Never kill your darlings!

Talisman Digital Edition. Talisman: The Horus Heresy. Fighting Fantasy Legends. What do these games have in common? Well, yes, they’re from the same developer and I composed the music for all three. But there’s also a deeper connection between the different soundtracks — FFL is kind of a musical descendant of the first two — as well as an interesting story behind it all.

When I was wrapping up the Talisman DE soundtrack in 2013, the idea of having a purely orchestral track for the main menu came up. Something big and epic-sounding for setting the stage so to speak. So I started working on a tune then called The Crown of Command. Sadly I didn’t have time to finish it before the deadline, and as this was basically an afterthough and not a critical track for the project we decided to just let it go. In retrospect this was maybe just as well as The Crown of Command would have stuck out like a sore thumb among Talisman DE’s otherwise folky, hybrid-style tracks.

Maybe a year and a half down the line, when I was approached by Nomad Games to do The Horus Heresy music, I immediately thought of The Crown of Command. Wouldn’t that be an excellent starting point and potential main title music for the game? Carl Jackson [of Nomad Games] agreed with me that this definitely sounded more like WH40k than Talisman. TCoC was renamed Imperium Aeternus (though it bears no relation to its present THH namesake) and with it as a base I started working on the soundtrack. Kind of backwards when you think about it — overture first, then the other pieces — but having a bunch of finished themes to use really saved time.

Over a few weeks I composed four almost complete tracks. Then we hit a major snag. Carl, being very happy with how the music was turning out so far, hadn’t thought to double check with Games Workshop whether they approved of it. GW is known for being very (and understandably) protective of their WH40k IP, so they tend to keep a close eye on what developers working under a license are doing with the franchise. I think you can see where this is going.

When GW finally heard the music they rejected it immediately. Too cheerful, not dark and gloomy enough. Scrap it and do something different.

This came as a surprise of course, but I took it in stride. After all, getting your work rejected is par for the course in this business. Carl felt really bad about it though, since this had made me spend precious time working on music that couldn’t be used. But as it’s no point in crying over spilled milk, I set the rejected tracks aside for potential use in future projects, and went back to the drafting table. At this point I was working against the clock. I needed to come up with something new, quickly, and get to work. This was really hard as I was still very close to the old tracks.

As an example of what style of music GW wanted instead, I was pointed to the soundtrack of another WH40k game (which shall remain unnamed). This soundtrack was… shall we say, not to my taste. In fact I thought it was complete rubbish. Track after track of blaring, dissonant music accompanied by thunderous percussion. Even though I listened to it a number of times from beginning to end I could literally not tell one track from the next.

As you may understand I was faced with a dilemma. I could try and mimic the example soundtrack to the best of my abilities. I wouldn’t enjoy it, but I suppose it could be done. On the other hand, I don’t feel comfortable with releasing music that I can’t stand for. Yes, the customer always has the final say and needs to be happy with the commissioned music. But at the same time I need to look after my own brand name. I suppose I could have just done the job, taken the money and asked to have my name removed from the credits. But with a major league franchise like WH40k… naah, that isn’t something you want to do either.

So, I basically ended up taking some parts that I felt was key to the example soundtrack’s style and sound — over-the-top gothic doom and gloom, huge percussion, a limited amount of orchestral realism — and basically did my own more melodic take on it. And thankfully, GW loved it.

Now, what does all that have to do with Fighting Fantasy Legends, you ask?

Well… when Carl mentioned that Nomad Games was planning a game based on the Fighting Fantasy books and asked me if I was interested in doing the music (I had to think for maybe 100 milliseconds before saying “YES!”), we naturally came back to the rejected THH tracks again.

As the Nomads had more freedom this time around to choose whatever music they wanted for the project, the Talisman DE track once known as The Crown of Command, briefly called Imperium Aeternus in The Horus Heresy, reached its final incarnation at last as Titan (Overture). Walls of Stone, Merchant’s Trail and The Darkest Path were also originally composed for THH, though what names they went by during that time have been lost to the ages.

There was also a couple of shorter THH leftovers briefly worked on for FFL, namely Burnished Blades and A Time of Heroes (if you’ve kept an eye on my FFL Soundcloud playlist over the past months, you might even have heard them), but these were scrapped as other tracks were developing quicker and there wasn’t a need for a large amount of music for the game. But if the above is anything to go by, they might very well show up in future projects instead.

So, moral of the story? Never kill your darlings. If you need to, put them in cryogenic storage until the opportune moment arrives and then thaw them out. There is no reason to let good work go to waste and sometimes music made for a specific mood and setting can work surprisingly well for a completely different one.

All of this makes me wonder about the things we don’t know about all the iconic music out there that we so strongly associate with something. Maybe the Star Wars main theme was actually a scrapped idea for a never released WWII movie, or a Western? Maybe the Morrowind theme sounded completely different originally, but was rejected and the version we know and love was tossed together in 30 minutes just to get the damn soundtrack done? We may never know I guess, but it’s a fascinating thought.

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Fighting Fantasy Legends released!

Fighting Fantasy Legends is now out for PC, Mac, iOS and Android!

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The soundtrack is available for streaming on Soundcloud, completely free of charge.

