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Greatest Video Game Composers: Ari Pulkkinen

Greatest Video Game Composers: Ari Pulkkinen - Article

by Taneli Palola , posted on 23 March 2016 / 6,648 Views

Today we're going to take a look at a composer who is a relative newcomer to the scene, and one many of you probably aren't familiar with, although it is almost certain you've heard at least some of his music during the last ten years or so. One song in particular comes to mind, but more on that later. Still, even though he isn't that well known at present, he is most certainly an extremely talented composer and his work deserves more attention. The person in question is a Finnish video game composer Ari Pulkkinen.

Pulkkinen started his career as a composer working in the computer music demoscene, winning multiple competitions in the late 90s and early 2000s. His first video game soundtrack was for a little known freeware game called Starfight VI: Gatekeepers in 2000. He would start working professionally as a video game composer in 2003 when he was hired by the Finnish developer Frozenbyte to work as an in-house audio director. He was only 21 years-old then.

His first work for the company was the soundtrack to Shadowgrounds, a top-down shooter released in 2005. The game received mildly positive reviews, with the music often being cited as one of its best aspects. Starting with this game, Pulkkinen has composed music for all but one of Frozenbyte's titles thus far. From this very first score it was apparent that Pulkkinen was an extremely talented composer; one who was able to create excellent pieces ranging from quiet, haunting melodies to pulse pounding metal tracks.

However, his next score wasn't for a Frozenbyte game. Instead it was for Housemarque's PS3 hit Super Stardust HD in 2007. With this soundtrack Pulkkinen demonstrated his talent for creating techno influenced music, likely harkening back to his days in the computer music demoscene. This also started a long standing working relationship between Pulkkinen and Housemarque.

That same year he also returned to compose the soundtrack to Shadowgrounds: Survivor for Frozenbyte, creating a soundtrack that was very similar to the original one. Following this he decided to quit Frozenbyte and founded his own sound production company called Aritunes, essentially becoming a freelancer in the process.

Despite his newfound independence, Pulkkinen maintained a close relationship with Frozenbyte, and in 2009 composed the soundtrack to their next game, Trine. The score for this co-op puzzle platformer is in my opinion one of his best works to-date, featuring several excellent tracks done in what could be described as a baroque style of music. Once again he composed something entirely different compared to his past work, continuing to prove his versatility with almost every new soundtrack. Trine would eventually become a huge success for the developer and later spawned two sequels.

However, it was a certain other game that he worked on which held most people's attention. That one song I mentioned at the beginning of this article is from this game. You might just recognize it. It is, after all, the theme to one of the most successful mobile games of all time.

There probably isn't much that needs to be said about Angry Birds. At this point pretty much everyone knows exactly what the games are like. The score Pulkkinen composed for the game fits its style and theme perfectly, and the game's main theme has become one of the most recognisable pieces of video game music in recent memory.

Following Angry Birds, Pulkkinen was once again contracted by Housemarque to create the sountrack for their next game. The game in question was a top-down shooter on the PS3 called Dead Nation, which released in 2010. The game was well received upon release and has since been remastered for the PS4 and Vita.

The following year Pulkkinen composed the music for another Housemarque game, Outland, which is a very unique 2D platformer. The game features a polarity system similar to the one found in the classic shmup Ikaruga, which forced the player to switch between red and blue colours in response to the colours of the enemies. The soundtrack to the game is once again excellent from beginning to end, having a somewhat tribal sound to it. 

That same year he also composed the music for two other games. The first is a little known iOS game called Bike Baron, and the second is Trine 2, the sequel to the highly successful puzzle platformer from 2009. Just like the game itself, the soundtrack feels like a natural continuation of the first game's music. It sounds similar enough, but also builds upon the sound introduced in the first game.

At this point Pulkkinen was largely dividing his time between working for Frozenbyte and Housemarque. In 2012 his music was featured in three releases - one entirely new game in Super Stardust Delta, a DLC pack in Trine 2: Goblin Menace, and a re-release in the form of Angry Birds Trilogy.

In 2013 Pulkkinen composed the music to Resogun, one of the PS4's best early releases. The game was praised for its gameplay, graphics, and soundtrack, which is very similar in style to Pulkkinen's scores for the Super Stardust games. Resogun has since become highly successful, helping Pulkkinen gain even more recognition for his work.

His latest work saw him once again return to the world of Trine with the third installment of the series, Trine 3: Artifacts of Power. While the game was significantly less well received compared to its predecessors - many critics citing the game's short length as its main downfall - the music is once again excellent, as Pulkkinen clearly gives the score everything he can.

As I said earlier, Pulkkinen is a relatively new face in the video game industry. Thus far he has worked exclusively on games developed by Finnish game studios, but I wouldn't be surprised if at some point in the near future his music begins to attract attention from elsewhere as well. Given that he is only 34 years old he likely has many more years ahead of him in the video game industry.

I hope you enjoyed this look at a somewhat less well known composer for a change. As always, thanks for reading.

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spemanig (on 13 April 2016)

Super interesting read!

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DonFerrari (on 24 March 2016)

Very hard to put at the same time that he is a newcomer (with 10y experience though) and the GREATEST composer... and not a week or two ago we had the same title for a japanese composer

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Darashiva DonFerrari (on 24 March 2016)

The name of the series is Greatest Video Game Composers, plural. And I don't think a composers greatness can be measured entirely by how long he or she has been working as one. What makes someone great is the quality of their work, not how well known or how many scores they have done. Naturally I wouldn't call someone who has only made one or two scores one of the greatest, but Pulkkinen already has well over ten soundtracks under his belt so I don't see the problem.

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DonFerrari DonFerrari (on 24 March 2016)

My bad on missunderstanding the plural. But still, 10 years isn't a newcomer, it's on the levels of consolidated. And yes, the quality and variety of the work matters, but industry reports on "greatest" is so badly used that sometimes it's ridiculous. Like all those bands that are considered the greatest and then one year latter dies off.

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Darashiva DonFerrari (on 24 March 2016)

Yeah, 10 years isn't technically a newcomer, but as I said, he's a relatively new face in the industry compared to most people I will covering in this series.

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Darashiva Riku148 (on 24 March 2016)

True. I seem to have forgotten to mention it. I even have the game myself.

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SuperNintend0rk Riku148 (on 24 March 2016)

You did mention it actually. Right after Angry Birds there's a little paragraph about it :)

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Darashiva Riku148 (on 24 March 2016)

So I suppose I missed the fact that I didn't miss Dead Nation then. That's fine.

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