Robert Litton (BA ’01, Music; MA ’04, Music Composition) doesn’t play video games, and he may be one of the last Angelenos with a flip-phone in his pocket. But it took the classical composer just two short words to sign on to score “The Star Chasers,” a level-based game app released in late January: John Williams.
The legendary Hollywood composer who inspired Litton’s career is perhaps best known for his longtime partnership with Steven Spielberg. He helped define the adventure genre through iconic theme songs like “E.T.,” “Indiana Jones,” “Jaws” and “Star Wars.”
It was a Williams sample that Artak Avakyan, a former Sony cinema animation artist starting his own gaming label, intended to play for Litton over lunch.
Litton told him he needn’t bother. When he learned Williams was the musical inspiration for Avakyan’s debut game app, he signed on to the project then and there.
“It was our goal to recreate that feeling of fun and excitement,” Litton says.
Within just a few weeks, he had reserved the minimum three-hour slot at Skywalker Ranch’s recording studios, hired a 60-piece orchestra on a shoestring budget, and written a thrill-seeking piece worthy of intergalactic space travel.
It’s a job that most composers today would do on a computer.
“The thought is that ‘This is just a little game on your phone, it doesn’t need to be a big epic score,’” Litton says. “We found a way to make it work (with a live orchestra) in the budget — it was a struggle.”
Litton’s skills as the conductor also played a part in the final product.
“The rule of thumb is about five minutes of music for every hour in the studio, and that’s if everything’s going really well. We ended up with about 20 minutes of music in our three-hour session, which is a lot. I’m incredibly efficient at the stand.”
“The Star Chasers,” which Litton explains took about two years to produce due to the nature of building a startup and Avakyan crafting the app single-handedly, follows a runner who must collect fallen stars and return them to the sky. The game features various characters with unique acrobatic abilities, accurate constellation maps, metrological events/battles, and up to 40 levels of play.
“With a video game, we had to figure out how to get a lot of mileage out of a small amount of music through repetition,” Litton says. “But you have to play through to the levels in the lower 30s to hear all the music I wrote.
“I hope this takes off and we get to create more music for more levels,” he adds.
In the meantime, he will continue with his steady gig as an orchestrator — Litton polishes musical scores that have been imperfectly translated into computer programs — which includes ongoing work with the A&E television drama “Bates Motel,” now in its fourth season.
He also works with concert halls and chamber groups on classical pieces in a freelance capacity, and visited CSUEB in May 2015 to help symphony students prepare for a performance of his original work, “One for All,” which won a national competition during his senior year and was performed at Carnegie Hall.
“I’m very appreciative of my experience (at the university),” Litton says. “I want to continue to take advantage of any opportunity to talk to (CSUEB) students about music and the industry.”
Litton was honored as the Distinguished Young Alumnus of the Year in 2010 and was featured in the fall 2010 issue of the Cal State East Bay magazine.
“The Star Chasers,” from Lightbound Studios, is available for free download from the Apple App Store and Google Play.