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A relative newcomer to the video game space, Nikola Nikita Jeremic is proving to be a composer to keep an eye on. His appreciation for the medium comes through loud and clear in his latest project, Starpoint Gemini: Warlords. Geno recently had a chance to sit down with the up-and-comer and get some insight into Nikola’s creative process, his set up, and his inspirations for the soundtrack’s sci-fi soundscapes…

GENO: The sound of space is generally approached in terms of its scope: massive, formless and uncharted. It’s been well served when scored from this angle, but many struggle to maintain an LP’s worth of momentum and the message devolves into a meandering greyspace by record’s end. Your recordings for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords feel utterly counterpoint to this general working order. Everything feels 1:1 where you can reach out, interacting with even the furthest set points on your map; it’s an incredibly intimate score and all the more exciting and singular because of it. Can you talk a little bit about the origins of this record and why it feels so up close? Did you have a finite direction already in mind before ever scoring a single note? And what were the tenets that guided your early process?

NIKOLA: The idea for this type of soundtrack came from my initial meeting with development team at Little Green Men studios, and we’ve had a lot of brainstorming sessions before I even started working on the actual score for the game. I first got in touch with them in 2015 and I’ve sent them two demos (one ambient and one action) for review, and then we’ve decided to go for that type of Homeworld and EvE Online sound. Luckily enough, all of us in the team are big fans of those soundtracks and the stuff that Vangelis did during the 70’s and the 80’s. It feels so up close and personal because it is something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I gave myself 100% to this score. I am a big fan of big analogue synth sounds and I always wanted to do a score based almost completely on synth sounds. I was mostly guided by concept art and gameplay of the game and my sheer imagination. To be honest, this entire score is one big one-man jam session with a lot of improvisation. I wanted to make the ambient tracks uniformed, so they can be played on a playlist inside the game engine, but still make it feel like a single track which is never-ending. The action music approach was a bit different, and I wanted to make them all driven by big percussion beds layered with sequenced synth basses and weird noises with some occasional orchestral elements here and there. The biggest challenge was making the three thematic cues for the credits and the main menu. I always wanted to write a memorable melody for a game franchise, so I guess SPG Warlords is my first shot at this.


GENO: ‘Horizon’ and ‘The Expanse’ are breathtaking; there is this texture to them, a melancholy that you have made exist in physical form. I’ve tried to tear them apart to try to get at what exactly makes them so genuinely bereaved, but there is this glistening, devastated warmth that you’ve achieved almost blessedly free of organic instruments (there are a few). Was this your aim with both of these compositions and how did you make these particular works so expressive and lyrical?

NIKOLA: Are you reading my mind by any chance? 😊 HAHA! 😊 Yes, that was the point for those two tracks, and a general feel of emptiness and melancholy was the driving force of the ambient tracks in the game. I mean, you’re all alone traveling through this entire galaxy with loads of dangerous encounters waiting for you behind every asteroid field etc… But still this loneliness is so soothing and relaxing. I dedicated special attention to creating original synth pads and textures in order to create this washy big soundscape for these tracks. I also wanted to make some sort of minimalist leit-motif to make them lyrical. I had the similar approach to other ambient tracks. ‘Horizon’ is a sort of an homage to Vangelis’ early minimalist works.

 GENO: Starpoint Gemini: Warlords feels incredibly live, improvised even; this is brilliant because it feels absolutely unencumbered, unpredictable and this freedom translates directly to more affecting set pieces. Was this recorded in a semi or completely live setting? Your action cues ‘War Machine’, ‘Form The Line’, ‘Red Line’, and ‘Loose Cannon’ are inspired in their bestial clanging. What sorts of ideas did you want to get across about these tracks specifically, and what’s your general feeling toward the scoring of action in 2018? Are you more at home creating this sort of hard driven rain, or do you feel more aligned with the introspective, probing nature the likes of ‘The Expanse’, and ‘Horizon’?

NIKOLA: Like I said, the entire score for this is one big improvising jam session where I played everything. It is done completely “in the box” with software instruments and a few hardware synths and guitars that I own. So, it is sort of recorded with software instruments, but they were performed live by me. I played every single note, and there were no quantizations of notes. I really wanted to make everything feel live, even the sequenced rhythmic synths.

Regarding the action cues, the sole idea was to make them pounding and angry. ‘Loose Cannon’ is a good example of this idea, because it is this huge wall of sound which so intense and it really drives the action moments in the game. Your adrenaline really jumps when you’re surrounded by an armada of enemy ships and you need to take them out fast because your shields are going down from all the shooting. To be honest, I do like writing hard-hitting action stuff, but somehow, I feel more at home with these soundscapes and ambient music in general. If I ever get the chance to work again on another big MMO title (I worked on Destiny 2), I think that I’d be most helpful as an additional music composer for ambient music. You know those big ambient cues when you’re exploring the worlds of The Elder Scrolls Online, Guild Wars, World of Warcraft and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt? That’s what I’d love to do! 😊

GENO: Let’s talk about ‘Unempty Space': there is this heavy, oppressive and otherworldly presence here and it’s really, really unnerving. Congratulations!!! It is no easy task making space frightening again. This is so much more than an application of stock reverb and looping dissonance. Talk to me about how you’ve made space sound terrifying again. Are there certain keys, scales, or chords you feel naturally lend themselves to fear? Is it something you applied to your work on this LP? What was your methodology as it pertained to balancing all the disparate elements of space? Is it chiefly about defining the color, the sound, or the ambient noise? Can it be pared down to a few simple traits?

NIKOLA: Thank you so much for the kind words! 😊 ‘Unempty Space’ is actually the very first demo I sent the developers back in 2015, and they’ve loved it so much that we decided to keep it in the game as a featured track. This track is really what I meant when I said that everything was improvised and played live. I just started messing with some sounds and started sketching and eventually ‘Unempty Space’ is what came out of it. I think this track was done only by using Urs Heckman Zebra 2 soft synth, I am not sure. When I approach a track that needs to be unnerving and dark, I don’t think about chords and notes, I usually think about the type of sound I want to achieve. So, here I was looking for the type of sound that would make me feel uneasy and I went with that. I played a few notes and go the track going. Most of it was revolving around the key of D minor I think and diminished neighboring chords. The reverb was straight out of the synth, nothing additional was used here. My personal formula for portraying the vastness and darkness of space is to have big low-end drones and layer some different pads and soundscapes on top of that. But you have to be careful when balancing the sonic ranges of the individual instruments in order not to make everything too washy and muddy, because that’s a common issue for me when working on these types of tracks. You can achieve this type of sound with a single software synth and one reverb that can glue everything together if you’re creative enough.


