Interview: Laura Shigihara

Playing Plants vs. Zombies? Then you’re likely familiar with this little lady and her infectious tunes! She’s a gamer, a video game music composer, and she’s even got her own game coming down the pipeline! I’m talking about Laura Shigihara of course, who’s responsible for the extremely adorable and catchy videos that you may have seen via YouTube or the various Plants vs. Zombies Twitter accounts. I was lucky enough to score an interview with her, and she’s graciously answered a few questions for us here at Spawn Kill. Look out, readers, there’s a Laura on your internet!

Molotov: Where did you get your start in music? Did you start out via the gaming industry?

Laura: Well, I started taking piano lessons when I was 5, and I always enjoyed just spending hours improvising on the piano while I was growing up.  I even enjoyed playing video game songs (in particular I played a lot of music from the Megaman series).  But I lived in an area that had a very rigid idea of “acceptable careers” so to speak, so having a career in music never crossed my mind.  But during college, a friend of mine gave me some music creation software (Cakewalk 7.0), and I had a blast with it.  I spent so much time procrastinating papers to write little songs here and there; mostly video game style music.  I also messed around and made a few songs with words, which I recorded with a little computer microphone that I got for free from a career fair.  After giving that CD to a friend, and having it passed to a bunch of record companies, I was offered some auditions at major labels… I guess when I was on the plane flying to Japan for those auditions, it had finally occurred to me that having a music-related career was actually a possibility.  And that’s basically how I got my start.

Molotov: Your Japanese version of the PvZ theme is amazing and (in my opinion) superior to the English version. Why aren’t we seeing you with the likes of Utada Hikaru and Ayumi Hamasaki? You could make it easily!

Laura: Thank-you for saying that :) I was actually going that route for a while; I was offered a couple record contracts in Japan back in college.  But I guess the main reason I didn’t accept was because there were some things included in the contract that compromised my morals.  I was really put-off by that whole incident, and it prompted me to take some time off to figure out what I should do next.  During that time I was in America, and I started working as the sound director for a company that produced an audio talkshow, and English learning materials through Apple Japan.  I also composed my first video game soundtrack.  I really enjoyed it, so I started taking more video game contracts.  And I guess that’s why I’m doing that now instead :P I am planning on releasing a new album though in the future with more of my personal songs on it…

Molotov: What kinds of games are you most interested in?

Laura: Oh, I’m all over the board here… I like rpg/adventure, RTS, side-scrollers, fighting games, puzzle games, FPS…

Molotov: Tell us a bit about your own gaming project, The Blue Star.

Laura: “The Blue Star” is a Super Nintendo style rpg/adventure game that I’ve been working on for the past two years.  I actually wrote the story a long time ago, and I’ve been drawing the characters ever since I was a kid, but I only recently decided to undertake this crazy hobby of turning it into an rpg :) I have to say though, despite all the work, I’m really having a great time with it.  The story is about a pair of twin brothers who were separated early in life after the death of their parents.  You play as one of the brothers, Achaius, who has wound up living in a tribe full of small cat-like creatures called Leebles.  Through a series of events that leads you to leave the village in an attempt to save it from encroaching soldiers from the world’s central faction, “The Ciro Order,” the player is drawn into a worldwide conflict that ultimately leads you to solve the mystery behind your separation from your twin.  It’s a fun game, there are lots of interesting characters and plot twists!  And I’ve composed a lot of cool tracks to go along with it… so I really hope folks will enjoy it (should I manage to finish it… wish me luck) ^_^

Molotov: Do you have an all-time favorite video game composer/soundtrack?

Laura: Yasunori Mitsuda is my all-time favorite video game composer.  His music has inspired me a lot as a game composer.  I also really like Nobuo Uemastu and Yoko Shimomura.  My favorite video game soundtrack is definitely Chrono Cross, the music is so beautiful.  Megaman 5 is a close second because of how creative and complex the music is.

Molotov: You have a rather bubbly, effervescent, and cute voice. Have you ever considered voice acting roles? Perhaps in gaming?

Laura: Haha, thank-you.  I have considered that, I think it would be a lot of fun :P

Molotov: What’s your top five favorite games? We all have them!

Laura: 1.) Chrono Trigger
2.) Starcraft
3.) Megaman 5
4.) Yoshi’s Island
5.) Twilight Princess

That ended up being harder than I thought to narrow it down… I still ended up leaving out so many of my favorites!

Molotov: Are you looking to freelance for any future PopCap titles?

Laura: It’s definitely a possibility :)

Molotov: We won’t bore you with yet another “girls in the gaming industry” question, but if you’d like, give us your thoughts on the matter.

Laura: I think in America, there are fewer females who are interested in playing games, so naturally there are even fewer females who are interested in making games.  But I think that will most likely change over the years, as companies provide games that appeal to a wider audience.  It’s already changing; I mean, 20 years ago my mom was certainly not playing video games.  But now she loves World of Warcraft and Animal Crossing :) Another interesting thing I’ve noticed, is that most of the females in the game industry tend to be involved in the business side of the company (HR, marketing, legal staff, etc.).  In contrast, over the years I’ve encountered very few female game designers, programmers, or composers.  But again, that could very well change with time.  The sad thing, is that there are plenty of women who I’m sure would love to play an epic adventure game for example, but they’re often put-off by things like the gratuitously drawn female characters on the box cover.  Of course they’re less likely to pick up a game that looks like it’s been made for guys.  But hopefully companies that are looking to increase their female demographic will realize this.

Molotov: Anything you’d like to tell aspiring composers or gamers?

Laura: Hm… well I guess I could pass along some advice that I’ve received… I’ve heard many people over the years talk about how important it is to “find your own voice.”  Basically, you want to figure out what your personal style is; something that you do really well that people will remember you for.  It’s also good to identify what things inspire you… whenever I feel bogged down, I like to listen to the Chrono Trigger/Chrono Cross live orchestral performance from the “Play!” Concert in Chicago that we went to a couple years back.  I was so moved when I first saw it, and I still feel that way today… so it always brings me back to that point where I’m thinking, “I’m so thankful to be able to be doing what I love,” and that mentality helps me get through the tough parts :)

You can check out more of Laura’s work here at her personal site, and also in the PopCap game Plants vs Zombies! A very hearty thank you goes out to Laura. Be sure to support her and her upcoming projects!

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