Soundtrack to Allods Online creation - an interview with Vladislav Isaev about his collaborate work with Mark Morgan
Allods… for every Russian advanced gamer this word means a lot. The meaning of this title refers to giant islands floating in the Astral and maintained by strong magicians. These are the islands where a typical farmer’s life passes by, where ghouls massacre the whole villages and where imperial troops are no less successful in the fight against their enemies. On these islands one can find reasonable dragons and subhuman squirrels. Well, it’s a great isolated training ground for a newbie magician or soldier.
Published in far 98 the game appeared to be a riot. You bet! It was a kinda of a Russian respond to Diablo with its own item generator, unusual storyline and progressive magic system. Were there any games at the same level in Russia at that time? Let me say no. So Nival became a happy Russian gamedevs’ hope opposing to the West. .
Sequel released nearly half a year later to retail outlets not only consolidated a success but also served as certain corrections of mistakes. Allods 2: The Master of Souls wasn’t a full-fledged continuation. Well, still it was something more considerable than add-on. Do you remember the story of Fallout 1-2? Yeah, it’s absolutely the same delightful situation.
Within the next 2 years the development of the sequel was going on. Among well-known features we can name full 3d environment, the protagonist changing the appearance depending on the style of play, innovative magic system, enhanced enemy AI, and what else to say… these are the same old Allods. For certain reasons they had to change the title of the game (meet Evil Islands!) and also to convince poor gamers to replace their PCs with more powerful ones but believe me it was worth it. A monthly run sold out within a week is quite a good proof.
In fact if not to consider an abortive add-on to Evil Islands released in 2006 nothing else to talk about was produced. Mysterious Allods Online were being widely rumored but all the information turned out to be just hearsay. And only at KRI Conference 2007 Sergey Orlovskij, a guru and creator of Nival, by chance let the cat out of the bag and told that the development of MMORPG after Allods was in full swing then.
You can choose from 6 different playable races among which there’re typical russians with khrushevka-style architecture and a representative national flavour. Despite the very similar to World of Warcraft cartoon graphics “Allods” promises to tickle nerves of a hard-boiled online role-player with interesting PvP i.e. colossal open sea battles in the Astral. One should have no doubts about the seriousness of Nival’s intentions of capturing an audience as this company has always had a responsible approach to task accomplishment. After all whom did Ubisoft charge with the development of the 5th Heroes game?
In our opinion there’s one more reason why this game deserves to be installed onto your hard drive. The thing is that there’re two composers working on the soundtrack and their names are Vladislav Isaev and Mark Morgan. Yeah, it is Mark who composed the sacred soundtrack to Fallout. Senior editor of Game-OST visited Nival’s office and had a talk with Vladislav Isaev about the aspects of such great soundtrack creation and close cooperation with Mark Morgan. You can read about how the soundtrack was being created and listen to a promo mix of several tracks from the game below.
I was born in Moscow and began writing music in 1995, when I was a 9th form student. At present I've been working for Nival company as a composer and sound sculpturer for more than a year.
I started composing music using Fast Tracker under dos on 386 computer with not having my own PC. I used to come to my friend's place. At that time I had an ordinary Creative mic which came with Sound Blaster 16. It was then a crazily expensive and cool sound card. So I recorded phone talks, different sounds and ambients, after that I prepared samples, and mixed and mastered them in Fast Tracker. After that I recorded all this on audio cassettes and gave this music to my friends and classmates so they were the first listeners.
Like lots of people who were practising music at that time I helped to add soundtrack for school parties, graduation ceremonies and so on. I received emotions from other people, studied their tastes and built up mine. In 1997 my records appeared on radio «Station» frequency 106.8 (it doesn't exist now) where several my tracks were broadcast in some shows.
It happened so that I met Yuriy Romanychev, composer and pianist. At that time he wrote TV jingles for Russian channel NTV and was one of the pianists in an old TV show “Dva Royalya” / “Two Pianos” on channel RTR. One day Yuriy invited me to his place where his studio was. I already had my own PC, experimented with vocal and made MIDI backing tracks. As soon as I found myself in Yuriy’s studio I asked him to master my tracks and record them on CD. This format then was pretty new and all records mainly were being sold on audio cassettes. Therefore my first CD was recorded in such circumstances. Yuriy showed me Logic Audio and told some tips and tricks of music equipment, revealed several secrets.
My uncle is a professional trumpet player. In 1990s he was the first trumpeter in FSB (Federal Security Service of Russia) orchestra. One day he was invited to play in so-called «Vysotckiy club» situated at Taganka street and he called me to go with him. There I set up my first experiments with live music. My tracks were being played and my uncle were accompanying on a trumpet. It was damn cool. .
Then there appeared a range of different releases, performances in Russia and abroad, lots of contacts with different composers and musicians. And after that I made connection with Ultimae Records, french record label specializing in ambient music, which even now is at the top of this music style production. They suggested publishing one of my tracks as part of a very popular selection Fahrenheit Project 6. In 2004-05 I got acquainted with Mark Morgan, though I tried to establish connection with him from 1997. It was quite a long way for me. At that time I contacted with Bob Rice and Four Bars Intertainment, so he was a person who introduced me to Mark.