GENO: Let’s talk kit for a minute; I’m extremely curious as to what this setup would look like on the floor of a stage. The guitars, the line of instruments… the list/s of players. Is this something that could feasibly be performed by a small group of musicians, or would it be something on a much larger scale? What exactly am I hearing on this LP? Your synth sound is particularly wonderful, really daring. What sorts of synthesizers would you say are your “go to”? For this record, did you employ older, outdated synths? Would you say you have a passion for the instrument in general? Which of any instrument did you find most effective in conveying your message on this recording?

NIKOLA: I think this entire soundtrack could be performed on a stage with a few musicians on synthesizers, a guitar player and a smaller orchestra. I like smaller orchestras, because the sound is always delicate and intimate, plus it doesn’t get in the way of additional instruments standing out. What you’re hearing on this LP is exactly that. A few good synths, a Fender Stratocaster and a small orchestra. I don’t own many hardware synths even though I am a massive synth enthusiast. My go-to soft-synths here were U-He Zebra 2 and Arturia V collection (CS 80, Moog, Jupiter and ARP 2600). When it comes to hardware synths, I used my Yamaha DX7 and two KORG Volcas (Volca Bass and Volca Keys), and I can’t say enough praises about Volcas. Truly affordable and easy to use analogue synths with massive sounds. I ran most of my hardware synths through a few guitar pedals to make them sound a bit more massive, and I also had my electric guitars on top of that. I am a passionate fan of synths and guitars, and I always find a way to include them in every work that I do, be it a sci-fi or epic fantasy. The CEO of LGM studios said for example that the track called ‘Frontier’ sounds like something that Vangelis and David Guilmour would do together, and that’s probably the biggest compliment I ever got as a musician.😊

GENO: The completed work for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords, is lengthy. Making even short albums can be a painful experience. About how long did it take you to complete (start and end date), and what did your cutting room floor look like? Did anything stand out about the recording of the LP to you, i.e.: longer demo period, altering course, or starting over from scratch? Is there a particular song that you personally enjoy the most and why?

NIKOLA: If we don’t count the demoing period in 2015, the actual work on the soundtrack took no more than a month and a half in continuity, so that’s almost one track on every two days. From mid-November 2016 to first week of January of 2017 was the entire soundtrack done, including the mixing. You can say, I was highly motivated to work on this, because the genre is something I am really into. The developers actually had very few remarks for the soundtrack, and it is something that I have never experienced before, and I couldn’t believe it. I know it sounds unbelievable, and maybe I sound a bit full of myself, but they really had few remarks and they were signing off every track on the day it was finished and it went straight into the game. The best time I had was while working on ambient tracks, because I really experimented with the sounds for my synths. But what really stands out is when I sat down to work the main opening theme that plays in the main menu, and that was the last thing I did for this soundtrack. I got into panic mode because I didn’t have any idea about the melody that would represent the world of SPG Warlords, and it hit me quite by accident while I was improvising with this lead sound that plays the melody and I knew I had it. After that it was easy to create everything around it. My personal favorites on this soundtrack are ‘Warlords Ascension’ (the main theme), ‘Still Waters Run Deep’, ‘Unempty Space’ and ‘Frontier’ because they really represent what I was going for with this soundtrack, to present the vastness and loneliness of a space adventure.

GENO: I mentioned earlier that the record feels free of interference from the outside. Were you given total artistic control or were there guidelines via concept art and storyboards? Do you find this sort of guidance helpful? Were there ever moments during the process where you hit a wall and had to walk away from the project for a few days? What was the most difficult composition for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords?

NIKOLA: This is one of the very first projects I ever got where I was given total independence and artistic control, and that’s a double-edged sword because you’re the one who’s here to create this new sound from scratch for a big universe, and there’s always this small fear of not being good enough when the clients are taking their first listen. It’s a horrifying experience when you’re looking at faces of your clients while they are listening to your music for the first time. Regarding SPG Warlords, I never hit a wall and I was never away from the project during the composing process because I was truly inspired to create something that’s really me. Concept art and a short brief about the game were very helpful and one of my screens always had a scene from the game on it while I was composing, because I really had to immerse myself in this world. The hardest challenge was the main menu theme honestly. I always have issues when trying to compose something that needs to be minimalistic and simple enough, but still sounds big.

GENO: With any type of project comes stories, hilarious and horrifying. Did the sessions for Starpoint Gemini: Warlords yield any of this sort of folklore? Were the master reels stuck in transit for three weeks in Alpine, Texas? Did the studio get snowed in during a blizzard? Are there any memories you’d like to share about your time creating this score?

NIKOLA: Well the studio was snowed in during that period because it was a tough winter that year and I didn’t get out much. 😊 A couple of weird situations happened during those times. Once I was recording this guitar melody for ‘Frontier’ and I played something that sounded really awesome to me and I improvised all over the track, but then I realized the recording button wasn’t on. 😊 Another thing happened when I prepared the masters to send you guys for publishing, and when I started uploading them, I realized the master output was muted, so I almost sent you 60 minutes of silence haha! 😛


GENO: Music is generally a lifelong occupation. It starts with admiration at a young age that moves to active creation shortly thereafter. Is making music something you’ve always wanted to do or did you have other plans that were put aside in favor of this goal? And… one of my favorite questions that I always ask musicians: did you have a high school band, did you record with them, and can I hear it? What was your first instrument?

