For critically acclaimed game developer Bizarre Creations and award-winning composer Richard Jacques, the latest Bond story presented an opportunity to work on one of the biggest franchises on the planet.
For Jacques, the challenges were technical and logistical. Creatively confident, he was nevertheless concerned as to how classic Bond music could be delivered ‘interactively’.
“Music is a major component of the storytelling and characterisation of Bond,” explains Jacques. “In a Bond film you’ll get lovely swells and crescendos marking high-point moments – but reproducing that on-the-fly in a video game in response to unpredictable interactive input is a big ask.
“The project was massive – two-hours and twenty minutes of score as well as a ton of interactive variations. Many cues have up to five alternative versions which means up to five ProTools sessions per cue with a track-count of 192 not being untypical.”
Said Jacques: “Ensuring every alt mix sounds compatible with its neighbours with all the right dynamics and mastering levels can be quite tricky – you need a good pair of ears. Then you have to create implementation mock-ups in ProTools to demonstrate how it’s works in-game. Overall, the title entailed about a year’s worth of effort for me, not to mention the recording, mixing and game implementation folks.”
Weapons of choice
For Grunwaldt, the key sound design challenge was combat. Weapon sounds were outsourced to Chuck Russom, who’d taken a similar role on a previous Bond game. Over a six-week period he worked remotely from the team, making deliveries online. Meanwhile, Grunwaldt attended foley sessions at Todd AO in Los Angeles.
“We knew hand-to-hand combat would be a main game feature so we went to the experts,” confirms Grunwaldt.
“These guys are awesome at creating all the punching and whooshing sounds. They provided us lots of great source material to edit and apply to video renders of the eighty-plus set-piece ‘take-down’ animations. These days everyone seems to be talking about making game audio systems more generative but we soon found dubbing all the animations individually was much better for the title. A custom approach meant so much more satisfying detail.”
At this stage, Grunwaldt and Jacques looked at mechanics for music delivery to enhance the combat experience, further building anticipation by, for instance, having strings fading up prior to a punch.
“The problem was doing it in a non-linear environment,” says Grunwaldt. “We settled on this distance-based mechanic. As you wait in cover and the enemy’s moving towards you, we trigger the strings at a certain proximity and crescendo them as they get close. Then we’ll play a percussive sting when you make your move giving a nice release of tension.
“If you then engage in full-on combat, the music will transition to a full-on fighting cue with percussion and Bond-style brass – it really works very well.”
“It’s a very interactive score,” adds Jacques. “Given the nature of the music style and content, these variants need re-composing and re-orchestrating so each one is musically complete in terms of arrangement – but they all still sound of the same family.
This means when I’m composing and orchestrating, I’m not just thinking in terms of start to end through-composition, but also I’m considering the music top-down, in terms of intensity. I might have five or six sessions in Logic and lots of colour coding and different mix groups to keep track of it all. The musical key relationships are also very important – making sure everything flows nicely from initial menus screens to end credits. I took all that very seriously, working out a chart of the narrative flow and gameplay intensity.”
Working from his own studio, Jacques composed and recorded high-end mock-ups of every cue and its associated variations, providing rough mixes to the team to be used as the point of reference for sign-off.
Orchestral recording subsequently took place in London’s Abbey Road and the soundtrack features around 95 musicians, some of whom have played on every Bond film to date.
Jacques concludes: “The musicians were brilliant. The project was a dream, but now I can hopefully have the odd weekend off.”