Two towers (EA Games)
Storm front studios interview
Through a close collaborative relationship with New Line
Cinema and the New Zealand-based film production team, EA's The Two Towers
game features actual sound effects from the films and voice-over from
the real actors: Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn), Orlando Bloom (Legolas), John
Rhys-Davies (Gimli), and Ian McKellen (Gandalf). To add to the authenticity
and to the cinematic experience, the game also features over five hours
of Howard Shore's Academy Award winning musical score. We spoke to Andrew
Boyd, Director of Audio at Stormfront Studios, about the challenges of
integrating the films' music and sounds into the game.
Music4Games: How familiar were you with the film score before commencing
work on the game's soundtrack? Were you a fan?
Andrew Boyd: We actually began work on the overall sound direction of
the game before "Fellowship" was complete, long before we'd heard the
soundtrack. We knew that Howard Shore was to be the composer, and we were
certainly fans of his. So we built up extremely high expectations for
the music. Even still, when we finally heard it we were simply blown away.
And the more we listened and worked with this music, the more impressed
we became. Usually, when working on a big project, you get several months
into it and become so sick of hearing the same music over and over and
over that you can't wait to move on to the next thing. That simply didn't
happen here; our respect and fondness for this soundtrack has only grown
- even over months of intense exposure.
Music4Games: How important do you think the soundtrack is in recreating
the film experience?
Andrew Boyd: My opinion may be a little biased (!), but I think the importance
of soundtrack in general cannot be underestimated. Few people ever get
to watch a film with no musical score, then watch the same film with music
in place. Experiencing that even once would convince the most skeptical
people of music's power. Here, in moving from film to game, the music
was obviously a cornerstone in evoking the film's emotion and scope. What's
great is that it works both consciously and unconsciously. Those with
the musical knowledge and sophistication to recognize what we've done
in repurposing the soundtrack should appreciate the effect. But even someone
who doesn't know anything about music or music editing (or doesn't care!)
should still experience the same emotional impact. The reviews have been
outstanding regarding our use of the music in the game, so it seems we
achieved our goals (it certainly helps that the music was so good to begin
Music4Games: How much of the original "The Fellowship of the Ring"
movie score is used in the game? Which musical themes are retained for
"The Two Towers" videogame soundtrack?
Andrew Boyd: The "Two Towers" game actually features scenes from both
the "Fellowship" and "Two Towers" films. We had the full recording of
the "Fellowship" soundtrack to work with, but our game focuses entirely
on the action/battle sequences from the movies. So, as beautiful as the
work is in whole, we ended up using almost exclusively the big percussion
and brass-heavy sections, the full-choir pieces, etc. In a few instances
we were able to utilize some of the sparser, tenser pieces, but unfortunately
we just couldn't justify including the really subtle, sweet, romantic,
or melancholy parts of the soundtrack.
I've never tallied the exact running time of the source pieces versus
the edited pieces that we made. The amount of music actually heard in
the game depends on how it's played, since some players will complete
missions much faster than others, some might complete a battle and linger
in an area, some might never see the losing cinematic for each mission,
and so forth. So it's hard to say exactly how much was used. Anyway, for
those missions with a counterpart in the "Fellowship" movie, we tried
to use primarily the same music from those scenes. For the "Two Towers"
missions, we tried to stay as true to the thematic intentions as possible,
and to stay true to the conventions we established (so missions would
sound cohesive and fully realized). For example, while we obviously didn't
have a "Helm's Deep Theme" per se, we were able to use music from "Fellowship"
that was thematically related to the characters or the action in some
way, while keeping the emotional tenor correct for the given gameplay
Music4Games: Tell us about the music editing process. Can you describe
some of the methods, tools and issues involved?