NIKOLA: Since my early childhood I was always surrounded by music. I remember I learned to use cassette tape and record players to listen to music on headphones that were bigger than my head at that time. I started dreaming about doing music in my teens and I kept nagging my parents to buy me an electric guitar, but then I got an acoustic and I was bored to death because I wanted to make loud noise that came from the radio. Of course, I had a band in high school with a few of my friends. It was a heavy metal band but it didn’t last for long, we had only two songs at that time and thank God there are no recordings of them! 😊 During my time with the band I got interested in soundtracks and started experimenting with keyboards, so I got hooked on synths pretty fast and to the so-called “cinematic” sound. I never got a formal musical education, I learned everything I know by myself from reading books and listening to music. When I talk about music I don’t talk about theory or harmony or counterpoint, I talk about feelings and where I want to take the listeners. That was the only thing I wanted to do and I have invested every cell in my body to make it a living profession for me, because it’s rather difficult to be able to do it here in Serbia and it is why I started networking via Facebook (Thank you Mark Zuckerberg 😛 ).

GENO: Finally, what’s next for you? Are you planning a string of new recording projects or are you currently looking to take a break and decompress? Any final thoughts for listeners and fans on Starpoint Gemini: Warlords?

NIKOLA: I am very bad at having breaks, because I am really enjoying what I do, so right now I am mostly working on smaller indie games for local developers here. There will be a couple of interesting projects here and there during this year, I hope. I am looking forward to seeing anyone playing SPG Warlords on Xbox One and they are always welcome to join me on my adventures in-game while we are waiting for future releases. 😊 I truly hope the people will like the soundtrack and enjoy listening to it as much as I have enjoyed creating it.

GENO: Thank you so much for stopping in today and letting us get this fantastic behind the scenes look at your incredible score. We wish you the very best in 2018 and are looking forward to all of your future recordings.     

NIKOLA: Thank you for having me here as a guest, and I wish you all the best in your future releases! 😊

Starpoint Gemini Warlords (Original Game Soundtrack) is available on!


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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Jason Graves, Composer of Breach and Clear: Deadline

 SEMW: Let’s talk a little bit about methodology on your work for Breach and Clear: Deadline. This record is quite vicious. Fans like myself would have it no other way, but the physicality, the sheer blunt force of this LP is incredible. It’s one of the best scores I’ve heard in the last 5 years, and artistic statements like these rarely come with such potency. What sort of initial goals did you have from the outset of composing this material, and did you feel particularly adamant about what exactly you wanted the record to communicate? What was your driving force during those recording sessions, if you could nail it down?

JASON GRAVES: Well, first off, wow and thanks for the compliments! The approach was fairly straightforward, as this is an indie release and I had complete control over the music. The guys at Mighty Rabbit are so much fun to work with – they give me as much latitude as I need and honestly think that the best score they can receive is the one I’m the happiest with.

So the biggest goal, between Mighty Rabbit and myself, was to capture the emotion of look-down, team-coordinated military planning and execution. I wanted the suspense and teamwork to interplay with each other – those are the two juxtaposing gameplay elements. The pacing needed to be exacting and plodding but not feel too bogged down.

If there was one word I had to pick to encapsulate the album it would probably be “control.” It may feel like the music is about to explode at any moment, like there are horrors all around you and you’re going to be attacked at any moment, but listeners can also hopefully feel the control and discipline of a professional military team working together, fighting to protect each other against all odds.

SEMW: It’s a very rare thing to be able to capture the sound of fear and then in the same breath create the distinct rhythm of an action cue. While they may share an odd disparate strand of DNA, the approach in creating either one, requires an understanding of the difference between the two, be it subtle or outright. Breach And Clear: Deadline, unequivocally paints you as a master of this craft. Some perfect examples of this for me were “Strangers In The Night” and “Against All Odds” where you layer action on top of fear, part them, give them distinct passages and do so without a single fault in the onslaught of cues. How do you know when to separate the two, or when to have them intersect? How do you define both fear and action respectively in terms of sound?

JASON GRAVES: Again, thank you very much! It’s funny you mention “fear and action” – those are pretty much the same as “suspense and teamwork” where the music is concerned. It comes down to finding a balance between the two that feels right. I’m oversimplifying a bit, but the “feels right” is really the important thing for me.

For this soundtrack, the fear element comes in the guise of ambient electric guitar…lots of slow bends and pitches shifting around to put the listener on guard. It makes people raise their eyebrows and think, “Ok, what’s going on?”

Then it’s a matter of adding some movement and drive, which gives the listener a feeling of action or moving forward. Making things sound a lot more simple than they are again, but that’s basically the idea!

Deadline Cover



SEMW: Apocalypse Now has this gorgeous lyrical quality to it. Beautiful! Can you tell me a little bit about the creation of this composition in particular and what sort of ideas you may have used as touchstones to reach that final cut? I feel like it’s the unofficial theme of this work.

JASON GRAVES: It was definitely my favorite cue on the album. Most of the score was already finished and Mighty Rabbit needed a few Boss tracks. Their main request was for something epic and memorable, which is really the opposite of most of the album! So I literally pulled out all the stops and made something that was a lot bigger, in terms of instruments, than anything else. That’s the nice thing about holding back on a large portion of a project – being able to contrast it with letting everything rip every once in a while.

I had my first musical experience doing something along those lines with the Tomb Raider reboot in 2013 – most of the score was quiet, tense passages until the last few acts when all the giant percussion and epic brass came out to play, beginning with Lara climbing a mountainside. And it made a huge difference, in both the musical presentation of Lara’s character arc and the player’s experience. I’ve had more people tell me that was their favorite bit of gameplay than any other game I’ve scored, and I think it’s the musical restraint that came before that made that scene really pop in players’ minds.

I wanted the track to have some memorable hooks and definitely a nice push-pull feel to it. The bulk of the work really came down to mixing everything together, since the tune and chord progression worked themselves out very quickly in the beginning. I remember spending a lot of time on the big drums that play on the choruses – sending the kick and snare to the Distressor compressors and then through the Manley Massive Passive tube EQ. I processed the drums parallel to the original sounds so everything I did to squash and fatten them up was mixed in with the original drums and just became ever bigger, but not too over the top or squashed.

Once the drums felt good it was just a matter of balancing the live guitar parts with the synths. They actually do a lot of overlapping in this piece, so synth sounds are complementing the big guitar riffs and making the power chords even fatter.


