Sound Byte: Meet the Composers - Mass Effect 3

We talk to Sam Hulick, Cris Velasco, and Sascha Dikiciyan about their contribution to the latest entry in the Mass Effect sci-fi role-playing game series.

The music of Mass Effect 3, which is the latest title in the BioWare-developed role-playing game trilogy that started in 2007, is a collaborative effort between several music veterans. We spoke to Sam Hulick, Cris Velasco, and Sascha Dikiciyan about the ins and outs of the game's music.

GameSpot: When and how did the three of you start your careers in the music-making industry?

Sascha Dikiciyan: For me, it goes way back to 1997. I had basically just finished my studies when I decided to produce an audio CD for the then-popular PC shooter Quake. I sold over 2,000 units out of my apartment. Within a few months, id Software got a hold of that CD and Quake II was officially my first video game gig in summer of 1997. I have been working in the industry ever since.

Cris Velasco: My first real gig was scoring the game Battlestar Galactica for Vivendi Universal. This was around 2003. I had gone through an extensive period of "paying my dues" before this, so I was very excited to be working on this. I'll always owe audio director Tom Zehnder for bringing me in on that one! I've been pretty busy scoring games ever since then.

Sam Hulick: I started officially around 2003, shortly after I won the G.A.N.G. Composer Contest. That got the attention of Tommy Tallarico, who hired me to pitch in on Maximo vs. Army of Zin for the PlayStation 2. I spent subsequent years on small projects and networking, up to my involvement on the Mass Effect franchise.

GS: How did you get involved in Mass Effect 3?

Dikiciyan & Velasco: Last year, we were brought in to score two of the DLC for ME2: Kasumi's Stolen Memory and the fan-favorite Arrival, which ties ME2 and ME3 together. In late 2011, we got the magic call to see if we were interested in writing music for ME3. It was an amazing experience, and we were able to write over one and a half hours' worth of music!

Hulick: I got a call one day, totally unexpectedly and out of the blue, asking if I was busy and interested in working with BioWare again. At this point, I wasn't made aware of what the project was, but naturally the answer was a resounding "yes" just the same. I got a call not long after that telling me that the project was Mass Effect 3 and they would like me to contribute to a couple of levels and some key moments in the game.

GS: With you the veteran among the group in terms of the series' music, what will you bring to the table?

Hulick: The most important thing here is that my role throughout the series allowed me to hit the ground running. When audio lead Rob Blake and I talked about bringing back some of ME's feel, I knew what that entailed and how to bring that back without introducing too much of a disconnection from ME2.

GS: Which tracks from ME and ME2 stuck out as the most memorable for the three of you? Why?

Hulick: I have too many to list! "The Presidium" is one of my favorites from ME, as are "Mass Effect Theme," "Uplink," "Victory," "Vigil," and "Uncharted Worlds," just to name a few. From ME2, "The Illusive Man," "Humans Are Disappearing," "The Normandy Reborn," and "Suicide Mission" are standouts.

Dikiciyan: For me, "The Illusive Man" is the one I always think of.

Velasco: I don't know what it's called, but the one I seem to remember hearing a lot is the tune that plays when you get killed…

GS: Which tracks from ME and ME2 took the longest to compose? Why?

Hulick: The main theme, which was born during Mass Effect, was definitely the longest process. It makes sense, of course, when defining a theme that has to stand the test of time and last throughout the trilogy that many revisions are considered and time is taken to ensure that something really memorable is conceived.

GS: What recurring themes will there be from ME and ME2?

Dikiciyan & Velasco: While we really didn't reuse any established themes from the previous ME games, we did write a few new ones. We were also able to pay homage to our main theme from the Arrival DLC. Listen to "The Scientists" from the soundtrack to hear a bit of that.

Hulick: The main theme and the victory theme will all be making appearances, as well as hints at a couple of others. There are quite a few new themes being introduced, as well.

GS: Will there be different kinds of genres to experiment with for the third game's music? If so, tell us what genres you plan on adding and experimenting with.

Dikiciyan & Velasco: To be honest, people already know and love the sound of the ME universe. To mess with that dramatically right now would have not been a good idea. While we certainly push the envelope electronically a bit more than in ME2, it still should sound like ME and not something completely new.

Hulick: We're staying pretty true to Mass Effect's previous styles, as that seems to have worked well for the story so far.

GS: ME had more of an electronica feel than ME2. How will ME3's music be in tone and scope?

Hulick: This time around, we're cranking up the emotional level quite a bit, adding a little more piano work, which I think has really been effective. There's also some revival from ME1's sound, due to a lot of demand from Mass Effect fans. It's essentially a musical balance between the previous two ME games.

Dikiciyan: I think out of all of the three, ME3 has definitely the most use of electronic elements, at least from our side of the score. To me, Mass Effect was never only about orchestral music; it's really what we call a hybrid score, which was already quite well done in ME1.

With my electronic music background, I felt I had to push it a bit further into the electronic realm without changing the overall soundscape, though. I read a comment somewhere that stated "this sounds new, yet familiar." That was exactly our goal. Add something new but keep the basic elements that made ME's music so memorable.

