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What does it take to write music for video games? Hear from six of the industry’s most accomplished composers with diverse musical backgrounds as they share their experiences and discuss the craft of scoring music for some of the most popular franchises in interactive entertainment.  Hosted by our very own blogger and host of Top Score on Minnesota Public Radio Emily Reese!  Watch the full panel from PAX East 2014 in the video below!

Featuring award-winning composers Garry Schyman (BioShock series), Peter McConnell (Broken Age, Sly Cooper, Psychonauts, Grim Fandango), Cris Velasco (Company of Heroes 2, Mass Effect 3, Borderlands 1 & 2, God of War Trilogy), Tom Salta (Halo: Spartan Assault, Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary, Ghost Recon, Red Steel), Mark Morgan (Wasteland 2, Fallout 1 & 2), Billy Martin (Rayman Legends, Rayman Origins).

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Peter McConnell & Billy Martin

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Tom Salta & Cris Velasco

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Garry Schyman

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Mark Morgan

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With the release of Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 just one day away, Geno sits down with series composer Oscar Araujo to discuss his work on this collection of epic games.

Geno: Mr. Araujo, it’s so great to finally meet you! It’s something that I have imagined ever since your score for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow effortlessly pulled me away from the chaos of an E3 show floor back in 2010. I was avoiding the demo station for the game out of fear that the experience would be marred by the inescapable white noise easily found on all sides of me. They had some headphones, so I took the gamble; your score made such an impression on me, that I actually replayed the demo over and over just to hear the opening bars of that first intro sequence. I made people mad, and held up a line at one point. I didn’t care; some things you have to learn to savor no matter the circumstances. Life’s too short, you know! I really wanted to say thank you. What are you up to these days?  

Composer Oscar Araujo:

Hi Geno. Thank you for your kind words, I’ve been at an E3 show myself and I can imagine those queues and all the people waiting for you to stop playing. These days I’m working on two projects that are very important to me. One is directing an animated film called “Leo”. It’s about the extinction of humanity with only animals, including insects, surviving on earth. And it is from this point of view that the film is told. We are using a technique that has not yet been done in any film, so hopefully it will surprise the industry. And then there’s an electronic music LP that took eight years to compose with symphony orchestra and a heavy electronic base without a typical structure of conventional electronics, I think it’s going to make quite an impression on the community.

Geno: One of the first things to catch my attention throughout the compositions Lords of Shadow is how you wrestle with one of the game’s central themes: the ugliness of death. While most composers feel the need to approach the subject with lilting, morose shades of sorrow, you attack with your fists, pummeling, working over your opponent into near lifeless submission. Even at its most understated, your score’s temperament here is defiant, without mercy and mindful of some impending doom, specifically that fabulous opening number “Besieged Village“ not to mention “The Warg“ and “The Hunting Path“. It’s rare to be thrown so quickly to the ravenous dogs in wait. Tell me, did you feel a particular need for the soundtrack to convey a sort of physical invulnerability? It’s all so incredibly powerful!

Araujo:

The idea with the first map was to show that the game wouldn’t be a game like any other, but a game that is about the struggle of a man who will do whatever it takes to get back his love. That is the absolute force that has always moved the world. So the best way was to introduce the music from the very beginning, even knowing that there would be moments in the game in which the music would also be very important. So the player knows from the outset that a complex and lovingly crafted score awaits him.

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Geno: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow is very much the story of a broken man calling upon whatever resources he can scavenge regardless of the powers he is meddling with. It’s a snapshot of an individual’s companionless journey. Within the confines of your score, can you pinpoint the origin of our protagonist Gabriel’s quest? Which of your pieces would you offer as his main theme aside from “Belmont‘s Theme“?  Can you tell me a little bit about the creation of “Belmont’s Theme”? What’s your interpretation of the Belmont’s cursed lineage? What did you want to personally impart on the series overall soundscape?  

Araujo:

In the first meetings with Mercury Steam and Konami it was decided we wanted a very different score, a soundtrack that focused on the main character and that belonged uniquely and exclusively to Gabriel, because the adventure of the protagonist is a dramatic one, from start to finish – a powerful love story like Romeo and Juliet, which follows a path to a dramatic ending. And that was my role as the composer, to lead the player into that path. And from the first moment the player begins the game I had to convey that. “Belmont‘s Theme” is a nod to Super Castlevania and the old saga; it is a theme composed thinking of the fans of the old Castlevania games. You need to know I’ve played those Castlevania games and I’ve also been a fan and I am still one, and probably no one has ever noticed, but just like “Belmont‘s Theme”, there are other hints and nods that I have included in the composition that maybe with the symphonic treatment sound different, but if you analyze them well, you will see that they are a tribute to Michiru Yamane.

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Geno: From the outset of the project, did you ever change course musically? Were there any things you eventually scrapped in favor of the final tally of songs? What sort of ideas did you eventually leave on the woodworking table? Do you have any distinct, warm memories regarding that time period or those recording sessions?

Araujo:

In Lords of Shadow I’ve not had any music turned down, because I was the first filter myself. If something did not fully convince me, I would not use it. Thus, I assured they had only the best music. On my hard disk there are dozens of ideas that went unused. That is how I usually work. I am my first and main critic.

About the style, it has always been clear to me where the LoS saga music needed to go; sometimes I was given suggestions of movies or scores but I tried not to delve too much into those suggestions, so that in the end the LoS music had its own identity and no one can state that it sounds like this or that movie or score. Some cues might have some nod or resemblance to the Lord of the Rings scores, but that happened at the beginning of the composition and Konami became more confident and allowed the score to slowly achieve its own personality.

Geno: I was talking earlier about how pounding and visceral the score is, but it also has a wealth of moments dedicated to dignified repose.  “Waterfalls of Agharta” and “Agharta” combine to make one of the score’s most poignant and gorgeous paintings. “God Mask” too delivers something both revelatory and muted by its own sadness.  It’s a gripping thing this collection of material. To create that sort of cathartic, emotive response do you find that you have to put yourself into a somewhat vulnerable position emotionally?  Do you borrow from your own experiences to go to different places within your music, or do you compose completely detached from the ins and outs of your daily life?

Araujo:

Well what has always been pursued is to give dashing and special music to those special moments in the game, and especially that the music helps to enhance the images or the action that is happening at every moment of the game. When Enric (the Project Director) or Dave wanted background ambient music, that music was sought out to accompany Gabriel in the most beautiful way, but always implying the misfortune of the main character to the gamer. It was still beautiful music but with a dramatic touch. And I think it has been one of the strengths of the score and one of the main reasons both players and critics praised it.

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Geno: I was raised a staunch Catholic growing up… all that means really is that I am afraid of the devil, evil demon pustules and am certain that if I were to encounter a real vampire, I’d do something ridiculous like try to recite broken verse from Leviticus, which I’ve never read! That also undermines the fact that I am no longer Catholic but… Bottom line: I am fearful of all malevolent creatures. How much of that primal, uncertain response did you want to incorporate into the blood of Lords of Shadows musical veins?  There are perfect, chilling examples to be found within (i.e. “Carmilla “, “Laura’s Mercy” and “The Last Battle“).  You never overdo the encounter though, it’s always just enough to remind you that your character is still mortal, and possession, curses and black magic will still weaken and exploit his nature. Did you go into the score with a sound you wanted to avoid? Not naming names, had you heard other similarly themed monster-infested scores and thought to yourself, “My vampire will be scarier than that old thing!”?  How did you want Lords Of Shadow to stand apart?

Araujo:

Well, I love Alan Silvestri and James Newton Howard – they are my favorite composers. Alan made ​​a vampire film, Van Helsing, that I adore – forceful music with vocals that fits perfectly with the film. And James composed Lady in the Water, and “The Great Eatlon” is one of my favorite themes ever. So what I meant to achieve was that the fights had that musical force, that when you think the cue is at the very top, nevertheless it continues to rise and grow even more and more. Because fighting monsters is fighting with the unknown, I wanted the music at a melodic level to have unexpected changes. Ferran also did a spectacular job with the orchestration so it all sounded great without harmony faults.

Geno: I am guessing that “The Swamp Troll” was great fun to compose; it nearly gallops off my iPod screaming for my head! Can you tell me a bit more about this particular piece? I envision you moving all over the studio individually directing each member of that gigantic symphony, deftly crafting their each and every move; manually sliding that precariously held bow over violin, taking over the kettledrum as the horn section collapses all around you. It’s a definitive moment in your score, like you have been completely overtaken. Do you ever find yourself wholly consumed by your musical projects? Was there something more intense about creating for Lords of Shadow? What would you consider the defining piece here, where the sound in your head perfectly matched the rumblings of the recorded tape?   

Araujo:

Well, I try to be involved with just a few projects at the same time to keep my creativity fresh. If you get involved in too many you can end up doing the same music and that is wrong. So that is the way I work, a few projects well made, and combining composing with photography, filmmaking and enjoying life. This way I can devote 100% to one project and my brain is always alert. I don’t know whether LoS is my best work or not, only time will provide an answer to that eventually. The important thing is that I really enjoyed composing this music and I think that it shows. My favorite cues are the “Final Confrontation”, “Laura’s Mercy” and “The End”. Especially “Laura’s Mercy”, because I am moved every time I listen to it along with the images, and more than a tear has been shed while composing that particular cue. Although it may not seem so, I am a very sentimental person from the musical point of view.

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Geno: I noticed you tied many of the game’s central players with their very own specific theme throughout the soundtrack. It’s a bold move. Veer too far to the left or right and a character’s nature, his or her identity, can become muddled and confused with another of the game’s inhabitants. “Cornell”, “The Ice Titan” and spectacularly “The Evil Butcher” successfully carve out an indelible musical persona to complement their onscreen presence. Where do you look for traits in a character that you are scoring for? Is it more an examination of physical traits or things implied in the person’s movements or actions?  How do you get to know these people? Moreover, how do you get close to them? What you’ve done here is incredibly impressive!

Araujo:

Well, each character or enemy has a past history, which is developed in the script and Enric tells me where each character comes from. So I sought for a distinct identity to each of them, like in the case of the Titans, The Evil Butcher or Satan. For the Titans it had to be something big and majestic. The Butcher needed something unpleasant, grotesque and musically dirty; it is one of my favorite character themes, as it has a lot of personality, and Satan’s reeked of intelligence and fear. I think video games allow you to get more deeply into the characters than a movie, and therefore I think they deserve extra attention.

Geno: What was it that initially attracted you to the Lords of Shadow project? Were you already a dedicated follower of the Belmont’s MULTIPLE attempts to silence the pestilence of Dracula and his cursed offspring? Do you enjoy playing video games? If yes…what would you consider to be your favorite game?

Araujo:

My main motivation when composing LoS was doing something I personally enjoy. My favorite scores are Conan the Barbarian, the Lord of the Rings saga, Van Helsing, The Abyss, as you can see all highly epic music, so I was allowed to do something to live up to these scores: epic combat music and romantic sentimental music as well. Besides, I got an absolute carte blanche to compose and to choose songs. And the truth is that it really helped that Mercury and Konami have always provided everything to motivate me the most.