SEMW: Breach and Clear: Deadline plays masterfully with space. Your construction of this pitch-perfect murky ebb and flow feels wholly unmanufactured and utterly terrifying. These stretches of silence, dissonance, and dotted melody: are they more difficult to properly cultivate since they seem to require so much more restraint, than say a more prominently placed composition used for a commercial or trailer? Between the two, do you have a scoring preference?

JASON GRAVES: I really love doing both. In fact, it’s the yin-yang aspect of it that keeps me interested and on my toes. But composing more simple, restrained music isn’t any easier than working on more dense, complicated mixes – it just takes less time. If not for any other reason, there are simply less notes to work with and things just go faster. So for me the idea of “restraint” is actually the same as “keep it simple, stupid,” or K.I.S.S. – a mantra that is chanted a lot around here!



SEMW: Sessions for Breach and Clear: Deadline, must have been a very rigorous and demanding process and something I imagine demanded a certain mindset, complete with daily rituals et cetera. Was it something you scored visually with pictures and concept art? Did you lock yourself away in a studio for days, sleep deprivation? It’s such an intense work. Are there any stories you’d like to share with us about the making of this record?

JASON GRAVES: Haha, well it’s definitely funny…and a lot more entertaining…to imagine a composer locked away in his bunker, lights dimmed, candles lit at 3 AM, murky shadows on the walls and atmosphere dripping everywhere as dramatic lights flicker across the computer monitors and the game plays on a huge TV monitor.

Reality, of course, is slightly different! I did have a little bit of gameplay as a visual reference, but the bulk of the music was written based on conversations and ideas. And that’s totally fine for me, especially when I’m working with a developer like Might Rabbit. We’ve worked together on many projects now and have a great relationship so many times the music direction is “do what you think will work and be fun to compose.”

So it simply came down to me spending a day on each cue and focusing in on the six tracks of instruments. The guitars were mostly very ambient and usually the first things I played. The synths were mostly used for low, pulsing sounds and the kick drums were run through all kinds of guitar pedals to give them movement and energy.

Of course, there’s plenty of artist choice and sculpting that happens as the day, and track, progresses. But it pretty much comes down to playing some things on the guitars, layering in some synth sounds and adding the kick drums here and there for a bit of energy.

SEMW: This album feels like the culmination of years of your own work in this particular genre. Having scored countless horror titles from the likes of the entire Dead Space trilogy, Until Dawn, Murdered: Soul Suspect, and The Order 1886, (all of which I loved, by the way), you know instinctively how to formulate palpable dread. What is it about this genre, for you, that makes it something worth returning to? Does it still present challenges and yield enough personally satisfying rewards for you as a composer?

JASON GRAVES: As long as I can keep trying new things and experimenting with different sounds I’ll be a happy composer. Horror and suspense are definitely tricky things to pull off properly, but the same thing could be said for comedy or drama. It’s always easy to overdo it – add way more music than is really needed, almost like a musical crutch or band-aid. The art lies in the subtle shades of emotion and hints of different textures and colors. In that respect, suspense and horror music needs to be especially nuanced because the music is providing a lot more of the atmosphere than it would be in other genres.

SEMW: I’m fascinated with your sound on this LP. Breach and Clear: Deadline presents a world saturated in noxious toxins where the only (yet still incredibly strenuous) physical action is that of a highly debilitating low crawl. I’m curious as to what sort of set-up you used. Do you have a particular array of instruments or gear that you prefer: a specific brand of amplifier, classic guitars, moog synthesizers, B3 organs? What physically lies behind the sound of this world?

JASON GRAVES: I love that description, thanks! I had already done my fair share of scary/horror games and was interested in trying something different, from an instrumentation standpoint. So I thought the idea of really limiting myself to a small amount of instruments sounded interesting. I basically built the entire score around three pairs of instruments – two synthesizers, two guitars and two kick drums. There are a few boss tracks that employ a slightly bigger setup, but 90% of the score is literally just six instruments.

I love limited instrumentation because it automatically creates its own sound. So in the case of Deadline I used two guitars – a Les Paul going through a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier and a Fender Strat going through an Orange Rockerverb 100. Both setups also ran through a fairly intense pedal chain of choruses, delays and reverbs and have their own 4×12 stack of amps. Any sort of pad or ambient lead sounds you hear are actually the live electric guitars.

The two synths are a Moog Sub Phatty and the u-he Diva synth, which I used sounds programmed by Matt Bowdler, aka The Unfinished. The synth sounds are fairly dry and untreated. I wanted the synths to sound like analog synths!

And the kick drums are electronic kicks from a VST called Metrum, which lets you build kick drums from scratch and easily play them in any key. There was a lot performance-oriented modulation with the delays of the kick drums so what you hear on the tracks may sound like different drums and rhythms, but it’s actually just the two kick drum sounds.



SEMW: Your body of work is so vast, and your catalog continually expanding, has there ever been a moment where you’ve been tempted to take your albums on the road into a live setting? What sort of material would you be most anxious to play out?

JASON GRAVES:I really enjoy the chance to perform/conduct live and I’ve been privileged enough to be invited to conduct all over the world. So far everything that has been performed is live orchestra. I think that’s just the natural extension of the usual “classical music concert” idea, and it’s a lot of fun to do. Albums like Deadline or Far Cry: Primal would definitely be more challenging, given their unique instrumentation – they are really more like a band setup than orchestra. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t be done! I’m definitely up for anything.

SEMW: Thanks so much for sitting down with me today; it is a true honor for me as a long-time fan of yours. Before you head back to the studio, can you tell me a little bit about any upcoming projects, or ideas you have for your next album? Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about Breach and Clear: Deadline? It’s certainly on my short-list for record of the year.

JASON GRAVES:Thanks so much for all the amazing compliments and great questions! There are currently plenty of projects in the works, but of course I am forbidden to speak of any of them under pain of death. Let’s just say they are all very different! Hopefully we will be talking about one of them sometime in the future.