Andrew Boyd: All music that occurs during game play, during in-engine
cinematic sequences, and under interface screens was edited here at Stormfront
in Digital Performer 3.1 running on Mac G4 computers. We worked from "un-mastered"
stereo mixes, and did some light processing with Waves Renaissance EQ
and L1 plug-ins to prep the files for inclusion in our game engine. Robb
Mills, my Senior Sound Designer/Composer did the vast majority of the
editing (I contributed the remaining minority) and he did an outstanding
job. His work was so good, in fact, that I think he'll get underrated
for it-so many of his edits are so clean, so strong, I doubt that anybody
but Howard Shore himself would even know they are there! Yet it's exactly
this editing that brings the music into the game world so seamlessly.
Robb began by painstakingly going through the entire recording and marking
sections that seemed promising for one mission or another. This process
gave him a really intimate familiarity with the music, and by the end
he could find a key phrase - a single bar of music-out of the hours of
recordings in a couple of seconds, just by glancing. Anyway, he and I
would then go through the missions in the game, often together with the
level designer and the producer, and decide what kind of music we wanted
where, how we wanted the adaptive music system to tie into the gameplay
on that mission, and how the mission fit into the overall game. We'd look
at the cinematic sequences that would play during the mission too, and
decide which ones should flow naturally with the current music in the
mission, which ones needed a custom piece, and which ones provided a good
point to switch from one piece to another. And then we'd begin cutting.
Much of the time we'd start working from a thirty or forty second piece
that fit the mission perfectly, but we'd need to make it five, eight,
twelve minutes long to service the needs of the game. So we'd search out
other statements of the phrase, different orchestrations, similar pieces
that worked well together, contrasting pieces that provided some structure
when cut in, etc. Once these longer pieces were built up, we'd use a custom
toolset to put them into the game world and play the mission over and
over, checking to see that the music was appropriate no matter how the
mission was played, making sure the music wasn't repetitive or boring,
and so forth. We'd also pay close attention to ensure that the mission
seemed cohesive and, for want of a better word, "intentional." We wanted
the music to sound as if it was actually composed directly for the game,
so we'd often do several refinement passes to really get everything smooth.
Some missions have dozens upon dozens of edits, so getting it all together
took some time.
Music4Games: What is the hardest part of music editing? Isn't it a
Andrew Boyd: If the music is interesting and beautiful, editing it can
be nearly as intense and rewarding as original composition. Certainly
it's pretty laborious to cut 0:10, 0:15, 0:30, and 0:60 versions of bland
stock music for low rent advertising all day long. But this project didn't
go that way. It was exhausting, maddening, obsessive, frustrating, and
overwhelming, but it was never really dull, boring, or laborious.
The difficulty in this project was staying fresh enough to do the material
justice. Not because the task itself was oppressive, but because it was
just such a huge undertaking and the stakes were so high. Good editing
requires the ability to constantly refresh your ear to hear whether an
edit has successfully created a new musical experience, or simply pasted
two old pieces together. It's very easy to spend a huge amount of effort
on an edit and start to hear it as finished even when it isn't. Many times
Robb would be working on an edit and I'd walk in and listen and, eyes
closed, spot it on first hearing. We'd then look at it to try and find
the problem. After two or three hearings, I could no longer spot the problem
I'd heard on first listening. But Robb would invariably track it down
and fix it (or declare the edit impossible and move on). At least in this
case, the hardest part was making every listen like the "first listen,"
with ears as fresh as the player's who would be hearing all of it for
the first time. And doing this for each of the hundreds of edits in the
Music4Games: What makes a good music editor? Do you have to be a music
composer to be a good music editor?
Andrew Boyd: There is a level of musical sensitivity required for really
fine music editing; because of this it certainly helps to be a composer
for most music editing projects, though I wouldn't go so far as to say
it's a necessity. Especially when editing rock, techno, and other forms
of contemporary music the musical "rules" are very easy to grasp even
for someone without formal training. On the other hand, some of what we
were doing with the "Two Towers" game involved pretty complex orchestral
music, and I think it was important that Robb and I each had extensive
music composition experience in order to maintain as much of the musical
integrity as possible. Plus, as composers, we could look at situations
in the game and analyze what they needed, and then find the source from
which we could create it. An editor without composition experience might
have been limited to listening to the source and thinking about what he
or she could make out of it, then trying to find a place to make it fit.
