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Bear McCreary – Dark Void Composer – Interview

Bear McCreary – Dark Void Composer – Interview

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Later this week Capcom release one of the first big multi-platform games of 2010. Dark Void promises a unique blend of aerial and on-foot combat and is sure to impress graphically as it is based on the Unreal 3 engine.

Where Dark Void separates itself from many other games is the importance Capcom and Airtight have placed in the games score. Rather than opt for a generic soundtrack they approached one of TV and Films great musical talents to score the game.

Bear McCreary is probably best known for his critically acclaimed work as the composer on Battlestar Galactica but also has shows such as Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Eureka in his catalogue.

In the run up to the premieres of his latest work on Fox’s Hard Target (January 17) and SyFy’s Caprica (January 22) Bear McCreary has taken some time out of his busy schedule to discuss the process of scoring Dark Void.

GH: Are you a gamer? If so, what consoles do you own, or have you a particular favorites from your youth?
Bear: I guess I am.  I’ve played games my entire life.  My favorites growing up were the 8-bit NES and then the 16-bit Sega Genesis.  Mega II, III and IV were big staples of my childhood, as were the first three Sonic the Hedgehog games.  Many of those old console games had incredible music too.
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GH: Have you played Dark Void, if so what were your thoughts?
Bear: I just fired up the demo last night, but I’d played it in work-in-progress stages a few times prior.  I think its going to be a lot of fun.  The control is responsive, the graphics are good and help create a vibrant, exotic world to fly around in.  Oh, and the music is pretty damn good too!
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GH: How did the opportunity to score Dark Void come about?
Bear: The Capcom guys approached me because of my work scoring "Battlestar Galactica" primarily.  They were also aware of my score for "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles."  I think that was a big part of their decision to bring me to the project.
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GH: The process for scoring for TV shows and movies must be becoming second nature to you now, how did scoring for a video game differ? For example, were you involved at an earlier or later time in development and how much creative freedom did you have?
Bear: When I watch a rough cut of a film or TV episode that I’m about to score, I can imagine what the final product will look and sound like. I visualize the finished effects, refined edits and completed sound design and compose music that will fill all the empty gaps and hit all the right emotional beats.  I realized quickly that scoring games is a different experience. I had no completed levels to play, or even remotely finished cinematics to watch. All I had to inspire me were several hundred production sketches that depicted the characters, environments, weapons and technology of the world, and a detailed script. I decided to stop worrying about hitting specific moments or moods and set out to simply write music to rival the grandeur and mystery of those images. As for creative freedom, Capcom and Airtight were incredibly supportive of all my ideas, and I would say that I had complete and unprecedented creative freedom, although we collaborated very closely.
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GH: When creating the soundtrack for Dark Void did you start from scratch or was there previous work in place which you developed from?
Bear: I started completely from scratch.  Unlike "Battlestar" or "Terminator" I’m not adapting an older mythology, but being given the chance to help create a new one from scratch.  So, it was a new experience for me, to build up a sonic foundation from the ground up.
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GH: Was there any new technology you used in the creation of this score that you had previously not used?
Bear: Not really.  But, we pushed the limits of all the technology we use.  The number of audio tracks recorded became pretty outrageous.  With full orchestra, multiple percussion overdubs and ethnic soloists combined with 200+ tracks of synthesizers, we ran the risk of overwhelming the developers!  And I worked closely with Airtight to create a dynamic, evolving music system that was more complex and rewarding to the player than the simple looping music concept that many games are built with.
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GH: Although your work on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles and Galactica was quite different there were still aspects where those who watched both shows would be able to pick out a familiar style in some of the soundtracks. Your signature sound. Do you feel that the same can be said of the Dark Void soundtrack or has the different medium resulted in a new Bear sound?
Bear: It’s hard to say.  I think that anyone who is a fan of either of those two shows will undoubtedly recognize my style in "Dark Void."  However, this music is also more romantic, lyrical and sweeping than those series tended to be.  I’d say that only the "Galactica" finale or my scores to "Human Target" and "Caprica" come close to rivaling the grandeur in "Dark Void."
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GH: What was the biggest challenge you faced during the creation of the score?
Bear: Once I got my head around the idea of writing music for gameplay (as opposed to scoring for picture) the inspiration came very quickly.  Themes and instrumental colors flooded my imagination and I wrote the entire 100 minute score in about 3 weeks.  The biggest challenge was being involved with the multiple recording sessions required to finish the score.  Lost a lot of sleep those weeks.
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GH: Was there anything you wanted to achieve in this work that could not be realised and if so, what and why not? Do you think it’s something you will revisit on a future project?
Bear: My only disappointment is that the project had to end.  I think that the "Dark Void" Theme is one of the most gorgeous melodies I’ve ever written and I certainly hope that an opportunity arises in the future to return to this musical world and play with the theme again.
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GH: Dark Void Zero is an upcoming game for Nintendo DSi (DSiWare) which you were also involved with. From the previews we know that the game has a real retro feel with 8-bit graphics and sound. When approached with the concept by Capcom what were your initial thoughts on how the process would work and did they turn out to be correct? Do you think this is something you would be open to doing again in the future, given the right project?
Bear: A few months ago, Dark Void producers Morgan Gray and Shana Bryant told me of Capcom’s plans to release an 8-bit game, inspired partly by the fan reaction to my 8-bit DV theme song I produced last spring.  I leapt at the opportunity to produce an entire 8-bit score and insisted that they let me write the music for Dark Void Zero. They didn’t turn me down.  However, we went back and forth as to how to actually create the score.  Originally, they wanted to do a MIDI based system, but I didn’t want to do that, I wanted to work purely with audio.  Eventually, they were able to figure out how to do the score they way I hoped for and the score sounds great as a result.  And yes, I would love to do more 8-bit music.  It’s so much fun, getting to go back to those cherished childhood memories.  And musically, they are just great sounds!
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GH: Most people will find that every time they attempt to broaden their skillset that they will learn something new. What was the most important thing you learned when working on Dark Void?
Bear: The best results happen when you’re not worrying if your ideas are good or not.  Just trust your instincts and let your imagination take over.  Writing "Dark Void" was an incredibly liberating experience for me, and it really did change the way I approach my music.
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Thanks to Bear McCreary and Kevin Porter for their time when creating this interview.

For interview footage of Bear McCreary and gameplay video from Dark Void see below.

About Author

Stuart Davidson

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