Overall, ME3's scope, just like its story, is much bolder and epic. We had to, of course, reflect that in our music.

GS: Which track from ME3 did you enjoy composing the most? Why?

Hulick: The romance theme because I'm a big old sap. And because I was eager to see what it would sound like merging piano, orchestra, and synth together, and I think it worked well. There's also a particular combat track from Mars that I love, just because of the many layers going on and its highly melodic synth strings. To me, it sounds a bit like an updated take on ME's sound.

Dikiciyan: There are so many. I really enjoyed writing for the more electronic Geth levels, "The Scientists," and our character-creation screen theme. Also the ambient/conversation cues are a lot of fun to write.

Velasco: There are some epic moments in this game. I can't go into details, obviously, but these tracks were really fun to work on. We also got to do some creepy/horror-type stuff. It was very interesting to write in this style while making sure to keep the music completely in the Mass Effect realm.

GS: Are there any standout tracks that you want fans of the series to keep their ears out for when the game hits on March 6?

Hulick: The last track on the CE album, "An End, Once and for All." I think it's very powerful stuff, and the visuals it's scored to in-game are just mind blowing.

Dikiciyan & Velasco: "Reaper Chase" and "The Scientists".

GS: After Mass Effect 3, what other projects will you do in the future, in relation to games or otherwise?

Dikiciyan & Velasco: Currently working on the score for a Gearbox title and a few other things we just can't talk about yet!

Hulick: I've got a couple of projects lined up that I'm excited about; hopefully, I can talk about within the next few months.

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Discussion

55 comments
cryingdevil63
cryingdevil63

@Bepedos I completely agree, "An end once and for all" and "Leaving Earth" totally blowed me out of the water,they're mind blowing.The soundtracks fit perfectly,these guys are amazing

Bepedos
Bepedos

One of the best soundtracks I ever experienced in a video-game. The "An End. Once and for All" track made me completely buy the ending by putting me in the most vulnerable emotional state possible. I was surprised "I Was Lost Without You" worked that well too. "I'm Sorry" is nice too ... So many good tracks. And Mansell's "Leaving Earth" is terrific too.

DonnyT
DonnyT

Prob one of the best game soundtracks of all time. But IMO change the romance music. Let's face it, synth + dance =/= romance :D

billlabowski
billlabowski

Already played through it...pre-loaded yesterday and downloaded a crack lol. Great game but on the theme of music I personally enjoyed ME2's soundtrack more.

PouyaDH
PouyaDH

@CLOCKWORKIAN Yeah, i love his scores...Requiem for a dream, Fountain & Dead Reckoning are my FAVE, I'm hopping for the credits theme @ the end to be done by Manselle, he surely can put some touch on credits to make u sit tied on ur chair n think about what happened ???

CCGR_Pheonix
CCGR_Pheonix

Too bad they couldn't get Christopher Lennertz on this. He did Lair of the Shadow Broker which rivaled a Hans Zimmer piece.

gmboy902
gmboy902

After Mass Effect 2's incredible soundtrack that did made the already epic scenes ten times better, I find it hard to imagine a better sequel (musically, at least) without Jack Wall. But the people stepping in aren't novices by any means, so hopefully they will stick to the example that Wall set - big, epic, and loud.

sune_Gem
sune_Gem

I can't wait to hear the main theme. The second games main theme was absolutely amazing, and if this games theme manages to top it I'll be in total awe for a good hour or so, unable to move.

xDForever
xDForever

"My first real gig was scoring the game Battlestar Galactica for Vivendi Universal. This was around 2003." Wow, so this guy's first work was with Bear McCreary.

FreakshowGamer
FreakshowGamer

I'm liking how the music here seems to be reflecting Mass Effect 1's style. Mass Effect 2 featured a more orchestral and action-packed score. This sounds more like Mass Effect's electronic tracks that mimicked sci-fi films of the 80s.

syler4815162342
syler4815162342

I really like Mass Effect musics makes you feel you are in a Science Fiction world, love electronic musics...

manjerr
manjerr

Not real impressed with this

Lazy_Marine
Lazy_Marine

Why no Jack wall ? ME2 soundtrack was the best . I don't like what's happening with Bioware and all the changes they are introducing.

NTM23
NTM23

This is great, as usual, but I remember hearing that not only Clint Mansell is doing the soundtrack, which I can see why he wouldn't be able to get the interview, but how Chris Lennertz is as well. He's the one who did the soundtracks to the shadow broker and overlord DLC for ME2, and I read that he's coming back for ME3 as well to help.

TheVGamer
TheVGamer

Few games have such a strong soundtrack team. Tough, but are they loyal?

Albaficas
Albaficas

Samrat_Ashok mansell doesnt need credits lol he is already one of the best music producer in the movie bizz

Gv0zD
Gv0zD

The soundtracks from both parts of Mass Effect are always in my playlist and I can't stop enjoying those great tracks. Judging by the music in the demo, the OST for ME3 will contribute greatly to my collection.

mkygod
mkygod

Mass Effect music has always reminded me of MIami Vice in space. Sam Hullick is like a modern day Jan Hammer.

