It’s been a while since we discussed music on GamesBeat. So long, in fact, that a season’s worth of amazing music has nearly passed us by. That’s why in this edition of Required Listening, I’ll take you through some of the best scores you might have missed, starting with the medieval-meets-cyberpunk world of Shin Megami Tensei IV, moving on to the dystopian future in Remember Me, cheesy ’80s synth tones of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and finishing up with the overwhelmingly atmospheric scores for Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine and Company of Heroes 2.
I also talk to Company of Heroes 2 composer Cris Velasco about why he chose to work in games and his classical inspirations.
Shin Megami Tensei IV
Composers: Ryota Koduka, Kenichi Tsuchiya, and Toshiki Konishi
Shin Megami Tensei IV’s score is an unusual mix of plodding, medieval marches and mid-’90s cyberpunk nostalgia. Crafting a soundtrack for a game as varied as SMT IV requires music that can amplify your surroundings while hinting at what’s around the corner. What’s amazing is how well the music matches the ever-unfolding events and evolves as the player digs deeper into the mystery surrounding demons and the ruins of Tokyo. The main battle theme haunted my dreams for days after I started playing SMT IV.
Composer: Olivier Deriviere
Olivier Deriviere’s classical music background brings a lot to the futuristic Parisian setting in Remember Me. The music is a pulse-quickening mixture of sweeping, James Bond-esque orchestral arrangements and electronic percussion. Some tracks are purely instrumental while others dip into what I can only describe as classy dubstep. Those rather divergent elements work together and give us the impression that Remember Me’s world is not that removed from our future — if we ever get into the business of remembering things for people wholesale.
Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine
Composer: Austin Wintory
Spangly piano pieces are often an acquired taste, but they fit so well for the nefarious goings on in Monaco: What’s Yours is Mine. Tinkling, smokey melodies give you the image of world-class thieves slinking around Monaco hotels and casinos. Wintory has a mastery of setting tone in surprising ways, and his score adds mystery and depth in ways Monaco can’t do on its own. Plus, I challenge you to not want to creep around like a Hanna-Barbera cartoon villain when “What’s Yours Is Mine” starts to play.
Company of Heroes 2
Composer: Cris Velasco
Thinking about the Russian military conjures images of stark resilience against invasions, bitter cold, and overwhelming odds. Cris Velasco captures the bleakness of Germany’s invasion of Russia through mournful all-male choirs and chilly violins. The music makes you feel cold, and the ambient whistling wind found in some tracks of the score heightens that sensation. Throw in a twinge of military percussion and you can imagine what it was like to serve on the Russian frontlines during World War II.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon
Smooth saxophones blending into gritty synthesized beats is an unmistakably ’80s sound, but it works in Blood Dragon’s nostalgia-fueled setting. The entire expansion for Far Cry 3 plays out like a cheesy ’80s sci-fi movie, complete with neon-trimmed enemies and comically “futuristic” tech. Powerglove, an American instrumental power metal band, captures the most defining elements of soulless artificial movie scores and blends it into something bizarrely addictive to listen to. Typically, I wouldn’t sit down and listen to a made-for-TV action movie’s soundtrack, but music made with the express purpose of making you think about pointless smoke effects and hand-drawn lasers is bewitching.
Continue to page two for an interview with Company of Heroes 2 composer Cris Velasco
Composer interview: Cris Velaso
If you’ve played a video game in the last few years, you’ve likely heard Cris Velasco’s music. That eerie bug-like percussion in Starcraft 2? That was him. God of War III? Velasco again. He’s an award-winning American composer with a deep appreciation for the classical masters and a drive to create varied and experimental scores for games.
GamesBeat: What are a few of your major musical influences?
Cris Velasco: I love the music of the composers Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, Elgar, Beethoven, and Debussy, to name a few. I’ve always found that it’s important as an orchestral composer to really know the ins and outs of the great composers. There’s a wealth of knowledge to draw upon from them.
GamesBeat: Many of the scores you compose have a driven, military flair to them. Does this reflect your personal style or is it a thematic choice for many games?
Velasco: I’ve done a few military-type scores like Haze and G.I. Joe before this, but I’m not really sure that it reflects a large portion of my work. I’ve also done a lot of sci-fi, horror, and “epic” orchestral music. But in the case of Company of Heroes 2, it was definitely a conscious choice to have a driving, militaristic score. A WWII game that pits the Russians against the Nazis really begs for something like that. The whole score has a hint of melancholy to it as well, though. It’s not meant to cheer for your army; it’s another voice or storyteller that helps drive the story.
GamesBeat: Do you utilize any unconventional or nonmusical sounds while composing? If so, what’s the most unusual item you’ve turned into an instrument?
Velasco: For Company of Heroes 2, I did create some new sounds that blend in with the orchestra, mostly on the ambient tracks. Nothing too unusual though. The most unconventional thing I’ve done recently is take the sounds of an insect — the clicking legs and mandibles — and turning them into a percussion instrument. This was specifically for the Zerg on StarCraft 2.
GamesBeat: How do you decide to take on a project?
Velasco: I’m always looking for something different. No one likes to be pigeonholed, so I try to do a wide variety of projects. Being a well-rounded composer is not only more fun for me, but it also benefits my clients. In the end, though, I really like to score games that I would also like to play!
GamesBeat: Many composers I’ve spoken with made the shift to game composing because they feel a greater sense of creative freedom. Is that true in your experience?
Velasco: I actually started out in games. I made a conscious decision from the beginning of my career that I wanted to work in games. I’ve also done some film and television, and I do have to say that, yes, games do offer more creative freedom. That’s probably the case for at least two reasons. One, games are obviously nonlinear. Game composers have been figuring out creative ways to make music sound nonrepetitive and dynamic for a long time. These are techniques that force us to think outside the box and would never be incorporated into a linear medium like film. Two, the schedule for composing on a game is usually longer than what you’d find in movies and especially in TV. This allows me to take the time to experiment more, to really dig in and take the time to develop a score that becomes the voice of the game.
GamesBeat: What information about a game is most important to you when developing a soundtrack’s tone?
Velasco: I really get inspired by the visuals. Whenever I start a new project, I like to get as much of the concept art and screenshots as possible. If there’s a working build of the game, that’s even better. If I’m scoring a level that has hundreds of infantrymen and half a dozen tanks all fighting next to a frozen lake, I’ll get a lot more inspired if I can actually see it on a screen in front of me.
GamesBeat: Do you have any upcoming projects you can talk about?
Velasco: I’ve just finished up a cool fantasy-based MMO. The score is all orchestral and very thematic/melodic. I’m really happy with it. I just can’t tell you which game it is yet. I’m also currently working on another new project with [composer] Sascha Dikiciyan again this time. It’s very different from what you’ve heard from us before. Expect some film announcements from me this year, too!