The likelihood is that if you've ever played a game by designer Tim Schafer, you've also listened to a soundtrack by the composer Peter McConnell. Throughout Schafer's career, he has continuously collaborated with the veteran musician, working with him on titles such as Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and Broken Age.

The soundtracks for these games have secured his position as one of the most interesting composers working in the games industry today. Frequently celebrated by critics and gamers, his work is known for its extraordinary arrangement, and eclectic instrumentation. So it may surprise you that he never initially set out to become a videogame composer.

In 1990, Peter McConnell quit his job at Lexicon and moved out west to San Francisco. His intention was to start a band with his friend, Michael Land. But his wasn't to be. When he arrived in the Bay Area, he learned that Land had already been given a job at LucasArts, crushing any chances of them forming a group together.

"I'd worked with Michael for a few years before joining LucasArts. We were housemates in college, played in bands together and worked together at Lexicon, a company outside Boston that makes high-end digital studio and musician gear," McConnell told me. "We had a plan to start a band in San Francisco. He moved to the Bay Area first, and by the time I got out here the band idea had kind of fallen by the wayside, but he had this cool job at LucasArts."

In need of work, McConnell took a temporary job consulting his friend at LucasArts, which later led to a full time position when the company began work on a new sound system for their games. "They needed some help developing a new sound and music system - which later became the iMUSE (Interactive Music Streaming Engine) system - and I could both program and compose. It was a very lucky match."

In 1991, iMUSE was added to the fifth instalment of the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine, which had been developed for Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck's Revenge. This system allowed the music in the game to change seamlessly as players travelled from one location to another.

Monkey Island 2 was the first game Schafer would work on with McConnell. At this time, Schafer was working as a designer at LucasArts, writing dialogue, whilst McConnell formed a trio of composers, alongside Michael Land and Clint Bajakian, creating music. It wasn't until 1995, two decades ago this year, that Schafer began working on his first solo project as a lead designer. The game, Full Throttle, focused on the exploits of a hardened biker trying to clear his name of murder. Having previously impressed at LucasArts, McConnell was approached to be sole composer for the game.

"Full Throttle was my first real experience working exclusively with Tim as designer," he explained. "I think Tim's strength as a leader is that he leads by inspiration, so I don't have a lot of specific memories of interacting with him on creative decisions, but I do remember trying very hard to get the best sound possible for that game, finding the right band and integrating their sound with the rest of the score and making the whole score work with Clint's sound design."

The approach worked. Full Throttle earned positive reviews from several publications on its release. One of the main areas of praise was its authentic rock soundtrack, which featured additional songs by The Gone Jackals.

"The hardest part was finding the band. Tim went down to LA with LucasArts' VP of Business Affairs to meet with a major record label mogul to see about licensing a big-time band of the '90s (which will go unnamed). The meeting turned out to be a bit silly, with the record company folks not really understanding the small size of our market at the time. Meanwhile I was going through demos and found The Gone Jackals. In the end Tim and I were glad the major label thing didn't work out, because The Gone Jackals really fit the vibe much better."

One year later, Schafer would begin working on Grim Fandango, his next project as lead designer. It would be a much more ambitious project and require McConnell to do more research than he had ever done before, due to the game's complicated style, which was heavily influenced by both film noir and Aztec culture.

"Tim showed me some of Peter Chan's incredible background art and some of the characters, and he loaned me his collection of Bogart movies and a vinyl record of a very raw kind of Mexican folk music called Son. Besides the unnamed musicians on Tim's collection of Son, I also listened many times to the scores of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon, and tons of Duke Ellington, as well as Count Basie and Benny Goodman."

These musicians and film scores would provide McConnell with a helpful guideline to work off for the game's soundtrack. They would also go on to influence the types of instruments he would use on the finished score, including charangos, violin, and several forms of hand percussion. An important task for McConnell was finding the musicians to perform on the final recordings for the soundtrack. This proved easier for him than initially expected, due to the large number of gifted performers active in San Fran's clubs at the time.

He remembers: "There is a part of San Francisco called the Mission District that was full of music clubs in the late '90s - you could walk up and down Mission or Valencia Street and hear swing, rock 'n' roll, acid jazz - and then take a break at a tacqueria and hear a mariachi band. Almost every musician in the original score - from the brass players to the mariachi band to the Peruvian flute player - either played regularly at clubs in the Mission or lived there. So the score was just in the air, you might say, and a lot of the musicians knew each other. That was one of the many happy accidents that allowed the game, and its score, to happen."

The musicians also brought with them their own ideas for the project. As the process continued, McConnell began to allow more and more improvisation on the soundtrack, giving the music its distinctive sound.

"Often I would start out with the main theme or 'head' of the tune and a written-out solo, and when the players were comfortable with that we would branch out into more improvisation. I learned a lot from working with reed player Ralph Carney, who has played with the likes of Tom Waits and Beck, and is a most unconventional musician. He was doing some baritone sax work on a tune and I really wanted it to sound a certain way with a solo all written out, but he was kind of chafing at written music, and the results were kind of stiff sounding. Finally I said, 'Hey, you've heard the melody, now just do what you do', and everything changed. We got the most gorgeous, fat, slinky track. After that, I learned never to tell Ralph what to do beyond the bare minimum, and it was a gold mine with the other pieces."

Grim Fandango sold poorly upon release, but gained a large cult following in subsequent years. One of the areas singled out by gamers for celebration was McConnell's score, which managed to nail the film noir aesthetic. Three years after the release of Grim Fandango, Schafer left LucasArts to start his own company Double Fine. At Double Fine, he would release a string of well-received games featuring McConnell's work, including the platformer Psychonauts, the real-time strategy game Brütal Legend, and a remastered edition of Grim Fandango.

Asked why he became involved with the remastered edition of Grim Fandango, McConnell explains: "It was the opportunity to do what I had always wanted: to take those old 'orchestral tracks' which were using '90s-era sampling technology, and bring them to life with a live orchestra. And similarly to get rid of some of the sampled sounds in the jazz tracks and re-perform them with live instruments. There was the very occasional 'klunker' - the 'what was I thinking with that dissonance' moment, but those were surprisingly few."

Revisiting the title had its fair share of opportunities, but it also presented several obstacles for the composer to overcome: "One thing that was challenging is that a number of the orchestral pieces were originally played into the sequencer without a click track, so they would sound as live as possible, like a guy conducting a pit orchestra to a live showing of a movie or a stage show. At the time I never dreamed these pieces might someday be done live, although I do remember hearing a little voice way in the back of my mind saying, 'boy, this might come back to bite you someday'. Well, turning those pieces with their freewheeling tempos into something actually playable by a real orchestra and still matching the original scenes turned out to be quite a job."

As well as the remastered edition of Grim Fandango, the two men have also recently worked together on Broken Age, a return to the adventure game format for Tim Schafer. Set in two opposing settings: on board a spaceship and within a fantasy environment, Broken Age centres on the lives of two characters, a boy and a girl named Shay and Vella, whose worlds collide, throwing them into disarray.

For the fictional village of Sugar Bunting, McConnell settled on a Scandinavian and African influence, using instruments like a Finnish Kantele alongside an African Kalimba (better known as a thumb piano). In the spaceship sections of the game, the sound is dramatically different from the rest of the score. For these McConnell uses a violin and some ambient keyboard to create discordant sounds. These two different approaches were employed to give each area a specific feel for the player to associate with the visuals on screen.

Broken Age is the seventh game Tim Schafer and Peter McConnell have collaborated on. It continues their fabulous track record for creating interesting worlds. If you haven't yet picked up a copy, it is available to purchase now on multiple platforms.