I've always made very complicated plans for myself and tried to make them come true. It helps me a lot in my life.
As far as my home studio is concerned it contains MacBook Pro / Pentium 4, Logic Audio, Nuendo, Renoise, Nord Modular G2X, Korg Z-1, Sennheiser HD 650, Universal Audio UAD-1, RME Hammerfall Multiface II, RME HDSPe interface, Tascam DA-P1 portable recorder and a couple of mics.
As for the studio at Nival Network, there I have Mac Pro, Logic Audio, Nuendo 4, Renoise, Final Cut Studio 2, CME Midi Keyboard, RME Fireface 400, Sennheiser HD 650, Edirol R-44 portable recorder, Sennheiser MKH 60 P48 mic and all the things for it, PowerCore X8 with a set of plugins.
Which bands and performers has influenced you most?
I do really like and am constantly listening to Eduard Artemiev, Klaus Schulze, Vangelis, Mark Morgan, The Future Sound Of London, Amorphous Androgynous.
Can you recall your first memory connected with music?
It was in a pioneer camp. It happened so that I was allocated to a musical squad where most of children were older than me. And when all the musicians went away I skulked in the studio and sat at the drum kit and started improvising. Once I was caught off first base and a squad leader appeared to like what I was doing. So guys started teaching me how to play drums, telling me about technique and methods of playing. Few days later I rataplanned using pioneer drum when the pioneers showed the flag. Then I was invited as a drummer to the orchestra and we were playing jazz. I was just jamming and giving a rtyhm to the whole orchestra. One day when parents visit their children in the camp we were giving a concert. It was wonderful as I was on a drummer throne. After that I was presented with a real pioneer drum and I still keep it as a remembrance.
How did you manage to get into the project?
In the beginning of 2008 I was working on several projects in Nival, i.e. making sound design and different music sketches. Closer to the middle of the year one ought to wrote music for Allods Online. So I had a talk with producers and they suggested me working on music for Allods Online. And in my turn I gave a consent and proposed Mark Morgan as an additional composer. I wrote him a letter and he agreed to work with me on this project with pleasure. So that's how all this started.
For how long has the work on music and sound been lasting? We suppose that work on game sounding will be finished just before the release so we can't help asking when the start of the project will be.
In fact the work has been lasting for nearly a half of the year. The world of Allods Online is highly diverse. Contrary to the other similar games in Allods Online we wanted to make a sort of contrast between location, races and so on. That's why the musical part of this project combines any and all possible styles, ways and trends. We were using different variants and approaches, were looking for all manner of ways. At the moment the work is still going on. The release is to be in March so we still have some time. The closed beta-test has already begun and i hope, guys, that you'll receive a key so as to plunge in the atmosphere of this universe. :)
«We’re doing our best so as to step aside from classical symphonic music to a mixture of symphony and stylish electronic sound with a touch of ethnics and live instruments. Though the project is so considerable that we managed to use dozens of different styles including symphonic ones. Even Soviet style music is presented.»
When and in what circumstances did you established contacts with Mark?
As I've already said my acquintance with Mark started with the help of Bob Rice. I was making several compositions for Four Bars and in such a way we became friends with Mark. We discussed music, talked about life, shared news to each other, spoke about impressions received from various tracks. Then working for Nival already I decided to invite Mark for collaborational work.
Perhaps, you could tell us some interesting facts about the music part of the project. For example, how many sounds and dialogues were recorded for the game, who participated in sounding, did you bump into any difficulties and limits? Does the sounding system in online project differ in a technical way from the music work for usual games?
Interesting facts occur everywhere. Sometimes I had to invent some tricks in process and to look how it sounded.
The record of the track for Igromir was interesting and unique in its own way as well as sounding of the teaser. I recorded ordinary people and various sounds and then modified them and mixed.
Vocal samples for Igromir were produced with the help of two our guys – our system administrator and the director of the teaser. At first we wanted to record offscreen voice and the text was being read by our director for the sketches but finally we rerecorded it with the help of the actor and from those sketches I chose a phrase «Astral Breathing» which can be heard in the track and sample «Allods Online» by our system administrator. In the upshot everybody appreciated it and I reserved this track.
As for the music design for online games it seems to me that the main thing is to create such a sound picture that could plunge you more into a game and deliver all the necessary emotions. For instance, Mark did it perfectly in Fallout-games.
As far as bounds are concerned there's only one limit – your imagination.
Music in «Allods Online» will combine lots of different elements and styles. Dark ambient and ethnics, symphonic and rock music, various noise – all this will be fused. In every track we tried to catch «russian» spirits, newness of sound and quality.
At this moment we continue working on the project. We have already composed about 20 tracks and several more ones await finalization. Till the release we are planing to write over 40 tracks.
A lot of tracks Mark and I have made together. Before the start of the work we discussed the concept with the lead designer, shared our ideas to each other. Then Mark called me and we started arguing about the whole concept of the track, its elements, instruments, ways and thoughts. After that we exchanged our base materials as we both are working in Logis Studio. Using internet technologies we could easily upload original materials and samples (size of which can vary from 900 Mb to 2 Gb). And then I went on working on the overall track mastering.
