Today's ATV episode features the development of music for Squadron 42!
As per usual, anything said during the show is subject to change by CIG and may not always be accurate at the time of posting. Also any mistakes you see that I may have missed, please let me know so I can correct them. Enjoy the show!
Bands weren’t for him - he always wondered why couldn’t the music be bigger - this lead him to music for media - film, TV, games.
He started at Berkeley College of Music doing a degree in film music and music engineering and production.
At the start of his career, he mailed a resume to sixty or so studios in Los Angeles and Media Ventures got back to him, a studio owned by Hans Zimmer.
He’d stick around late and listen to things in the archives. His career was built on little steps, there was never a big breakthrough. He was an assistant to the composer John Powell who would eventually ask him to do little bits and pieces. He then started writing on Hans Zimmer’s movies. Soon he was working on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and his own independent career.
Lee Banyard is an Audio Director at CIG - based out of Manchester. He is the focal point for all audio disciplines - music, sound effects, dialogue and related code. He tries to unify the creative vision which comes from Chris and himself.
Ross Tregenza as Senior Sound Designer started as a musician and transitioned into video games and CryTek to work on the exciting and endless music systems on this project.
Lee Banyard pins down the musical needs for our composers Geoff Zanelli for S42 and Pedro Camacho for P.U.
Ross Tregenza does implementation and a lot of groundwork.
Geoff Zanelli’s background is mainly from large film productions, some with Chris Roberts. He’s also a huge Wing Commander fan.
As a narrative composer Geoff Zanelli believes that one’s first duty should be to use the story to build the architecture of a score.
Geoff Zanelli’s first piece of music for Star Citizen was the Constellation commercial that transcends as exploration music.
The first piece of music Geoff wrote for SQ42 was Bishop’s speech
One thing Geoff wanted to avoid was repetition of music as most gamers will be playing the game for several hours. They wanted a dynamic system that responds to what you’re doing with seamless transitions from one to the other. Music will also be a way to tell where you are
They’re making a lot of progress on the procedural music system, which has been difficult because it gets written very differently than a normal movie or game score. In the end, the game essentially writes the score from pieces the composers have written for it.
One of the challenges they faced with the new modular system was transitioning between pieces seamlessly without it being jarring to the listener
What they did is they enabled the music to be locked at certain points to where it could enter or exit another piece and therefore allowed pieces to flow into one another naturally.
Sam Hall created a system for Geoff’s specific moments of prewritten music to interact with the dynamic music system in a way that it listens to what the player is doing in order to best switch to and from it so that the player is listening to what they should be and not have an awkward transition.
Sandi Gardiner (SG): Hello, and welcome to Around the Verse, our look behind the scenes into the development of Star Citizen, and Squadron 42. Today we’ve got a special guest host, joining the program, Josh Herman, Character Art Director, and Star of last-weeks Star Citizens Happy Hour. He’s filling in for Chris, so thank you.
Josh Herman (JH): Thank you, it’s my pleasure. These shows are a really unique part of Star Citizen’s development, so I’m really lucky to be a part of them.
SG: Yes they are, and since we have you here, anything you would like to share from the character art this week?
JH: Yeah, this week we actually got through some of our character modularity system bugs, and it’s going to help us create a lot of unique and distinct looks, so I think we’ll be showing a little bit about that in an upcoming AtV episode, so look to that.
SG: Very cool, and that would be awesome. For now though, let’s head over to our Frankfurt office, and Brian Chambers, for this week’s Studio Update.
Brian Chambers (BC): Hey everyone, I am Brian Chambers, development director of Foundry 42 Frankfurt. Since our last update the team’s grown by an additional 6 people, across 5 different disciplines. We’re glad to have them on board, and I’m sure in the near future you’ll meet some of them. Entire team’s been busy so I’ll give you a quick update on a few of the disciplines.
