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Gearbox Software and Sega are prepping for the upcoming release of Aliens: Colonial Marines and we had a chance to talk with the game's composer, Kevin Riepl, an accomplished figure in the music composition arena having scored for major motion pictures like the upcoming Cabin Fever: Patient Zero and Silent Night, as well as popular video game brands such as Gears of War, Resistance: Burning Skies and Crackdown 2.
We managed to ask Kevin about a number of things topics regarding working on the soundtrack for Aliens: Colonial Marines and what it was like following in the footsteps of Jerry Goldsmith and James Horner, the previous composers who worked on the first two Alien films. Check it out below.
Gaming Blend: Coming into the Aliens franchise is like filling huge shoes here. This is supposed to be a direct sequel to Cameron's Aliens movie, so you're technically following James Horner's musical vision he had for the movie. When you signed up for the job was it one of those things where it's another challenge to overcome or was it daunting because you're now working with something that's purposefully going to be branded as a cohesive story arc to one of the greatest movies of all time?
Kevin Riepl: Yes...to all of the above. When initially being signed on to the project, I immediately thought ‘what have I gotten myself into’ haha. From the start I knew it’d be a daunting endeavor for the many reasons you state. I’m very confident in the fact that if the score needed nothing but Kevin Riepl, it would have been a much easier task at hand. The fact that the story was following soon after ALIENS, there was a conscious decision made by myself and Gearbox Software to include references from both Jerry Goldsmith’s ALIEN score and James Horner’s ALIENS score. These are classics in my mind and I am sure to many fans. So there was an instant expectation I placed on myself and standard I needed to meet in order to create a score that sounded like it was from the same universe, respected the previous scores, and held its own as an original score for a new addition to the franchise.
Gaming Blend: When you signed on to do the score for Aliens: Colonial Marines what were your exact expectations going in, and did your outlook on the project change once you got on board?
Kevin Riepl: I set my own expectations pretty high. They never faulted but as I started writing, Gearbox and I went through an iterative process to where we found the exact balance of how much Goldsmith, Horner and Riepl were needed to support the story. Once the style and degree of homage we’d pay towards the previous scores was settled upon, the writing process just became very streamlined and a lot of fun.
Gaming Blend: The first two movies were very thin on musical themes and focused a lot more on atmospheric sounds. Given that a game sometimes has to last between 6 and 40 hours, how do you balance when to go with ambient, atmospheric sounds and when to go with thematic cues?
Kevin Riepl: A lot of time the thematic cues are used for important story points, whether those be conveyed in the cut-scenes in between gameplay or in gameplay itself. There is a lot of tension in the ALIENS’ universe and most of the time to help support that, little to no music was used. The music that was used for the ambient and tense parts was heavily inspired by how Horner approached those scenes, very low key and with odd or hollow sounding synths.
Gaming Blend: You worked on the original Gears of War, and the first game actually shared a lot in common with Cameron's Aliens film, mostly in the way the atmosphere and sound played such a large role in the way the Locusts were presented to the player and, as a gamer, it helped draw the player into the world as opposed to simply relying entirely on the action set pieces. Did you find any common ground coming up with music for Colonial Marines based on working with Epic and Gears of War?
Kevin Riepl: It’s funny because back when Gears of War was released, a lot of people said they heard a resemblance to Horner’s ALIENS score. I did not intentionally approach Gears of War with ALIENS in mind at all. At that point I hadn’t listened to the score in some time. But it was the Gears of War score which helped my chances obtaining the gig with Gearbox. They also thought that score was very much in line with what they were looking for in Aliens: Colonial Marines. There were some similarities in how I approached the action sequences and more ambient elements, only because both stories involve an alien race and a large military presence.
Gaming Blend: Does restraint ever play a part in coming up with the music, especially for something like Aliens...where you may want to use bigger cues or more music but you may have to scale it back? Or does the inverse ever come into play, where you're going for something more atmospheric but the design director wants something more bombastic?
Kevin Riepl: A bit of restraint was needed in not borrowing Goldsmith and Horner’s themes directly. As a composer who grew up with these scores, it was so very tempting to work the exact melodies into my compositions. A lot of times during writing action music for any game it’s easy to get carried away and overwrite on big cues. Most of the time it’s not needed. Knowing the cut-off point is the key which a composer learns from experience in scoring games. But yes, on this game I scaled it back a few times when I caught myself going too far. This game was one of the few games where the director wasn’t asking for too much of “...it needs to be bigger, louder and more bombastic!!”
Gaming Blend: I know there are all sorts of NDAs in place, but is it possible to talk about your favorite part of Aliens: Colonial Marines and your favorite bit of music you designed for it...without giving too much away?
Kevin Riepl: Being a huge fan of the franchise for a long time, composing for the entire game was the highlight. Each cue was as much a favorite as the next. To be able to write in this universe and for this franchise was a huge honor. Being able to pay homage to two of the top composers in film music was also an incredible honor. It’s hard to pick out just one favorite part. And that’s not a cop-out answer, hehe. I am being sincere.
Huge thanks to Kevin Riepl and Top Dollar for making the interview happen. You can look for Aliens: Colonial Marines to launch for Xbox 360, PS3 and PC on February 12th. Want to check out more of Kevin's music? Feel free to do so at his official website.