for Montclair GSO. Her music has been featured in several indie games as well. Since she has new music debuting today, we thought it’d be fun to talk with her about her music career and Smash!
Where did your passion for video game music begin? Was there a particular game the inspired you to start working with video game music?
It definitely goes back to the NES era. That’s where I first started playing games at a very young age. And while I loved the music from all of the games I played, it was definitely the music of Kid Icarus that stuck out to me and inspired me the most. The original inspired me as a child to start learning music, and Uprising inspired me again as an adult to level up my music skills and to make even better music.
What work are you particularly proud of?
I’m quite proud of a lot of my work. Particularly, I’m fond of the music I’m created so far for Love Is A Game (https://soundcloud.com/
What is a series that you would like to contribute music to?
I would love the opportunity to get to work on a Nintendo game. Kid Icarus or Smash would rock!
What video game musicians have inspired you?
There’s been so many! Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, Yuzo Koshiro, Austin Wintory, Jake Kaufman, Harumi Fujita, Yasunori Mitsuda, Nobuo Uematsu, Jason Graves just to name a few.
How do you write music for a video game? What’s the process like?
Usually, I start by playing the game and trying to figure out what kind of music I feel would fit in the background. It really helps to get a sense of the gameplay, because then I can figure out the pacing for my music. If I don’t have a build of the game, I end up asking the developer a bunch of really in depth questions about the setting, what’s going on in the game/story at the time. Then once I feel like I have enough information to go on, I sit down at the piano (or grab my guitar if I’m writing a rock song) and start playing and writing down ideas. This part just consists of me rapid fire writing down little melodic ideas and other snippets. Then it’s off to my computer, where I’ll either put these snippets together in a full song in my music notation software (if it’s something orchestral). If it’s a rock song, I just throw down a quick drum beat in my DAW (audio software) and start laying down some rough guitar parts to build my song on.
What are some of the challenges of working in the industry?
Since I work on the indie side of things, there’s quite a few challenges, often with budget. I really want to record more live musicians in my work, but sometimes I just don’t have the budget for it. But as indies, we make things work for sure!
What are some of the rewards of working in the industry?
You get to meet lots of cool people and become friends with them, which thrills me. I’ve gotten to meet so many amazing game developers, artists, and musicians over the years, between going to local gamedev meetups and by going to bigger events such as GDC and E3. Also, you get to do what you love! And that’s the best thing. I wouldn’t want to do anything else with my life.
When did you start playing Smash, and why has the game stuck with you for so long?
I’m actually a fairly new player to the series. I never had an N64 or a Gamecube as a child, so I didn’t play Smash 64 or Melee until much later. When Brawl was around, me and my bandmates would play multiplayer together after practice. I would pick Pikachu, and I would always be the first to die. Man, I got ripped on so bad. Towards the end of Brawl (right before Smash 4 came out), I started playing Pit and would do a bit better, but I wasn’t hardcore into the game by any means.
When Smash 4 got announced, I got super hyped for it. Of course, I was happy to see that Pit was coming back, so I decided that when the game came out, I was going to main him. I only really played casually until about a year ago, when I started competing.
It’s kind of a personal reason why the game has stuck with me for so long. 2015 was a very difficult year for me between a lot of stuff, and playing Smash offered me some comfort. Plus competing was something fun for me to do, since I’m always working so hard. I’ve actually learned a whole lot about self-improvement through competitive Smash, and I’ve made a lot of cool friends from the community.
What are your thoughts on the meta of Smash?
I play the most honest character in the game, so maybe that’s not a question for me to answer. In any case, I love seeing how rapidly the meta is changing in Smash 4. It’s still a fairly young game. Recently, Nairo just pulled out an amazing win against Mr. E using Bowser, so now everyone is trying to pocket Bowser as a result.
How do you feel about series’ director, Masahiro Sakurai?
His games are amazing. I find myself studying his game design quite often. I really, really appreciate how he takes tropes from particular genres, and streamlines and simplifies them. For example, fighting games have always been overly complicated in my eyes- pulling off combos in Street Fighter just isn’t something I can do easily. But with Smash, he made the genre far more accessible by making it much easier to pull off simple moves. Smash is a game that can be learned in 60 seconds, but it takes years to master. To me, that’s a hallmark of great game design. All of his games have those layers of simplicity and depth.
What’s a character that you would like to see in the next Smash?
Shovel Knight would be cool. I would prefer Plague Knight honestly, but you wouldn’t see him without Shovel Knight first. Sometimes I think about who would be cool to see in the next Smash, but I know I would just end up maining Pit anyway.
You’ve premiered four new tracks for Kid Icarus’ 30th anniversary today! What inspired you to work on these wonderful tracks?
Obviously, I’m a lifelong fan of the series. The music really inspired me to make music. I always feel like Kid Icarus sometimes gets forgotten about, yet it has so much to offer. And the music is just so great. So I wanted to celebrate this series and its wonderful music.
What are you working on now?
A few game projects I’m not allowed to discuss yet, sorry! Other than that, working on some more orchestral arrangements for Montclair Gamer Symphony Orchestra’s Spring 2017 concert, date TBD. Stay tuned!
Let us know what you think of the interview in the comments below!