For the weapons team, they’ve been busy reworking some of our current weapons from the Klaus & Werner manufacturer. The Gallant, the Arowhead, and the Arclight are all getting revamped to have a finer level of detail, as well as prepping them to work with our future attachment system. The devastator 12 from the Kastak arms manufacturer is also going through a similar process. In regards to ship weapons, the team’s been blocking out different type of weapon types, sizes, and upgrade levels for the Knightsbridge arms manufacturer.
The QA team here in Frankfurt works closely with both the design team and the engine team on the daily basis to support them however they need. One bit of recent support was validating damage to players. They used our existing FPS test map to verify how much damage a player could take on each portion of the body all at different ranges. They used all existing weapons at various distances, both online and off, and documented all their findings along the way. In the process, we actually found some discrepancies in the damage taken to players, so we were able to tear those apart and rectify those for our 2.6 release.
The environment team also works closely with the Engine team on a daily basis to be able to push our visuals for the planetary tech. They made some great progress on some new procedural moons, making sure they look good not only from an extreme distance but as well as close up to all the way to the point where you land on them and explore. They also made progress on new varieties of vegetation. Along with the new varieties, the engineers have also implemented the functionality so we can now have bending tree trunks and branches as opposed to previously where we just had leaves that moved.
Moving on to VFX, the VFX team also works with the engineers, and they’ve been recently working with them on some new toolsets for procedural particles. The tools allow us to spawn particles based on specific parameters to help the environment feel more dynamic and alive. Parameters including such things as terrain elevation, angle, specific textures, specific ecosystem, and on and on. We also now have ecosystem based weather particles that are attached to the camera and procedurally play when you’re inside that specific ecosystem, as well as the ability to group particles along with specifically procedurally attributed objects such as trees or rocks. This allows us to add more bespoke detail to items across the procedurally scattered items, such as leaves falling from trees and dust blowing off rocks, etc…
So. That’s it from Frankfurt, thanks again for watching, thanks for all the support, and we’ll see you next time.
JH: Appreciate the update Brian. And of course, welcome to all our new employees joining us in Germany, it’s great to have you guys on the team. How cool were those cactuses?
SG: Super cool. Cactii
JH: Cactii? I don’t know. The ecosystems we’re able to pull together are getting some more and more incredible stuff, especially now that we’re able to add the tech and additional animations, as well as some procedural particles.
SG: Very cool, and you and your team have begun working on creatures too right?
JH: Yes, we have been concepting some fauna to go along with the environment team’s flora. I think we showed off some insects sculpts back in November that I did, but we’ve been expanding there to make our biomes really diverse and immersive.
SG: Another big part of Star Citizen’s immersion is definitely the music and tech that goes along with it, and we talked before about some of the dynamic music system and how it applies to the persistent universe. But today we’re going to sit down and talk about its use in Squadron 42 with composer Geoff Zanelli and lead sound designer Ross Trigenza.
Geoff Zanelli (GZ): I’m Geoff Zanelli, I thought music was this thing that other people in other cities went and did. Didn’t quite occur to me that it was a career path that I could embark on until I was a teenager, and soon enough I started realise that music can take all sorts of shapes and forms that don’t necessarily exist on the radio - you know as a guitar player, had a band, who were terrible, we were an unsigned band - we weren’t necessarily looking to go pro with that but I definitely wanted to be in music and really once I got a guitar, I stopped homework and athletics which- [laughs]- I don’t know if I’m proud of that but it took me somewhere, right?
And I guess, being in a band-kinda format didn’t quite fit with what I really wanted to do because I was forever going “how could this be bigger?”, “why does a song always have to be three minutes?”, “why is there always a verse and a chorus?” - sort of inevitably leads you into music for media - for film, for television, for video games - where, you know, you have a lot more- how should I say- options, for the shape of things.