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Ravnir’s Saga

It might interest you to know that I have started working on a sequel to Waters of Redemption (or technically a prequel, as this story takes place some 300 years prior to the events in WoR) called Ravnir’s Saga. As the title suggests, this one draws inspiration from Scandinavian history, mythology and traditional music just like WoR had a very strong Middle Eastern theme.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail here, suffice to say that the project is musically at a very early stage. The storyline is around 1/3 complete though, and if you want to know more about it you should give this thread a gander.

So far there are two “proper” tracks composed (or, well, sketched up and unfinished), namely these:

There is also a rough draft of a theme (made with the WoR netbook template, incidentally) that will be featured a lot on the album, though this tune in itself will not be on it. Yes, it’s clearly Asian-inspired which seems at odds with the Norse angle, but read the storyline (link above) and all will make sense.

So… there you go. I have no deadline set and no clear time frame; this will be done when it’s done. Keep an eye on the Scoring Central thread linked to above and my Facebook page if you want to get frequent updates on how work is progressing.

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Fighting Fantasy Legends

Well if the playlist in the previous post hasn’t clued you in already, this is the project I’ve been working on for some months now:

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Fighting Fantasy Legends from Nomad Games is based on the iconic gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, and will be out this summer on Steam, iOS and Android. The final version of the soundtrack will be released once the game is out, and will be a free download!

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New game soundtrack project

Long time, no post. No, I haven’t fallen off the face of the earth. In fact I am working on a new game soundtrack project, and you can find a bunch of early WIP tracks from it here:

The game is yet to be announced though. I’ll be back with more info later this year, but keep an eye on my Soundcloud page as new tracks will be posted there.

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Waters of Redemption released!

Waters of Redemption is now out! I recommend getting it from Bandcamp.com (as that version includes a pdf booklet with map, storyline and credits), but you can also find the album on Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, Amazon and many other places. As I really think you should check out the storyline — the music will make a lot more sense that way — the pdf is also available for download from here.

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Waters of Redemption is a musical fantasy suite inspired by the RPG soundtracks of yesteryear. It is a tragic, bittersweet tale of love, loss and perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. And, most of all, the bond between a brother and sister that transcends death itself.

The album was composed entirely on an Acer netbook, using decades-old instrument samples and a small-scale keyboard controller; partly as an excercise in working within hard technical constraints, and partly as a reaction against the current trend of terabyte-sized sample libraries and ultra-realism in virtual orchestral music.

Enjoy! And don’t hesitate to let me know your feelings about this project.

Update: Waters of Redemption is now available from Spotify, iTunes and Google Play. I’ll let you know as soon as more platforms become available!

Update 2: It’s now out on Amazon as well!

 

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Waters of Redemption available for pre-order

Still 12 days to go, but Waters of Redemption is now available for pre-order on Bandcamp.com! Get the first half of the album (9 tracks) now and get an email notification once the album is released on December 16.

Please note that this is a digital album only. I’m keeping the doors open for a limited edition CD release, but whether that will happen or not will depend on sales and overall interest.

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Waters of Redemption coming December 16

Waters of Redemption, a retro gaming-tinged orchestral concept album, will be available for purchase on all major platforms (Spotify, iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, etc) on December 16!

wor3-dec16

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What a time to be alive

In case you happen to think that SSO is the only free and open orchestral sample library on the market, think again. This year has seen the release of no less than three (!) free orchestral libraries, which must be some kind of a record.

VSCO 2 Community Edition is a cut down CC-licensed version of Versilian Studios’ professional VSCO 2 lib. But don’t let that “cut down” thing fool you: it has everything you might need for a basic orchestral setup and sounds absolutely marvellous.

No Budget Orchestra by Jeff Glatt is akin to SSO insofar that it was created from open sources. It may not have the same detail as the other libs mentioned here, but it’s a very lean and for its size surprisingly convincing-sounding library.

Virtual Playing Orchestra created by Paul Battersby is kind of like the handsome bastard child of all of the above; it features bits from both SSO, VSCO 2 CE and NBO and brings these together in a very comprehensive, easy to use SFZ library.

Seeing this gives me a warm feeling. I created SSO out of pure frustration with the state of the free/open scene around 2009-2010 or so, with good virtual orchestration libraries being exclusive to people who were willing and able to part with large amounts of money. It took a few years, but now we see the democratization process beginning to happen for real. Hopefully these releases will lead to a free library arms race!

Awesome work all you guys!

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Comments and replies

First of all, I’d like to apologize for not responding promptly (or ever) to comments here on this site. But the thing is, 98% of the comments I get here are of the drive-by variety, i.e. someone just says thanks for this or asks a quick question, and when I respond I very rarely get any acknowledgement that the original poster even saw what I wrote. Which is perfectly fine — I do that myself from time to time and no one can realistically keep track of every site visited and comment posted, just for the sake of keeping the discussion going or being polite or whatever.

So, I’ve grown kind of lax when it comes to replying to comments here. I try, but often they fly under my radar (as gmail sometimes sends the notification emails to my spam folder, for some reason) and when I log in on the site and discover them weeks later, it usually feels like a waste of time replying.

Anyway. I’m not saying don’t comment. Please do. It’s encouraging to see that my site actually gets a fair number of visitors. But, if you have something that you really want me to respond to it’s probably a safer bet dropping me an email through the contact form (these DO get through) or posting on the forum. Facebook is a third option, though I don’t hang out there as much as I used to.

Just letting you know so you don’t think I’m a stuck-up bastard for not replying.

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