Champions of Anteria might focus on a group of five Champions who battle evil using special, elemental-attuned abilities, but there’s something magical happening behind the scenes with the game’s soundtrack, too. Everything from the combination of the three Champions in your party and their health status to the environment and whether or not you’re in combat – it all mixes in real-time to help create a distinct version of the soundtrack tailored to your in-game experience. We spoke with Stefan Randelshofer (audio director at Ubisoft Blue Byte) and Jeff Broadbent (Hollywood Music in Media Award-winning and Global Music Award-winning composer) to get some insight into the technical and artistic challenges in creating a soundtrack that has so many moving parts.
HOW DOES MUSIC COMPOSITION START FOR A GAME LIKE THIS? WHERE DO YOU BEGIN?
Jeff Broadbent: I started by discussing, with Stefan, the creative direction of the game, the story, the various Champions, and by viewing some concept art and in-game videos. Stefan had the great idea about having an interactive music system that would give a unique musical voice to each Champion. I thought this was a fantastic idea, as it would really allow the score to be individually tailored to the Champions in the player’s group. The first music track I composed was somewhat of a concept track where we could try out different ideas and make sure we had the right instrument choice selected for each champion.
Stefan Randelshofer: Before Jeff even had the chance to create the first note, I wrote down the technical and creative audio concept of the game. This vision contained info such as the preferred style of music, the way to trigger music assets and combine them in an interactive way, and also info about sound effects and voiceover. I created a technical prototype with a test track to have a proof of concept in the game. When I was sure that my technical concept worked out and could be filled with awesome music, I had several meetings with Jeff and we started to iterate on the creative style. When Jeff created the 35 bits and pieces of the first track, we tweaked the technique a bit, and from there on it was a very straightforward production cycle with composing and reviewing. It was almost like coasting from then on!
IN A GAME LIKE THIS THAT’S SO CHARACTER-DRIVEN, ARE THERE CERTAIN RECURRING THEMES THAT YOU MAKE SURE ARE REPRESENTED IN THE MUSIC?
SR: Every important character has his or her own theme that we used heavily when the player encounters the character. This is true in the cutscenes, shortly before you meet them in a boss fight, or as a separate part of the map track that triggers when you encounter the boss. When you listen closely in the cutscenes, you will also find some hints about the story. Even the main title itself represent the Champions as a group.
In addition to themes, we used another layer for representing characters: solo instruments and instrument groups. Each Champion is represented by a specific instrument type. So for example Vargus, our Knight, is always represented by brass instruments. Nusala, our Archer, is represented by woodwinds, and we have all sorts of choirs to represent Anslem, our Monk. When you see their introduction cutscene, you will hear each instrument group accompanying its Champion as a solo version of the main theme, but when you see them together, the instruments all play together in a bigger, stronger version to represent the Champions as a group. The important part is that we’re using this system not only for those three Champions and the cutscenes, but we also use it for every adventure track in the game – it adapts to the choice of your Champions per map.
CHAMPIONS OF ANTERIA’S SOUNDTRACK, IN PARTICULAR, IS RELATIVELY COMPLEX ON A TECHNICAL LEVEL SINCE IT TAKES THE THREE HEROES YOU’VE SELECTED INTO ACCOUNT. CAN YOU EXPLAIN THAT PROCESS AND WHAT WENT INTO MAKING THAT A REALITY?
SR: First, I created a concept for the project. This happens in coordination with other team leads, such as the creative director, art director, and lead coder. I then try to find useful parameters, conditions, and rules from the game and use them to create inputs for the interactive music system.
Every Champion has a very unique look and focuses on different elemental affinities such as nature, metal, fire, lightning, or water. So it was just a small step to assign every Champion a unique and recognizable instrument group such as brass, woodwinds, choirs, or high- or low-pitched percussive instruments. This idea formed the technical concept for the music system.
I needed a system to create a track with different solo instruments that can be played back depending on the players’ party setup. I used FMOD as an audio engine and created music events that are controlled by up to 16 parameters from the game and contain up to 35 stems [layers of instruments groups] and stingers [short motifs] for each adventure track. In addition to the combination of the instruments via the player’s Champion selection, we created an “in-combat” and an “out-of-combat” version of the track that can be faded in real-time depending on the combat state. The first one features a more aggressive version of the basic chord progression and solo instruments to spice up the combat. The second one is a very nice peaceful installment of the same chord progression, but features the mood and the enemies of the map.
The music also give you hints about the well-being of your Champions. The Champion with the lowest health points sends the percentage of health points left to the music system, and when those percentages decrease in real time, the music adapts to a more dissonant and damped version of the chord progression. This helps the player to interfere when needed even if there is no time to look at the health bar. The various stingers help you to recognize important events, like completed objectives or completion of battles. The nice thing here is that they sound very alike per track, but they are in sync with the measure and the beats per minute per track. Jeff created 19 beautifully composed interactive tracks for me, and every single one of them makes use of the mentioned system.
JB:I liked to start by composing the out-of-combat music, which is more ambient and peaceful, and focuses on the environment and mood. This helped me establish the overall tone and mood of that particular adventure track. After this “out-of-combat” music was finished, I would compose the “in-combat” music, using more aggressive instruments and rhythms for an action feel. Last, I would compose the low-health layer, which was dissonant and tension-filled. While composing I would carefully listen to the tracks, adding various elements to make sure each champion’s musical instruments were well represented.
DOES TAKING THAT APPROACH MAKE MUSIC-CREATION INHERENTLY MORE DIFFICULT?
SR: It does. The music the player will hear is different every time the game gets played, as the adaptive nature of the system will change the instruments, the mix and/or the point in time stingers get played based on the player’s decisions. It is very hard to predict how the outcome will sound and you need to realize that the player is the one who indirectly decides all of those factors by his or her playstyle and decisions. There is no final track, only beautiful musical content and a set of strict rules. Our music gets finalized in real-time by the player.
JB: It can make the composing process more difficult, but mainly it means that I have to very carefully plan out each music cue before I begin composing. Before I actually composed each adventure track, the pre-composition work would be to identify the various instruments and sounds I would use to represent that particular environment in the game, as well as the Champions’ instruments. Then I would plan out the structure of the music cue – what moments might have some thematic melodies, dramatic rises and falls. After that, I would do the actual composing. As I composed, I had to be careful that each champion’s instrument groups were sufficiently represented, and that the overall mix was well balanced.
WHAT ARE YOU HOPING FANS TAKE AWAY FROM THEIR EXPERIENCE PLAYING CHAMPIONS AND LISTENING TO ITS MUSIC?
SR: I hope they get comfortable with the recurring musical themes and the mood our music provides to the game, but also that they’re nicely surprised by new elements in tracks that are caused by behaving differently or choosing another Champion. There is a lot to discover and a lot fall in love with by listening to the music of our game.
JB: I hope they will appreciate the sense of wonder, exploration, and character identities in the game through the music. I loved composing the out-of-combat music in particular, which has a very peaceful and expansive vibe to it, and serves to represent the environments the player encounters. Just taking some time to pause in the game and listen to these tracks can be relaxing. The score has a lot of contrast in at as well with some very aggressive boss battle music. Players can also listen closely to the musical changes as different champions are added to their party and hear how the adaptive musical score changes based on the Champions and their location in the game.
Champions of Anteria will be available on PC August 30.