So, off I went to college, and at that time I was really only a musician for three years - I was a three year old musician when I walked into Berklee College of Music, I was the best guitar player I knew, and then I walked into a building when I was easily in the very bottom third, [laughs] - all these guys had come up playing their whole lives which was a good and humbling thing for me but I knew I was aiming towards composition. So I took a degree in film music and in music engineering and production. Then when I was writing to try to start a career, I banged on maybe sixty doors in Los Angeles - or I should actually say- I mailed a resume to sixty studios in LA while I was still in Boston saying “will work for free”, hoping to get fifty phone calls back and have the horrible dilemma of picking which studio will hire me.
And it doesn’t work like that - so I learned that quite quickly, from those sixty resumes, I got one phone call - “well, OK, this is a long road” - so, but, fortuitously that phone call came from the studio then called Media Ventures - a studio owned by Hans Zimmer. I came up, and I was an intern, so it really did come from the absolute bottom rung - I knew nobody in Los Angeles.
Nobody in film, nobody in video games, nobody - and I just never went home after that. They let me in the door and the session would be over and I’d go into the archives and pull tapes out and listen to them and I just wanted to be around it. My whole career has really been little steps, there was never- there was no huge break-through, there were these little steps along the way, so I was an engineer getting my orchestration education, then I was an assistant to a composer named John Powell and eventually he would start to ask me “hey, you want to look at the percussion on this cue”, “you want to write a little tiny piece of music for one little scene in the movie” and from there, it just blossomed and blossomed.
From there I started writing on Hans Zimmer’s movies and at this point, that’s maybe twenty years ago almost when that started and that began that working relationship which has become- y’know, it blossomed into something that I never would had expected - next thing I know I’m working on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise - I wrote a lot of music with Hans, so nowadays I have my independent career. For instance, recently, I just scored the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie which is coming out.
So that was the culmination of the friendship and relationship I had with Hans.
Lee Banyard (LB): My name is Lee Banyard, I’m an audio director here at CIG Audio which is located here at Foundry 42 in the UK. I act as the focal point if you like for all the audio disciplines, which I guess includes music, sound effects, dialogue and code and I help to try and unify a creative vision which comes through Chris and then through me and make sure everyone's kind of working roughly the same sort of direction. Yeah, try to unify things basically. That's, that's currently what I do. That's my main role here.
Ross Tregenza (RT): Hi, I'm Ross Tregenza. I'm Senior Sound Designer here at Foundry 42 working on music systems for Squadron 42. Been working with Geoff Zanelli on the project over the last year or so. I came to the company, well to backtrack I started as a musician back in the '90s and slowly made my way into video games, composed for the game Timesplitters and become more sort of long term employee there. Eventually ended up at CryTek and then made the move to this fantastic studio here. And because of my background in music Lee Banyard, the Audio Director here, has me working on the music systems which has been just phenomenal. The scope of the game and what we can do with the music is utterly endless, and it's been very exciting.
LB: I work quite closely with Ross on almost sort of day-to-day basis in helping kind of we pin down exact what musical needs are for the game, and that includes P.U. as well as S42. And then we take those requirements and then go to our composers the like of Geoff Zanelli for S42 and Pedro Comacho for P.U., and Ross does a lot of the implementation like a real kind of detailed ground work where that's concerned, but we kind of ... we work together just to communicate to the likes of Geoff or Pedro exactly what we need from a creative standpoint so they … you know provide us with the actual music, but then we take into the game and try to make that work in an interactive context. And yeah, we build upon iterate those accordingly.
Geoff's worked, I think, mostly in film and TV. He has worked in some game context as well which I think also assists us. Terms of like I guess previous productions it's yeah ... it's like, it's Outlander, likes of Pacific series by, for HBO and Pirates of the Caribbean is a big one that was done recently. I think he only recently finished up with that and now he's got more time to devote to us, so we're quite happy about that. But it's, yeah ... he's extremely into what we are doing. Quite proud of it. They both are, both Pedro and Geoff, so that's made it very easy to work with, and he's got a great line of communication with Chris as well as us, and makes it really very easy to work with actually.
