Scoring The Apocalypse

Film soundtracks are amazing things. One of the things I like to do when I’m thinking about the musical choices a film makes is to swap out a piece of music from a completely different movie — or even some of my own music — over a key scene, just to see how it changes the feel of the moment.

I love the idea that a piece of music can support, enhance, skew or even subvert the emotions on display.

I believe game scores can do the same thing. With games, though, you have the additional challenge of the player being able to do anything at any time, particularly in an open-world game like Class3. To support the emotional tone of the game while taking into account the constant variability of gameplay, I’ve chosen to work with the overarching themes and tones in Class3 as a palette for our music.

You will be able to work with others to stake your claim in a new society, one where your family is created by bonds of trust instead of a common bloodline.

What are the themes that will comprise the cornerstones of the musical palette in Class3? First and foremost: survival. Your friends and loved ones have been mauled, murdered, and reanimated. You’re constantly searching for water, food, medicine, and a safe place to sleep. Sorrow, danger, despair, and fear wait around every turn. The world is broken.

Secondly, of course, it’s about zombies. The wretched, rotting, soulless creatures that haunt your every step. Always on the hunt and never tiring, they constantly seek your flesh. When the zombies are closing in, the music isn’t about a world robbed of it’s humanity, it’s about the immediate danger of an approaching horde.

Finally, the music needs to support the theme of rebuilding our world. You will be able to work with others to stake your claim in a new society, one where your family is created by bonds of trust instead of a common bloodline.

Musically, it’s a genre defined by the sum of parts. Our Faded Americana style takes cues from Country, Western, Rock, Folk, and even Blues music, but it lives somewhere in between those genres without belonging to any of them.

Those are the thematic pillars of Class3; but we still need a framework to deliver the score. That framework is defined by two elements: The first is a style we call Faded Americana, defined by our art director Doug Williams to describe the setting and visuals of the Class3 world. Musically, it’s a genre defined by the sum of parts. Our Faded Americana style takes cues from Country, Western, Rock, Folk, and even Blues music, but it lives somewhere in between those genres without belonging to any of them.

Along with those elements come suggestions of instrumentation: rondo, slide, resonator, and acoustic guitars; dulcimers, fiddles, and percussion of all types from a traditional drum set to ‘musique concrete’. Inspiration comes from popular artists like Johnny Cash, Tom Waits, and The Black Angels as well as composers like Carter Burwell, Gustavo Santaolalla, and Dave Porter. Each of these artists have already tread the ground of Faded Americana, and it’s my hope to deliver a similar emotional intensity to compliment the art and feel of Class3.

The second major element to our score comes from the darker side of film. The pulsating drones of John Carpenter, the haunting discomfort of Jerry Goldsmith, and the textural tones of Vangelis all play a role in creating the sense of unease and intensity that plagues you and drives you through Class3. Together these two styles will constantly interweave to bring you a soundtrack rife with fear and despair, but also a sense of hope, exploration, and the potential to rebuild a world on the brink of destruction.

That’s where Jesper Kyd comes in. For years, I’ve admired his ability to create scores that are emotional, dense, and driving while still keeping a sense of sparse openness that’s crucial in supporting a reality where society has collapsed. With his proven ability to understand the complexity and diversity of game design, I believe Jesper will help us present a singular and unique experience for our apocalypse. I’m thrilled to work with him and ecstatic to have him as a key contributor to Class3.

-Kevin

Bits And Pieces

I started my audio career when I was 10. Well, sort of. My father owns an AV repair shop in San Francisco where he fixes all sorts of electronic goodies, from CD players to tube amplifiers and turntables. As a kid, my job was to take pieces that weren’t worth fixing, open them up, and with a 600-degree soldering iron, strip out anything of value. I guess you could call me an audio scavenger, but I loved it. My time at the shop taught me how to be comfortable with the internals of audio gear—motherboards, ICs, and transformers—and that being electrocuted sucks.

I was a sponge for knowledge, even if it hurt.

