Western Front of Video Game Music – interview with Cris Velasco

230x180_Cris2He began with an earthquake in God of War and has been building Hitchcockian suspense since then – this is how his career may be presented in a nutshell. This outstanding western composer, known mainly for his collaboration with no less talented Sascha Dikiciyan (Borderlands, WH40K: Space Marine, Mass Effect 3) has recently been realizing his potential in scoring the II World War. Gamers- Listeners were interested in his input to Polish Enemy Front. We also took the opportunity to ask about the indie game market, music marriage between the east and the west and the latest concert plans.

Gamers Listeners: First of all we would like to ask you about your most recent production, so, speaking of Poland, have you tried our famous vodka, legendary sausage and pickles?

Cris Velasco: Yes I have! Although I’ve never actually been to Poland before, it’s on my list of places to travel to one day. One of my favorite artists, Zdzislaw Beksinski, lived there and I really want to see the museum that holds a lot of his work.

Gamers Listeners: Listening to Enemy Front soundtrack (especially This is Warsaw Calling and Calm Before the Storm) might give the impression that you were inspired by the events related to Wladyslaw Szpilman, Polish musician of Jewish origin, who is a II World War hero for Poles. Did this person and his output have any influence on composing Enemy Front OST?

Cris Velasco: I wouldn’t say that he had a lot of influence on the final score, but I definitely listened to some of his Chopin recordings. I knew that piano would play a large role in this score. I’ve never really had that opportunity before and it was so fun to mix the piano with orchestra in many of the tracks. Chopin was definitely on my iPod during the initial stages of getting inspired for this score!

Gamers Listeners: In Enemy Front you guide the listener through death, fight, relief, anger and helplessness (our first impressions). Were you inspired by the insurgents’ fate while composing the soundtrack? If so, how difficult was it to grasp the dramatic situation they found themselves in?

Cris Velasco: In a game like this, I always try to place myself in the mindset of those that were actually there. Obviously, that’s an impossible feat. Yet, I can somewhat imagine how I might have felt at the time and I try to draw from these feelings as inspiration for my music.

Gamers Listeners: A year earlier your Company of Heroes 2 OST had come out – quite a different stylebut still a II World War title. As far as I could work out, you tried to give that musican anti – romantic character, referring to, among other things, Prokofiev’s output. Did you manage to use any experiences from working on CoH 2 in Enemy Front?

Cris Velasco: Working on CoH2 definitely gave me the musical “vocabulary” for this era that I was able to bring with me into Enemy Front. There were some definite challenges to overcome as well though. The music for CoH2 was heavily Russian/Eastern European-influenced. With Enemy Front being set mostly in Poland, I wanted to make sure that the two scores sounded quite different. What seemed to work was to allow the music of Enemy Front to become a little more “personal”. I tried to build more on the story rather than focusing solely on the action.

Gamers Listeners: In one of the interviews you mentioned that Company Of Heroes soundtrack at first was to be based on Russian or even eastern european Gypsies folklore. Could you elaborate on this topic?

Cris Velasco: Yes, we initially set out to make the score much smaller in scope. I tried a few tracks that were heavily based on Russian folk melodies and played by a gypsy style band. In the end, these tracks would have been lost in the game. The music just wouldn’t fit with that style of gameplay. It was a good idea though and I’m glad we explored it. It was a score that would have been really fun to do. Ultimately though, CoH2 needed a much bigger score!

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Gamers Listeners: In your portfolio you have an exotic, but less known adventure with Blade & Soul –Silverfrost Mountains Original Soundtrack. The music was made by quite a big team of composers, mainly Korean. What were the expectations towards you and what did you try to put into the production – the voice of the East or the West?

Cris Velasco: I came in fairly late onto that game. I’ve always wanted to work with NCSoft so I was very excited that they called me. I felt like it was a bit of a training ground for me. They wanted to see how I’d be able to work within their team. I can’t say what the game is, but I’m currently working with them again so I guess it worked out all right! The tracks I wrote were definitely somewhat of an East meets West. The orchestra was playing some very traditional combat music; the type I’d write for… God of War maybe. But I did add some Asian soloist instruments in there too just to give it a hint of that world. They weren’t even necessarily Korean instruments. It sounded cool to me though! :)

Gamers Listeners: Soul Calibur triple CD album is a candy- box and real treasure for East Meet West fans. If we might remark, we found your part alongside Hiroki Kikuta’s pieces our favourite. You often say that you love epic music and we suspect that while working on this one you could fully enjoy freedom and potential of Eminence Symphony Orchestra. How did you prepare and get down to that? Considering that you were dealing with a fighting game?