Indeed I was a fan of Castlevania, because from Super Castlevania 4 to Symphony of the Night, I think there have been really good games in the series and some others not so good, but I’ve enjoyed them all. I would love to compose for a Tomb Raider game since I got into composing because of the first Tomb Raider. Lara Croft is the culprit for my interest in video game music :)

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Get the exclusive Director’s Cut on Sumthing.com

Geno: I recently purchased Castlevania Lords of Shadow: Mirror of Fate. I was pleasantly surprised when I heard your signature sound rising up from my 3DS machine. You already have Lords of Shadow under your belt as well as the DS game, and the Lords of Shadow sequel. I noticed that the soundtrack in Mirror of Fate was just as rich and enormous as Lords of Shadow. Did you have to make any compromises due to the constraints of the hardware, or did you find that handhelds were just as able as consoles to deliver a completely unedited symphonic suite? It didn’t sound like anything was sacrificed on your end in the slightest. Anything you can tease us with in regards to the sound of Castlevania Lords of Shadow 2?

Araujo:

Technically we had to sacrifice a few things that would be later included in LoS2; there is no doubt that the Nintendo console is a great handheld console, but as such it has a number of limitations including the sound. The sound card and the speaker cannot be added or purchased separately as in home consoles or computers, so knowing that, I looked for a sound that could enhance the experience with the software and hardware of the console in mind. And besides, being a platform game in the vein of the old Castlevania, the music had to be atmospheric but in the style of LoS1.

Geno: I was looking at your official site: that’s quite a lot of work you’re doing. Impressive stuff, man! From photography, to ads and film scores…WOW. What were your formative years like in your native Spain? When did you get your start in the entertainment business? What was the first thing that sparked you to create? Were you a troublemaker, or shy and reserved in high school? 

Araujo:

Yes, the truth is I’m lucky I can devote time to do different things. This way I do not run out of ideas. When I’m not composing music, I take pictures, when I do not, I direct video clips or ads, or I create ideas for the future. No time to be bored. Unfortunately, due to overweight I had a heart attack in March last year, I had too much work and I was not taking care of myself properly. Now I’m completely recovered and weighing 30 kilos less, I take care of myself a little more and I’m not as obsessed with work as before. But I still manage to do many things. And as a kid I was a little thug, too. I achieved higher degrees than what was usual for my age, but afterwards I was expelled for not being attentive in class. I toured several schools and child psychologists back then.

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Castlevania: Lords of Shadow composer Oscar Araujo

Geno: Thanks again Oscar for sitting down with me today! It’s been such an honor to get to speak with you.

Before you leave us, what’s 2014 looking like for you? Do you have any major plans like say… touring with a full symphony to play Castlevania: Lords of Shadow in its entirety? I know I would be the first one in line for tickets! It’s just an idea. Any final thoughts for our readers at Sumthing?

Araujo:

Thank you Geno for your patience and the time you have taken to prepare these questions.

So far, as I have said, I am immersed in the electronic music LP that will be released in April, and in the film, and because of confidentiality obligations I cannot mention two AAA projects that are underway. I hope I will be able to talk about them soon. But those two games will keep me busy until 2018, since they are just being developed right now. And in one of them I will try something that I hope no one attempts in the near future, because it has never been done and I think it will be very original and daring.

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Oscar Araujo’s soundtracks for Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate are available now on Sumthing.com.  The Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2 soundtrack releases tomorrow February 25th and can be pre-ordered right here!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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Capcom’s original Strider arcade game is one of the most important games of my entire life. It marks a very personal point of change in my own history, as well as what I consider to be the birth of ALL modern gaming up to this point. Strider to me, however goes beyond the applications of its ROM or cartridge. I have been known to get wildly emotional about it. You can ask my lifelong friend Joseph Villescas – he has seen my outbursts and was there the first time I ever laid eyes on the arcade machine… Strider is a very BIG deal.

When I heard Capcom and the development team at Double Helix were in the midst of creating a new Strider title I could BARELY sleep, and I made sure to tell you about it. One of my main curiosities lay within the new game’s musical foundation. How would Strider Hiryu sound in 2014? This thought stewed in my brain for months. When I finally heard the snippets of material recorded by Strider’s brilliant composer Michael John Mollo, I immediately felt the absolute NEED to reach out to him. Mollo’s visionary mixture of emaciated mountaintops, steely chrome and Strider Hiryu’s dizzying kaleidoscopic sprint make for one of the most radiant and exciting scores of this year. It is also my first nomination for video game album of the 2014.   My conversation with Michael here took place on a very cold and grey January evening. A cold so chilling, I suspect Strider Hiryu would approve. I took it as a sign of fate.

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Composer Michael John Mollo

Geno:  Strider HD’s audio absolutely glows! What’s rather amazing to me is how you managed to bring out the old spirit of the series past musical themes. What’s even more incredible is how you expanded on them sonically without the songs losing their identity. I’d like to talk about the original NES Strider music in particular, which is fairly threadbare in its arrangement. There is very little to go off of. Tell me what sort of challenges you faced when translating these older 8-bit NES sound materials?

Composer Michael John Mollo:

The original 8-bit chip tunes of the late 80s and early 90s didn’t have a lot of real estate to work with in terms of timbre. They compensated by creating really cool melodies, advanced harmonic structures and incredibly funky rhythmic elements. The original Strider melodies are immediately catchy and hummable while still being harmonically complex. My challenge was to keep the integrity of each tune intact and adjust the musical arrangement to bring the sound forward into the 21st century. Once we decided on which original Strider materials to arrange, it was just a matter of breaking down each tune to its bare bones and building it back up again against a new backdrop. I listen to a lot of electronic music. Early game music is a precursor to a lot of the EDM you’ll hear today. So once I boiled the original Strider tunes down to their core elements, the arrangement of each tune just sort of presented itself in a logical manner. It was truly a fun and educational process!

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Listen: The sound of Strider’s old-time religion

Geno: The rearranged sound material is only a fourth of this project though. Did you ever feel any desire to take the music in Strider in a vastly different direction than what will be heard in the final version of the game? For example, something much more sparse and ambient, or maybe all rock guitars and no synth?

Mollo:

When I was first brought on to the project, Double Helix already had an idea of how to approach the music. It was very important to them to pay homage to the original sound of Strider. His tunes are iconic and very much a part of the game play experience. Severing that aural connection was never something we considered. That said, I knew that I could also bring a fresh perspective to the game and approach the classic sound from a unique angle. I’m a guitar player so yes, I included a bit of that in the score, but for each new tune my goal was to maintain a sound palette that would support the arrangements of original material as well a pushing the sound forward in time. Also, in terms of ambience I was encouraged by the team to explore a sense of space and depth. The 2.5D landscape, which serves as a visual backdrop to the game, really supports long textures. So I tried to make sure each tune had a solid yet evolving bed of sound that could support the low level game play states but also would help give size to the heavier action elements. In terms of the new compositions, for each level area and each boss, I was given a host of materials: buzz words, color palettes, sketches, 3D renderings, maps etc. These loose instructions helped me to give each new piece a sense of individuality. It was also important that my materials fold into the Strider catalog and not sound diametrically different, so I tried to craft the melodies in short catchy fragments with similarly cool harmonic and rhythmic elements as the original tunes.

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Watch: Strider in all its console-conversion glory

Geno: I have always thought that direction would be the hardest thing to establish when scoring for a video game. On the one hand you have an established world, character design and number of objectives to complete, but what about motivations of the character? What sort of person are they? What’s going on that you can’t necessarily see outright?  I have always felt Strider Hiryu to be a bit like a chameleon. How do you balance his temperamental darkness with playful light and resolve? How did you dissect his character musically? Where do you feel he’s coming from personally?

Mollo:

That’s a fun question. On the one hand he’s an assassin. You know, the badass ninja type. On the other hand, he’s Kazkh’s only hope to escape from the evil grasp of Grandmaster Meio, so he’s got to have a soft side as well. I think personally, he’s probably a weird dude to be around, not much of a conversationalist, but when you have a cypher like he does, you don’t need to say much. I think his actions in the game speak for themselves. From the beginning we wanted to let Hiryu kind of speak for himself so I focused my resources more on the original adaptations, the level areas and the bad guys.

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Listen: Strider vs. Strider

Geno: After having scored for television and film, what do you feel to be the greatest difference between that type of process and developing pieces of music for video games? Were you surprised by anything, methods, sequences, etc?

Mollo:

The actual nuts and bolts of composing music that is intended to be interactive requires and significantly different set of skills than that of film/tv music. In Strider, the music needed to be incredibly elastic and each piece of music I wrote needed to support many states of game action. The audio lead on the project, Andrew Dearing was a lifesaver in this respect. He handled all of the in-game implementation using Wwise, which was fantastic since it let me focus completely on creating the tunes and the arrangements. I delivered each piece of music in multiple layers, sometimes as many as 50+ and he sub mixed each piece so that the audio would seamlessly transition based on the various intensity levels of game play. I was brought onto the project incredibly early, so that was probably the biggest (and most welcome) surprise. I am generally accustomed to starting a film and having to deliver a polished score in a matter of weeks, or even days for television. Double Helix was building the game as I delivered score materials so we worked in tandem for many months. It was pretty much a dream experience. I can’t imagine that schedule being rivaled ever again. Read More

It was a Wednesday night, winter of 1987. I remember it vividly. I was 8 years old. Let me tell you, I had been in love before, two years earlier. She was so beautiful and sweet, and more importantly, human. And now, I was in love again, except this time… it was with machine! All cold bolts, motherboard, and intoxicating light… I’d like to say that since I first laid eyes on the seminal Double Dragon arcade machine, I have not had a decent night’s sleep in 25 years. I want to own it. I want to wake up with it next to me; watch it softly bludgeon its foes for an eternity in my room. My devotion to Double Dragon extended past the machine. Want proof? Behold one of my many tributes to the game via comic:

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My very own hand-drawn 1987 Double Dragon comics

Double Dragon altered my existence profoundly. It’s why I play video games. PERIOD. So when I heard that the versatile collective genius of developers at WayForward Technologies and Majesco Entertainment was reviving my favorite video game franchise of all time with the brilliant Double Dragon Neon, I wrote love poems anew! One of my heavy-handed prose reached WayForward Studios and so we met up for an interview about the blessed birth of Double Dragon Neon and the resurrection of one of video games greatest franchises.

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Geno: It’s 1987, and suddenly there you are standing in front of that singular arcade machine Double Dragon. What was your first initial reaction to the game? It was such a leap forward for me at the time, that I felt the medium had just left horse and buggy travel for sweating speedway cars.

