We're back for round two with the mind behind many well respected soundtracks to come out of this generation of gaming. Yes, part of the composing team behind Mass Effect 2, the composer from ZombiU, Borderlands 2 and Company of Heroes has more to share about his experience in the gaming industry and crafting instrumental sounds for the games you've grown to admire and love.
We had a chance to toss a few questions the way of Cris Velasco, who composed the score for the upcoming Company of Heroes 2. The man behind the music explained a little bit about the process of coming up with something both memorable and iconic, as well as dealing with the transition from Relic moving from under the roof of THQ and into the abode with Sega. Check out the entire interview below.
Gaming Blend: With THQ dissolving and Sega picking up the IP rights to publish Company of Heroes 2, did it change anything in the way the production cycle of the game unfolded, or your role in the game's music production, even though the game is in its final stages of development before release?
Cris: Luckily, the music was unaffected. By the time that Sega picked up Relic, I had already recorded and mixed all the music. The only aspect that really changed for me was that I needed to consult with Sega in regards to the soundtrack release. They’ve been very supportive and we will be seeing a simultaneous release (physical and digital) of the soundtrack and game!
Gaming Blend: Following up on that last question, did THQ ever give any input on the previous Company of Heroes regarding the game's musical aesthetics or was that entirely between you and Relic?
Cris: All of the creative discussions in regards to the music were between Relic and myself. In particular, Dave Renn (audio lead) was my point of contact throughout the entire score. The two of us were bouncing around a lot of ideas at the beginning of the process, everything from style to implementation. The music actually started out being much smaller in scale. We considered using a small ensemble to create an Eastern European gypsy band-type sound. That didn’t stick for a variety of reasons and we decided upon a more traditional Russian influenced classical approach.
Gaming Blend: You mentioned in the original press release that you were going more-so for a “Symphony from the Eastern Front” as an approach to scoring Company of Heroes 2. What made you change your view or methodology for scoring the game?
Cris: After reviewing the game and trying out a few different styles of music, my instinct just told me that this is what the game needed. Something, that when listened to both in and out of the game, would feel more like a long form, through-composed piece of music rather than a series of looping gameplay tracks. It’s not really a symphony, but it is supposed to leave the listener with that sort of impression.
Gaming Blend: Following up on the last question, the original Company of Heroes had quite a lot of stages and a very befitting, amped up orchestral soundtrack. When you mention that Company of Heroes 2 will have a more symphonic approach, does this mean that there will be a more established theme with the sounds or melodies, or will there be certain themes, instruments or sounds accentuated to complement the game's campaign?
Cris: Yes, there’s an established theme that plays in all sorts of incarnations throughout the score. From a lonely solo violin to a full orchestral and choral version, this theme is represented all over the score. I’ve tried to hide it within the music as well. Sometimes, the low strings will be playing its notes as an aggressive ostinato. It’s not obvious to the casual listener, but their sequence of notes is really spelling out the main theme. In one ambient cue, I constructed a pad out of some woodwinds and a synth that almost sounds like the wind. The theme is hidden in this “wind” and drifts in and out as if it were gently blowing through the trees. No one will probably be able to catch it other than an elusive note here or there, but I’m hoping the subconscious mind might recognize it and help draw you into the game even further. These are just a couple examples. There’s a lot more actually!
Gaming Blend: I usually suck pretty badly at playing RTS games but I did like Company of Heroes for all the environmental destruction and unique vehicle units at the player's disposal. Is there a particular game element that drew you to the Company of Heroes franchise or was it just the theme of it being set during World War II that kept your interest in the series?
Cris: The first reason I wanted to work on this game was that I had recently collaborated with Relic on their previous title, Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine. These guys were just so great to work with. When the opportunity came up again, of course I jumped at the chance. Also, it seems quite rare these days to have the opportunity to compose a fully orchestral score. As a classically trained composer, this is really my bread and butter. Writing 80-90 minutes of music (most of it action) is no easy feat though. But when a project comes around that sets you loose with an orchestra at your disposal, it no longer becomes work. I couldn’t wait to get up every morning and start writing for Company of Heroes 2.
Gaming Blend: When talking about a score for a real-time strategy game, usually the music for these kind of games are impersonal and scenario-based rather than personality or character driven. Do you find it more or less challenging trying to compose music around general themes of war, victory, defeat or triumph, like in Company of Heroes, as opposed to more character-focused projects, like your collaborative soundtracks for the story-heavy Mass Effect series?
Cris: I think that composing for a scenario-based game like Company of Heroes 2 is definitely more challenging than composing for a character-driven game. There were almost no stipulations on what I could or couldn’t do on this. It’s an amazing feeling to not have any boundaries on your music, to just have the complete freedom of creativity within a 3-5 minute cue. However, that freedom also comes with a lot of pressure to restrain yourself, to focus in on the particular campaign I’d be writing for. If I’m suddenly allowed to do “whatever I want” it can be tough to narrow down my vision when I’ve got every toy at my disposal. It can be a bit like trying to build a house without the blueprints.
Gaming Blend: Do you have any other projects in the pipeline we can also look forward to you scoring (that you're allowed to talk about) or will we just have to wait and be surprised?
Cris: You’ll have to be mostly surprised I’m afraid. However, I did just finish up a pretty epic fantasy-based MMO. The score is all orchestral and very thematic with a subtle Chinese edge to it. I also have a couple of other games currently in development that I just can’t talk about yet. One project I can mention though is that I’ll be scoring a feature documentary about the artist, Chet Zar. It’s called I Like To Paint Monsters. I’m really excited about that one because Chet Zar is actually one of my favorite artists!
Huge thanks to Cris for answering our questions. Company of Heroes 2 will be released, as mentioned, alongside the soundtrack in June. Feel free to visit the official website to learn more about the game or purchase Cris Velasco's music from his own website.