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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