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.
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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.