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15 Minutes of Fame: Laura Shigihara, voice of WoW's Singing Sunflower

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

If you haven't yet lost hours (days? a week? ... more?) inside the zany fun of PopCap Games' mind-blowingly addictive Plants vs. Zombies, you owe it to yourself to click over right this minute (we'll wait here, promise) and take a whiff of those zombies on the lawn for free on the web. Wait, another game? Why should a WoW player like you care? Because the irresistible game with the irresistible theme song (above) is coming to Hillsbrad come Cataclysm in a new quest line celebrating the PopCap hit, and the adorable voice of songstress Laura Shigihara follows close behind in a commemorative Singing Sunflower pet.

Shigihara, herself a longtime gamer and WoW player, has won the hearts of the WoW Insider staff with her impishly sweet songs -- the latest, last month's light-hearted Blood Elf Druids. My little fourth-grade daughter adores Shigihara; my big, burly coworkers sigh over Shigihara; and I, uh, seem to edit more than my fair share of posts to the beat of an endless zombie march across the lawn.

Join us after the break for an exclusive chat with Shigihara herself about World of Warcraft, Plants vs. Zombies, singing sunflowers and more.

15 Minutes of Fame: Laura, you're obviously well-versed in gaming and WoW. How long have you been a WoW player? What's your playstyle?

Laura Shigihara: I've been playing on and off since around 2005. I think one of the things I enjoy the most about WoW is simply being able to explore the world. I know it sounds basic, but to me it feels really great to just fly over a forest, press Alt Z, zoom in, and look around. Likewise, swimming towards the giant moon on Zoram Strand is exhilarating! When I first got my flying mount, I went straight to Nagrand so that I could finally reach those mysterious floating islands in the sky. I love discovering little secrets like the creepy mountain orphanage in Outlands or the members of Level 80 Elite Tauren Chieftain hanging out on a balcony in Silvermoon.

Besides that, I tend to take on certain random goals. When I was stressed out from work, I would go to Splithoof Crag and just kill centaurs. I don't know why I did this, but for some reason it really helped me to relax. In doing so, I started getting blue drops, which led to a brief period where I was really focused on twinking out a battlegrounds character with gear that I'd gotten entirely from random drops. I've also tried to see how quickly I could level characters to 60 given certain restraints, and I've spent a great deal of time trying to become exalted with other factions (Timbermaw Hold, Darkspear Trolls, etc.).

Lastly, I love goofing off with friends. One time, my boyfriend (who plays a tauren druid) waited until I left the room and parked his tauren (while in bear form) directly in front of my character so that when I returned, all I could see on my screen was a giant bear's butt!

We have to admit, PvZ and the PvZ theme song are huge, huge favorites around the WoW Insider staff room. How did you get tagged for that project?

George [Fan, Shigihara's boyfriend and now a senior game designer at PopCap Games] had been following my music for a few years prior to the development of Plants vs. Zombies, and at some point, he asked if I'd be interested in composing the soundtrack for his next game. At that time, he was still indie and working from home. I was really excited about working with him because he's a very creative game designer, and I knew it would be a fun project. About a year into development, Pop Cap hired him as a full-time designer and I just kept working on the music.

... and then Blizzard puts Peacebloom vs. Ghouls in the game -- how cool is that? How did that come about?

The funny thing is, we actually didn't know about it until Blizzard was nearly done with the quest. I guess there were a few PvZ fans working at Blizzard who decided to put it together, and once it was implemented in the beta, they contacted PopCap and informally checked to make sure it would be OK. I think everyone at PopCap was thrilled about it.

What was it like voicing the Singing Sunflower? Did you get to choose the voicings, or did Blizzard script it out for you?

I felt incredibly happy and honored that Blizzard asked me to do the vocals for the Singing Sunflower. Besides the fact that I love WoW, voice acting has also been an interest of mine since I was young. When I was a child, I actually had favorite voice actors (in particular, I was inspired by Jim Cummings, Christine Cavanaugh, and Dan Castellaneta, after hearing them on Darkwing Duck). So needless to say, it was a great experience getting to do a little voice acting for a game I love.

Blizzard didn't ask for anything specific... I believe they asked if I could hum Zombies on Your Lawn and give them a few "doo-bee-doos." So I just recorded a bunch of goofy sounds and sent them over.

