Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords Designer Diary #5 - Music

Composer Mark Griskey discusses how he wrote the music for this highly awaited sequel.


With the PC version of Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords shipping to stores today, we're pleased to present the final chapter in our designer diaries covering the development of this highly anticipated role-playing sequel. In The Sith Lords, you'll once again have the chance to play as a Jedi knight in an era thousands of years prior to the events of the famous movies. You'll play as the last of the Jedi battling the evil Sith, but it's up to you whether you follow the light or dark side of the Force. As a Star Wars game, the Sith Lords will feature some familiar musical themes that have been a part of popular culture for more than two decades now. However, the game also has original music of its own. And putting that music together was quite a challenge, as the game's composer describes below.

Music of The Sith Lords

By Mark Griskey, LucasArts Composer

The schedule for Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords was pretty tight for everyone, and music was no exception. For this diary, I decided to concentrate on some of the logistical challenges in bringing the score together within the time frame of the project, as well as discuss the contributions of some of the key members of the music team and what everyone did to make the music happen.

We decided that the sound of a symphony orchestra was the right approach to complement the game, so my first step was to assemble a team to make it all happen. Simon James did the contracting for the session. Simon's job was to hire all of the musicians and support staff for the session, as well as securing the recording equipment and renting the recording space. Simon also acted as concertmaster on the session, making sure that everything ran smoothly and efficiently.

I was thrilled when recording engineer John Kurlander signed on for the project. John is a veteran film music engineer whose credits include the Grammy Award-winning Lord of the Rings soundtracks. I knew that John would be able to capture the big, powerful sound that I wanted for the score. Jeff Marsh orchestrated the score and conducted the orchestra. Jeff's job was to take my completed compositions and create master scores that contained all of the appropriate articulations, dynamics, and other information that let the player know how to interpret the music. Robert Puff handled the part preparation. Robert and his crew were tasked with preparing, printing, and proofing all of the sheet music for the session, as well as organizing all of the music into books for each of the musicians. This was no trivial task, considering that the session required over 4,000 pages of music.

The next step was to work out a pipeline that would allow us to work as efficiently as possible. Jeff created an orchestral template for Logic Audio that allowed us to exchange small session files via ftp (file transfer protocol). These files contained all of the music, as well as text instructions embedded in the files. The files would play back identically on both of our systems so that we would be hearing the same thing on our respective rigs. Having the text instructions contained in the files cut down on the amount of e-mail overhead. Jeff did all of his orchestration in Logic, which helped to streamline the process further. Once I signed off on a final orchestration, Jeff delivered a PDF (Portable Document Format) and a standard MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) file to Robert, who then used these files to create the individual parts in Finale. I also established a pipeline with Sith Lords developer Obsidian Entertainment that allowed me to deliver the orchestral mock-ups from Logic so that they could be wired into the game. This allowed the team to both hear how the music was working and test the music tech before the final mixes were ready.

Once all of this was in place, I was able to concentrate on composing the score. My Xbox dev kit, concept art, and design docs from Obsidian helped guide me in determining the appropriate direction for the music. I spent most of June and July composing the score, and by mid-August, we were ready to record. Simon James assembled an excellent group for the recording dates. We recorded four sessions in two days. The score was recorded at the Bastyr University Chapel outside of Seattle. Bastyr is known for its acoustic properties, and John Kurlander took full advantage of the acoustics with some very methodical microphone placement. After the score was recorded, I spent a week editing the material and assembling the best takes. I also overlaid choir, percussion, and orchestral effect samples to augment some of the cues. We mixed at Skywalker Sound. Mix engineer Dann Michael Thompson and assistant engineer Judy Kirschner provided their exceptional talents, and final mixes were completed after three long but extremely satisfying days.

After the mix, I still had the task of balancing the levels and doing some final cleanup and loop tweaking before delivering the final assets. During this time, Bay Area Sound took on the task of editing the music to picture for the cutscenes. Jared Emerson-Johnson did most of the music editing, and Sith Lords audio lead Julian Kwasneski took care of the final cutscene mixes. Once the final assets were delivered, we had about a month of bug fixing and mix tweaking before submitting the finished product to Microsoft.

When all was said and done, we had over an hour of new, fully orchestrated music for The Sith Lords! It was a pleasure to be a part of the amazing Knights of the Old Republic series and to work with so many exceptionally talented people.

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