GZ: When the first two Wing Commanders first came out, let's see, I was in high school, and that meant if I wasn't playing my guitar I was playing Wing Commander. [Laughs] So much so that I probably, I may even owe an apology to my teachers for not studying hard enough for a time. It was such a ... you know ... it was such a great game you couldn't put it down. The thing is at the time the attention to detail in that game was, was just so far above like anything else that was out there. You know it was ubiquitous really. If you were a gamer you were playing Wing Commander, and if you weren't playing Wing Commander you weren't a gamer. [Laughs] It was, it was ... really was that big.
So I, I met Chris Roberts when he was producing Outlander, and he had heard my score for Disturbia. I think John Schimmel played it for him. So the two of them and Howard McCain, who's the director, called me in to watch the film or watch some scenes of it see if it would spark you know ... inspire me, and it did instantly. I mean you can see it still excites me to think about that, because see I was ... I was raised on these adventure movies and fantasy and sci-fi and just things that ... you know ... movies which are larger than life. Those are the movies I remember from my childhood. You know it was easy to get excited about that and then when Chris and I ... you know ... went through the process of writing a film score which is usually over the course of a few months, we got to the end of it feeling like we had a really good workflow, getting along really well. The relationship was symbiotic, and by the time Chris was getting going with Star Citizen I think he thought of me as a, as a story driven or a narrative composer, cause he remembered what I did for, for the story. It was actually quite complicated in Outlander, so when he started to build the ... you know ... the world, the story driven, narrative elements of Squadron 42. For Star Citizen I think it was an easy phone call for him to make and an easy yes for me to give. Yeah, so I … and I think that's you know that's sort of the reason why that the Squadron 42 component to Star Citizen is in my hands, cause it's … it's something I've always done. I've been able to use ... use the story to build the architecture of the score for lack of a better term. You know that's you know for me one of the fundamental duties of a composer that's writing anything for a narrative.
The very first piece of music I wrote for Star Citizen was for the Constellation commercial. I should say before I started writing that you know I looked at the footage and realized that this really is a commercial about exploration. That's what the ship is for. You know, knowing exploration is an element of the game and it's certainly an element of Squadron 42 as well, I set about writing some music even just for a commercial that could transcend just that usage. I think of it as … it's exploration music.
[Overlayed Music Continues]
GZ: It may or may not make an appearance in Squadron 42 but it was at least designed to be able to do so. For me, the exciting about the commercials is that they exist in the world of the game, it’s not sort of like this added layer on top, it’s actually part of what’s immersive about it… about the universe. So then, the first piece of music that I wrote for Squadron 42 specifically was Bishop’s speech. To me, you know, it wasn’t just a self contained video or at least I didn’t think of it like that. I thought it as, you know, the catalyst for a giant plot twist in this huge universe we’re immersed in.
So I’m writing a piece of music that’s really meant to use the speech as a hinge to draw players into this story that we’re about to give you. So, it’s written in such a way that it actually applies to other aspects of Squadron 42 we have yet to discover. It’ll be certainly indicative of an approach to what the music is for the game and, you know, look I think gamers want to feel immersed in this enormous universe.
Implementing the gameplay music, it’s a dynamic system, that’s much more technically involved then doing a cinematic here but we’re really looking for ways to be fresh and new with our approach with that. So, for me as a gamer I notice that the standard way of handling music right now is you have sort of multiple layers of intensity and it responds sometimes very roughly to what’s happening in the game to the player.
So, something more intense happens then it will just sort of jump to the next level of intensity in the music. So, often it starts out at the beginning or it becomes a repetitive event, for the gamer and I think it’s repetition in game play music because you’re going to be playing the game for many hours can be a problem. So one of the things I’m doing is looking for ways to avoid repetition in the music. Certainly Chris Roberts would share that ambition and so would Lee Banyard and Ross Tregenza in the UK Audio Department.
