Q&A: Blind Guardian on music in games

German band Blind Guardian talk to GameSpot about their appearance in the upcoming Sacred 2, and what it's like to be a guitarist playing Guitar Hero.

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While there's a good chance you'll hear your favourite rock band's music in a game these days, it isn't every day that you get to go questing for the band in-game. That's exactly what fans of the German fantasy-metal band Blind Guardian will get to do in the hack-and-slash action RPG Sacred 2, planned for release on PC and Xbox 360 in late 2008.

The German band has been around since the mid-'80s, and is famous for lyrics and album covers inspired by its favourite fantasy and horror authors such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, and Stephen King. In keeping with Blind Guardian's fantasy style, the group's members are even called bards by their fans, thanks to an early definitive track called "The Bard's Song," inspired by the 1985 game, The Bard's Tale.

GameSpot UK caught up with Blind Guardian vocalist Hansi Kursch, and the band's guitarists, Andre Olbrich and Marcus Siepen, during their motion-capture session for Sacred 2 in Hungary last week. In between filming, the band members talked about their music in Sacred 2, being in the game, and their opinion on music-based games.

GameSpot UK: How did Blind Guardian get involved with Sacred 2?

Hansi Kursch: That's quite an interesting story. Having three very active fantasy computer game nerds in the band, it's easy to imagine the big impact Sacred 1 has had on us. Because of their passion for Blind Guardian, some of the people at Ascaron in charge of Sacred 2 saw it as an opportunity to have us in the game musically. Coincidence or predestination? We'll never know. Fact is, when we were finally contacted by Ascaron, asking if we were interested in doing a song for the game, we immediately agreed to do so. So far the whole thing has been great fun for us. The reason for that is quite simple: Blind Guardian's music and the world of Ancaria perfectly blend together.

GS UK: What exactly can we expect from Blind Guardian in Sacred 2?

HK: At first we were only asked to do a song which would be used in the game. Later on, the Ascaron guys came up with the splendid idea of having us as resident [non-playable characters] in the world of Ancaria. We perform in the game as a kind of prize after a quest which our characters are involved in. We're here today to do motion capture for that performance, so it's a big challenge, and the first time we've ever done anything like this.

GS UK: You're all big fantasy fans and some of you are avid gamers; how do you feel about being in a game like this?

Andre Olbrich: We've always wanted to do music for a video game, but now that we have the chance to actually appear in a game, it's like a player's dream come true.

Marcus Siepen: I've been playing video games since I was like 10 or 11 years old, and obviously if you play a good game you identify with the character you're playing. But meeting myself in a game? I'm thrilled! I'm not so thrilled about doing the motion capture, putting on those suits is not nice!

GS UK: What can you tell us about the track you're doing for Sacred 2?

HK: It's called "Sacred"--the easy stuff always works best! It's about six minutes long and there are a lot of musical changes in there, but I'm sure the hook line, which contains the word "Sacred" of course, will make it very easy for the listener to get into the track, even through it's quite a complicated number.

GS UK: What sort of things influenced the creation of the song?

HK: There was a combination of things, including seeing the Sacred 2 concept art and playing the previous game. I started the music prior to playing the game, so initially the music was inspired by regular video game music, or at least what I understood as computer game music. I started playing the game, to be honest it was the first game I've really played, I'm not really a computer games pundit! Andre and Marcus are the band's gamers, but I did four or five levels to get an idea, and then focused on the music. There was a certain amount of inspiration from Sacred 2 itself, as I asked the programmers and writers to give me an idea of where the game's story was going, so we wove that into the song.

GS UK: We heard you got to choose what your characters will be wearing in the game. What was that like? Are you happy with the end result?

HK: You'd be surprised at how picky we were! The lead designer was laughing, as she could see that we appreciated the work and development going in, but we were really picky about small details. But we're really satisfied with the work in progress. My 3D model was being handled by the lead artist, so I knew I was in good hands--my belly has disappeared, it's a miracle!

