When you’re dealing with something as precious as John Williams’ Star Wars Score, how do you inject yourself into that — or do you?
When I’m writing in this style, I tend to look into John Williams’ music and I certainly study the scores that he wrote and sort of digest the language — and I just try to apply my own ideas using that language. It’s almost like an artist using the same colors. I create a pallet of sounds and instruments that he likes to use, and then I use that pallet to create my own usable ideas. So I always find a way to interject my own creative take on things — write new melodies — those types of things as well.
You write unique creative scores outside of your adaptational work, do you approach the process differently?
Yes and no. With films, I’m always faced with the possibility that there’s a temp score or some type of music that already exist that I have to base the score on — and that’s pretty common for film composers to sort of write music that lives in a certain style or a certain world. Half the job for a film composer, or a game composer is to be able to be creative within certain set parameters — and in this case, the set parameters are that I needed to live in the world of Star Wars. So I had to figure out what that world is, what makes it work, what makes it sound the way it does, and take those ideas and make them my own in the best way possible.
So with Battlefront, which really has no narrative arc and is designed to be played repeatedly and competitively, how do you make a score that can endure all those hours?
So with Battlefront, because of the way it is played [it] being a multiplayer online gaming experience, the music could stretch on for long periods of time. So it’s almost a technical approach that we take: where I write a two-minute piece of music — but I make sure the end of that piece could seamlessly loop back to the beginning so that it sounds like one continuous piece of music that’s playing constantly. And then I’ll write for any given section of the game, multiple pieces of music that could work in the same way. It’s almost like a Jukebox that calls up a piece of music that will play, and that loops for a while and then it might switch to something else… So there’s always a practice of writing transitional material that can seamlessly transition to the next piece of music, but then also writing music that can loop upon itself.
So is there a sort of system within Star Wars Battlefront that cues up music at certain points?
Yeah, there’s an audio engine that’s pretty in depth and [which] cues up different music for different settings and different levels of combat. And they usually can pull from more than one option because there’re a few options that can work for any given moment. And the next time that sort of moment comes up it won’t cue the same music as before. It’s always deciding whether it needs to loop, or transition into something new that’s maybe more intense if the battle has become more intense etc. It’s always thinking and adapting to create a score for whatever’s happening in the game.
Just in terms of writing music for Video Games vs writing music for Film, is there something inherently different in writing for the two different forms?
Films and games differ in a few ways. One probably obvious difference is that with film your timeline is always set. It’s not going to change, the edit is locked… So you know the exact amount of time from where you start your music to the point where it needs to change to accentuate this character or make this cut to a new scene. And that timing doesn’t change. With games you have to write in almost the same way, because it still has to feel cinematic, but because the timeline is constantly morphing and changing it’s, like I said before, you have to sort of write music that can repeat itself without sounding too tiring and that could also transition at any point from that music to something completely new. So you’re sort of creating puzzles pieces that live in a box, and the game audio engine can then pull those pieces and make something that works for the scene.
With video games are you included in the production of the game? Or is it like film in that you most often come in at the end?
It varies from project to project. The way that games differ from films is where the music takes place. But with film, it’s always the last thing that happens on any set. It’s completely shot and edited, sound effects are put into place and then the very last thing to happen is that the composer scores the film. But with games it’s different, I usually come in, I’d say, around the middle of the process. So a lot of the times I don’t even have gameplay to look at when I’m already starting to write the music.
And so I’ll be working from concept art or a description of how the game works, and its characters. So as I’m writing music the game is still being developed, and even after I’m done writing the game continues to get developed. The music and audio implementation ar a process that usually takes a while as well. So for example with Battlefront, I finished the score in May and the game came out in November. So there was that much time after the score was complete that it needed development. And I’d say they probably started development about a year before I got on board. So it’s right in the middle of the process for composers of games.
Do you play the games that you score?
Yeah, I always try to play through the games that I score, and I just started playing Battlefront! So far I’m not doing so well [laughs], but I’m really enjoying it, it’s a really fun game. I usually go into a room and pretty much immediately get killed, but I’m trying and I’m learning and having fun with it so far!
Are you working on any projects, or have any upcoming titles you could tell us about?
Yeah, I am working on a couple of new projects, a couple of big game titles. Unfortunately, with the nature of the game industry being very secretive [laughs] I’m not allowed to say what they are, but I promise that they’re big game titles. One is something that won’t be too surprising and the other is something completely brand new and I can bring some pretty unique sound to it that’s different from Star Wars for example.
Listen to some of Gordy Haab’s tracks from Star Wars Battlefront here.