Nicolas Diteriks is the composer who created the music for Numantian Games 2017 game, They Are Billions. Nicolas had worked earlier with Numantian Games in 2013/2014 when they were developing Lords of Xulima. At the time, Numantian Games was doing an Indiegogo campaign; Nicolas noticed the project and sent them a demo-reel, asking if they needed a composer.
When asked about the proudest moment of his career, Nicolas says landing the job of composing for The Lords of Xulima is right at the top. (And, of course, so is the first time he went to record with a live orchestra.) The Lords of Xulima project went so well that Numantian Games invited Nicolas back to work on They Are Billions.
Arkadiusz Reikowski is the soundtrack composer of the recently released cyberpunk video game Observer. Originally a performer for several Polish bands, Arkadiusz is a self-taught musician; however, over the past eight years, he has composed the soundtracks for nearly thirty games, including Kholat, Layers of Fear, and Husk.
He said the process for creating a videogame soundtrack changes depending on the project. For Observer, Arkadiusz was brought on board early in the game development process. “There wasn’t really any gameplay yet, just a storyline and some art,” he said. “We obviously had a lot of talks about how and what we wanted to achieve through sound and music. It was a comfortable situation.”
“I always start with colors and overall tone of the game,” He said. “These are the elements that are most important when I decide in what scale the soundtrack should be and what instruments I’m going to use. With Observer it was really interesting because in the end, the music turned out to be a lot darker than at the very beginning. I thought I would use much more melody and lighter themes but they didn’t quite fit the tone of the game. So we stayed with these dirty, heavy, dark themes.”
The grungy themes fit with the aesthetic of Observer, which takes place in a future version of Krakow beset with violence, war, and poverty. The half-human half-machine Detective Daniel Lazarski hacks into the minds of people both alive and dead to uncover clues in his investigation. The dark and surreal scenes in people’s minds firmly set the game in the horror genre.
Arkadiusz said that he tries to create shapes in his music, and in this particular soundtrack he focused on shapes that can barely be seen, something caught by the corner of your eye, but you can’t be sure of what it is. This is particularly fitting for a horror game. “The emotions told through music are like shapes coming into existence. But also like colors that you can feel and almost be touched by them,” he said. “Weird, I know.”
The game is reminiscent of Blade Runner, and Rutger Hauer who even does the voice of Daniel Lazarski. Arkadiusz said his favorite part of the project was meeting Rutger. “We listened to the music from Observer together. So when he told me that it is really good I knew that we were in the right direction. Also, I just love cyberpunk. So doing a score like this was a real blast and a pleasure,” he said.
Arkadiusz watches Blade Runner at least once a year, but Ghost in the Shell and Akira also inspired his compositions. “I’m deeply in love with Ghost in the Shell and the Akira soundtrack and I wanted to create similar emotions while scoring Observer,” he said. “The game itself is heavily inspired by Ghost in the Shell, but you know…who doesn’t want to be inspired by such a masterpiece.”
With the exception of the singing, all the music in Observer is electronic. This was a departure from his previous work that often featured piano and voice arranged in simpler textures than the ones found in Observer. Arkadiusz said that it was challenging switching to mostly electronic music, but he really wanted to do it.
“Just before I started to work on Observer I bought a Moog Sub 37, and it was my first hardware synth ever,” he said. “I was really happy to put it to work. The love for synths still lasts and is stronger than ever. I like losing track of time and just improvising on my Moog and Dave Smith’s Prophet 6.”
He said the approach to composing for electronic instruments was not very different from composing pieces for real instruments. “I think they all serve a similar purpose – to create emotions and underline what is happening on the screen. But when you write for real instruments you need to be more focused. When it comes to real instruments, I often use a piano. I record pieces on piano and then do mock up and then orchestrate them (although I rarely orchestrate my tracks myself),” he said.
The major difference was how much he improvised while writing electronic music. “Playing on a synth is sometimes like child’s play. Lots of experiments and generally having fun with creating the sound from scratch. When you write a melody for a cello or a piano, you know exactly what kind of melody you’d like to achieve. Experimenting on a synth is interesting because often one sound can create others, which are different but at the same time they fit your vision of the music. Or they don’t and you have to turn the knobs a little more.”