Sean Velasco (DIRECTOR, WayForward): My first Double Dragon experience was playing the original on Sega Master System. The NES version didn’t have co-op, but you could play the SMS version with 2 players! So my next-door neighbor Ryan Peart and I played Double Dragon, Ghostbusters, Shinobi, Zaxxon 3D, and many others. Drinking Ecto Cooler, sitting on the carpet, blowing in cartridges… these early gameplay experiences are what made me fall in love with games in the first place. We were 5 in 1987: the perfect audience!

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Watch: Level One (Original Double Dragon Arcade)

Geno: The Double Dragon franchise has changed hands a number of times over the last two decades. It seemed in danger of being lost forever, withering in a vault of some unseen corporation, no one to bid it farewell. Double Dragon Neon will fix this of course. How did Majesco and your team resuscitate the brothers Lee? Were there significant hurdles to get the project green lit? Who was last to hold the rights to Double Dragon?

WayForward:

The original Technos guys still own the rights for Double Dragon under the name “Plophet”. I don’t know the details of who was contacted first, but as we were wrapping BloodRayne: Betrayal, the opportunity arose. Majesco called WayForward and asked, “Would you guys be interested in making a Double Dragon game? If so, we can get the license.” We jumped at it of course! We immediately pitched the “Neon” direction, and here we are!

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Watch: Double Dragon Neon Steam Trailer

Geno: What made Double Dragon Neon a priority for Wayforward and Majesco? Is Neon the opening number in a series of new Double Dragon games? Or was it simply a mutual love of the source material. I am hoping you say yes to the first part!

WayForward:

The answer to your first question depends totally on the sales of Double Dragon Neon. We want to make a sequel and have tons of ideas that were left on the cutting room floor, but first we need to know that people are into it!

As far as the source material, we are all reverent toward Double Dragon. We love working with Majesco because we never know what is coming down the pipe next; Double Dragon was a very pleasant surprise. After making the combat-focused BloodRayne, this was a really good fit.

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Watch: Relive 80′s NES fever

Geno: Was there a temptation to rewrite the series in terms of say a prequel? Did the staff want to add more flesh to the existing story, add new characters maybe?

WayForward:

We approached this game as a reimagining. It’s an over-the-top, 80’s themed feast of insanity! So we rewrote the story, added many new characters and enemies, and gave Billy and Jimmy some more personality. It has echoes of classic Double Dragon throughout, and the game is really funny!

There are female Karate masters, warlocks, robots, and more. This game takes the series into a more fantastical direction, so we went wild with the designs. We have a new arch-villain, Skullmageddon, who is your stereotypically diabolical, Saturday-morning-cartoon type of bad guy. The story is very light because we are gameplay focused, but what’s there is madness. I still laugh every time I play the game.

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Watch: The short-lived 90′s Double Dragon cartoon

Geno: Given that Double Dragon is now 25 years old, you must have had some very opinionated fans running about begging you for everything Double Dragon, Billy Lee’s reanimated corpse perhaps. What was the number one request from fans? What did they want to see? What did they not want to see?

WayForward:

People are extremely vocal about this game! Abobo busting outta the wall tops the list. Then you have the weapons-based combat: beating someone up, taking the bat, and using it against him! Certain moves like the spin kick and the flying knee were also must-haves. Beating up your friend was also a must-have, and this game is full of ways to either help or antagonize one another!

We have controversially not included the ability to grab people by the hair and beat them up; we decided that this would slow the gameplay down too much. Overall we strived to include everything that players loved about the original series; there are tons of references and throwbacks to the original. However, like any game developed by passionate people, our mark is all over the game. We hope that fans embrace this new direction for Double Dragon!

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Watch: The original Double Dragon Neon Trailer from 2012

Geno: Have you had any contact with the original Double Dragon arcade team? What do they think of this new coat of paint?

WayForward:

Yoshihisa Kishimoto, the original creator of Double Dragon, has been involved from the beginning, to ensure that the game was up to the standards of the Double Dragon legacy. He read the initial documentation, gave feedback on the character designs, and even helped critique some of our gameplay choices! We were even given access to some early character art from the original games, which was ridiculously cool. Getting his opinion has helped us separate the wheat from the chaff when it came to what was important. I’m honored to have worked with such a legend, and I hope that he and the entire original staff enjoy the completed game. We have the best job in the world!

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Watch: Double Dragon 2 NES Commercial

Geno: Double Dragon has arguably one of the most recognizable and influential video game scores in history. What sort of treatment is being made of the soundtrack? It has obviously been redone (and sounds excellent by the way!) How do you hit all the old notes, and still manage to forge a striking personal fingerprint? Who is in the conductor’s chair for this title?

WayForward:

Jake Kaufman is a freaking virtuoso genius and this is among the best soundtracks I have ever heard from him. I’m gonna let him speak for himself!

Jake Kaufman (Composer):Like many on the team, I spent insane amounts of time playing Double Dragon in the arcade and at home. I put its music (with Ninja Gaiden and TMNT2) on a cassette tape, listened to it on the way to school, and picked fights with the Sega kids. Man, it was so good. All of the classic Technos games were just massively influential on me as a composer (read: I steal all my ideas from them constantly.), so it blew my mind to work on this. I’ve long felt that Double Dragon‘s music was clearly inspired by 80s pop and film music to begin with, so I tried to slam together a wide variety of stylistic homages to my own 80s heroes — Michael Jackson, Van Halen, Devo, Harold Faltermeyer — which made it super personal (and ridiculously challenging).

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Listen: Composer Jake Kaufman’s brilliantly saturated 1980′s score

Geno: I love that the Lee brothers have finally learned to play air guitar! I always felt they needed a taunt for their unworthy opponents. This is a new thing, how about new moves? I saw all the classic moves, and shed joyful tears. Have you all implemented anything new to the move set? I always thought they needed an air grab!

WayForward:

We have many new moves, yes! First off, you can now dodge, and then counter with super-powerful attacks. This is a little similar to Super Double Dragon’s counterattacks and it adds tremendous depth to the combat.

We added a high-five system to power up co-op play. Basically, you can high five during combat to do extra damage or share your health with your bro. It’s rad as hell because you can initiate it from far away and your characters leap across the screen, high five in the center, and swap places. It’s so awesome!

You now also have a mix tape, which gives you super moves, but you can only have one equipped at a time. So you can pull a bomb out of nowhere, jet across the screen in one motion like a bulldozer, or even summon an awesome-looking dragon to aid you! The mix tape can level up over many games so there is a good amount of replay value, which we thought was sorely lacking in the series.

You can grab a guy out of the air. You can do a big ground finisher to smash foes lying on the ground. You can knee a guy into a wall, and catch him with another move using our expanded air combos. You can bonk two enemies’ heads together.

Finally, brace yourself… we put jump onto its own button!

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Listen: Double Dragon Neon – all about the wild

Geno: I see space, stars and ship interiors. Will our duo be fighting in space? Does this particular stage have anything to do with Battletoads and Double Dragon? I am thoroughly impressed!

WayForward:

I don’t want to spoil the settings too much, but the places you go in Double Dragon Neon are really varied. You do go to space, and you can get sucked out of an airlock (kind of like the helicopter level in Double Dragon II). Unfortunately there are no Battletoads… but mobilize the internet and maybe we can get them in for Double Dragon Neon II: The Search for Sensei’s Gold!

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Watch: Battletoads and Double Dragon… yes it happened and it was awesome!

Geno: Getting into the mindset for the creation of Neon must have taken a number of rituals. How did you channel 1987 for wisdom? Were weeks of hair bands, pizza parlors and all night sessions of Nintendo the order of the day before the programming began? Any funny stories from development?

WayForward:

You just described our lives, man! We still have our old consoles hooked up. We have a holiday called “Mega May” where we play all the Mega Man games during May. Our design notebooks are hot pink. We use the word radical in every day conversation, and I am currently wearing a Captain EO T-Shirt. We live this stuff!

The development on this game was bonkers. We mostly talked in Wario voices and we thought it was really hilarious, but it was probably just annoying to everyone else at WayForward. Honestly just imagine a huge group of turbo nerds in the same room for an entire year and think about how unintelligible they would be. If I tried to tell you one of those stories, you would look at me weird… just like everyone else!

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Listen: The gorgeously muck-covered Double Dragon “Stage 2″ theme

Geno: There are a billion versions of Double Dragon out there today. Nintendo, Mega Drive, Neo Geo, Commodore 64, Zeebo, Gameboy Advance, Gameboy, on and on and on. Which do you feel is the best port of the original Double Dragon arcade?

WayForward:

My favorite Double Dragon games are the SMS Double Dragon, Double Dragon Advance on GBA, and Double Dragon II on NES. As far as the perfect arcade port… there are just so many versions. I’d probably go with the SMS version just because it’s the one I played as a kid!

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Watch: One of the million Double Dragon arcade ports in action

Geno: Do you have any final words from the dojo of Majesco and Lee about Neon for our readers?

WayForward:

It’s funny you call it that, because we put up ramen shop-style cloth flaps at the entrance of our Double Dragon workplace, and refer to it as the dojo!

To everyone: We really got into this game and poured our energy into it. Please download Double Dragon Neon, crack open a beer (or soft drink of your choice), and play it with a friend. If you are drunkenly laughing and high-fiving one another a couple hours later, then we succeeded!

Geno: Thanks for making the time for me today, WayForward has certainly done this legendary franchise incredibly proud!

Double Dragon Neon jumps on the Steam-powered train very soon.

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

In honor of tomorrow’s release of Deus Ex: Human Revolution Director’s Cut, Geno sits down with composer Michael McCann to discuss scoring the game.

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Deus Ex: Human Revolution composer Michael McCann

Geno: Before we begin… To say that I loved, or enjoyed Deus Ex: Humas Revolution’s score would be doing it a disservice of the highest order…I nearly worship it. I wrote half of my living will to it… And seeing that I was on a roll, I wrote everyone I ever fell in love with, or loved period and told them all this really personal stuff; these letters are to be delivered upon my death, but that’s the impact your compositions had on me. It made me want to really take final stock, say needed goodbyes, and look back at everything I have done in my life.  I can’t thank you enough…

Michael McCann:

Wow – thank you!!

Geno: Deus Ex: HR’s post-apocalyptic theme, I imagine, is something composers would shy away from.  It must be truly difficult to carve out a space of one’s own, with all that has been recorded in that vein over the last thirty years.  You went far beyond the measure of a small confined space, and multiplied your vastly singular sound to fill an entire living, breathing world.  Only you could have created this.  It’s truly remarkable, and your work on this project is unlike anything done before or since in the genre.

Did you feel any amount of trepidation going into the initial scoring runs for Deus Ex: HR? Did your rough sketches differ vastly from the final set of compositions?  What was that initial call like, the one asking you to join the project?

