An Interview with Alex Otterlei Feature - The Next Level

An Interview with Alex Otterlei

Hear from the man behind Xyanide's haunting soundtrack.

Article by Aaron Drewniak (Email)
November 24th 2005, 04:10AM

Not only are the possibilities (budget-wise) far greater than in most other media, but also the technical aspect is very different, and very challenging. While earlier on I "only" had to make sure I had a good composition with a good arrangement, well performed and well recorded, there are so many more technical aspects that come up now. The music is seldom "just playing in the background," more often it is triggered by a certain action or event caused by the player. As opposed to film music, the music for a game is rarely linear (except for cut-scenes). More and more, the player in the game is free to go where he wants, whenever he likes, and do almost whatever he chooses. Depending on the player's actions, music and sound effects will be triggered, and thus they should be made and implemented into the game's engine with that in mind.

Even more so with sound effects (at Playlogic, I'm responsible for both sound effects and music), where the sound is often "placed" as a trigger event somewhere in the 3D-environment, and many aspects have to be considered. Like: will it blend nicely with the ambient, will it work together with the other sound effects, won't it be obliterated by the music, or vica versa? The good thing is: if you're responsible for both music and sound effects, you can really make sure that music and sound effects work well together, compliment each other, instead of being in each other's way. To me, a good sound for a game is where music and SFX work together as a whole, with the one major purpose to enhance the game-experience of the player.

Now that we're beginning to get a bit more technical, how do you start composing a particular piece and carrying it through?

Alex: ... that's a tough one. It strongly depends on the subject. When I compose for myself (usually orchestral music), most melodies and ideas come to me when doing "other" things, especially walking. I guess it has to do with the rhythm. Also, I usually create conceptual music (like Horror on the Orient Express), so I first think of a storyline, evoking images that in turn inspire me musically. I let the ideas form and grow, and often rearrange themselves over and over, until I feel the time is right, that's when I run to the piano and start writing down. The trick for me is: never to soon, never too late. There's this short moment in time when all the pieces of the puzzle fit together, and then I have to write it down quickly, before the pieces start drifting apart again.

But more specifically on music for computer games. I guess I first try to emerge myself as deeply as possible into the artwork, story, concept of the game, until I really start dreaming about it at night. I guess most ideas are spawned from the subconscious, so even when I'm not really working on it, ideas ripen and take form. Therefore I try to get involved into the project as early as possible. And of course, when you write music for a game, many people are involved who have invested their talent and ideas into the game. So I try to talk to as many people as possible. Most important is usually the art director, who often has a strong idea of how the music and sound effects should sound. In many cases they even provide me with ghost tracks, which are very helpful to find the right direction. But I always try to find a compromise between their directions, and my own intuition. It would not give me creative satisfaction were I simply to copy this or that musician's style. Even more so, I think I simply never want to do that.

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