Even the pieces in the Observer soundtrack that appear to have required complex planning were the result of improvising. One of the first tracks features a choir reminiscent of early church music. A set of voices introduces a short theme that is soon taken up by other voices and weaves together in complex patterns. Arkadiusz said that it was all improvisation though.
“The recording session with the band was such a creative and unique experience that I will remember for a long time,” he said. “We sat in the studio and listened to track and thought about what we could do with vocals there. I was prepared before the session, but it turned out that we created something much more interesting by just going with the flow. Those tracks refer mainly to Adam and his mind and they appear only during the ‘dream-eater’ sequences.”
In it, the choir sings in what almost sounds like a real language. “The language was made specifically for this occasion,” he said. “We thought that it would be really interesting, especially for Western audiences. The themes are based on Slavic mythology and chants. They created this unique, dream-like but also dark and ritualistic atmosphere. The only guidance was my background track with drones and such. Then we just sat in the studio and started to improvise. At one time I hade to play an additional rhythm, but in general the voices came into existence really naturally and without notes.”
In parts of the soundtrack, Arkadiusz created a background layer of what sound like real instruments, such as strings, and slides the pitches and distorts the sound to match it with another layer of electronic sounds. It creates a trippy, unbalanced feeling, and it is easy to imagine it being used during a mind-hack sequence.
“It was the result of playing around in post-production,” he said. “There are times when you record something and even put something else in by accident. Just before removing the part of it you realize – hey! That sounded nice, let’s just leave this as it is. I like those kinds of nice surprises.”
Improvising on electronics allowed Arkadiusz to compose complex pieces containing layers of juxtaposing textures, rhythms, and sounds, but he had already set the groundwork for it in some of his previous work. “As far as I remember I created something like this in Kholat,” he said.
Every project brings new skills and experiences that he can use on his next project, even if he doesn’t realize it. “You know, it’s just like in Skyrim,” he said. “You keep using this hammer and suddenly pop! And your skill is better.”
Music and sound effects are commonplace in a mobile game, but often the use of voice work is overlooked. Usual reasons include a lack of budget or experience working with voice talents. See the session video below if you want to learn about how the use of voice can bring your characters and stories to life, and if you’re taking the first steps into casting, creating a script and working with voice talents. At Casual Connect Asia, Jeremy Goh, Co-Founder of IMBA Interactive, discussed voice work, noting that “good voice work can give your game relatability and personality, as well as a source of rich feedback for your players.”
Chase Bethea is a composer who has been writing music for games since 2011. The first game he ended up working on Electron Flux, a top down mobile puzzle game where players create pathways to direct energy particles.
“When I made music in the years before, I was always told ‘it sounds like it should be in a video game’,” said Chase. “I figured out how to pitch for video game projects and I realized that my sound fits that medium very well. Since I was a child, I have always been a passionate gamer. So, it made sense that I follow the path of game audio.”
A hero named Black, an ice-cold mercenary and hired gun, wakes up to discover he has lost memory. Under the guidance of his anonymous captor, ‘Red’, Black embarks on a form of treatment, facilitated by a unique technology – a headset that allows the user to relive their memories and experience them again in the present. This is how the creators describe the Get Even game, that will be out on June 23rd. As the sound in the game is tied to gameplay, and makes a great part of it, in charge of the soundtrack was Olivier Deriviere, known for music for Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry, and Remember Me. The Farm51 team of Get Even’s devs went even further to create an immersive experience, and used the Auro-3D plugin of the Audiokinetic WWise engine. This audio format delivers a full three-dimensional sound spread capable of reproducing natural acoustic space. Their director of Creative Entertainment Division of game Iwan De Kuijper explained more on the technology, while the producer for Get Even Lionel Lovisa shared more details on the game’s production, and Olivier Deriviere told more about his vision of Get Even soundtrack.