Michael McCann:

Yes – this was a concern of mine from the very beginning.  Although I do think there is massive diversity to sci-fi, cyberpunk, and post-apocalyptic scoring, it seems there is still an assumption that these genres have to stay within a very limited range.  But – if you consider sci-fi scoring (at least on the film side) to include scores from Jerry Goldsmith, Vangelis, Basil Poledouris, John Tavener, Daft Punk, Brad Fiedel, Cliff Martinez (Solaris), Don Davis, Atticus Ross (Book of Eli), Michael Kamen (Brazil), etc., you really start to see a wide range of instrumentation and style. And this is exactly because sci-fi, and even sub-genres like cyberpunk, encompasses a huge range of story themes and settings.  Even something like Blade Runner draws from world music, blues, jazz, ambient and classical.  There’s really nothing preventing the genre from branching out – especially when the themes of the story call for it.

Talking specifically about DX:HR, the story, themes and art direction all strongly highlight a duality between multiple contrasting themes – technology/nature, past/future, wealth/poverty, etc.  All of this is surrounded by the global theme of transhumanism, which embodies the continual evolution of human technology to almost conquer nature, or more specifically, achieve mortality through technological advancement.  Perhaps that’s an over-simplification, but it is a strong enough theme to bleed into issues like religion (which we’ve seen recently with stem cell research), politics (information control), philosophy (metaphysics, consciousness), etc.  It’s an incredibly inspirational world to pull from musically – and allowed me to get very personal with the music, which absolutely allowed for a more emotional soundtrack.

As for the initial call – although we began with more traditional sci-fi influences like Blade Runner and the original Deus Ex, all of these more humanistic themes pulled me far more into bringing in warm, acoustic influences like voice, world instruments, solo strings, etc.  The soundtrack definitely evolved from what was a very industrial / dark electronic pitch (which you can hear in Detroit, which was some of the earliest music I composed) to something that had a great deal more diversity – like the heavily world instrument influenced Hengsha, China sections of the game.

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Purchase the DX:HR soundtrack on Sumthing.com!

Geno: One of the most beautiful things about this particular set of works is how the tracks seem to bleed into every fragment of space provided within the game.  Everything, it seems, from its worldview to its characters, its abandoned hallways, makes even the most minuscule of hand gestures carry your music’s imprint.  When you are inside the game’s future world, every action you take has a very specific, deliberate effect on its sound design.  It feels quite literally like you’re pulling strings, and measuring player response in real-time.  This elevates the music to something much, much more.  It becomes its own character, with motives, intent and secrets.  Was it your goal to make the soundtrack as devious and corrupt as the games’ many morally compromised inhabitants?  How did you achieve that all-knowing, all-seeing watchful eye?

 Michael McCann:

I think an important reason why the soundtrack has an immersive, almost oppressive effect on the game despite it being primarily ambient – is the decision to score to the environment and not just the story.  What this means is that the music derives a lot of its sounds from the physical environments, whether it’s the steel and machines in Detroit, or the street musicians and dense crowds of Hengsha, China.  There’s always a great deal of the actual environmental sounds embedded – and exaggerated within the soundtrack as you walk through the game.

In doing this, the hope was that the music would affect the player on a subconscious level, and not just feel like a soundtrack sitting on top of the game.  The music could really become a character in the game, as much a part of the environment as the streets, the walls, the lighting, and the people walking around you.  This becomes very effective when, at specific times, you can have the music rise out of the environment and become much more predominant – but it doesn’t rise up out of nowhere, it’s rising out of the musical ambient bed.  The intended effect is to create an immersive, unbreakable stream of music that can disappear and reappear when needed, which meant that integration of the music (how it adapted in real time) and where each piece of the music was placed was very important.  This also created the challenge of making certain elements of the music minimal enough to just sit in the background, but that the more dramatic layers are still intertwined in the minimal side, so it all feels like analog-like waves and not mere erratic steps.

Geno: Something rather incredible happens when you first load up the game: that menu music.  It’s the first of many signposts that bridge the gap between the player and the world of Deus Ex: HR.  It stops you dead in your tracks; it takes from you the notion that the world you’re entering is anything but fiction.  It also requires a bit of strength to finally press START, as it effortlessly communicates the tumultuous weight of the game’s narrative.  Can you tell me a little bit about the making of this particular piece?

Michael McCann:

That was one of the last cues I wrote for the game.  There was actually a much more ambient menu theme temped into the game about a year before we finished.  You can hear that theme in the pause menu and in some of the setup / utility menus.  The final menu theme was actually the ambient music I made for Sarif Headquarters in Detroit, where it still plays, but it also became the menu theme.  I can’t explain why it became the main menu other than that everyone, including the audio lead Steve Szczepkowski and myself, thought it acted as a strong introduction to the mood of the game.

We could have perhaps gone with something like the main ‘Icarus’ theme, which builds to a massive climax, and has more dramatic melodic themes, but we felt that something like that was deceiving.  Human Revolution is a cerebral game, it’s about conspiracies, investigation, exploring – and the themes are complicated and diverse.  To put a large, dramatic and “traileresque” theme in the menu may have misled the audience as to what kind of game they were going to be playing.   For that reason, we sided with a much more atmospheric and subtly emotional theme.

Geno: “The Mole” has this gorgeous refrain to it, like droplets on a pond; you can hear these three single notes throughout the score as a sort of embedded piece of scarred heart, via guitar or keyboard or through the scattered dissonance.  It really brings focus to the character of Adam Jensen. No matter how far he may or may not choose to veer off course, he’s always going to be damaged and heartbroken.  Am I correct in this assessment?  Is this one of the more central themes in the score?  Those three chimes… were they originally part of a longer set of notes?  How did you decide what would make up the common threads, the things you hear repeatedly throughout the game?

Michael McCann:

The themes in the soundtrack are intentionally quite ambiguous, so it’s difficult to say what themes are specific to actual characters or events.  There are a couple reasons for this – one is technical and one is stylistic.

The technical reason is that the music system for the game was very simple.  There are so many pieces of music in the game (about 200) because the music was based on static loops, which can become quite repetitive!  For this reason, a great deal of music was created to cover almost every single possible location in the game: alleys, main streets, apartments, clinics, side streets, interior of various buildings, and even different music for different floors, or different entrances to the same location. Although having many cues helped draw attention away from repetition, it still didn’t solve the issue of continually repeating themes if you were in the same location for long periods of time.  There really wasn’t a solution to this considering the very old school music system we had – which made me look at a stylistic solution…

The technical limitation led me to look at both the global story themes and the art direction for the game, and look more seriously at what we were trying to say with the music.  Because Deus Ex is very much about broad global conflicts and conspiracies where you are slowly gaining more and more information about location, characters, and how everything intersects, you don’t really want the music casting judgements on characters or situations.  You don’t want to have a Star Wars-like ‘Imperial March’ theme when a character steps into the game because the music is then casting judgement – telling you what to think or what to feel about a particular character or piece of information.  Neither I, nor the creative heads at Eidos wanted the music giving you answers or influencing your decisions before the story did.  Although there are times when the music needs to convey specific information or cast judgement (e.g. Namir & Barret are obviously antagonists from the start), it was actually more important that music be an emotional/atmospheric companion accompanying you through the game, reminding you of the world/story around you, but not being overly explicit.

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Geno: “Everybody Lies” and “Harvesters” are absolutely emotionally gripping.  The strange thing about them is that they are action cues.  Not many composers inject the onslaught of brutal physical encounters with such earnest, heartfelt confliction.  It’s a tremendous feat to make sympathetic the plight of your enemy.

What was your main goal with these two compositions?  Why not simply stomp your nemeses with simple drum and bass?

Michael McCann:

Going back to the earlier point about immersion – it was very important for the action music not to break the atmospheric or emotional mood that was in the ambient themes.  For the game engine, there are three layers to the in-game music: ambient, stress, and action.  Each of these layers play at the same time, and the game engine will crossfade between them depending on the situation.  If things are calm, the ambient layer plays.  When you approach an enemy, or approach an area of danger, the stress layer will fade in on top of the ambient to provide tension and the ambient layer will fade out the closer you are to that danger, leaving only the tension layer. If you get into a fight, or are discovered in a restricted area, the action layer will fade in on top of the stress layer, and those two layers will provide the soundtrack for combat.  When the action is finished you will either go back down to the stress layer, or all the way back down to the ambient layer if you are totally out of danger.

It’s a very simple system, but it does allow for a large amount of immersion, and does allow me to carry all the ideas from the ambient all the way up the ladder to combat – often repeating melodic, vocal, emotional elements from the ambient inside the combat layer.  I do find in many soundtracks, both in film or games, that the action music often completely drops many of the emotional themes as it ramps up into combat.  I really tried hard not to do this, and I think it resulted in the action music having a much stronger emotional anchor.  I did accent this in the retail soundtrack, as I could really build the arrangements in order/timing that I felt conveyed this idea best – specifically on the tracks ‘Hengsha Daylight’, ‘Harvesters’, ‘Everybody Lies’, ‘Namir’ and ‘After The Crash’.

Geno: The sound inside Hung Hua Brothel feels viciously murky.  You can see its bottom rung in the desperation of those girls, in the sound of a broken-down cigarette machine making change.  Club scenes in video games are usually a one-sided affair: lights, music and bartenders…This track however, makes every inch of that brothel vile, yet somehow leaves the window of temptation wide open.  How difficult was it to traipse the wire of subtlety here?  How did you approach the idea of stacking moral consequence against fleeting benefit?

Michael McCann:

Actually – that brothel track was originally going to be The Hive theme for the main bar in Hengsha, China.  However, it didn’t really match the lighting or the feel of that place.  It wasn’t until much later in the game’s production that the lead audio director, Steve Szczepkowski, dropped the track in the brothel and thought it worked great.  I added a few more elements like the breathing effects and some more melodic elements to put it more in line with the brothel’s “atmosphere,” and then remixed again for the retail soundtrack album – adding vocal themes from ‘Icarus’ & ‘Ending’ which I think, at least in the last minute of the track, make it (I hope!) a little more powerful.

Geno: This record is the sound of a man possessed, the tunnel going narrower, darker, no interventions seemed to be planned.  Emotionally this must have been difficult to compose.  You can leave a studio at the end of the night and say you’re okay, but something like this has got to stick with you a bit.  Did you find any of the creation or recording process to be at all overwhelming?  ‘Home’ sounds like you’re trying actively to forget the burden of your work… I love it! Adam Jensen becoming Nick Drake?  The lines are ever fuzzy!

Michael McCann:

I think the goal of many composers is to have the audience carry the atmosphere of the game or film or album out into their real lives, after the music is turned off.  This was absolutely my goal with Human Revolution, and especially the soundtrack album.  I definitely get absorbed in soundtracks when I work on them – like getting into a trance and being completely immersed in the world and the music sometimes for many months, or more than a year in the case of DX:HR.  I think getting lost in the music and world helps a lot in creating a cohesive enough soundtrack that it has the possibility to affect the audience in the same way but in a shorter amount of time.

As for ‘Home’, which was written for Adam’s apartment, the studio/loft where I wrote the soundtrack looked almost identical to the one in the game – the same three-arched windows with the same blinds, the same open kitchen and living area.  Minus the smashed glass mirror in the bathroom – at least at the beginning of the project!  I think that really helped writing music for that room, as it was really how I felt working in that loft.