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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The full scope of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s score lies somewhere in the hundreds: hundreds and hundreds of songs. We, as the public, generously received no less than 3 officially sanctioned releases for MGSV; the tally of compositions when added together amounts to almost 200 tracks. It is likely, however, that this number does not even come close to encapsulating the entire spectrum of work done by lead composer Ludvig Forssell. Forssell and his collaborators’ (Daniel James, Justin Burnett, Harry-Gregson Williams, Akihiro Honda, and Donna Burke) outstanding collection of music caught the attention of the entire gaming community, including

The album impressed us so much that we awarded it our number one record of 2015. It was with this in mind that I went out to meet with Ludvig Forssell one very late April afternoon. In our conversation, Forssell detailed the extraordinary genesis of sound  found within the world of MGSV: the gritty, spectacular vision, the joys of collaboration, and the countless times he spent performing as an 80’s new wave superstar, as seen in Metal Gear Solid V: The Lost Tapes. Today, Sumthing is honored and pleased to bring you composer Ludvig Forssell.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V:Ground Zeroes: Camp Omega


SEMW: I’d like to begin by talking a little bit about Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes. My approximation of the sound of Ground Zeroes is that of a very pregnant dusk. Where does the music of the world of Ground Zeroes exist in your head? How did you separate that universe from the one that exists in The Phantom Pain? Are there key elements you wanted to emphasize? Were there particular tones you thought best described trudging through Camp Omega?

Ludvig Forssell: Well, while we already had a very clear idea of what we wanted the music in The Phantom Pain to be and stand for, the approach to Ground Zeroes was more of a checking the waters with a more wide array of ideas kind of an approach; did we want it to sound reminiscent of the music of Peace Walker or did we want something more foreboding as to what were to come at the end of that story line, leading into The Phantom Pain? In the end we went for something in between, with a hard focus on synthetic sounds to emphasize on the aesthetic look of a military prison camp in the dark rain. I would say that Ground Zeroes definitely focuses on a version of Snake that is close to the original in that he is still the hero from the old games, a guy whose actions will always resonate well with the player. So we let the central tone be way more heroic than that of The Phantom Pain. That being said, there is a sadness and a darkness lurking somewhere beneath; as if to hint at that undertaking the main mission of Ground Zeroes will ultimately lead to Snake and his team’s demise. This is something that seeps out bit by bit as you progress and find out what’s really been going on in Camp Omega.

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Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain’s lead composer Ludvig Forssell


SEMW: Withered Peace, and Bloodstained Anthem walk very delicate lines. Do they represent the coming duality present in the Phantom Pain? Can you talk a little bit about their creation in general? Both are amazing.

Ludvig Forssell: Withered Peace, The Girl’s Gone and Bloodstained Anthem were all born from one longer cue that I first wrote  to test out with the gameplay to see what would fit. On a side note, this cue was later reworked and released on the Extended Soundtrack with the name “Paz is Dead“. I wanted something that started out really, really, small and could build up as the player progressed further and further while carrying and caring for Paz, hopefully feeling more and more stress from the pressure of trying not to be found while at the same time feeling like they’re getting closer and closer to the light at the end of the tunnel. I wanted Withered Peace to give the player some insight as to how damaged Paz had become, how she was beyond saving, but still making you feel like you just can’t give up on her. I tried to convey this uncertainty with the unsteady pitches in the main synth leads and the track constantly changing form, making it hard to tell where it’ll go next. Bloodstained Anthem is where the player gets to just throw all caution out the window and do what they must, give their all just to save Paz from the forces of all of Camp Omega firing upon you. It’s as heroic as anything we wrote for all of MGSV gets, yet there is still a feeling of loss, a feeling of giving up on a “cleaner” version of yourself in order to complete whatever task at hand.

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Listen: Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes: Bloodstained Anthem

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Celebrating the album releases of Broken Age, and the recent re-release of the score for Grim Fandango at are a very BIG deal.

So much so, that back in May, I went in search of their composer: industry legend Peter McConnell. On a very bright and HOT day in June, Peter and I discussed the hidden blessings of crowd-funding, the echoes of space, the villain theme, Lucas Arts, and the beginnings of his work on Grim Fandango.

Be sure to order your copies of both Broken Age and Grim Fandango here on

Geno :

It’s the summer of 2000, and I have just moved to Austin, Texas. I’m completely miserable. Having no real sense of friends, school and money… my free time was spent feeling utterly despondent. I was just working a record store job and playing in a rock band. My computer just BARELY ran Tim Schafer’s 1998 classic Grim Fandango, BUT it ran, which was good enough for me. I was there, you know, huddled in a corner of my room with headphones. It was late at night, and I was trying not to wake my roommate. The headphones were key because they amplified the component I felt was the most important, aside from the story’s brilliant writing: your singular and altogether mind-blowing score. Your music was one of the ONLY truly bright spots of that year. I have always wanted to thank you for that, but never thought I’d have the chance, and here we are. I just wanted to say, before we get started, thank you from the bottom of my heart, and multiply that a few million times.

Peter McConnell

Wow, thanks for that. It’s nice to know I was able to create something that had that effect. Expressing yourself is only half of the value of music, if that – the other half is touching someone else personally.

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Legendary Composer Peter McConnell


Broken Age was a dream made possible in part by the dollars of the newly-minted initiatives of crowd-funding. While it’s a blessing to the gathering of momentum, and the green lighting of a project I imagine it’s an artist’s nightmare in terms of expectations turned into demands, and a rather strict timetable for the delivery of the finished product. What was the consensus, the overall mood while you worked on Broken Age? When you were first approached about composition of the score, what did your initial blueprints look like? Did they end up matching the boldness of the ink as seen in the final record? What changed? Did the investors on the project grow too loud in that they disrupted your creative process? Can you tell me a little bit about the first piece you composed for Broken Age? Did it make it onto the final track list? How long did everything take from the demo phase to completion and insertion of your pieces into the game?

Peter McConnell:

When I first heard that Double Fine had hit a record in crowd-funding I emailed Tim, who was at the DICE show in Las Vegas, to congratulate him, He mailed back “so, are you going to do the music?” I believe my answer was “hell, yes!” I was very excited to be involved in a totally new way of doing a project. Believe it or not, I particularly liked the “reality TV” aspect of it. I had never had the opportunity to connect directly to the audience of a game while it was in production, and I enjoyed making the videos where we talked about how the music got made. And honestly I was kind of insulated from the downside of that process – some of the intense discussions on the forums – for me it was all good.