Ross Tregenza(RT): It’s a dynamic music system that’s a little more in depth and grand in it’s scope then you get in other games, really because our game’s so massive. We want a system that responds to the player but also because Squadron is such a fantastically cinematic game, we want the music to respond in appropriately cinematic, epic ways.
So, it gets fed into by what you do in the game, things like attacking people, explosions, that kind of stuff. Also it’s situational, it could be if you’re flying that’s a whole set of music with it’s own rules, that’ll transition seamlessly into EVA music if you’re floating around or if you’re down in ground combat. Again saying universal system but it handles what you do sort of elegantly and smoothly moving between these different aspects and there’s a language that Geoff has defined musically that’s very different. You’re in space, it’s got.. it’s huge and it’s epic and as you get down to ground without any, you know, it’s seamless but suddenly you know where you are. It’s got a whole different tone to it, different feel, it’s more personal and visceral and right there in front of you. So, our real challenge, we’ve been… Sam and I have built this system, but there’s the system here and that’s a technical consideration but we need to bring Geoff’s unique voice into that system.
GZ: Just in the past few weeks we’ve made some breakthroughs in the gameplay music. There will be three… main states, for instance there’s a whole engine for space flight, and this is music that’s now capable of playing calm moments, you’re just flying into a system or something, and it can break out into action, it can break into heroic music, or grim music when things go bad, and it’s all part of one sort of, I want to say, enclosed system of music that plays all of the space flight in the game, and there’s a similar system for first person, and a similar system for EVA events. Those are things that, you know, could apply to the entire game. That’s just a starting point, cause then it evolved, initially we thought well we need sort of action and not action, but as time went on we went this is going to be more interesting if there are different levels of intensity for all of the action, you know, you could be surrounded by 20 bad guys, there might only be two. So the game is able to respond to those types of scenarios, it’s also able to know when the player has the upper hand, so it can play more heroic music. When the player’s in trouble, so it can be more grim. And it’s all, you know, it’s all dynamic, it’s all synced very tightly to what’s happening with the player.
The challenges of writing that kind of music, well first off you need to know you’re doing it from the get go. There are sort of tactical reasons why you have to kind of write the music modularly; sections need to be self contained if you’re going to do this, so each of those little modules can be worked on as an individual cell almost of music, because it can come at any time during the player’s experience. So, if you’re halfway through a great big melody and you have to make a left turn, that’s an abrasive thing to do musically, so we have to kind of build the music in the dynamic system in a different way than we would in the cinematic system, so you know, in the dynamic music has to be able to leap just like that, from one thing to the next, because you never know when the player’s gonna turn the corner. But what we’re able to do right now with the engine and even in the state that it currently is, which will only improve, is we’re rapidly approaching the same decisions that I”d make when I’m scoring a film, but the game engine is making those decisions based on what’s actually happening with the player. It’s spectacular.
RT: So as time's gone on we’ve hit a couple problems that have been a real pleasure to figure out that are more on the creative side of the process. One of the first big ones was the transitions between segments because this is all modular system. You could be in a looping section of music that’s covering, what we call it grim. The situations gone bad, everything's blowing up so we're in this grim, heavy action sequence, but then we need to go into a heroic clip of music, but we need to get there with the transition that isn’t at all jarring.
The first thing to do was just, I mean you have the same tempo and same key, but as the music transitions from one another we just get this blur and you get elements of one, elements of the other and it just wasn’t gelling. It took us a long time to figure out how to resolve it, but in the end we figured out our main focus was musicality over mediacy. So what we’ve done is we’ve locked the exit and entrance points of the music to key moments. If there’s a crescendo, as you get the top of the crescendo that’s a moment where it can exit or enter and different segment so you get these points that you hit and then it’s allowed to enter another piece of music. So we’ve completely negated the need for a crossfade so it’s pure music. One section of music will drive up into a crescendo and that lands up the exit of the crescendo of another piece so it’s a beautiful evolving full, sort of seamless musical journey and we never have these ugly crossfades, there's nothing obvious about it which was a real success.