MS: We were involved from day one. We got sketches of how our characters would look and could give feedback and make changes. In the beginning my character had warriorlike armour, which I didn't like. I thought they should remove all that metal and make it more natural. They did that and I like it. Today we saw the first 3D models, they look awesome and I can't wait to see them in motion. That'll be great!

AO: Yes, yes it looks awesome, they have some really great artists doing the graphics, and I'm impressed at how quickly they got such great results. The armour's not too heavy or too light for our characters, it's a little bit elfish and leather based, which we thought was fitting for bards like us.

GS UK: This isn't your first game-related project, is it? Didn't Uwe Boll's recent game movie, In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale, feature Blind Guardian music?

HK: It was slightly different with the Dungeon Siege movie--our record company came up with the idea because they'd been in contact with the German film company looking for bands like Blind Guardian to be involved in the movie. In the end it turned out they just needed some music for the credits. One of our songs they used was "Carry the Blessed Home," based on Stephen King's Dark Tower. We were willing to give them some of our stuff, but didn't have any creative input; it was music from our previous albums.

GS UK: Following these experiences, would you be interested in doing more game music?

HK: Yes, we'd like to. In the past we were always really looking to do things like movies and games, but as an independent band on a major label with EMI and Virgin, we never got the chance--they always gave anything like that to one of their major bands. But we terminated that contract in 2000 and luckily they let us go, which leaves us open to this kind of thing.

GS UK: Who are the hardcore gamers in the band and what are you currently playing?

MS: Andre and I are the addicted ones! For about three years it's all been about World of Warcraft, the global addiction! It's the leading game at the moment, and it's a brilliant game, so they deserve the place they hold.

GS UK: As professional musicians, what do you think of music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band? Would you be happy to see Blind Guardian's music in them?

HK: Sure, but to be honest I'd be more comfortable if we had the chance to create something particular for the game. I know that in most cases they use an existing song and put it in the game, but Andre does a lot of challenging stuff on guitar and it'd be important for us to make it interesting for the guys being guitar heroes.

AO: I think we would be a good fit in games like that. Those games are great, especially for kids, although just as many dads play too, I think it's a great thing bringing music into the video game genre. There isn't the same emphasis on music as entertainment this generation; it's switched towards video games and movies. Music feels like it's lagging behind sometimes, so I like that music, and rock music in particular, is coming through in this medium.

MS: I have Guitar Hero myself. I was kind of sceptical about it in the beginning, until my wife and I played Guitar Hero II at a friend's place, and found it was actually a lot of fun. We went out the next day and bought Guitar Hero III and played through, unlocking all the songs! As a party game Rock Band looks like fun; the only danger I can see with it is kids thinking, "OK, I'll buy this game for my PlayStation as a way to be a musician"--No you're not!

GS UK: Don't you think that these kinds of games could help inspire a passion in people, for playing real music?

MS: That might be the case of course. If they grab Guitar Hero, play a little plastic guitar and love doing that, they might get attracted to it and say, "I'd like to try the real thing"--which would be a good thing. As I said, the game is fun, it's entertaining and that's OK, it just shouldn't be confused with being a musician.

GS UK: Blind Guardian's music is driven by your guitar work, but are you any good at playing Guitar Hero?

AO: No! I tried it once and couldn't figure it out! It's strange; I think I just need more time to get used to it.

MS: The funny thing is that if you're actually able to play the guitar, the game's more difficult, because what the game expects you to play is not what the real guitars are playing. As a real guitarist you tend to try to play what you hear--it gets complicated! We wouldn't miss the chance of putting a song into something like Guitar Hero IV, it would be fun, but if I played our song in the game, I'd fail! I'd be trying to play the real song--either that or it would mess up our live performance on the next tour. I'd be screaming things like, "Where's the green button!" Perhaps I should speak to Gibson about getting us guitars with buttons!

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