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

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Policenauts: Finally Outgrowing the Cradle

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

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

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

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

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Artemio X Street Fighter

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

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

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

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

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

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Interested?  Here is the intro…

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

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

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

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

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

 

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What might have been lost forever

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

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

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These things take time

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

My favorite character is Jonathan himself.

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Snatcher: Is That Metal Gear?

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

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

Artemio Urbina:

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

ACT1ART

SDatcher: Gillian goes radio drama

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

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

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

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

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

Artemio Urbina: 

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

Policenauts B8

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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.

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

Cris_Velasco

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

Press play and keep reading

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

Cris Velasco:

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

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

Cris Velasco:

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

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

Cris Velasco:

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

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

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

Cris Velasco:

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

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

Cris Velasco:

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

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

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Soundtrack available now!

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

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

Cris Velasco:

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

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

Cris Velasco:  

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Jamie Christopherson

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jamie Christopherson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Soundtrack vinyl

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

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

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

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

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

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

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance Soundtrack vinyl

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

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

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