Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Where are they now? - Michael Z. Land

Michael Z. Land's first project at Lucasfilm/Lucasarts was The Secret of Monkey Island

Considering all the recent talk about Ron Gibert and Gary Winnick's Kickstarter Project, Thimbleweed Park, I thought for this week's "Where are they now?" post we take a look at one of the most important people at Lucasarts when it came to composing game soundtracks. I am of course talking about Michael Z. Land who was involved in just about every game Lucasarts developed during their golden era of the 1990s. So how did he end up working for Lucasarts and what did he work on? What has he done most recently?

Michael Z. Land got his big break with Lucasarts by simply responding to a newspaper ad. Lucasarts (or Lucasfilm Games as they were known then) were looking for a permanent, in-house sound and music creator to which Michael applied for. He managed to secure the job and his first project was composing the music for the comedy pirate adventure, The Secret of Monkey Island which was released in 1990. Apparently Michael was given a lot of creative freedom when composing the music for the game, with the only constraint being that the music had to be "pirate reggae". I think he did an exceptionally good job since the game has a classic soundtrack and the main theme is often covered (as it was with Video Games Live Level 3 - although technically they covered the third game's theme) and remixed to this day.

Michael wasn't satisfied with the audio system he had to use in developing the soundtrack to The Secret of Monkey Island so he, along with Peter McConnell, would develop a system that would become the de facto audio system for all future Lucasarts games: this system was called "iMUSE" which stood for Interactive Music Streaming Engine and the reason Michael wanted it developed was so that music could be changed dynamically depending on the events that occurred within the game. The trick was to make it as seamless as possible so the player wouldn't notice any jarring changes in music.

iMUSE was added to the fifth version of the SCUMM engine (Lucasarts's scripting tool/engine for developing adventure games) in 1991 and the first game to use it was Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. Thanks to the development of iMUSE, Michael would receive credit for many of Lucasarts's games and the system was still in use in 2000 when Escape from Monkey Island was released.

Besides co-developing the revolutionary iMUSE system, Michael also composed the scores to many classic Lucasarts adventure games during the early 90s such as The Secret Weapons of the Luftwaffe (1991), Indiana Jones in the Fate of Atlantis (1992), Star Wars: X-Wing (1993), Sam & Max: Hit the Road (1993), TIE Fighter (1994), and his personal favourite, The Dig (1995).

During the late 90s, Michael still composed music but he adopted a more senior title of "Sound Department Manager" and he oversaw sound production on games like Outlaws (1997) and The Curse of Monkey Island (1997). Michael also composed music on 2000's Escape from Monkey Island but his involvement with respect to actually composing pieces was considerably less than his efforts on the first three Monkey Island games.

Michael claims to have worked at Lucasarts for 10 years which means he would've left around 2000 or 2001. While he wasn't as prolific during his Lucasarts years, he did manage to compose music for SimCity 4 (2003), The Bard's Tale (2004) and Thrillville (2006). His last known project was working on the soundtrack for Telltale's Tales of Monkey Island which was released in 2009. While it was fantastic to hear him composing the soundtrack again for a Monkey Island title, sadly there's been absolutely no word from him in the past 5 years. His buddies from his days back at Lucasarts such as Peter McConnell and Clint Bajakian are still working on game soundtracks (Broken Age and World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor respectively) but there doesn't seem to be any sign of Michael Z. Land. I'm hoping that he's somewhere out there still composing soundtracks for games and if he isn't that he returns to the fold - and soon!

LINKS:
[ Wikipedia: iMUSE ]
[ Wikipedia: Michael Land ]
[ MobyGames: Michael Z. Land ]
[ Monkey Island Wiki: Michael Land ]
[ GS Soundtracks: Interview with Michael Land ]

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