Tell us what else you've worked on in the video game world. How did you get started?

Well, I've always enjoyed music ... I was classically trained on the piano (took lessons for 11 years) and taught myself how to play the guitar and drums (though I don't think I'm very good at either of those). In college, my friend gave me an old version of Cakewalk, which I immediately fell in love with. I spent a lot of time remixing music from the Mega Man series and composing my own songs.

During that time I gave a CD of my work to a friend in Japan, who, without telling me, submitted it to a bunch of Japanese record companies. I flew out to Japan over my spring break to audition with them and was offered a couple record contracts for singing. However, I ended up turning them down because there were some things included in the contracts that I didn't feel personally comfortable with.

But at this point, I decided that I really wanted to have a career related to music, so after finishing college, I spent a lot of time composing and learning about sound engineering. I got a job working as the sound director for a company that produced an audio talk show and English learning materials through Apple Japan. I also composed my first video game soundtrack for a small casual game called Wobbly Bobbly. I actually told them I'd work for free, because I was so excited to be working on a video game. The company liked my work and ended up paying me to work on several of their subsequent games, and from there, I started to build my video game music portfolio.

Since then, I've worked on about 20 published video game titles as an independent contractor. I love my job, and I'm really thankful for the chance to get to do this for a living.

And you're even creating your own video game in your spare time, is that right?

Yes! All of my game designer friends tell me that I'm crazy for making an RPG as my first game, and I think they're right... it's a lot of work. But I'm actually really enjoying the challenge. My game is called Melolune and it's a Super Nintendo-style RPG with a heavy focus on music and story. The plot revolves around twin brothers who come from a world where people collect song fragments and put them together in order to keep their world alive. After a catastrophic event takes the lives of their parents, the twins are separated due to reasons unbeknownst to the player. You play as one of the twins after the separation and after having been adopted by a tribe of small catlike creatures called Leebles.

For the most part, the gameplay feels very similar to old-school RPGs like Chrono Trigger or Final Fantasy VI. I think one thing that feels a bit different though is the assembling of music in the dungeons. It's not a huge part of the game, but in some of the dungeons, the player has to collect song fragments and put them together in order to gain new powers. The reason I did this was because my favorite part of composing is hearing how all these seemingly different melodies and harmonies can fit together like a puzzle. I first noticed this when I listened to Mega Man 3 music as a child; I loved dissecting the arrangements and playing them on the piano. I wanted to share the experience of assembling melodies with the player.



Of course, the big news right now is your machinima, Blood Elf Druids. What inspired you there?

I guess I had been wanting to play as a blood elf druid for quite some time. One of the biggest reasons I play WoW is because of the ability to explore a world unencumbered by real life dangers... I absolutely love the way it feels to jump from a towering cliff into the ocean without fear of breaking my neck or drowning in the crashing waves. I love flying above the canopy in a beautiful forest; it's something I can't do in the real world.

I feel that druids have even fewer constraints when it comes to exploring; they can shapeshift into a sea creature and hold their breath forever ... they can change into a bird and fly. They have an affinity for nature and animals ... These things all really appeal to me.

As for why I'd want to do this as a blood elf ... For me personally, the fantasy aspect of WoW feels more realistic when there is an element of reality involved. If my character more closely resembles a human, then all of the fantastic things they do in the world become more tangible to me. I've played as a tauren and troll, and although I think they're fantastic races, I've found that I have a harder time suspending reality because my personification is completely fantastic as well (if that makes any sense).

I also like stories about redemption, and I feel that some of the new material in Cataclysm is hinting that the blood elves are trying to heal themselves from their past addictions and the damage done to their land and people by Arthas. Perhaps a little help from nature could even fix the Dead Scar.

So what's next on your creative calendar?

Besides finishing up Melolune, I'm working with the director of music at Sony PlayStation on a singer-songwriter album. I'm also in the middle of a few video game music contracts with PopCap, EA, and some indie developers. I'm really excited about writing a theme song for my friend Kan (an indie game designer), who has put together a really unconventional indie game about traversing backwards through an old dying man's memories in order to fulfill his dream (it's called To the Moon).

Keep up with Shigihara at her website and blog.

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email lisa@wow.com.

Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

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