Wilbert Roget II ’05 is an award-winning composer in the video game industry. Beginning with piano at age 4, Roget developed a passion for improvisation and composition. In high school, Roget discovered video games and fell in love with the cinematic storytelling, leading to his ultimate decision to pursue a career in scoring soundtracks for video games. He cites classic Japanese video game and anime soundtracks as formative sources of inspiration, particularly during high school. In addition to studying music in high school and at Yale, Roget composed soundtracks for indie video games found on the internet. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition, Roget worked on soundtracks for indie films.
In 2008, he began work for LucasArts as a composer and music editor. While there, Roget composed soundtracks for “Star Wars: The Old Republic,” which won him two awards from the Game Audio Network Guild in 2011. Upon leaving LucasArts, Roget became a freelance composer and has since scored “Call of Duty: WWII,” “Lara Croft: Temple of Osiris” and “Guild Wars 2: Path of Fire.” Additionally, he is the co-founder of Impact Soundworks — an audio software company and sample developer designed for composers. Roget has also lectured on game music at the Game Developers Conference, San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Yale, among other institutions.
On Nov. 1, during Paris Games Week, Roget’s score for “Call of Duty: WWII” was premiered in concert.
Q: What do you enjoy most about your job?
A: I think the most fun I have is usually working with live musicians, collaborating with musicians who really understand what I’m going for and then apply their own kind of special kung fu to the mix. At this point, I’ve found a lot of musicians that I really love working with, and they can add something to my music rather than just playing what’s on the page. A lot of these musicians that I work with routinely nowadays come from Yale — Doug Perry MUS ’14 and Matheus Souza MUS ’14 and Sam Suggs MUS ’14 are all Yale School of Music graduates from, I think, around 2012 to 2014 with all Master’s and Ph.D.s. I love working with players who really understand video games and what the special needs of a game are, as opposed to playing for a good concert hall.
Q: What do you find meaningful in the work you do?
A: I’m not sure how exactly to answer that, but I will say that every composer, we always have things that excite us. There’s always something out there that maybe doesn’t have anything whatsoever to do with the actual project, but it’s just something that maybe we heard on the radio or iPods. If there’s a technique that we want to explore further, one of the greatest things about our job is that no matter what we’re writing for, we can get into these things and examine [them]. You’re constantly learning. You’re constantly doing something fresh and interesting and seeking out these new avenues. That’s what I find the most meaningful — the fact it’s not really just a slog, but you’re always seeking out new techniques and new sounds and things to inspire you.
Q: Can you tell me about challenges specific to your work on the “Call of Duty: WWII” soundtrack?
A: It was a big change in my career because, previously, I had done all these big, epic, fantasy things like “Guild Wars,” “Star Wars,” “Lara Croft” — fake worlds don’t really exist. With “Call of Duty,” this was a thing that actually happened, and it wasn’t even really all that long ago. This is a real tragedy, usually [seen as] the greatest tragedy in the history of mankind. I couldn’t really use that heavily embellished orchestral style that I normally do. Everything about it had to be as simple and focused as possible because as soon as you step right into the more composer-ly embellishment, it all falls apart. It feels like you’re commenting on something, rather than letting the [players] actually experience it for [themselves]. You have to take a step back and be as simple and plain as possible because that’s just the way to be respectful in your treatment.
The other thing I wanted to mention was that I did a lot of research on, not just on war movies and World War II movies, but also just on contemporary trends in scoring. Again, one of the things about my previous scores was that because they’re [fantastical] and epic, I could get away with those old-school techniques — they were fine for those [scores] — but this is a “Call of Duty” title. There’s an expectation of a more contemporary, closer to the Hans Zimmer–type sound, which I didn’t necessarily do, but it still required at least an awareness. I did have to study, to some extent, some of those more modern scores and answer the question of, “Okay, well, what does a contemporary score sound like, and how can I marry that with my own style?” How do I make it my own while still satisfying what players are expecting and what they need from the mood and the vibe and the pacing of the gameplay?
