One of the driving forces of any good video game is a soundtrack that provides a solid backbone for all of that running, jumping and shooting. And according to Quantum Break composer Petri Alanko, a good soundtrack has the ability to tell the game's story without ever saying a word. It has its own way of introducing you to the characters and settings, as well as providing an emotional center for what's happening while the player has a controller in hand.
Alanko, a Finnish composer, musician and producer, reunited with Remedy Entertainment about five years ago to begin work on Quantum Break. His previous work with the studio included Alan Wake, as well as its DLC chapters.
But while Alan Wake primarily told the story of a man struggling with guilt and fear, Quantum Break offers a more complex landscape of characters, relationships and motivations. There's loss, love, betrayal and, yes, time travel. There are a lot of emotions at play here, which calls for an equally complex soundtrack that can pick them each apart or, at times, pull them all together.
Remedy Franchise Art Director Saku Lehtinen was first to reach out to Alanko about working on Quantum Break but, back in 2011, it was simply called “an unnamed top secret project.” Alanko said he was sold on Quantum Break by a sentence that began with “...er, uh, we've been thinking about a sci-fi story with time—,” which is when Alanko said “Shut up, I'm in!”
When asked where he begins work on crafting a game soundtrack, Alanko said that everything starts with a story.
Alanko said he kept sneaking into pretty much every area of development throughout production, looking over the shoulders of concept artists and trying to get the writers to spill the beans when it came to additional plot details.
Alanko said that composing for a game frequently means you're asked to write “numerous meaningless battle sequences,” but turning in tracks of glitchy background music wasn't what he or Remedy had in mind for Quantum Break. This game has an emotional core, and its one Alanko wanted to tell with his soundtrack.
When scoring Quantum Break, Alanko said he found his emotional anchors in loss, love, disappointment and payback. Those were the driving forces he wanted beating at the heart of his tracks. Of those four, he said disappointment was the hardest to portray in sound.
As for which emotion he had the most fun writing, Alanko said it was the “most powerful force” imaginable, an untold love.
Alanco said that he does not really enjoy writing to action within a scene, as he finds that process uninteresting and, much of the time, the music is treated as a mere sound effect to what is happening on screen. He created a more dynamic soundtrack for Quantum Break, which you can actually check out several full tracks by visiting the soundcloud. He said that the tricky part of writing a video game soundtrack is that “everything must fit everything.”
For Quantum Break, Alanko said he had to sample dozens of metallic objects to get the process rolling, adding in guitar feedback, neon light buzzing, electromagnetic interference and “even so-called spy radios.” From there, he said he processed and stretched the sounds beyond recognition, “paving a path to walk on” and leading to the game's unique soundscape.
Alanko said he learned how to lose many of his babies on the cutting room floor while working with Remedy on Alan Wake, and those skills translated well into this new project. And like with Alan Wake, Alanko said he hopes he has created another soundtrack that is “somewhat timeless.”
Quantum Break (opens in new tab) launches for the Xbox One and PC on April 5.
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