Killzone Mercenary Interview: Scoring Music For The ISA And Helghast

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Killzone: Mercenary has been making the rounds on the gaming wires as a must-have title for the PlayStation Vita, bringing all the iconic visuals and moments from a console-sized experience and shrinking them down to a portable sized adventure.

One of the design elements that really helped capture the mood and tone of the game was Walter Mair's soundtrack. Mair (pictured below), is an accomplished composer who has worked on movies, television and games alike, and picked up numerous awards along the way, including a Novello Award nomination for best original soundtrack in 2010. Well, we had a chance to ask Mair a few questions about working on the score for Killzone: Mercenary and what the experience was like taking on one of the grittiest franchises on the market. Check it out below.

Gaming Blend: So what type of preparation did you do before diving into scoring a game like Killzone. In other words, how did you get yourself into the mindset to write for a game like this?

Walter Mair: It is an amazing opportunity to be involved in a game of this caliber. Preparation started as early as weeks before I actually got to meet the producers and audio director. The main motivation for people in this industry is to deliver great work. So I listened to some great soundtracks as well as classical music and electronic tracks, nothing too unusual to what I would normally do but always thinking and asking myself if this particular track could work within the context of Killzone: Mercenary and why it might not work. As soon as I received the early sketches and artwork for the game I spent a significant time in my studio thinking about the right concept, what instruments I wanted to use, how to create interesting soundscapes, what techniques I could use to produce these sounds etc.

I knew I wanted to use unique sounds paired with more classical sounds and in order to do so I would even custom-build instruments. A game of this magnitude deserves its very own sound.

Gaming Blend: Are there any special considerations to take into account when writing for a portable device as opposed to a home console game, or is the technology good enough these days that you can basically run wild?

Walter Mair: I was very lucky with Sony being such great developers, not only knowing their very own technology inside-out but also on the creative side where the audio director would give me a lot of freedom to come up with the soundtrack I thought worked best for the game. The technical requirements are similar, if not the same, to those of home consoles. I delivered stems which were implemented into the game engine. All music was delivered in 24bit and 48kHz to allow the audio team further tweaks without losing quality.

Gaming Blend: Following up on that last question, do the various budgets for each game also dictate what sort of musical instruments and tools you have access to or does that matter at all?

Walter Mair: Budgets do matter and affect the instrumentation of the soundtrack to a certain degree. When working on SEGA’s Empire:Total War I knew we would record an 80-piece orchestra and a full choir which impacts on the style of writing.

With Killzone I had freedom of choice on how to produce the score and a hybrid of orchestral and electronic instruments seemed to work best for the franchise.

With that in mind I started creating and sculpturing sounds and built custom instruments that would be able to span the entire sound-spectrum from ISA to Helghast. The final soundtrack is based on quite a lot of live recordings e.g. recordings of strings, percussion, brass and many single instrument recordings that feature unique playing techniques.

Gaming Blend: Were there any unique touches, less common instruments, etc. that were plugged in to give the game a unique "Killzone" vibe?

Walter: A lot of experimentation went into the initial stages of development where it was all about creating a unique sound for Killzone: Mercenary. The key element was to find a successful combination of the main theme as well as defining a very distinct overall sound for the music. Lots of experiments happened in this stage. Live recordings were held on a daily basis with instruments spanning from a more classical orchestral setup to custom-built instruments. Classical instruments such as violin and cello were played with the wooden side of the bow (instead of the horse hair) or by using different metal-bows to produce extraordinary sounds. We also hammered the cello with metal objects to produce percussion–like sounds and soundscapes. All these many samples were mapped in Kontakt (Native Instruments) to make them available and playable like a real instrument.
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