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Geno: ‘Hengsha Daylight (Part 1)’ and ‘Endings’ …are so powerful, so vivid as they deliver the near-final pieces of Adam Jensen’s story in Deus Ex: HR. These compositions ARE the album’s cover art: its message of compromise, its malleable, morally gray individuals, its polluted and debris-strewn oceans.  You encapsulate the essence of the game in just under seven minutes.  Again nothing is done in half-measures… quite simply, how do you do it?  Also, those amazing vocalists you employed for these tracks, who are they?  How did you balance the use of vocal and instrumental throughout the soundtrack?  What do you think the vocals communicate here?

Michael McCann:

Those two tracks definitely represent the more “light” side of the game’s soundtrack – heavy on vocals, airy pads, massive reverbs, an emphasis on acoustic instruments (vocals, strings, percussion, etc.) and a wide stereo image.  Those two tracks and the ‘Penthouse’ cue were written around the same time when I was scoring the daylight sections of the game – and they could all definitely be considered within the same family of cues.

The vocals – not just in those two tracks, but throughout the soundtrack, were a mix of many, many different sources.  The two primary vocalists were Andrea Revel (who I have worked with for almost 10 years, including Splinter Cell: Double Agent) and provides a lot of the ambient vocal textures throughout the game, as well as Ariel Engle, whom I used on ‘Opening Credits’, parts of ‘Icarus’, ‘Endings’, ‘Everybody Lies’, and others.  The rest of the vocals are either myself (heavily manipulated), or various sample libraries and source recordings of folk/street musicians that are scattered through much of the Asian locations of the game.  There really are about fifty or more vocalists used, sampled, incorporated into the score from countless different sources.

The heavy use of vocals, and the wide variety of vocal styles was very intentional.  I chose the voice as the primary instrument to represent the organic side of the game’s themes.  Whereas synthetic instruments like synths represent technological progress, machines, science, and the future – the vocals represent the distant past as well as nature, religion, superstition, etc.  So when combined with more synthetic elements, it creates kind of a struggle between many contrasting elements that have machine vs. nature as their core.

Geno: Oh man…I adore the hacking cues, I can feel that tiny ball rolling around in the socket just waiting to trip the wire… No matter how many systems I had already previously infected, the confrontation with that round AI never failed to make me sweat.  I noticed these pieces were very much a world unto itself.  How did you give such a definitive voice to the act of fumbling around in the dark?

Michael McCann:

I actually completed all four hacking cues very early in production.  They are fairly short (about 45 seconds each) and only have two layers – an ambient layer for hacking, and an action layer that plays if you fail and are discovered.  The intent of the ambient layer was to create a hypnotic pulse that helps the player focus on the task – almost a psychological escape from what’s going on around you while you’re in the hacking interface.  The action layer is of course to signal that you’ve been caught and need to get the hell out!

Geno: On your website behaviormusic.com you indicate that the full score for Deus Ex: HR is near 200 tracks long.  WOW!  This is incredibly exciting to a guy like me, and no doubt fans looking for a deeper insight into the musical sphere you crafted for the game.  Is there any chance you might be able to officially release it at some point in the future?  How do you whittle down such a mountain of music to 25 pieces?  Was there anything you wish you could have added to the final track listing?

Michael McCann:

I seriously considered releasing a double CD version of the DX:HR soundtrack.  But when I began looking at other 2 (or more) disc soundtracks I felt that they often had a lot of repetition in themes or emotions.  I wanted the DX:HR soundtrack to be about the length of a normal album – choosing each track carefully, to cover the full arch of the game’s story and themes.  The 25 tracks of the retail soundtrack were created by combining about 50 of the 200 tracks I composed for the game.  Whatever tracks were left out of the game were left out because I felt they repeated something that was already covered from those final 25 tracks.

Geno: The music for The Missing Link, the DLC content released after the game’s launch, is not represented on the official score, was the music that accompanies that chapter of the story a totally separate entity and therefore could not be released in the same package?  Were those sessions done at different times?

Michael McCann:

Yes – I scored “The Missing Link” after the retail soundtrack for DX:HR was completed, so it was mostly for scheduling reasons that none of those tracks were included in the DX:HR release.

Geno: I am curious as to what your typical process of creation is like?  Do you start with guitar or piano?  Is creating music something you like to do with collaborators, or is it a more solo experience?  What instrument do you feel was most prominently featured on Deus Ex: HR?  Why that particular one?

Michael McCann:

Since I was focusing on scoring to the environments and larger themes of the game rather than specific characters or events, the building of each cue definitely began at the ambient level.  I usually begin by picking or designing certain sounds or instruments that I feel match the mood/atmosphere of a specific location, then begin to expand into rhythm, chords, harmonies, and musical effects until there’s almost a wall of sound, slowly building up to the action cue.  Then it’s a matter of choosing which elements belong in which layer – ambient vs. tension vs. action.  Once all the layers are defined I start looking at lead melodies, or lead instruments if they are needed, and again start refining each layer so they have a very identifiable character.  In this way, the transition between each layer is clear but also not so distracting that it draws a lot of attention to itself… although some of the action cues tend to get a little carried away!

As a side note, this is the total opposite process I used on the score for Splinter Cell: Double Agent.  For that game, I began with lead melodies, and then built every other element from the ambient to the action layers around those melodies.  That score was also a more collaborative process with a lot of live performances, so it required a different approach.

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Geno: The characters obviously don’t have their own dedicated musical themes, It would be great however to hear your thoughts on what pieces of music most remind you of Pritchard, Jensen and Sarif.

Michael McCann:

As I mentioned earlier, there was a very intentional decision to not have strong identifiable themes throughout the game, particularly when it came to more ambiguous characters.  Again, this was all about scoring the environments, and scoring the global story themes, and not specific events or characters.  There are definitely many consistent chord progressions, textures/instruments, and rhythmic themes all over the game as well as strong identifiable characteristics for each location in the game but nothing that I would really say “this is Adam’s theme” or “this is Namir’s theme” or “this is Megan’s theme”.  Probably the most literal theme is ‘Home’ which is definitely Adam’s theme, at least his more ambient and introspective theme, but it’s still not complete enough or dynamic enough to represent his entire personality or place in the story.

Geno: With the new versions of Deus Ex:HR Director’s Cut hitting the Wii-U, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC, will we to be treated to an even more expansive selection of musical tracks within the game?  Will anything differ in the audio from the original release?

Michael McCann:

Eidos and I have always had plans to release additional music not just from DX:HR but also from ‘The Missing Link’ DLC and the recent The Fall mobile game, but I cannot confirm when this will happen at the moment.  This is also very much out of my control.  As for the Director’s Cut of the game, the music will be exactly the same as the original release.  However, ‘The Missing Link’ DLC has been incorporated into the timeline of Human Revolution for this new release, so those who haven’t played that will hear about 20 minutes of music that wasn’t in DX:HR.

Geno: What does the rest of 2013 hold for you?  Can you share any tidbits with us here today?  Vacations, new recordings, marathons?  You must have a pretty full plate of commitments.

Michael McCann:

I did take some time over the last year to work on some personal musical projects, which I’ll get back to at a later date.  At the moment though, I am fully back to doing scoring work – but can’t give any details about what that work is at the moment! J

Geno: Thank you so much for sitting down with me today Mr. McCann, our meeting is something I will hold especially near to my heart; it’s been such an honor for me.

Michael McCann:

Thank you very much – it’s been a pleasure!

Purchase your copy of the Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack by Michael McCann right here on Sumthing.com!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life, Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love.  He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake.  Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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View: Inside the Dragon’s Lair (Trailer)

I remember seeing Dragon’s Lair for the first time, in the midst of rotting fruit.  It’s 1984 and I am playing the machine just feet away from day old cabbage and bruised pears.  I am standing completely engrossed by the game as people are buying raisins and cigarettes.  The first time was in a supermarket.  How strange these bedfellows, but this was the world of arcades in 1984; they were everywhere.  There I was, being read scripture by Dirk The Daring, as he laid forth the groundwork to worship him and his adventure in buffoonery.  Almost 30 years later, I am still on the religious mission to convert as many people as possible to Don Bluth and Gary Goldman’s singular, and utterly gorgeous game.  When I heard that director Martin Touhey was in the process of creating what is looking to be the definitive documentary on Dragon’s Lair, I nearly broke down in tears.  I would finally have all the answers!  I recently sat down with Touhey and delved into the fascinating world of all things Daphne, Dirk and Bluth.

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View: Dragon’s Lair Trilogy for the Wii

Geno:  So, 1983…. draw me the picture.  Where were you?  How did you feel?  And what did you take away from your very first climb up the peaks of Dragon’s Lair?

Martin Touhey (director of the film Inside the Dragon’s Lair):

In 1983, I was nine years old and I was living in upstate New York.  As any child growing up I had a love for animation and video games alike.  It was the culmination of the two that truly changed my whole perception of what was possible in gaming.  Not only could I watch this fantastic cartoon, I could play it.  My first encounter with Dragon’s Lair was in 1984 at the brand-new shopping mall in Albany.  The mall was the biggest thing to hit the area and for me it was fantastic because right by the food court was an arcade that seemed bigger than my house.  I went inside the arcade and there before me was a crowd of people huddled around a game that I’d never seen before.  Atop the machine was a television, which showed the incredible animation of Dragon’s Lair. At the time I don’t think I even realized that it was a game until I muscled my way up to the machine to see the player controlling the action.  My mind was completely blown and right there at that very moment I was changed forever.  On this day I didn’t get to play the game as I didn’t have time to wait in the long line, nor did I have fifty cents.  This is another thing that astonished me.  If a game were to ask me to put in twice as much money as all the others, it had better be special.  And it was, it really was.  The next time we went to the mall I was certain to have my money and enough time to get to that machine.  Finally I was able to play.  I dropped my 2 coins in and pressed the start button.  It began with the closing wall scene and I immediately died having no clue what to do.  Although I don’t remember the next scenes I played, I can safely say that it was a short game.  I do remember feeling a little embarrassed by choking in front of a crowd, but it was an experience I was willing to try again.  I remember being disappointed that I couldn’t figure the game out intuitively, but had to watch others and remember what they had done.  In the coming years I was able to clear most of the rooms in the game, but never reached the dragon’s lair in the arcade.

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Geno: There comes a point when you love something so fully that it actually becomes part of your own chemistry.  Creating a documentary fully funded by your own coin tells me that this must be the case.  Tell me who proposed to whom?  How are the children?  What brought you to do this?

Martin Touhey: Dragon’s Lair seduced me in the same way it seduced many arcade dwellers.  The incredible eye-popping animation with the illusion of control was simply a genius idea.  The difference between the gamers, however, is that some felt the illusion of control was too limiting and in a way, was cheating the player while others, like me, found the game a mystery and there were secrets to discover and puzzles to solve.  For some, the fun ended when all its secrets were revealed, but for the true fans it was a way to watch as much of the animation as possible and to show off your Dragon’s Lair skills to others.