As for the blueprints versus the final score, the blueprints were the humblest hint of what we were finally able to do. The big challenge in the beginning was to figure out how to score the kind of emotional drama that we could see unfolding with the very limited (that’s right, very limited!) budget we had to work with. Doing live instruments at all seemed barely affordable, so I tried to figure out ways to portray everything with a small group of players, even with the first Mog Chothra scene. But when Shay stepped out into space for the first time free of his tether, I thought, “Man, I just HAVE to have French horns here – but how?” What happened at that point was pure serendipity. I had been commissioned by Andrew Pogson, who was assistant artistic director at Melbourne Symphony, to do a suite of Grim Fandango music. This was a major effort in itself, as it involved getting permission from LucasArts and Disney, and in the course of our many discussions it came up that Andrew was a backer of Broken Age. When he found out I was the composer for Broken Age he asked me what would be the chances of getting MSO to record music for Broken Age. I said, “You read my mind!” and what followed was truly a miracle – we were able to get the MSO leadership, the players union and members of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to come together with Double Fine and figure out a way to record music for the game. The blueprints could never have accounted for that amount of good fortune.

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Welcome to the Broken Age


There’s something inherently special about the adventure game genre. Nothing is forced, you’re not brandishing a gun or weapon in the classic sense most of the time, and there are indefinite moments of pause. Most importantly, (I have always thought) is that the music isn’t always ratcheting up tension and forcibly bombarding the player’s emotions. Do you feel that a more natural human connection is able to be established through music within the confines of an adventure title? Does it give you more room to interpret a scene? What, if any makes the adventure genre a different sort of musical vehicle?

Peter McConnell:

In a word, yes. What the adventure game offers, through the natural pauses in action created by solving the puzzles, is a way to reflect on the emotional content of the story. Another way to think of it is that the story in an adventure game is more evenly split between gameplay and cut scenes (as opposed to being mostly in the cut scenes), so more of the music is directly connected to telling a story. On a very practical level this means you get to write more slow and melodic music, which I love to do. On the other hand, it’s a lot of fun to write a good action piece for a platformer or shooter as well!

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The Sound Of Peter McConnell’s Space


Broken Age explores some of the mystery of being an ordinary person marooned in space. Galactic exploration is still very much undone, still something largely mythical. Time to get up Little Spaceman, and Hello Space, epically, beautifully marks the vastness of this ordeal. How do you envision the sound of the unexplored planet, the black hole, and the dying star? What takes more precedence when you’re scoring for space: the vastness of the echo, the singular desolation, or the darkness? I hear a little bit of all three in Hello Space. Which is your favorite element?

Peter McConnell:

Great questions. As I mentioned earlier, the space music was where it really became clear that we needed an orchestra – because of the sense of vastness and the big feelings I wanted to portray. That started with the French horn theme at the beginning of “Hello Space” and grew from there. Another element in that piece besides the orchestra was my electric violin playing, to give an otherworldly effect. The loneliness part was tied to the smaller ensemble pieces like “Time to Get Up, Little Spaceman” which we recorded with a string and wind quintet. The darkness suffuses both types of pieces and that’s harder to explain. I’m very visually oriented, and I keep either a movie or a still of what I’m scoring up on a screen at all times, so I can be in direct visual contact with what I’m scoring at as I compose. I just wrote something that felt like darkness.

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Vella’s Morning Stroll


Broken Age’s Vella wakes and Was That East Or West are absolutely gorgeous! Speaking directly about Was That East Or West You never hear truly remarkable ballads inside a video game. It’s all things genuine, plaintive and haunting. Was there any temptation to add vocals or chorus to complete it? Why are we not seeing the Peter McConnell band proper? Similarly, it’s a testament to the core of Broken Age’s make-up of normal, mildly broken hearted protagonists, and how they deal with their individual set of overwhelming circumstances. What do you feel were the score’s most important tenets? Is there something you absolutely felt the record needed to convey?

Peter McConnell:

With “Was That East or West” I was channeling producer/guitarist/singer Daniel Lanois as well as harkening back to some of my own folk-rock band roots, so I think it’s safe to say there are imaginary vocals in that piece, suggested by the slide guitar part. As for the score concept, it was to evoke as vividly as possible the unique character of many different worlds. There is a pretty broad range of musical style in the game. Just as I couldn’t imagine the space parts without orchestra, acoustic guitar music for the forest just seemed right. During production one of the backers wrote in that it was cool that they were using different composers for different parts of the game. I took that as a complement.

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Meet Mog Chothra


The idea of the boss or level guardian in video games has changed radically in video games over the last 10 years. Gone are the traditional fanged beats, or floating death scythe wielders; it’s become an encounter based in ether, almost invisible. Do you feel your approach to the scoring for a game’s main villain/s has changed? With that in mind, how do you keep up that sort of bottomless creativity and momentum going when approaching this task with every new score year after year? “It’s another bad guy…whoopee!”

Peter McConnell:

I’m always trying to do what I do better than the last time. So even with my experience, I don’t feel that I’ve touched on all I want to do with any particular type of musical moment, not even the Big Scary Boss cue. And the process is always the same, but still full of surprises – bring up the picture or video of game play, and then listen carefully for the first thing I hear. Once in a while I find I have to re-visit an initial impulse, but I chalk that off to not listening carefully enough in that first moment.

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Life aboard the Bossa Nostra


On that note, Broken Age’s Mog Chothra and Final Battle are two of my absolute FAVORITE boss themes in recent memory. Can you tell me about how you map out that villain DNA? What did you do specifically for Mog Chothra and Battle at Shellmound?

Peter McConnell:

Thanks for saying so! Both of those pieces weave together themes from the major characters, especially Mog, Vella and in particular Vella’s grandfather, who is an important symbol of the strength that comes to Vella through her lineage. One of the most poignant themes to me in the Broken Age story, now that I’m a dad, is the relationship between parents and children – how both can succeed or fail, teach each other or make terrible mistakes. My own kids intuited this in the game. They got right away how Shay was testing his limits in the spaceship, for example, and knew instinctively that Marek in his wolf form was important and in a sense a bringer of knowledge, but perhaps not without some kind of darker motive. And to me almost everything that Vella and Shay do has some relationship to their families, even when rebelling, as rebelling exists in relation to what is being rebelled against.