Another problem was that we needed to deal with almost two succinct systems. We’ve got the dynamic music system on one hand for, that covers your gameplay in this beautiful cinematic way, but then we have these actual cinematic queues that are pre written bits of music that Geoff’s composed for very specific moments in the plot and when we land on these, we need to make sure that we get to them beautifully and we exit elegantly. That’s something that Sam Hall, the coder over here has worked very hard to get us a system that you know, Geoff can work with that allows for that. So now we have this amazing system that we could be in this dynamic music for you’re in space in combat and then we transition musically into this pre written cinematic queue, but when you exit our game engine has been listening to what you’ve been doing in the same so maybe during that musical queue you’ve landed on a planet and everything’s calm, it knows that so when you exit the pre written queue you come back to the correct music for your new situation which is, it’s a phenomenal bit of work from Sam, it just works elegantly, it’s lovely.
GZ: One of the things I’ve been open to as a composer is, “The next idea”. Even when I feel like I’ve written something that I’m happy with, I don’t stop writing and if something else comes up and I want to explore it, sometimes that pays dividends. I see that all the time in music, I see it all the time with filmmakers I work with and I certainly see it in Star Citizen as well..
RT: When we first started talking about building the dynamic music, I’d explain the elements to him but I really didn’t know how deep he wanted to get into the intricacies of the system, but he loves it and he gets deeply involved in it and as time’s gone on we’ve met in the middle for both the creative and the technical. He comes to me everyday with new ideas of how we can fix problems with musical transitions and you know, whereas a year ago we’d send over lots of technical information and reference material, it’s become very fluid now and it’s a real pleasure to work with him in this kind of way. I think he’s got such a phenomenal grasp of the technicalities of the system, it’s empowering him and it’s just making it better for everyone, it’s fantastic.
GZ: If I have an idea, I can put it out into the world and they’re are so many brilliant people here that want to live up to every ambition and it starts with Chris of course, but if I say I think we can make this music system even more dynamic than anything that's come before, well the next thing I know, someone at Star Citizen has come up with a way to make that work within the game engine and it’s just a tremendous asset and it’s a blessing for me because you know, I feel I’m part of something that’s really pushing the limits of what a video game can be, what it can do.
Look it’s obviously a blessing I get to do this for a living. I think from day one when I sent 60 resumes and got one phone call back I realized, when you get that phone call and somebody says they want you to do something, write music, be a part of a film, be a part of a video game, it’s a blessing and you can turn in into a great opportunity and it’s exciting to be apart of all of it.
SG: Geoff has just got so much experience weaving narrative and narrative together, he’s really taking Squadron 42 to the next level.
JH: Yeah, it’s really impressive how Ross and the rest of the rest of the Audio team have the tech bridging between those various emotions so seamlessly. You pry wouldn’t even know what’s happening if you hadn’t been told.
SG: No, you wouldn’t. Right, one minute you’re flying around to this beautiful score and the next your pulse is racing as the music amps up for a dogfight, it’s pretty cool.
JH: The only problem is I have the Bishop speech song stuck in my head now.
SG: And now I do too, thank you. Thanks.
JH: Sorry about that. Speaking of thanks, thanks to all our subscribers.
SG: Yes definitely, without all of your we would not be able to share in depth behind the scenes shows we bring to you weekly so thank you so much for all of your support.
JH: And thank you to all our backers for helping make the dream of Star Citizen possible. We wouldn’t be able to do this without you.
SG: No, we wouldn’t and that is our show for the week but if you’d like even more Star Citizen, make sure to tune in tomorrow at noon pacific for the latest Happy Hour stream to watch some live gameplay and discussion.
JH: Tomorrow’s stream will be more ship focused with special guests Elwin Bachiller and Ben Lesnick stopping by to answer questions. Should be a fun one.
SG: Until then we will see you…
SG/JH: Around the Verse.