Once the arcades no longer carried Dragon’s Lair I missed it.  Space Ace followed, but didn’t have the same appeal to me.  Years went on and I eventually forgot about it until a friend of mine got it for his Commodore 64.  Once he told me he had it, I instantly invited myself to his house.  Some people complain about the arcade version of the game for understandable reasons, but the Commodore 64 version was the most disappointing thing I had ever seen in my life.  Not only were the graphics nowhere near what I had remembered, they had managed to make the game even harder than the original.  Dirk had been reduced to a blocky mess that was near impossible to move correctly.  Levels were loosely based on the original and seemed to take way too long to complete.

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View: Dragon’s Lair on the Commodore 64

Many other versions would follow and each one was either slightly better than the other or a completely different game altogether.  The “arcade accurate” CD-ROM came out and finally, technology had caught up with the demands of the complete game.  Since then each version got better than the other and now we can play it in HD on our Xbox 360′s.

I kind of think of Dragon’s Lair as I would a child.  I’ve seen it from its first days as an arcade game and watched it grow up as time went on.  I’ve watched all its mistakes and failures, but still love it unconditionally.  I’ve never let it go from my life and have no plans to do so.

So what brought me to do this?  How could I not do this?  There’s something about Dragon’s Lair that is so radically strange and different from anything I’ve ever seen in my life, let alone video games.  It has made such a large impact on me and my attachment to it is unusually strong.

Being a filmmaker, I wanted to tell a story about something that I felt was important to me.  One day as I was writing down ideas for potential documentaries, I decided the best way to find a subject would be to write a list of all the things in my life that I’ve loved.  Almost instantaneously, Dragon’s Lair came to mind and a wave of excitement and a sense of purpose came rushing over me.  It was then I realized what I was going to do.

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Last week I spoke about the Policenauts translation patch going live in late 2009.  While I feel that piece articulates my own appreciation of the game, it certainly could neither convey nor stress enough how big a deal this project has actually meant to the gaming community at large.  Today… to drive my point home, I went out to meet Artemio Urbina, one of three key members of the Policenauts translation team at Policenauts.net.  We talked at length about being in the throes of that chaos, its homebrew hurdles, and tips on how to become game coding deities.  My endless thanks to Artemio Urbina, Michael Sawyer and Marc Laidlaw for translating Hideo Kojima’s lost art-house print.

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Policenauts: Finally Outgrowing the Cradle

Geno: Mr. Urbina, it’s great to finally meet you!  I have been following your Twitter feed for quite some time.  You’re a fascinating guy!  One day you’re talking about electrical engineering, the next day math and science and the next, arcade PCB‘s!  How’s everything going?  What are you doing currently? Seen any good movies lately?

Artemio Urbina:

Thanks for your kind words.  Everything is going fine, thank you.  I’ve been trying to repair an Irem M72 R-Type PCB, which has several faults in audio and video.  I’ve made slow but steady progress so far.  It is a three layer PCB, and the three were damaged in some way.  So far, two are working 100 percent again.

I’ve not watched movies lately; I’ve been more into “active” entertainment, although I firmly believe I need to balance that out with more “passive” hobbies.  I’ve not been up to date with cinema and my home theatre is not calibrated properly, I need to pay more attention to that as well.

Geno: People flock to see deities both alive, dead and apparition – give them murals, a tale, and some strange angular, stone-cobbled jewelry and you have yourself a religion.  Tell me: How does it feel to walk on water?  Surely you must be stopped for pictures and autographs… blessings… your work on Policenauts has left you, Mark Laidlaw, and Michael Sawyer immortalized, mythical Gods.  How did this all begin?  What initially sparked the translation project?  How did you become The Beatles?

Artemio Urbina:

I don’t have a religion; that is all a joke by a friend in some of the video streams and podcasts I have been working with him.  In reality, I kind of dislike the joke, but it is hard to stop it now.  I try to simply ignore it and move on.

The translation project didn’t open any such doors and I didn’t expect it to, either.  It was more of a personal goal for me, I really wanted to play the game and I had some of the means to get it started, so I did.

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Artemio X Street Fighter

Geno: I have seen pictures of the Policenauts script… Hideo Kojima seems to have intense disdain for anything abridged.  One page would seem more than adequate to describe walking into a spaceship’s airlock.  Doing that, however, you would never know the crew who assembled it, nor the number of pegs and nails it took to secure that exterior hatch.  It’s what I love about him!  As a translator though, this must have been one long, trickling  drink of hemlock.  In a given day, how much written translation could be done?  What was your typical day like?  Do you remember a page count on the actual Japanese script?

Artemio Urbina:

It was Marc that did the actual translation work; at most I only gave my opinion when asked regarding some choice or research that was needed at the time.

My contribution was decoding stuff like the opening credit images and writing tools for extracting and re-inserting data into the actual game.  Other than that, I was responsible for the website, some research for the actual patcher, the original text decoding and rebuilding the CD structure for the game to run on a real console.

Day-to-day translation work was done by Marc.  He is very professional about it.  I remember talking via IM daily and discussing related topics, doing research to match the best way to translate any particular phrase.  If the text referenced another piece of culture, he’d figure out how it had been translated in the past so that it all made sense to a western reader.

Just as you mention, Kojima games are very intricate works with lots of attention to detail.  A series of seemingly small details add up and create something that is complex when seen as a whole, I believe Kojima creates his worlds based on this premise.  Every small detail counts and makes a believable world.

This is why the game could not be translated without deep knowledge of it.  Marc was the best person to do the job because he loves the game and knows it inside out, even before having the script in his hands.  He always checked if the lines made sense in context, recalling or replaying that part of the game in order to polish it so that it flowed as naturally as possible.  He always questioned himself if the character whose lines he was translating would say things in that manner, based in what we knew of them and how they expressed it in Japanese.

Policenauts B3

Interested?  Here is the intro…

Geno: I have this vision of  Marc: Michael and yourself – hunched over these huge, supercomputers and reams of paper with red ink shooting from loud printers.  No one can hear anyone else talk; development PlayStation kits are cabled haphazardly into fuzzy televisions.  As it happens though, you guys were in very separate parts of the world completing the patch very much isolated from each other.  What sort of challenges did this kind of distance create?  Did you guys ever get to meet during the project?  Can you do impressions of one another, that kind of thing?  It seems you would have had to become a close bunch. Any funny stories you want to share?

Artemio Urbina:  We have never met.  As a matter of fact, I have never spoken with Marc, but I have known him for a decade now.  I consider him a good friend, and we used to chat via IM quite frequently.

And it is funny to know: I hadn’t talked with Michael until that interview for Retroware TV; until then we had only exchanged mails or forums posts at Junker HQ.

Regarding working via the Internet, I think it worked out for the best.  You see, when you work with people like Michael and Marc, things tend to be very specific and clear.  Messages are thought out before being sent, you can feel it.  That kind of communication, with arguments and ideas backed up by reason, help a lot, mainly because a written medium is used.

Of course a lot of the work was done in emulators, and tests were run on real PlayStation models, but we never had access to a dev kit.  All was done with homebrew tools.

 

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What might have been lost forever

Geno: I have always been fascinated with the technical hurdles you guys overcame to fit all that text into the game.  What sort of things were done on the more mechanical side of the project?  How did you make it all work?  Any special tools?  Did you have access to any of the original source code?

Artemio Urbina:

We only had what anyone with the game CDs have; all tools were either coded by ourselves or regular hex editors and the like.  Of course, that means we had no source code or insight at all.  There was very little that could be called mechanical; in a sense it was all a series of small problems that needed to be overcome.  The only parts that could be labeled as such were looking into data dumps, but in reality, when looking into that, you are searching for patterns and your attention is fully needed to figure it out.

Geno: With that in mind, was there anything that occurred in development that stands out as being the most difficult?  Was there a make or break moment that tested everyone?

Artemio Urbina:

I believe most of it was make or break.  All that was done was needed to create it, and each technical or logical problem was a showstopper in some way.

Geno: When tweaking anything to perfection, patience and repetition is required.  Making all those corners glisten, buffing out the marks in the old silver.  You guys made something peerless, professional and one of a kind… It took that aforementioned repetition to  complete.  Are there any particular scenes or lines of dialogue you have seen or heard more times than you would have liked?  Can you recite every line of dialogue in the game?  What about a favorite scene in the game?  Favorite character?

Artemio Urbina:

The first hour or so of the game is what I saw the most, since it is the area I did most work personally on.  Of course I can recite a lot of lines, and we all know a lot of scenes by heart.

Michael did have nightmares with the car chase scene, but I don’t recall the details clearly.  I did have some code nightmares too, mainly the kind when you are solving problems without reaching a solution all night long, and wake up tired from it.  Sometimes those do find solutions, but it was not the case for me with Policenauts.

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These things take time

Geno: Policenauts and Snatcher are arguably Hideo Kojima’s greatest games.  With that in mind which one do you prefer and why?

Artemio Urbina:

I prefer Snatcher, since it is more innocent in some regards and because I played it first.  It was a way younger version of myself who was deeply impressed by it.

My favorite character is Jonathan himself.

Policenauts B6

Snatcher: Is That Metal Gear?

Geno: It’s been almost four years since the Policenauts patch went live in September of 2009.  What do you remember about those final days working the project?  When did you know it was done?  How did you feel upon release?

Artemio Urbina:

I remember the day we released it the most; several of those prior months are somewhat blurry.  It was mostly working on details, several of them not game related.  We had beta testing in the private forums for the project, and had received their feedback.  I was mostly concerned with details about the distribution, dates, where to inform and having the site ready for the most part.

Geno: Are you planning to re-team with the Michael and Marc to do any more video game translations?  I have always thought the Nintendo Entertainment System’s Akira could benefit from your team’s expertise.

Artemio Urbina:

There are no current plans for any game.  Marc and I worked on SDatcher though, and we’ll work on some other related things.

ACT1ART

SDatcher: Gillian goes radio drama

Geno: What is your fondest memory of playing video games? Do you have a favorite game series?  Do you collect videogames?

Artemio Urbina:  It is hard to pinpoint a specific memory. They are usually of me playing with friends, usually at a game release or vacation.  Discovering those new worlds and talking about them afterwards is a great experience.

I used to have several game series as favorites, but it is hard for a series to keep up with a standard.  It is easier to have favorite games.

Yes I do collect games, but it is usually in order to learn more about a specific game with several releases, or simply because they are games I’ve grown fond of.  My collection is very platform agnostic and not with a completist approach.  It ranges from pong clone systems to arcade PCBs.

Geno: Thanks again for sitting down with me today, Mr.Urbina; it’s been an honor to speak with you.  I want to say thank you again for your tireless efforts in bringing Policenauts to an entirely new audience.  It’s something the gaming community at large will never forget.  Any parting words for our readers before you head out today?