In Vella’s case, it seems at first to be all about rebelling, since her own parents appear to be clueless, but her grandfather is a rock throughout. You think in the beginning that he is just a crazy old coot, maybe a bit senile. But he’s the one who invokes the Beastkiller name; he’s the one who won’t give up the knife; he’s the one who cheers when Vella escapes from Mog Chothra. So his theme is important. You first hear it on what could be called the silliest of instruments – a mediaeval instrument called a crumhorn played during the knife puzzle. It’s kind of a cross between a bassoon or English horn and a kazoo in sound (again serendipitously one of the clarinetists in our quintet also played crumhorn). You’re supposed to hear it as archaic at best and comic at worst. But then it comes back as a noble French horn theme in the scene when Vella learns to ride the bird who rescues her from Mog Chothra. In the moment when she takes command, you hear the theme breaking through as if she is drawing from something deep within – and that something comes from her heritage.

By the time she fights Mog Chothra for real at Shellmound, she is fully in touch with her warrior ancestry. So you hear the grandfather theme in full force at the climax of the Shellmound Battle piece. In the finale, the theme comes back again in super-compressed form as her grandfather seems to psychically transmit each blow that she delivers to put down Marek. There are a number of other themes woven into these pieces, but for me the theme that connects Vella to her grandfather is the most important.

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Welcome to Shellmound


I’ve been trying to gather shards of Broken Age’s record together to fashion my own central title theme. There was no single piece. There was no such designation on the album, but if I had to cobble one together, it would be pieces of Welcome to Merriloft, mixed with Cloud Colony Arrival and Rising Sun. Do you agree with my math? Are there specific points in the score that you would tie together so as to create the score’s ultimate piece? Were there ideas that you wanted to include, but for whatever reason, simply had to check at the door? Can you talk to me a little bit about your initial ideas for Welcome to Merriloft and Rising Sun ? Is that a didgeridoo on The Lumberjack’s Cabin? I love that piece.

Peter McConnell:

The title theme of Broken Age is the piece called “Broken Age” as it appears in the complete version of the soundtrack – “Broken Age” plus “Vella Wakes” in the initial version. I admit it’s not obvious to the ear how the score springs from this music, which comes from the opening split screen followed by Vella waking on the hillside. Musically, this opening music works as an intro to “March in the Clouds,” which you might call Vella’s travelling theme. This same theme is the essence of “Welcome to Merriloftt,” which is essentially an airy version of the march and defines the whole cloud colony, even though it comes before the march. Shay’s wake up music works as an alternate consequent, or follow-up, phrase to the first half of “Broken Age.” So a lot comes from the very opening piece, and it isn’t obvious because the musical order of things in my mind is a little different from the chronological order in which the story is told.

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Life in Vella’s Shoes


The score for Broken Age feels so incredibly fresh, so physically organic, and so playful. Case in point: March In The Clouds, and Face The Cupcakes. Is there anything you use as a barometer to test your own work to see if it will achieve the results you see inside your head? Do you feel more comfortable in a recording session with many players (a full symphony, a band), or do you prefer the intimacy of you alone in a sound booth? Where does Broken Age fit into this spectrum? How large is that symphony? Do you feel like you achieved all that was possible with Broken Age? What are your favorite pieces? Would you change anything? I wouldn’t.

Peter McConnell:

Thanks – I especially like the word “organic,” because it suggests what I wanted to evoke in the score. The only barometer I use is this: as I’m working on a piece, how do I feel when I press “play?” I listen very closely to my own reaction, and if it’s not what I had hoped, I figure out what is responsible for the problem and fix it. I love all recording sessions, whether they are a small group or an ensemble. Because time and money are at stake they can be stressful, but they are far and the way the best part of my job. When real instrumental artists play the music – that’s the moment the music comes to life. It’s a privilege to be there when it happens, and a joy to guide it. Of course I enjoy playing the parts I play as well, but there is a kind of vicarious thrill I get when hearing someone else play the music that is hard to explain. There were different configurations of players used for the symphonic part: most of the music was a 38-piece and the finale and some of the bigger pieces in Act II were a 42-piece group. I can’t say exactly what my favorite pieces are, although I think you’ve named just about all of them, and I’m certainly happy with the whole thing as it came out.

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Broken Age receives the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra Treatment.


Grim Fandango Remastered just hit the digital retail storefront, and Sumthing Else Music Works celebrated the occasion with a re-release of your original score. I worship Grim Fandango’s soundtrack (just wanted to make sure you knew that!) All these years later, how does it feel to hear those songs again? Are you like most musicians who would rather not listen to their older material in favor of moving ahead? Do you find yourself nit-picking at things that bother you about it?

Peter McConnell:

I didn’t nit-pick after the fact – I fixed all those things that bothered me! I put in a ton of work into that re-release and was super lucky to have resources like the MSO and the teams at Sony and Pyramind Studios in San Francisco to fix the problematic sounds, add new parts, do killer re-mixes and make the orchestral music actually orchestral. I have to say that I truly enjoy listening to the soundtrack now, which honestly I didn’t before, since we had 1990’s-era sounds in the original and no live orchestra at all. The good parts stayed good, though; we kept all those wonderful original instrumental jazz performances, as well as adding a couple of new ones.

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Grim Fandango Finally Gets Remastered


There’s so much to love on Fandango’s vinyl that I’d be hard pressed to pick a favorite, and it changes with the day. If push came to shove, I’d say Mr. Frustration Man , or Gambling Glottis, Hi- Tone Fandango…never mind, like I said too hard to choose, and it’s a temperamental list changing with the second. My GOD! You single-handedly redefined the birth of cool over the span of 50 tracks! What are your memories of that time period? Can you share a funny story with us about the creation of Grim Fandango’s score?