ERoBB
ERoBB

I guess like everyone else, I came to ask about Clint Mansell. Although the embedded tracks are great, and these guys deserve some love.

steveruarts
steveruarts

Thank you, GameSpot, for featuring composers! Music adds such a significant amount of atmosphere to a game, and it's good to know the composers are getting recognition in the community.

CLOCKWORKIAN
CLOCKWORKIAN

@PouyaDH Clint Mansell is indeed a composer for the game. You can search "Mass Effect 3 Clint Mansell" on youtube and find some samples. Why he is not featured in this article, I would assume, is that he just didn't want to do it, or because he only wrote a few key scores, and not on a level to level basis like these composers were doing. Nice to see someone that appreciates Manseel, by the way; I have been keeping note of him since his work on "The Fountain". Just an incredible composer.

androidcraig
androidcraig

Clint Mansell is supposed to be still involved, though he is part of a 5 man audio team. Strange that his name isn't mentioned here, though...

PouyaDH
PouyaDH

WTF? I thought Clint Mansell was on ME3 ??????!!!!!!!!! was there any update i didn't receive or that was just a fuss ?

Hey_Jay
Hey_Jay

I love love the music of the Mass Effect series. It's fitting and yet it remains wonderfully original. Oh, and yes, I totally said love love. I double love... No typos here.

androidcraig
androidcraig

I'm glad there has been fan demand for a return to the original sound of the first Mass Effect. ME2 was a largely forgettable soundtrack. Whereas, from the original soundtrack, I totally agree that tracks such as 'The Normandy' , 'The Presidium', 'Uncharted Worlds', 'Uplink', 'Victory', 'From The Wreckage' and 'The Mass Effect Theme' are standouts. In my opinion, the music to the original Mass Effect is one of the best game soundtracks out there... (and, for me, second only to the music from The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim).

RussellGorall
RussellGorall

If I can't pay ten bucks for this I am not reading it.

Breyant
Breyant

I listened to a lot of the music someone pulled from the demo... some really great stuff in there!

Crisis_Ten
Crisis_Ten

Wow that Mars combat ost sounds amazing.

meedokicky
meedokicky

@Mark07041971 "so if they came out with a Shepard/Wrex/Garrus Armpit-Fart Symphony on DLC, I'd still buy it..." LMFAO XDDDDDD

Dookiemane
Dookiemane

I'm super pumped that Dikiciyan & Velasco are coming back, the Arrival soundtrack was incredible!!!

Mark07041971
Mark07041971

"Fan favorite Arrival." LOL! Project: Overlord and LOTSB were the best of the DLCs, IMHO. Arrival woulda been better if it was 2x as long, OR if it had the emotional weight of Overlord...but then again, I'm a diehard ME geek, so if they came out with a Shepard/Wrex/Garrus Armpit-Fart Symphony on DLC, I'd still buy it... Hard to pin down music, though, since tastes are so wildly subjective. As long as the music isn't so bad the rest of the game trips over it, it'll be good enough. Got the receipt for my CE in my pocket, and I've already taken March 6 off from work. Probably going to regret not taking the whole week off.

MegamanX97
MegamanX97

@001011000101101 Thanks dude for the update on this! I am excited as hell!

brickdoctor
brickdoctor

Dikiciyan & Velasco did Arrival and Kasumi? Those two had the worst sountracks of the DLCs. :( So far, I'm unimpressed with the new songs. ME1 and ME2 had superb soundtracks. What I've heard in ME3 so far seems like a step back.

001011000101101
001011000101101

Oh, and the soundtrack sounds amazing. Back to the synths!

001011000101101
001011000101101

@MegamanX97 I asked one of the devs on twitter, and he said that it would make a return. But with a twist.. whatever that could be.

MegamanX97
MegamanX97

What about the Galaxy Map music? I loved how it was unchanged in Mass Effect 2! If they did make a new one it will be a tough shoes to fill, or should I say Galaxy to fill?

darth_sedus
darth_sedus

ME universe is superb, I love it. Can't wait to delve into it once again and continue my journey heads on. ME 3 (9.5 no less)

Deano
Deano

mass effect 1 soundtrack is definitely great, the intro theme that introduces the start when you first see shepard on the normandy is one of the best fitting game intro musical scores I can think of.

wexorian
wexorian

@Samrat_Ashok yes wtf bioware ??? Jack wall was cool especially In 2nd game But they replaced it with clint and now we see some other composers i don't like it all :)

MaxPainAlchmst
MaxPainAlchmst

@tripwolf, lol sadly she will be in the game, kinda makes me not wanting to buy it, this will be the worst ME ;-)

JamilAhmed1994
JamilAhmed1994

@smoothyplum26 I'm sure you'll be able to buy the soundtrack on Amazon or iTunes.

PMOLLOY17
PMOLLOY17

If Uncharted Worlds isn't in ME3, then I'm going to moan endlessly.........and force myself to not have fun with the game once it comes out.

smoothyplum26
smoothyplum26

I'd keep my ears open for the last track on the CE album if stores didn't sell out of them months before release. Way to not make nearly enough Bioware.

red-ray
red-ray

Wait is killing me:((((((((((((