By 16, I was a repair technician at the shop, in charge of fixing old turntables, speakers, amplifiers, and even cassette decks. But fixing gear wasn’t the only thing I loved about music. I had also saved up enough to purchase a copy of eMagic, a music recording program that would later become Apple’s Logic. When I wasn’t working, I was recording songs I wrote for guitar and a couple of synths I owned. I quickly realized that I wasn’t very good at playing music, but I really enjoyed recording it.

I took the “responsible” route out of high school, going to college instead of attending a recording school. But that didn’t change my dreams. In my free time I was DJing at local parties and clubs at night and continuing to play my own music. I also got involved in creating sound effects and music for small video projects and theatrical plays on campus.

Even though I’d wanted to get into the audio industry, the only job I could find out of school was delivering water for Arrowhead. Not exactly my dream job, but it paid the bills. Then came the motorcycle accident. I cracked my right arm in a couple of places and realized that I couldn’t lift 20,000 pounds of water a day anymore.

So, with no job and my savings running out, I decided to look into the same recording school I had my eye on years earlier. Maybe spending thousands of dollars on school when you’re broke isn’t logical, but it was now or never. I decided to take a chance. I took a tour of the campus on a random Wednesday, my entrance exams on Thursday, secured my student loans Friday, and started classes that next Monday.

Everyone in my life thought I was nuts, but to me it made sense.

Eighteen months later I’m pulling another Houdini. I complete my last class on a random Friday in April, pack everything I own on a Saturday, move from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a Sunday, and start two internships on Monday. One of those internships turned into my first assistant position — learning quality control and voice-over session setup for Bang Zoom Entertainment. Over the next couple of months I moved into a variety of other roles: dialogue editor, voice-over engineer, and sound designer. I was on my way.

From there I went to PCB Productions, who provided third-party audio support for developers. Each week a new game came in and my role on each title was extremely varied. Sometimes I was a voice-over director and engineer. Other times I got to create sound effects and manage portions of gaming projects. I could be working on up to four different game titles simultaneously. I was learning every part of creating audio from games in a very regimented fashion and found myself wanting to be part of a development team more and more. As much as I enjoyed the fast pace and quick turn around of just doing sound effects, or just doing voice-over directing, I didn’t feel invested in the final product.

That changed at Petroglyph Games, where I worked on Universe at War and their following titles. Being in-house every day, sitting with the rest of the team made all the difference. Instead of being limited to providing audio based on a list of SFX or a script, I could really be hands-on, guiding audio technology, planning and designing audio for projects. I really liked it. My next move was to Surreal Software (ironically moving from Vegas to a game called This is Vegas), and then to Monolith to work with their team on projects like Lord of the Rings: War in the North and F.E.A.R. 3. That’s when Brant started talking to me about this new zombie project he was working on.

Immediately, I loved the idea of getting to create everything from the ground up and to work on a new IP with an experienced team. I’ve been getting deeper and deeper into the post-apocalyptic world o’ zombies ever since I came on board.

And my life keeps getting busier and more interesting. My first album is coming out in the middle of May under the San Francisco-based label, n5md. Finishing that project has given me the musical knowledge and the inspiration for Class3. While the two will be completely different styles, I think of music as presenting different levels of energy and emotional states to the listener. My goal is to have the music support the emotional tone of the gameplay as closely as possible. Whether you’re clearing a building or in the middle of a teeth-gnashing, flesh-ripping zombie horde, the music will respond.

For years I’ve been questioning my decision to learn every part of audio for games since it would have been simpler to pick a specialty and stick with it. But that’s not who I am. It’s in my nature to need to know every aspect of things I’m passionate about. In my career that’s come in bits and pieces — learning about dialogue editing one week, integrating systems to create environment sounds the next. Maybe jumping around from city to city and role to role seems sporadic, but to me, it’s the same thing I’ve been doing since I was a kid — digging into everything and scavenging knowledge one concept at a time. Until now I haven’t had the chance to use that knowledge to its entirety.

Here at the Lab I finally have that chance.

Kevin

PS: If you just can’t get enough Kevin and want to know more about him, be sure to check out Jeff’s introduction.