Artemio Urbina: 

Thank you for your time and attention.  I hope everyone interested in Policenauts enjoys it and likes it as much as we did.

Policenauts B8

——————–

Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

With the recent release of SEGA‘s Company of Heroes 2, Sumthing.com blogger Geno takes some time to sit down with the game’s composer Cris Velasco to discuss the making of its profound wartime soundtrack.  The soundtrack is available now!  Preview tracks and purchase the digital album right here on Sumthing.com!

Cris_Velasco

Geno:  When I first started listening to your score for Company Of Heroes 2, I was struck as to how effortlessly it managed to turn my surroundings in Austin, Texas from summer drought to crackling arctic tundra. I was overcome by the trudging weight of the snow slurry and the impediment of a drowning mistral. It becomes clear that the make-up of these compositions are not for those with weak leg muscles; it puts you directly into the shoes of that cursing, broken commander of the Soviet Red Army. Tell me, how did you transplant, distance yourself from Los Angeles to a decimated Leningrad for this project?

Cris Velasco:  

Wow, thanks for that!  This is a game based around an actual conflict.  The battles that are portrayed in Company of Heroes 2 are ones that actually happened.  The score really needed to lend a sense of weight and realism to that I think.  And it can be difficult, living in Los Angeles tucked away in my studio with views of the mountains and gorgeous weather, to try to put yourself in the shoes of those soldiers…impossible really.  But I had plenty of amazing artwork from the game and lots of descriptions of gameplay from the guys at Relic.  I just inundated myself with these and did the best I could to imagine what it must have been like.  The score is meant to be more of a personal soundtrack for these soldiers in their mindset as they marched through the snow or threw themselves into battle.  This is what I tried to capture.

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Geno:  Company Of Heroes 2 as a musical compendium does something rather remarkable and largely does it in a class of its own in that while most pieces of music for the medium of video games come at the player from the sword of the hero, COH 2 comes straight down the barrel through the eyes of 1941’s most tenuous U.S. ally. You’re still going to cheer when the mortar rounds plunder their targets, but it gets more difficult in those quiet moments, sitting by a dying fire: men huddled together with ratty, thinly-lined coats. They are the heroes, but perhaps not in the conventional sense. But by the time the score hits forward assault with “March Into Hell”, I am not only on my feet, I’m screaming for their adversaries’ blood. Your music makes them universal, celebrated warriors. Was it more or less difficult to compose from such an alternate perspective?  Did you have to custom-tailor any of your various methods to reach that final take?

Cris Velasco:  

It was refreshing actually to have the chance to compose something from their point of view.  The music was never supposed to be a “cheerleader” for the gamer.   It wasn’t meant to be some overbearing score whose purpose is to hit the player over the head at all times by telling them, “This is a fun game”!  I always wanted the music to be part of the storytelling process…the emotional backbone of the game. These men were heroes in their own right. I wanted the music to take their perspective and help take the player on a journey through their lives.

Geno:  There is a distinct and wildly individual footprint on this score. While the motions and gears of software based on actual military skirmishes tend to focus on the highest part of the hill, the victory march, COH 2 prefers to detail the many arduous struggles to take that distant peak. It gives the player time to identify, emote with the many desperate threads of war. “We Toil With No Respite”, “A Prayer For My Company” make highly verbal the debilitating personal consequences of battle while “Shadows In The Mist” and “Frostbite” create the singular sound of nerves collapsing from an encroaching, fortified enemy. It gives a full range of motion and chooses not to strike the same loud gong over a gamers’ head. Were there particular strains involved in conflict, vignettes you wanted players to experience? How did you create this overwhelming feeling of intimacy?  I know these guys in the trenches, seen their sweetheart lockets, read their letters to a frazzled mother. It’s uncanny!

Cris Velasco:  

Intimacy is a good word for what I was going for. I felt it was very important to write a lot of the music from the viewpoint of a single soldier. While yes, they all feel a sense of camaraderie, each of them is still an individual. I was imagining that while there might be a sense of comfort in knowing your squad was at your back, watching out for you, that ultimately being at war is a very personal experience. You’re in your own head, experiencing horrific things through your own eyes, knowing your last moments will be experienced alone as the other troops march on. I wanted the music to play for each individual soldier, acknowledging that feeling.

Press play and keep reading

 Geno:  “Sneak Attack” and “The Struggle Remains” have such predatory movement: that inching from behind, those careful measured steps. You can picture these men on tip-toes, not breathing, holding their arms stringently at their sides. It must be difficult to create that kind of illusion these days, what with unlimited ammo and the ability to reset. Still your pieces here remind me that I never want to press the wrong button, that my life and defeat are always but one minuscule hair away from death. Where do you go to find that sound of blood? That tormented choice?

Cris Velasco:

Yes, even though a lot games today do somewhat remove that sense of “consequence” I do think it’s a bit different in an RTS.  There are no checkpoints to start over at. Also, just because you technically can just replay a certain scene again doesn’t mean that the music shouldn’t at least try to convey a sense of urgency. You got the mood exactly as I intended for those tracks though. They’re definitely meant to keep you on the edge of your seat as you carefully make your way towards the enemy camp, where one misstep will result in the death of your whole squad.

Geno:  While I have made much of the more introspective pieces you have here…Your stomping, the tearing of bullet through bone, the actual taking of the cities, as your opponent kneels to boot, is completely, utterly visceral. “A Red Army Rising” and “Onward To Victory” detail those final moments as tanks storm ruined bunkers and ranking officers flee from their tents with only what they can carry. It’s fantastic! How did you strike that balance between showcasing the muted human condition and the slam of that mammoth incisor to an unprepared army, the ones about to be taken over?

Cris Velasco:

I don’t think it’s much of a spoiler to say that if you’re far enough into the campaign, at some point you’ll be seeing the successful defeat of the Germans. It’s only natural that the soundtrack will start to take on a slightly more triumphant tone. These cues still needed to have an element of brutality to them, but I also wanted to incorporate some of that Red Army nationalism without overdoing it too much.

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Geno:  I have to say that Company Of Heroes 2’s “Main Theme” is absolutely gorgeous. The violin suite and choral arrangement are heartbreaking. Could I ask for an extended cut? As with most scores there is much left unseen by the general public. Did you have to eliminate any of your compositions from the final pressing?  Anything you wish you could have added? I am primed for the seven-disc set you know!

Cris Velasco:

The soundtrack is almost a complete release.  There are only a few miscellaneous tracks that aren’t on the CD…material that didn’t make sense to put on because they were too short.  I’m glad so many people seem to be enjoying the Main Theme though.  That was probably the hardest one to write.  It was the first thing I did and I tried hard to set the tone of the whole game with that piece.  If I could go back and add one thing though it would be an extended version of “A Prayer For My Company”.  I love the cello performance and I want to hear more of it!

Geno:  Typically how long does it take to amass the ideas and working design of a score this size?  Are you working alone for that initial period of gestation? About what stage do you bring in collaborators and when does the coordination of a symphony come into play?  You must not sleep all that much once you hit a certain point, nor is there time to say…eat. How do you keep your universe in alignment?

Cris Velasco:  

As I mentioned, the Main Theme is always the toughest (and longest) to come up with.  We had plenty of time to start out with so I got to really focus on making that theme just right.  I had numerous other versions that I’d run by the Audio Lead, David Renn.  He really helped me focus in on what the Main Theme should be accomplishing for this game.  After the theme was locked down, I then had a nice chunk of time to flesh out the rest of the score.  I managed to stay a bit ahead of the curve on this one and didn’t see too much crunch time.  It definitely never got into the “no-sleep” schedule for which I am very thankful!  Hiring the orchestra, doing the orchestrations, and making the travel arrangements all came at the very end.  It can get a bit stressful trying to coordinate everything so that all the music, musicians, engineers, and us arrive at the recording studio at the same time.  I’ve been working with live orchestras on game scores for many years though.  I have a team in place that helps me take care of everything and it all goes like clockwork.

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Geno:  I remember never wanting to ever play God Of War, but then just by chance I stumbled across “Wrath Divide” a song you did for that particular game…I mean….Who in their right mind doesn’t want to play that game after hearing that? It turned the tide for me, I am proud to say I have now played all of the titles in the series, thanks to about less than three minutes of music. I also wanted to tell you that your contribution to Mass Effect 2 the music for “Kasumi’s Stolen Memories”, are of great necessity to me in the final miles of my daily morning runs. It’s strange though because the songs described from God Of War and Mass Effect 2 are polar opposites. You adapt to your musical surroundings seemingly in the instant they change. Can you attribute this to anything from your past like playing in rock bands in high school, or learning piano at an early age?

Cris Velasco:

“Wrath Divine” was my favorite track to write for God of War. I’m so glad to hear it inspired you to actually play the game!  The guys at Sony liked it too and let me do a new take on it for each of the three games. It appears as “Phoenix Rising” in God of War 2 and as “Brothers of Blood” in God of War 3.  Although I did play guitar in a band (death metal!) during high school and college, I don’t think that this had much influence on being able to switch gears between projects. That’s what any composer has to be able to do. Obviously, music that suits God of War will not be a good fit for Mass Effect.   It’s been great to have so many different styles I’ve been able to explore over the years. It keeps me growing as a composer and prevents things from ever getting dull.

Geno:  Company Of Heroes 2, as I have stated earlier in this interview, feels rather personal. You definitely have messages encoded within the rhythm and drum. It makes the desperation more palpable; the sleet of the Kremlin more tactile, and the shots fired more enveloped in panic. Did you serve in the military or perhaps know someone who has? My own grandfather died in World War II, and the pictures I have of him perhaps don’t tell the whole story, but I certainly can find the seeds in those photographs to inspire something quite real within myself. Is it different to work on scores revolving around something that has a factual basis, knowing you can go to a history book and flip open to the cease-fire or the opening shot? Do you feel that weight of expectation more heavily?

Cris Velasco:

No, I was never in the military. I’ve known people that served but it was nothing that really personally affected me or has had an influence in my writing. As I mentioned earlier, part of being a good composer is to try and put yourself in that mindset though. To create the fiction in your head of actually being there and then trying to capture those feelings through music. Working on a game like this that’s based on a real historical event does put extra pressure on you. I feel that games (and music) like this will be scrutinized more carefully.  I worked hard on this score and I hope the gamers will feel that I’ve done the game justice!

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Geno:  The ability to distance yourself, to stand back after a project is done is great after what must be months of sitting in a booth, tense over endless re-writes and missed-takes. With Company Of Heroes 2 ‘s score just about to be released, can you point to any one piece you could unequivocally call your favorite? I have quite a few!

Cris Velasco:  

I have a real fondness for the Main Theme.  To me, it really encapsulates the whole experience of the game.  I also got to record two of my favorite players in LA, Nicole Garcia on violin and Cameron Stone on cello.  They brought a ton of emotion into that track.  Out of the more combat-like tracks I do have a few favorites also.  If I have to narrow it down to one I’d probably go with “Blitzkrieg”.