 Cris Velasco: Glad you liked it! That was a fun project to work on and I hope they’ll ask me to come back some day. What was nice about the tracks I was asked to do is that they were all different. I wrote a very swashbuckling style pirate piece, a track that was similar to a piano concerto, and even a 6-minute long song for the end credits. I’ve played a lot of fighting games and have also worked on the Mortal Kombat franchise, so I know what I’d like to hear in a game like this. Hopefully, other people agreed with my choices too!

Gamers Listeners: As a Warhammer 40K universe fans we cannot withhold the pleasure of asking about Warhammer 40K Space Marine. How the hell did you do that? Are you a fan of the series too? You got the feel of its atmosphere and managed to grasp the Warhammer pathos that accompanies annihilating orcs, not exaggerating and not offending the Warhammer fandom that may express its strong criticism.

Cris Velasco: I have to admit that I’ve never played Warhammer until I started composing music for the game. Before I started writing, I did get to take a trip to Vancouver to meet the team at Relic. While I was there, I really got a good feel for the game and for the Warhammer universe. The Relic guys obviously have quite a history with the franchise, so they were an invaluable resource. I remember that score being incredibly fun to write as well. We got to do multiple recording sessions for it. There was one full day of just percussion. Many drums, cymbals, trash cans, pipes, etc. were harmed that day! This was the foundation for the Orcs. I also traveled to Skywalker Sound and recorded a 60-piece orchestra for this one too.

With the help of Relic and seeing all the amazing screenshots and gameplay, I felt like I knew what belonged in the Warhammer universe. I really hope they make a sequel too because I want another crack at it!

Gamers Listeners: You make music to various types of games. From Battlestar Galactica through TMNT, God of War II, Borderlands, Mass Effect 3 to Company of Heroes, ZombieU and Enemy Front. Each of them represents a different type of game. What type is a challenge and what type is the greatest fun to make music to?

Cris Velasco: I think that they’re ALL a challenge! I try very hard to give each project its own signature sound. That in itself is a hard thing to do. But it makes it easier when I get to keep doing such varied projects. The biggest challenge comes when I have to do two projects back-to-back (or at the same time) that are the same genre. When I was working on Enemy Front and Company of Heroes 2: The Western Front Armies, I had a very tough time deciding on exactly how to make these scores sound different. It’s a fun challenge though.

I’m not really sure what my favorite type of score to write is. I’ve just finished some WWII games of course. I also recently did a game called Warp. This is mostly electronic and was a nice departure from the war games. I also did some big fantasy-type music recently. It’s all fun, but I guess I might like to do some more horror stuff soon. And I’m always up for doing a Star Wars project!

Gamers Listeners: As far as the Enemy Front soundtrack is going to be performed live for the first time at PlayFest in Spain, are you preparing anything special for your fans?

Cris Velasco: Yes I am! You’ll all have to be patient though. I might start revealing some of the tracks I’ll perform, but you’ll just have to wait for some of the BIG surprises!

Gamers Listeners: There are more and more young musicians trying to attempt the videogame music business. Especially indie games give them big opportunities. Are you afraid of the competition as an “old dog”? Do you observe others dealing with the business? Do you follow the indie game market?

Cris Velasco: I feel pretty established in this industry now. So no, I’m definitely not worried about the up and comers. In fact, I think it’s great that there seem to be so many opportunities for a lot of new composers. The cream always rises so it’ll be very interesting to see what kind of new talent starts to emerge. Some of these indie developers even like working with us “old dogs” too. I’m about to start my 4th indie game this year!

Gamers Listeners: Thank you for your time. Is there anything you would like to add?

Cris Velasco: Thank you so much for the thoughtful interview. I really do hope I can visit Poland sometime soon! Also, I’m just so happy about coming back to Fuengirola for PlayFest this year. I can’t wait to see all my new friends I made there last year. You’ll never believe what I have planned for the concert this year either. I promise it will be exciting! Finally, I’d like to mention that the soundtrack for Enemy Front is now available on iTunes for anyone that’s interested in owning the music.

 

Interview was conducted by Chris Pyter and Catherine Galas. Special thanks to Dominika Wilk.

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