A Brief History of Scott Lee (Composer for Volition's <i>Summoner</i>)


Alex Phillimore Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-04-07 09:58:19

A Brief History of Scott Lee (Composer for Volition's Summoner)


Scott Lee is a man of many talents. Having worked in video games, TV and film, he's no stranger to how these industries work. One of Scott's first major jobs was working with Volition Inc. on the video game Summoner (PC/PS2), composing the bulk of the soundtrack and creating memorable tunes that have resonated with many fans since. Today, Volition are the masterminds behind the excellent Saints Row series of games.

Having found a link on Blue's News, an online gaming resource page, in 1996, Scott approached Volition Inc., and after a successful phone interview was flown out from his home in California to Champaign, Illinois, for a face-to-face interview. Hitting it off almost immediately with Volition employees at the time, which included Dan Wentz and Frank Capezzuto, Scott was offered a job after a three-day interviewing process, tasked with making the soundtrack for the game. One of the things Scott remembers most fondly about his days at Volition was the creative freedom he had in shaping the audio side of the game.

When Scott first joined Volition, they were seeking out a new publisher, having finished their previous contract with Interplay. They needed a publisher who could help them with both Summoner and Descent 4, which ultimately became Red Faction as Interplay owned the rights to the Descent name. Scott put together the music that ultimately became the title theme for Summoner; it served as a demo and was sent out to publishers. In addition, a demo of music for Descent 4/Red Faction was also sent out. One such publisher who proved to be remarkably responsive to the pitch was THQ, and shortly after they became the publisher for Volition's games.



Scott explains that THQ were impressed with the demos, and offered Volition a deal for both Summoner and Red Faction. Scott was an integral part of the pitches for both games, and describes this point in his career to me as having been 'a fantastic time'. At the time, the only other sound designer and composer working at Volition was Scott's good friend Dan Wentz, who was putting his time and effort into composing for another Volition title, FreeSpace 2 (PC). As a result, Scott had the vital role of composing the majority of the music for Summoner. One of Scott's earliest tracks made for the title was 'Passage of the Undead', which he informs me was originally meant to appear in the Wolong Caves environment in the game. This was changed in the final game due to an unfortunate series of events that were to follow.

Before these changes, however, Scott remembers his time at Volition fondly. He was asked by the developer to work on the FreeSpace 2 official trailer music, which features a vocal performance from the talented Clarissa Novales. Scott informs me that Volition was a very fun company to work for, with Mike Kulas, the head of the company at the time, encouraging the team to have fun while working. Scott was so fond of the Summoner project that he often wished to keep working outside of official work hours.

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Scott's enthusiasm for Summoner is at the heart of his creative process as a composer. During his years at Volition, Scott informs me that he laid the groundwork for what he describes as a 'musical storyline', as he feels strongly that great video games have emotional soundtracks that complement the narrative. He is particularly hesitant to use stock music, believing that it can never serve as a substitute for organic music created as part of a team working closely on a project. Scott firmly believes in tailor-making soundtracks for the projects he works on, looking closely at environments and events in order to shape sound. In Scott's opinion, audio can tell just as much of a story as a written narrative.

Much to Scott's dismay, things did not work out how he had planned with Summoner. Looking in the game manual, while Scott is listed under 'Composers/Sound Designers', the first name featured is Walter Shaw. Scott explains to me that during the development of Summoner a dear relative fell ill. Scott requested that he be able to work off-site in California in order to spend time with his family. Mike Kulas not only agreed to Scott's request, but doubled his salary. However, Scott would come to regret his decision to return to California.

New Years Eve in the year 2000, Scott was driving home with his dog in the car. A drunk driver ran a red light and, trying to avoid collision, Scott swerved and crashed into a tree, knocking himself unconscious and putting him into a three-day coma. Scott awoke lacking the ability to move the left side of his face, and he suffered from low motor function in his hands and legs. While his dog thankfully survived, his car was completely totalled, and even more worrying to Scott was that the soundtrack to Summoner had not yet reached completion. Deadlines were looming and, being hospitalized, Scott was unable to continue his work at the same level of output.



Needing to meet the publisher's milestones, Volition eventually hired a stand-in composer to work on the sound effects for the game while Scott continued to compose music at his own pace. The stand-in was Walter Shaw, who also goes by several other aliases including Franky Vivid. Scott was concerned that having a new composer working at Volition might alter his vision for the game's soundtrack. His worries were compounded when, during a March 2000 interview for RPG Vault with Walter Shaw, when questioned over his role in the Summoner project, Shaw replied: "Composer/Sound Designer. I do all audio, music, foley and sound effects for Summoner."

Scott was understandably concerned that he had been marginalized from the project. Initially, Scott had been earning a consistent salary from the position. After Walter Shaw was hired to work on the project, Scott shifted to a per-song payment structure. After submitting his last track to the project, the 'Ending Theme' music, Scott noticed that he received no payment. After contacting Volition, they sent a copy of a new song back to him entitled 'Wally Shaw - Ending Theme Music'. Scott came to the harsh realisation that all of the songs he had composed for the soundtrack were being used in the game but were being credited to Walter Shaw rather than to Scott Lee. Scott informs me that Shaw moved all of the songs around in terms of where they were intended to be played in the game. A prime example of this is that the music in the Wolong Caves, which was supposed to be 'Passage of the Undead' in Scott's original vision, ended up being the same music used in the ending credits. Scott had originally intended for his ending theme to be used exclusively for the credits.

Not only were song placements altered, but Scott also informs me that Walter Shaw added extra sounds to the existing songs, such as effects or loops, and then claimed them as his own. Looking at multiple websites hosting the soundtrack to Summoner, the artist is, more often than not, listed as being Walter Shaw rather than Scott Lee. While Mike Kulas guaranteed Scott a place in the gaming manual, this proved to be the last dealing that Scott had with Volition. Scott acknowledges that the outcome wasn't Volition's fault, but he feels disappointed that his work is being credited to Walter Shaw when he created the majority of the music in the game.

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There is a silver lining to this story. Scott is currently re-releasing the Summoner soundtrack in a remastered form. He estimates that he wrote roughly 25 songs, and he's eager to rewrite the wrongs of the past and get the credit for the soundtrack that he deserves. Scott is the only individual to have the multitrack masters of the music, and so he can prove the validity of his claims. Scott has started a campaign to get websites hosting the Summoner music with Shaw's name attached to remove said credits for copyright infringement and royalties owed.

Today Scott is in a great state of health and his career is booming. He has recently finished composing the soundtrack for the iOS video game Repulze, a high-octane racing game. Scott has received numerous accolades for his involvement in TV and film, as well as for composing other video games. And, since hosting music on his Youtube page, Scott's fans now have a direct portal in which to contact him and listen to what he's working on. The remaster of the Summoner soundtrack is something that we can all get excited for, and we should support Scott in his goal to be acknowledged as the original composer of many of the songs written for an excellent soundtrack and game.

Audio Interview with Scott Lee

Scott Lee's Youtube channel

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