When it comes to game audio, you can’t get any more experienced than Sam Yang. Sam is the mastermind responsible for first starting Tencent Games’ audio team over ten years ago. He has worked on the audio design and production for nearly 100 games to date, including international hits like Call of Duty: Mobile, Honor of Kings, and QQ Speed. Through all this, Sam has seen the video game industry transform into the billion-dollar industry it is today, always successfully being ahead of the curve when it comes to game audio. Hence the awards him and his team have garnered, including Best Original Song at the 2019 GANG Awards, Best Music in a Casual / Social Game at 2016 & 2017 GANG Awards, Song/Score – Mobile Video Game at 2015 & 2018 HMMA Awards and Song/Score – Trailer at the 2014 HMMA Awards. In anticipation of the upcoming international release of one of his titles, Honor of Kings Original Game Soundtrack Vol. 1, Sam discusses everything from why he chose to collaborate with the legendary Hans Zimmer, to where he sees the future of game audio in the below exclusive Q&A. Honor of Kings Original Game Soundtrack, Vol. 1 will be released digitally on January 25, 2020 by music publisher and custom music producer, Unisonar.
Why are so many people listening to Timi Music today?
Games are really the most popular form of entertainment these days and TiMi has developed some of the most popular games in the world, so we have a large audience to hear our music. We like to think that setting a high standard for our in-game music is a part of our success. TiMi works with some of the world’s greatest composers and we actively promote it. We publish our original music on mainstream music platforms in China, hold concerts and share stories about how we compose it. It’s taken some time – around 5 years – but now there’s an audience for our work. We hope this release of the Honor of Kings soundtrack will expand that audience.
Why do you collaborate with Hans Zimmer and Hollywood composers? How did this collaboration first come about?
There was two main reasons we wanted to work with Hans Zimmer. First, we’re fans of his work. Second, we thought his work would best fit our needs to help make a truly epic style for Honor of Kings. We were fortunate as we’d already had in-game music that helped set a clear stylistic approach. By working with Hans, we were able to further improve the quality while retaining our stylistic approach.
How did you build up such a professional audio team from one person, to now serving all of Tencent studio’s products?
Anything like this takes time, but to get this going, we had to share our vision for why high-quality music would benefit players and make our games better.
Once that vision was something the company aligned on, we had to achieve it. That meant working with our existing internal, full-time sound designers to assure they really understood our games’ core sound design. Then, we need to assure they were capable of solving any hands-on problems that arose for our player base.
At that point, it becomes much easier to work with the global community of composers and sound creators to help us create new work for our games. It took us a decade of effort to reach our current status, where our Audio Center team can serve all TiMi Studios products.
What do you find is the most important aspect of your job?
Build the most suitable team and provide it with the best platform, so that every talented designer can give full play to their best level. The continued delivery of excellent work by TiMi Audio Center is the focus of my work at present.
What do you think has been the key to TiMi Music’s success?
We like to think music augments a fun game – so it’s been really important that TiMi continues to develop hits loved by players around the world. But from a purely musical perspective, there are requirements for effective game music. Just like a game, there needs to be a sonic depth that is also easy to follow. And there’s the functional needs of a game, so balancing art within the technology is a must as well. If you can balance these within a fun game, there’s a good chance you’ll develop an audience for your music.
Do you have a favorite album that TiMi has worked on? If so, why does it resonate so much with you?
I’m a huge fan of our Honor of King albums. These pieces blend Eastern and Western music aesthetics so it’s not only relevant to my personal preferences, but also passionate music that will pump you up. It’s really a style all its own.
From the beginning of when you first started with Tencent to now, what are some of the biggest changes you have seen with gaming audio?
Audio quality in Chinese games continues to improve and we’re seeing our competition pay more attention to sound design. We’re also seeing the different audio and music needs grow more segmented with a strong professionalism for each.
What is the future of your development?
We’ll need to be more integrated in the global game audio industry. Ideally, we’ll add international talents to our team to offer a wider range and an opportunity for deeper exploration of sound design for specific game genres.
Some game audio teams have been working together for more than 20 years, accumulating genre-specific experience even. As we attempt to catch up to some of the leaders, we’ll need to work with the industry’s accumulation of experience and different resources. We’ll also need to develop specialized skills to fit with the specific needs for each game. We anticipate a lot of growth from our team – and have much to achieve in the future.
In what direction do you see the future of mass gaming going?
Playing is really a fundamental part of being human so games are such an integral part of the human condition. That means games will continue to grow more accessible and more diverse as they attempt to fit the needs of more and more people. At TiMi, we consider games to be the ninth art form, after architecture, sculpture, painting, music, dance, poetry, film and television. Games will continue to be more recognized and accepted in public. It wasn’t that long ago that TV and film were mocked for being more tech than art. And as games continue to evolve, humans will continue to seek out play and these interactions will matter deeply.
Many thanks to Sam Yang for taking the time for this interview.