Gaming Interviews

Published on November 21st, 2017 | by gareth

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We Talk The Music Of EA Star Wars Battlefront 2 With Composer Gordy Haab

Recently I got the chance to speak with Composer Gordy Haab who has composed the music on the last two EA Star Wars Battlefront games. We discuss the music for the new game as well as creating ‘Iden’s Theme’ for the new lead character in the game.

How did you get into composing and what are some of the past games and projects you have done?

I’ve always known I wanted to be a composer. In fact, I wrote my first piece of music for an orchestra when I was just 12 years old. And in retrospect, it sounded a lot like Star Wars, now that I think of it! I attended Virginia Commonwealth University, where I received a bachelor’s in Music Composition. I went on to attended the University of Southern California, and received a master’s in Scoring For Motion Pictures, Television and Other Media.

Some of my previous game projects include ‘Star Wars: Battlefront I’, Activision/AMC’s ‘The Walking Dead’, Microsoft’s ‘Kinect: Star Wars’ and Bioware’s ‘Star Wars: The Old Republic’. Earlier this year Microsoft/343 released ‘Halo Wars 2’, which I composed alongside Finishing Move Inc. The soundtrack for that is available globally – both digitally and physically. This fall we released a double-vinyl soundtrack.

How does scoring a game compare and differ with other forms of composing and which do you prefer?

In film and TV, the music is composed to a fixed timeline. The timing of a scene – once the picture is locked – never changes. But with games, it’s constantly changing. So I need to factor in all the possibilities that could present themselves. For example, even a single piece of music may need multiple variations and be able to repeat itself seamlessly. Pre-determined transitions need to be able to trigger at any moment and smoothly jump into alternate versions of the music. Say you’re in a battle and suddenly you start losing. I’ll have also written an alternate “losing” version of the music. A bit like a musical version of a “choose your own adventure” book.

I love composing for all different mediums. Each has its own set of challenges and perks. It’s fun for me to switch it up, so I’m not sure I could chose a favorite. But video games have been a huge part of my composing in the past five or so years – and I really love it!

What lead you to composing for video games?

Years ago I had written the music for a short Star Wars fan film called “Ryan VS. Dorkman 2”. It sort of went viral on Youtube before that was really a thing. And some folks at LucasArts saw it and really liked the music. I was already pitching myself to score games there, and it just so happened they had an Indiana Jones video game that needed a composer. So the stars aligned, I suppose. And I got my first video game, “Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings”. The rest is history, I guess!

Where do you find your inspiration when composing?

Inspiration comes from many places, and somewhat randomly. While working on games, I’ll often have still images of what the game “looks” like. Sometimes I have a script, so I can draw inspiration from the story line. Even just a picture of a main character’s face can sometimes be enough to inspire a new theme from which I can build a lot of music.

What can you tell us about composing for ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ in terms of the challenges you faced and the approach you took?

The sheer volume of music required was a huge challenge. There is over 2 hours of original music in ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’. The size of the orchestra can be challenging, as well, from a composing and orchestrating standpoint. We used the full London Symphony Orchestra and choir. About 185 musicians. That is quite large! To handle a task of that size, I like to start simply. So I’ll sketch on just eight lines of music staff paper. Just enough to get my basic ideas out of my head. Then I can scale up to the large orchestra and choir.

How did you prepare for scoring for the new character and how long was the scoring process?

Like I was saying earlier, I’ll often times just have still images of characters. And a story line. But this can be enough to inspire ideas. Iden Versio is the main character in ‘Battlefront II’, and I spent quite a bit of time composing her main theme. I composed more than 20 versions of her theme before settling on one. And then I began the task of expanding on the theme and orchestrating it. In all, I’d say I spent about five months on and off before completing the score for ‘Battlefront II’. This was happening at the same time as composing the score for ‘Halo Wars 2’, so it was pretty fast-paced writing.

How much leeway did you have with the creation of the score or did the games producers give you the framework that you had to work in or was it more of a collaboration?

There are a few folks in particular at DICE, Motive, Criterion and EA worth naming before I answer. Ben Minto, Olivier Asselin, Nathanial Daw, and Steve Schnur. These folks are the audio and music leads at the four companies behind this game. When dealing with a project of this stature, it’s more common to expect very little leeway at all. These guys, however, put their complete trust in me to do what I do best. They provided the obvious framework I had to work within, but then allowed me to write what I thought would work. We’d bounce ideas off of each other, and collaborate on the overall vision, but I ultimately felt complete creative freedom. They also made sure to provide every tool I could possibly imagine to bring my vision to life. And I had some crazy ideas! Example, I wanted a percussion section to play a set of Taiko drums the size of a house. They made it happen. I wanted to hear how it would sound for three contrabass clarinets to play together; it was done. And my favorite – I wanted to add a Mahler Hammer to the orchestra – which essentially sounds like a live cannon exploding. They searched all of London and its now in the score. It was the most exiting and liberating project a composer could possibly imagine.

How many hours of music did you compose for the game and how much made it into the final build?

What have been your greatest triumphs for the game?

In all, I composed a little over 160 minutes of music and every note is in the build. The greatest triumph for me was composing and recording “Iden’s Theme”. She is now officially part of the Star Wars canon, so it was a huge honor to add my stamp on canon as well with her theme as well was many other character themes!

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