Is it a lot different scoring a game versus other types of projects? Is it what you expected?
Yeah, I mean, there's quite a learning curve, I have to say, scoring for a video game. I began approaching it in the same way that I would approach any film score, but very quickly I realized that that just wasn't going to cut it. For the most part, I've not had any visual material other than some artist impressions to work to, even though I've seen various builds of certain missions throughout the period I've been working on the game. For the most part I have to work, I'm working from an impression in my head of kind of, a vision that I've had to create from just a bunch of disparate elements that have been sort of handed to me over the months and through reading the script and just drawing on my experiences of actually playing the games over these years.
So it's a very, very different experience to writing for a film. There's no set length to a scene, you know, it's all down to the game player. They dictate where they go and how long a particular mission takes. Just a lot of the game is still being built right now, and those guys kind of work right to the wire, whereas they need to start implementing the music as soon as possible. So often I'm writing before they know exactly what's going to be happening in a particular scene in the game.
From time to time the guys have actually changed a particular moment in the script, a particular moment in the game because they've been listening to the music I've produced, and that's influenced the build of the game. That's influenced the build of the environment and how the environment should feel and how it should look, because they've been listening to this music. They go "Oh, wow, now I get it!" [laughs]. Which is such an honor, you know, it's an amazing experience.
But it's, you know, in a way it sort of feels around the wrong way. It feels like the—is it the cart leading the horse? [laughs].
I've always felt that the scores from past games have had overarching tones; Halo 3 felt sort of expectant, Halo: Reach was a little bit tragic. Can you say the same yet for Halo 4?
Well, without giving anything away about the story, I think that this game is attempting to say more about who the Master Chief is and actually what's going on underneath all of that armor. So it's a little more emotional. Certainly in places it's very emotional, and it is quite tragic. But I probably can't say too much more because I like my job [laughs].
Do you have any favorite songs from past Halo games? Are you going to be bringing in a lot of that music?
No, I mean, I've not actually been involved in re-working any of the old themes. I've purely been writing new material. That's been my brief, is to evolve the musical world of Halo. Even though obviously I reference—purely because I've been playing the games for many years—I'm referencing Marty's work. But not in any direct way. I've not been taking any of his melodic themes and updating them and changing them around and rearranging them.
I believe that there might be a few key moments in the game when they'll reprise one of Marty's themes or a couple of Marty's themes. That's going to be quite a small part of the score for the game, and quite possibly that will be just more toward the beginning of the game to help with the natural flow from Halo 3 to Halo 4.
Do you feel like it's going off in a very new direction?
I think everyone's very respectful to the work that's been done before on the game. And everyone's—again, I think the phrase that we've all kind of used is it's an evolution rather than a revolution. No one's trying to re-invent the world of Halo, but everyone's trying to move it forward. It's a new story arc. Technology has moved on, and so there are more options available these days in terms of the build for games than were available back then.
So there's a design to move forward, to update, and to fill in some of the details that maybe were missed out before. And just progress the story in a very exciting way. So everyone's trying to honor the history of the game and just add to that and keep the story moving forward.
How do you approach composing for specific types of gameplay?
The first battle scene that I wrote for the game specifically for one of the missions, I first of all tried to script the action and write directly to picture, but I found that to be very restricting. And instead of actually doing something that helped the story and helped the player engage with what was actually happening on screen and underscore the emotional motivation of that particular mission. It ended up hindering the process.
So in general when I'm writing for a scene, for a battle scene in particular, I'll only watch it through once, and I'll pick out any visual references that are important, environmental references that are important, and those will inform me of certain sound characters that I might want to use that don't fit in that particular mission, and which kind of musical references I might—you know, if it's more of a military mission, I use certain kind of military references, even though I find my own way of kind of referencing those. And then I just start building a track that seems to have the right kind of energy and the right kind of tone for that scene and I'll just keep experimenting until I hit the—you know, I'm pretty tireless when it comes to that sort of thing. I know when it feels right.
And for me, it's always about how it feels. I don't approach it conceptually. I always approach it from a gut level, and every piece of music I've written for this game has been written from a gut level. It's very much from the emotional perspective. You know, I'd surround myself with the materials, I'd surround myself with the visuals, I'd read the script through, I'd get the context. I play the games, the past games. And sometimes I'll pick out some themes from movies and kind of have those playing around.
But generally, once I've got the right picture in my head, I just turn all that stuff off and just start writing. Yeah. And produce as much material as I can and play it for the guys [at 343] and see what they pick. I'll normally, for each mission I'll write three different pieces of music and the guys will pick one of those pieces, the one that kind of best fits their visions for that mission. And often they'll also pick the other pieces and say "Actually, that piece would sound great in a different place. So very little music that's been written isn't going to be used somewhere in this game. And I've written over four hours of music, there's over 100 pieces of music I've written for this game so far. Just a huge amount of material. I can't actually believe it sometimes, that I've written that amount of material [laughs].
The final part is on page three!