Geno:  After you’re done with recording, the minute you know everything is final, and the distributor has those reels in hand, ready to press? What’s your immediate reaction? What do you do to celebrate? Looking at your body of work, I gather that the time in-between projects are more akin to long-weekends than a full month at the spa.

Cris Velasco:  

When a project is completely over there are generally two simultaneous reactions that I have.  The first is one of immense happiness and relief.  To see a project from inception to completion is extremely rewarding.  The other feeling is often there is a bit of a void.  To live through an amazing experience like that and then just be suddenly…done.  You definitely miss it.  Luckily, I’ve been fortunate enough to usually have something else that requires my immediate attention so I get to immerse myself in a brand new project.  But yes, time off over the last few years has been measured in long weekends here and there.  I did manage to fit in 10 days in Vienna and Salzburg right after the recording sessions for Company of Heroes 2.  Since we recorded in The Czech Republic it would have been a crime not to have done some local visiting!

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Soundtrack available now!

Geno:  Do you have a favorite old or current gaming soundtrack? I am partial to the first Mega Man and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake and currently Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4 and Tatsunoko Vs. Capcom Ultimate All-Stars.

Cris Velasco:  

One of my favorite old soundtracks is Outcast.  It’s actually the score that put me on the path of writing music for games.

Geno:  What are you currently working on? Anything you could share with us today?

Cris Velasco:

My lips are sealed!  I wish I could!  There’s some really cool stuff in the works.  One of the only things I can really mention is that I’ve just finished a new fantasy MMO.  The music is a very melodic orchestral score with some Chinese elements.  You’ll be seeing my name on some other games this year too.  Maybe even a film or two as well… ;-)

Geno:  Cris, we at Sumthing.com are incredibly grateful for you taking the time to sit down with us today, your unwritten future scores are indeed the stuff of revolution. Anything else you would like to add before leaving us today?

Cris Velasco:  

Thanks so much for the great interview!  If anyone would like to get updates from me on what I’m working on or just my sporadic rambling from time to time, you can follow me on Twitter. My screen name is @monarchaudio.

The Company of Heroes 2 soundtrack is available now right here on Sumthing.com!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

 

In anticipation of the June 4th release of the Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Vocal Tracks) Vinyl, Sumthing.com blogger Geno Anthony caught up with composer Jamie Christopherson to discuss the making of this face-melting soundtrack.  Be sure to pre-order your vinyl here.  Preview tracks and purchase the digital album now at Sumthing.com!

Geno:  You know… I have to say…. Since the score for Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance was introduced into my daily life a few weeks ago, it’s all I listen to.  I am constantly late for work, taking all manner of scenic routes just to hear “Red Sun” one coveted last time before having to clock in.  You have indoctrinated me.  What was your first initial plan for scoring Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance?

Jamie Christopherson:
I definitely aimed to write solid songs that would accompany the gameplay perfectly, but could also easily be listened to on their own outside of the game, so I’m really glad to hear that you’re having fun driving around to the music (while your boss must not be as pleased).  Once you hear the songs play during the boss battles, I could only hope that if you hear the music away from the game it makes you remember that battle all over again – and subsequently want to pick up the game to play again!

Jamie Christopherson

Geno:  This is a bold score with lots of vocals, a generous helping of them.  Let’s talk about those vocal tracks.  Do you find it difficult to write songs for others to sing?  Is it hard to give an artist creative control over pieces you have written?  Do you sing?

Jamie Christopherson:
We basically wrote and produced a whole album worth of vocal songs for the game (13 songs).  The songs were written without any of the singers attached to them, and then we had auditions to find the best suitable singer for each boss song.  We chose the singers based on the natural quality of their voice and signature style, and we wanted them to sing the boss songs as they would on their own albums, with as minimal acting required.  The biggest exception to that was the track “Red Sun” which actually started out with more of a power metal style vocal.  But we changed that on the spot while recording the singer Jason Miller, who had such a great low evil tone that we couldn’t resist.

Geno:  What do you see as being the central musical piece in Rising?  Which tracks did you have the most fun working on?

Jamie Christopherson:
Actually there is a short and simple “Raiden” central theme that happens quite a lot in the score.  You can hear it in the opening menu for the game and throughout many of the cinematic cutscenes.  That theme also appears in a version during the song for the last battle with Armstrong, called “It Has to Be This Way”.  I had the most fun working on the songs that required a lot of collaboration; for example working with Logan Mader on “It Has to Be This Way” and “Collective Consciousness”, as well as the many talented co-writers on the end credit song “The War Still Rages Within”.

Geno: “Return to Ashes” is a great example of the type of cadence, the forward motion you feel while playing as Raiden.  It propels Raiden at his enemies, charging them.  It’s caustic, like a vortex sucking all fluids from your body starting with the saliva in your mouth–there is a palpable dread in it.  Do you think this sort of momentum could have been achieved using a more traditional symphonic approach?

Jamie Christopherson:
We purposefully chose to transition to hardcore heavy metal / electronica during intense battles for exactly this reason, to increase the intensity and momentum.  Many of the stages have orchestral background music actually (albeit there are electronic elements), so if we kept orchestral music going into these more intense battles I don’t believe it would have had the same jarring effect.  It was a thin line that I had to walk between adding extra energy and still sounding like other parts of the game.

Jamie Christopherson

Geno:  “The War Still Rages Within”, “The Hot Wind Blowing” and “Collective Consciousness” are quite emotional.  While they may wear heavy armor, they ache at their core.  These songs, along with “Dark Skies” and “Rules Of Nature”, start to form a complete story arc.  Did you approach these vocal tracks as a chance to tell Raiden’s story from another perspective?  Did you feel any sort of attachment to Raiden’s character after the recording sessions wrapped?

Jamie Christopherson:
All of the boss battle songs are written from the perspective of the boss.  So while there are certainly many similarities in character traits between Raiden and the other bosses, it wasn’t intended to be about Raiden.  The exceptions are the lyrics in “It Has to Be This Way” where the line is blurred between Armstrong and Raiden, and the end credit song, “The War Still Rages Within”, which can be considered Raiden’s anthem.  Living with Raiden for such a prolonged period of time I certain felt a connection to him and to “let ‘er rip”!

Geno:  Where do you usually get your best ideas for compositions and songs?  Anything in particular you like to do before heading into a studio?  For “Rising”, were you given visuals and storyboard materials to draw inspiration from?

Jamie Christopherson:
Fortunately, I was able to see some early video and pictures, which isn’t always the case.  And I had the background information on Raiden and all of the bosses, which was really detailed and in-depth.  Kojima Productions and Platinum Games had some very clear suggestions on where I might find inspiration for the lyrics for the songs.  For example, many of the boss names refer to different wind conditions in parts of the world, so I would research those to get lyrical imagery for the song.

Geno:  High tension and relief must be a difficult thing to repeatedly score.  Rising’s “caution”, “evasion” and “battle” suites are particularly strong.  They are referred to as “Ambushed” and “Ambushed Low Key”.  Do you put yourself into the protagonist’s shoes?  Is it simply a matter of combining a number of pieces into one cohesive blueprint?  It feels like you’re on the battlefield, band and orchestra literally inches behind, stalking, watching.

Jamie Christopherson:
It is a challenge to constantly keep the game player on their toes and alert in a game, and music has a big part to do with that.  If you are intense (or repetitive) the whole time you run the risk of the player pushing the mute button on the remote, and if you are too boring or quiet then the player won’t be engaged enough.  On this game it really helped that the developer would tell me very specifically what scene (including music I’d previously written) was going to come before and after the one I was currently scoring.  In that way I could make sure I could take a bigger picture approach.

Geno:  “Domestic Scars”, “Black Sea” and “The Other Face Of The City” have a mixture of rock and international music.  It has many layers, and through repeated listening I keep finding things I hadn‘t heard before.  Was it difficult to merge these elements and stay true to both influences?  By the way, you have these absolutely gorgeous, subtle guitar lines in all three tracks.  I took a plane and three trains just to make sure you knew that.

Jamie Christopherson:
Thank you for noting those nice guitar lines!  I did mix in some ethnic instrumentation for certain sections of the game, based on what it looked like to me.  Of course, these are all fictional places so I kind of had to use my imagination and come up with a sound that to me was futuristic, exotic and familiar.  That’s the great thing about writing music is that you can blend all of these things together to form a completely new sound altogether.

Geno:  You were tasked with both the in-game compositions as well as the vocal tracks. Were these works done concurrently or was one half-completed before the other? Was there anything particularly challenging about either part of the project?

Jamie Christopherson:
The songs were started very early on and took the longest amount of time to complete.  But I was working concurrently on both the songs and the in-game score up until the very end of the process.  The songs were the most challenging because we wanted to really strike the right balance and blend between many styles, in doing so we wanted to come up with a completely original style that hadn’t really been done exactly in that way before.  So there wasn’t much of a blueprint, which turned into a great thing in that we had to feel our own way in the dark for a little bit before coming out into the super bright light.

Geno:  Rising is something that would greatly benefit an audience by being played in arenas and clubs.  It has everything it needs to go on tour.  Tell me, do you have any additional live performance plans?  To that end, do you prefer live performance over studio recording or vice versa?

Jamie Christopherson:
We did have a live show for the launch of the game in Hollywood.  It was a lot of fun and the fans there were really into it.  But rehearsing the band and getting multiple singers together for a performance definitely requires a lot of logistics and time.  These songs are very complicated to perform live (especially for the guitarists)!

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Soundtrack vinyl

Pick up the MGR:R vinyl right here!

Geno:  Your name carries with it a wealth of musical projects–you compose music for television, film and video games.  When did you first start playing music?  What instrument did you start with?  Is there an instrument you don’t like playing?

Jamie Christopherson:
I don’t play guitar that much, which served as a unique challenge on this project because all of the songs were guitar driven.  So I found some great keyboard virtual instruments that emulated guitar enough to allow me to write quickly and legitimately.  But then we hired real guitar players to perform the parts for real.  I’ve been playing music pretty much my whole life.

Geno:  Would you say you’re more of a Pac-Man or Galaga player?  Or are you more fond of side-scrolling games like Double Dragon?

Jamie Christopherson:
Galaga!  Gotta make sure your first ship is caught in the tractor beam.  :)

Geno:  Thanks so much for your time, Mr. Christopherson.  We at Sumthing look forward to your future projects with wild anticipation.  Is there anything else you would like to add, or tell our readers about before you head back to the studio?

Jamie Christopherson:
Thanks so much for your support of the Metal Gear Rising game and soundtrack!

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Soundtrack vinyl

 The Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance vinyl is available now for pre-order, releasing June 4.  Digital album available now!

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Having fallen in love only 4 times in his life Geno counts Double Dragon as his second and truest love. He has worked in record retail since 2000 and believes David Hayter to be the one true Solid Snake. Currently, he is putting together a band which only perform songs from Street Fighter 3rd Strike.

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