Peter McConnell:

I often say that Grim was a perfect storm. Tim Schafer was tapping into major currents of the time from the rebirth of swing to a sudden new awareness of the Day of the Dead in Anglo culture. Musically this was reflected in the San Francisco music scene. There is a particular part of town called the Mission District, full of clubs, where on one night you could go into one place and hear a great swing band, into another and hear acid jazz, into another and hear Tom Waits’ reed player, then drop into a Tacqueria and hear a mariachi band. Almost the entire Grim score was already right there in the Mission, and indeed virtually every musician on the original soundtrack played or lived in that part of town. The mariachi band in particular was an adventure to work with, since only the band leader spoke English. Music is the universal language, though, and I asked him if the guys thought what I had given them to play was reasonably authentic. He said they thought it sounded like “Halloween music,” which I took as a compliment since, after all, it is about the Day of the Dead.

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Grim Fandango: The Sight and Sound


Where did the inspiration for Grim Fandango come from? Your compositions play like a man possessed, like it had been something you had wanted to do your entire life. Was it a sound you had grown up with? I see you as a punk-rock kid, and less the child reared on Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.

Peter McConnell:

I have always been interested in many different kinds of music. I was classically trained on violin and loved playing folk music on guitar and banjo in high school. I’ve also played a lot of rock and roll and fronted an alt rock band while I was working at LucasArts. But jazz has always been something special for me. I first developed a great love of it in college, more as a listener than as a player. I heard Dizzy Gillepsie and Sun Ra live and it changed my life. And that’s what I tapped into for Grim. In that sense it was something I had always been dying to write, no pun intended. In fact I came up with Maximino’s theme before Grim was even conceived of – think it was during Full Throttle or even Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis – this tune just popped into my head and I thought, “Man, that would be a cool gangster tune, I hope I get to use it someday.”

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Grim Fandango: It’s in the visuals


How do you compose generally? Are you more visual with drawings and sketches, or do you read the scenario and just find it as you play? Can you give us an example of a more challenging piece? How did you overcome it?

Peter McConnell:

I’m extremely visually oriented. I have a big screen that is just for visuals – concept art, gameplay video or cut scenes, and I keep something up on it all the time when composing, because it helps me stay true to the feeling of what I am scoring. When I was working on Grim I had paper art all over the office – mostly black & white pictures of the characters and backgrounds, which was appropriate for a Noir story, don’t you think? I also kept a picture of Duke Ellington as a young man right over my computer screen to inspire me. We even had a visual way of putting the whole score together. There was a tool in the music system we developed, the iMUSE system, that let you create buttons on a Mac screen, associate them with audio files, and put them in a little map with lines between them indicating connections in the game. Each button stood for a room or a situation, and the audio files started out as recordings we made of Tim talking about the various parts of the game. It was cool because you could visualize how all of the parts of the game and the score related to each other. As the production progressed, Tim’s recordings would be replaced with recordings of me humming a theme into a hand-held cassette player, and then with mockups of each piece using sampled instruments, and then finally with finished recordings.

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                                                     The History Of Lucas Arts


You worked at Lucas Arts during its Adventure game heyday, and worked on everything from The Dig, to Full-Throttle and Indiana Jones and The Fate Of Atlantis. WOW! What was your very first job at the company? In those days, were you already accustomed to writing rather large scores, or was it very much a trial by fire?

Peter McConnell:

I got the job at LucasArts in large part because my friend and colleague Michael Land was starting up the audio department there and needed someone who could both program and write music, and I fit the bill. But my music experience at the time consisted mostly of my college work and from playing in a number of bands. So I was not all accustomed to writing large scores, and in that sense it was trial by fire. My first job at the company was to help Michael develop the iMUSE system, which was LucasArts’ system for playing music that would adapt in real time to gameplay. When we were done with the first iteration of the system, we got to road test it by writing music for Monkey Island II. By that time there were three composers: Michael, Clint Bajakian, and me. Right on the heels of Monkey Island II came Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. I have to say those were a couple of wonderful titles to have as first scoring gigs, even with the limited sound capabilities of the time.

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                        Preview: Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis Soundtrack


How do you feel about composing music in video games today as opposed to 25, 30 years ago? You’ve scored every type of medium; which do you find the most rewarding and the most challenging? Is there anything you still have a desire to do, a dream for yourself? Where do you plan to be 10 to 15 years down the road?

Peter McConnell:

I do like the fact that we have much greater resources to work with now, whether we are working on a AAA console title or a hand-held game. You have to remember the state of the art back then – the first Pro Tools system came out well after Monkey II and Indy IV, cost something like $6K and we didn’t have one, because we couldn’t justify the expense. Now we have state-of-the-art studios, get to record at places like Skywalker Sound, and work with orchestras from all over the world. I just got back from playing music of Monkey Island, Grim Fandango and Broken Age with the Colorado Symphony at the Video Games Live concert in Red Rocks. If you had told me I’d be doing that 25 years ago I’d never have believed it. That said, things haven’t changed that much when it comes to scoring a game. And I love all the types of projects I get to do, from Broken Age to Hearthstone to Plants vs. Zombies. Each has its challenges and particular rewards; in fact I think it’s the variety of projects that is most enjoyable for me. No two of them are alike. If I have any desires it would be to keep the same variety of cool and interesting projects going – that and write a score for musical theater, but that’s another story completely.


Thanks so much Mr. McConnell; it’s been a true honor to be able to sit with you here today, and it’s not something I will ever forget. Do you have any parting words for our readers at Sumthing .com?

Peter McConnell:

It’s been my great pleasure. And thank you to all the readers at for listening!


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.

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).



Peter McConnell & Billy Martin


Tom Salta & Cris Velasco


Garry Schyman


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!


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?  


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?


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?


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?


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?   


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!


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?


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 :)


Get the exclusive Director’s Cut on

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?


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? 


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.


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?


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.

CLOS_UE_SOUNDTRACK BOOKLET.indd Castlevania Mirror of Fate Cover CLoS2 Cover EXCLUSIVE

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


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?


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?


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?


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?


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!


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?


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?


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?


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?


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!


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!


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?


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?


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?


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.


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.


Purchase the DX:HR soundtrack on!

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.


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.


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 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.

deus ex 2

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!

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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