“Each time I’ve experienced an amazing game, film or TV show, I felt a desire to illustrate it with my music and therefore be a part of it,” said Mikolai. “However, in case of The Witcher it was more than that. When I read the Sapkowski’s books in the mid ‘90s I loved them, but was aware that one needed to know Polish language to appreciate it and therefore felt bad about those who didn’t. Now not only am I able to share the world of Geralt but also my music attached to it. What a joy!!!”
Poland has itself grown into a hub for gamedev in Europe over the past decade. He’s also at the forefront of a growing Polish game music composer scene, including Kamil Orman-Janowski and Arkadiusz Reikowski. Mikolai attributes this rise to the use of personal computers from Spectrum, Atari and Commodore in Polish apartments in the ’80s.
Rob Zahn is a composer that has worked on a variety of genres including horror, fantasy, science fiction and more. Rob says that more than enjoying it, this makes him into a better composer.
“Regardless of whether you like it or not, it’s absolutely essential to know how to handle different styles of music if you want to get hired on a consistent basis,” noted Rob. “Having said that, I don’t think it’s an especially healthy habit to get too comfortable with labels like ‘horror’ or ‘fantasy’ because they’re much too broad and imply the overuse of tropes that can quickly make your stuff sound extremely tired and generic. But yeah, obviously variety is spicy, or something!”
One of the various musical experiences Rob has had is with the band Dead Wake. “I kind of grew up on rock and metal and there was a time when I didn’t listen to very much other than Dream Theater and Opeth and guys like that…but after a while I sort of abandoned it for various reasons,” said Rob. “I’ve gotten to stretch out a bit with Dead Wake as a bassist, vocalist, lyricist and arranger. Metal is definitely not a style I’m often asked to write in for gigs – hopefully that’ll change though! We recently finished tracking our debut album ‘Ghost Stories’ with Kevin Antreassian of The Dillinger Escape Plan and are looking forward to releasing it within the next few months.”
Rich Aitken is a composer, producer and sound mixer who has worked on a variety of TV, movie and video game projects over the years. Rich is and in many ways has always been more focused on being a mixer and producer than being a composer of music.
“I’ve had a long career mixing records, TV scores, film scores and game scores,” detailed Rich. “I’ve written for all those media too but games often require a lot of music so there is more opportunity to write more! I’ve been mixing since 1990. The composition part reflects that I was a songwriter on EMI for many years so maybe that’s where the writing part still pokes its head up. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy writing and composing but production is where I contribute the most. I mean, I get to work with wonderful composers like Joris de Man or Andrew Barnabas and Paul Arnold. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was exclusively a composer…. there are such incredibly creative people out there and I’m stunned at the talents I see in the composition world. I like to work with those people.”
Kamil Orman-Janowski is a composer who has provided music to games such as Warplane Legends, Beyond Space and Isleron: The Rending. Probably his most famous works at this point, however, have been to Path of Exile and its various expansions.
“My vision of music for Path of Exile is still evolving, but there are some major sources of inspiration,” said Kamil. “I try to find proper balance between music from games such as Diablo 1-2 and movies or TV shows with similar setting. I’m always looking for something dark, ethereal, deep, sometimes weird and strange but at the same time epic and noble, so it’s mostly fusion of symphony orchestra, guitars, ethnic and many experimental instruments.”
Jeff Broadbent is a composer who has worked on multiple game soundtracks, including Planetside 2, Monster Hunter Online and the very recent Champions of Anteria. Growing up, he was encouraged to study music by his parents, and loving the music of games like Final Fantasy, Street Fighter II, Myst, and Panzer Dragoon pushed him towards composition in the interactive entertainment sphere.
“I’ve had a love of music my whole life, starting piano lessons at an early age, soon thereafter learning to play alto saxophone and later studying composition at BYU and UCLA,” Jeff detailed. “I became specifically interested in composing when I was in high school, taking jazz piano and improvisation lessons. The theory of jazz music and creativity of improvising are what really sparked my interest in composing, as improvising and composing are closely related.