YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Composer Finds a Niche and Scratches It Successfully : Music: With his specialty in writing scores for popular computer games, George Sanger and his Team Fat have hit the jackpot.

September 06, 1993|Associated Press

AUSTIN, Tex. — He doesn't gyrate like Elvis or croon like Sinatra. But to computer-game aficionados, George Sanger is a musical superstar.

Twanging out ditties from a rack full of guitars in his home-built studio, Sanger, 35, has become a leading independent writer and producer of the melody backgrounds in popular computer games, the recreation of the multimedia generation.

"If you find a niche, scratch it," said Sanger, who likes to be called by his trade name, the Fat Man. It's not a reference to his physique, but symbolizes what he calls his ambition of Orson Welles-ian success.

With help from a few collaborators who call themselves Team Fat, Sanger has produced musical scores for more than 80 computer games, including blockbusters such as Loom, Ultima Underworld and Wing Commander.

"We're in a position where it's actually perceived that our music adds value to the game," Sanger said. "I'm like the pretty girl at the prom."

Surrounded by computers and sound equipment, Sanger looks like a studio technician at a record factory. His wife, Linda Law, is his "mission control," assembling contracts in a back room of their modest Austin home.

To some extent, writing the score for a computer video game is like writing the score for a movie, Sanger said. The software program writer will present Sanger with material that ranges from a vague idea to a script that lets him envision what type of tunes would be appropriate.

The scores are composed with any instrument, recorded and transmitted over a phone line. Sometimes, the music already is lurking in Team Fat's collective head.

"Wing Commander," for example, is an embellished melody that group member David Govett had been humming for years. It offers bluesy jazz background music as the player enters the officer's club of a spaceship fighter and receives tips from veteran pilots.

Sanger's latest work, "The 7th Guest," has been praised in industry trade publications as a breakthrough in computer-game music.

Team Fat member Joe McDermott, who specializes in children's music, said Sanger isn't widely known in Austin, where the group has been concocting computer music for four years. But at computer-game conventions, McDermott said, the Team Fat leader is a celebrity.

Sanger's story is much like the tales of other popular musicians. Success didn't come easy, happenstance intervened, and fate could have easily left him doing something else.

In his pre-computer game days, Sanger searched for stardom in California, playing guitar, leading rock bands, studying television and film, and scrounging around at odd jobs.

He briefly toyed with computer games; writing a 10-second tune for skating penguins, which netted him $1,000. Meanwhile his brother David was collecting Grammy awards as the drummer for Asleep at the Wheel.

Visiting David in Austin once, Sanger decided it was far friendlier than the atmosphere in Los Angeles, where hustling for an angle to break into the entertainment business is a way of life.

"In Los Angeles, you go into a bar and people will ask you, 'What do you do'? In Austin, you're asked, 'What are you having'?" he said.

Sanger moved to Austin and dabbled--writing a book of cartoons, looking for bands to produce, engineering records, selling T-shirts.

Soon, he had the reputation as "The Earl Scheib of Music," writing songs for any occasion for $49.95, and later $79.95.

Then in 1989, a friend connected him with computer-game software makers who were looking for musical background. His tunes were such hits that his name was spread by word-of-mouth.

Sanger now is riding a wave of rave reviews in magazines such as Computer Gaming World, PC World and Multimedia World.

"He's pretty much considered the king of music for computer games," said Warren Sirota, a columnist for Multimedia World. "He's done more than anyone else. He's been associated with really successful games."

Los Angeles Times Articles