The ability to look ahead and create with a final result in mind was invaluable.
Editing has a technical side too, of course, quite beside the musical
content issues: are the cuts tight, are the crossfades smooth, do the
levels match, is the timbre consistent? It goes without saying that a
good editor has these issues down cold, can create seamless edits quickly,
can spot good opportunities for edits, knows all the tricks to make a
complicated edit work. All the composition experience in the world doesn't
help with this aspect of the job. The only thing that matters is practice
and more practice. The first hundred edits an editor makes will be awful,
and they'll take way too long. The next hundred will only be marginally
better. Thousands of edits later, an editor will be working at a professional
pace with professional results. This speaks a little to the previous question
- if there's a laborious aspect to the job it's how much learning has
to happen before an editor is a master of his or her craft.
Music4Games: What was your most memorable scene from the movie where
the music score really shined? Have you managed to capture this in the
Andrew Boyd: There were so many great moments in the film's soundtrack
it would be really hard to pick a favorite. The signature Ringwraith figure,
the long tremolo glissando in the violins and the subdued male choir "chant,"
was extremely effective at indicating the haunting dread of those characters.
I do think our Weathertop mission in the game captures that feeling really
well, and still manages to build tension over the course the mission as
required by the interactive gameplay. And of course the music that accompanies
Sauron as he strides onto the battlefield in Mordor and ultimately loses
his finger to Isildur is unforgettable. It appears largely unchanged in
the game, and I think it's just as effective there as in the film.
But probably the best example is the Amon Hen sequence; in the film, Aragorn
battles his way down the hill through the forest as Boromir tries to hold
off Lurtz. The game sequence is very similar (with the addition that you
can play as Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli), but of course it's interactive-we
have no idea how long each part of the mission will take for any given
player, what order a player will choose to do things in, etc. Luckily,
the music for this sequence provides two wonderful variations on the same
basic theme (the great 5/4 Saruman/Uruk-Hai theme). One is more restrained
and tense, with the primary rhythmic figure pulsing on a low piano note
and string swells floating over the top. The other is fully orchestrated
with huge percussion and powerful brass. The game switches between these
statements of this theme based on how far the player has gotten in the
mission, the status of combat, and so forth. And toward the end of the
mission, when the fellowship reunites at the bottom of the hill, we bring
in the heroic "fellowship" theme to really pump up the player for the
final battle. Technically, this is not exactly the way the music is put
together in the film, but the resultant emotional affect ends up feeling
Music4Games: What are the differences between music for a game and
music for a film?
Andrew Boyd: That's not a question with a simple answer - they are fundamentally
different pursuits. One key difference is the amount of attention that
can be paid to the music. In a game, a player has a lot of attention focused
on the actual game mechanic, whereas in a film all the viewer's attention
is available for the sonic and visual presentation. Another difference
is the format in which they are delivered. Games are always played at
home, and almost never by more than four people in a single location (and
most of the time by a single person). Films tend to spend at least some
of their lives being shown in large-scale theaters and watched by a number
of people simultaneously. But probably the primary difference lies in
the interactivity of a game. A film composer can watch a scene over and
over and create a score that precisely modulates the emotions of the viewer
as the scene unfolds. This means that he or she can foreshadow future
events, build to crescendos, drop to silence, increase or decrease tempo,
change orchestration, etc., and do this all within a musical framework
of his or her own device.
In a game, a composer (or music editor, for that matter) usually has no
control over how a scene unfolds; the player controls that. There is a
very basic disconnect between music and the game, each of which happen
over time but according to very different internal logic. Since the goal
most of the time is to give the appearance that no matter what the player
does, the music is appropriately supporting the action-to make it sound
as if the music was composed exactly for the situation at hand, no matter
what the situation is-games have begun adopting "adaptive" music systems.