Q: What do you listen to when looking for inspiration?
A: I would say for this game, my closest inspirations were actually 20th-century art music composers like Claude Vivier and his piece “Zipangu” and Takemitsu and his “Requiem for String Orchestra.” Those are the big ones that I studied. Oh, of course, it was Krzysztof Penderecki and his “Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.” These were pieces that are very well known in the 20th-century art music world, but not many of their sounds have really been explored in a cinematic context just yet. But, I thought it was great because they have this grit and unsettling nastiness, especially in the use of strings. I just thought, yes, that’s exactly what “Call of Duty” needs, in order for me to bridge the gap between a fresh new contemporary sound and something that really evokes the World War II setting. Those were probably my closest inspirations for this score.
Q: Just to elaborate more on your college years, how did your time at Yale affect your career or who you are as a person?
A: What’s magical about Yale, specifically, is that they take extracurriculars extraordinarily seriously. There’s definitely space to go off and do your own thing. The music program was very heavily encouraging you to join an orchestra or form a band or, in my case, write my own music outside of the classroom that had nothing to do with what the 20th-century art music that we were writing for school, but instead it was what I wanted to do as a career. I loved the fact that it gave me the space to do that, as well as the fact that it’s Yale, so there’s tons and tons of extraordinarily talented musicians that I could and did collaborate with throughout all four years.
I loved the fact that there was such a diversity of musicianship, too. One of the reasons that I chose Yale in the first place was because during Bulldog Days, we had a Korean step troupe, we had Shades, we had an African drumming troupe, as well, and we had a Slavic choir, and they were amazing! The Slavs were just — it blew my mind — and I loved the Bulgarian traditional music all throughout high school. I never thought that I would see that in college, and here they are! I actually ended up hiring them for two different projects after college. One of them was a video game score, and another was a sample library. A lot of their performances are actually in my “Lara Croft” score because of that sampling session.
Everyone’s constantly doing something. No one is sleeping. I would bet money that you would have the same cold for like three years because nobody sleeps in college. They’re always doing things, and I loved that. That just set me on this path of constantly trying to redefine myself, always [trying] to look at the bigger picture of what I’m doing. If I had gone to a technical school, then, yeah, sure, I would’ve had all the production knowledge very early, but I didn’t. Instead, I went to a school that focused on the more theoretical aspects of music making and what it means, where your place in history is. And that’s great because now I can adapt to any of the changes that the industry has. I can preempt the trends that are going to happen, and that’s been a huge bonus. I don’t think I ever would have made it this far if I had done a more typical, production-heavy, technical-school-type conservatory. But, instead, I went somewhere like Yale where I was just surrounded by all these different people and all these different fields, and that’s where I drew my inspiration from.
Q: Just to finish, do you have any advice for aspiring composers or current Yale students?
A: Absolutely, yeah! Get out there, and meet other students. There [are] so many different musicians out there [and] so many great film projects being made by Yale students — you just have to find them. You have to have the bravery to go up to someone and say, “Hey, I would love to collaborate with you. How can we make this happen?”
Students can collaborate with the Yale Symphony Orchestra. I think one of my first times working with a live orchestra was orchestrating for the Halloween Show. That was so much fun. It was my first time ever working with real players. It was awesome. [During] that first freshman week [at the extracurricular bazaar], I talked to someone from the Yale Symphony Orchestra, and I said, “Hey, is there anything I can do to work with you guys? I play piano, so I’m kind of useless, but maybe if I could do anything else?” And they said, “Actually we’re doing this Halloween Show — you want to help out with that?” And I’m like, “Yeah, sure! I’ll do whatever you want me to do!” That’s how I got to work with the orchestra as an orchestrator and copyist and arranger. It was a fantastic experience.
Again, you have to get out of your comfort zone because I know, obviously, being composers, we tend to be more introverted and a little less outgoing. But if you get past that, you can make some amazing collaborations and friendships that last forever and that absolutely can lead to a fantastic career no matter what field you’re in.
Selena Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org