This kind of system allows the game's music to be manipulated by the game
itself at runtime, according to a set of rules established by the composer/editor.
The big issue is managing the tradeoff between moment-to-moment relevance
in the soundtrack and some sense of musical integrity. It is possible
to constantly switch pieces of music based on the action, but then the
music will lose any sense of coherence, flow, and integrity. On the other
hand, just letting a piece of music play without regard to the action
might end up with very inappropriate music at some points.
For "Two Towers" we built a very sophisticated adaptive music system that
allowed us to keep the music stereo and full resolution, but switch instantly
and arbitrarily between any pieces in the game. It allowed us to specify
markers in pieces where musically relevant switches could be made, and
it tied into the AI and combat systems, level design, cinematics engine,
and more. Even all that is no substitute for a human composer making the
decisions, of course. But in the end I think we were able to strike a
good balance of maintaining a sense of the integrity of the music as composed
for the film, and still service the interactive needs of the game.
Music4Games: Do you think that game composers are able to compete with
Andrew Boyd: Sure. There are plenty of extremely talented folks working
in game music, just as there are in film music. Similarly, there are untalented
hacks working in both media. And there is a huge middle ground of good
solid composers who, when matched with the right project, will do wonderful
work. It may be true that the very, very top tier of current film composers
outperform the current top tier of game composers in some ways, but I
think that's as much a comment on the maturity of the craft as it is on
the skills of the individual participants (though the top five or ten
film composers really are artists of significant prowess).
Film music is a much, much better understood medium than game music. Just
look at the time-frames in which they've been practiced: film composers
have had around eighty years to perfect their art and their craft, whereas
the field of game composition has only existed for fifteen, maybe twenty
years. And just as there was a long period during which film music was
understood primarily in its relation to concert music and/or opera (as
opposed to an art unto itself), so too is game music now mostly considered
in relation to film music. But I do feel like this is changing, and for
I hope that the "Two Towers" game provides some important perspective
on this. Obviously we started with one of the great film soundtracks,
and there is a lot that the game audio community can learn about the benefits
of really exceptional composition, conducting, musicianship, and recording
in a soundtrack, elements that are sometimes less good in games than in
films. At the same time, there was no way that the music would just "drop
into" the game-it took months of painstaking editing and an extremely
advanced runtime playback engine for the soundtrack to work in a game
with anything close to the power it possessed in the film. While I do
think we've demonstrated that a film's soundtrack can in fact be made
to work in a game, if anything, the experience with this title only further
reinforces my feeling that the games and films suggest very different
approaches to music, require different skills, and suggest a different
set of metrics by which to measure quality. As the art and craft of game
music matures, I think we'll see its finest practitioners begin to be
recognized on the level of the great film music composers.
Music4Games: How do you feel the gamer's experience will be enhanced
by music from the film?
Andrew Boyd: The gamer's experience in any game is affected by music-positively
or negatively-in a profound way. The use of this music in this
game should really enhance the experience in a couple of very positive
ways. First, it is excellent music that fits the emotional content, the
mood, and the setting extremely well. Second, it is "authentic," taken
directly from the movie that is for many the definitive "Lord of the Rings"
experience. I felt that the music in the "Fellowship" film was a key element
to bringing the viewer into the world of Middle Earth, into the minds
and hearts of the characters, and deeply into the story. The game's use
of the music should help put the player in the world of the films, and
therefore into the world of Middle Earth, the characters, and the story.
Music4Games: Do you think fans of The Lord of The Rings will be surprised
by the attention to detail in the game?
Andrew Boyd: Hopefully not surprised - pleased and maybe a little proud!
One of the great things about Peter Jackson's interpretations of these
classic texts was the depth of his vision; he rendered the smallest elements
of the world in so much detail, the grand, epic elements with such scope
and sweep, and made it all fit together into a cohesive whole. I certainly
hope that when fans of the film play the game they feel we did it justice.
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