Mark had several cool ideas in process of our work which we tried to implement in our tracks. I wrote more music themes for locations while Mark concentrated more on the title tracks but anyway every composition contains pieces of nature of both of us.
Was some concept-art available for the date of start of the work? Perhaps, you had some operational game demo, didn't you?
When the work started we had some gameable version which I launched on a laptop with Windows and played. For Mark we made some video demos, descriptions and screenshots with concept-art.
How was the work on collaborative tracks organized? Could you tell us about your creative process, what do you do when you start writing the track from scratch?
As I've told you before almost all the tracks are one way or another written together. Collective work on compositions started with discussions of our ideas and when Mark and I came to one common opinion we started working with music.
For instance, for desert location we used different elements of eastern instruments, I tried to imitate sounding overtones fused with various sounds of wind, sand and so on. All this sounded transparent in the mix but created its own atmosphere. I received all sorts of sounds using my recorder, then worked with each of them and mixed with overall sounding. Mark in his turn recorded several tracks (music stems) and then sent them to me. We dealt with each other via voice communication a lot and discussed the track, listened to various parties together. After we had a sample demo-track I came with it to the lead designer and we listened to it and again discussed the track framework. Sometimes we had to rewrite the track in full because it didn't suit the game from the design viewpoint but it ocurred rather rarely.
How can you describe the style of the music? What were the publisher's and developer's views on the preliminary stage? Did you manage to incorporate all the desires?
The music in «Allods Online» is very diverse as well as the world of the game itself. Game designers of course gave us some reference tracks which style they concerned to be appropriate to one or another location. Sometimes Mark and I suggested our own ideas. For example, in hadagan location designers wanted to deliver the atmospher of the soviet past. The ideas came to our heads while composing the tracks, i.e. in one of the compositions I used the well-known melody from «Mayak» radio. I chose the necessary sounding, wrote it and then inserted in the track. Such little elements recall for the soviet past which hadagan capital is full of.
«The music will be changing depending on one location or another and also it will react on a day-night rhythm. In a capital of Hadagan, for example, a special “sewerage” track is playing in canalization, viz, a background electronic ambient with no rhythm reminding somehow Fallout. There’ll be action tracks and character themes as well. Elves, for instance, are having a very special music theme, that is sexy composition with female vocal. And now for this reason I’m looking for a girl with a French accent.»
What sources of inspiration helped you in work? To what music were you listening while working on the game, music of what composers served as a reference point?
Among sources of inspiration I can name sketches from devs, location screenshots, the game itself, some soviet movies and fairy-tales, music by Eduard Artemiev and Vangelis. Mark is constantly listening to electronic music.
During the work at home I was listening to Future Sound Of London as well. I think these guys are unique. They have millions of ideas in the tracks. Ordinary people whom one can meet in the street, some events happening in your life and of course women get me inspired too.
Did you look about World of Warcraft as far as sound and music are concerned? What are the «Allods Online» chances to recover worldwide affection?
At times I play in World Of Warcraft, it's an awesome game. We can't say we were guided by WOW. It's more likely to have been an additional source of inspiration for us. As for the mass' love I'm sure that «Allods Online» will came out on top, cause the game is unique in point of fact.
Will the compositions written by Mark be similar to those that he had done for games before or will they be crucially distinct and new?
As for the basic approach to the music composition they will be alike. In style it'll be a completely brand new sounding.
Mark's studio has suffered great changes since he worked on Fallour-series. In some tracks people will recognize Mark's ways of composing, in others he'll be quite unknown Mark. I wouldn't associate Mark exclusively with his old works. He's such a man who is constantly going ahead, has no fear of experimenting, and is forging ahead. That's great.
Mark is known mostly for his soundtracks to Fallout and Torment, that's why no matter what the soundtrack in «Allods Online» will be, the gamers will anyway compare it with Fallout and Tornment. What would you like to say to Mark's fans so that they, so to say, wouldn't worry and would be ready for experiments?
The worlds of these games and the universe of «Allods Online» are completely different. I consider that music in Fallout and Tornment did its best and worked perfectly because it managed magically to catch the spirit of the game. Lots of listeners must have been projected themselves in the game world, when listening to the Morgan's tracks outside the game. This is what I call harmony and a beautiful mix of music and gameplay. Our aim was not to repeat the music from these games but to make the sound and create the atmosphere much better.
If it is not a work top secret then could you tell us about music from a professional point of view: which sample libraries and VST plugins did you use in your work? What software and hardware were employed?
The main hardware and software is your own brain and imagination. We were using different VST instruments, synths, I recorded plenty of sounds via mic. Of course we used libraries of symphonic instruments with postprocessing.
Will the musical system in the game be interactive and dynamical? What could you tell us about it? Will the music be tied up to locations? Have you been engaged in direct implementation of music in the game?
The music will be connected with locations. It will even stronger plunge the player in the process. Given that all the races and locations are stylistically dissimilar, the interactive system will be made in such a way. As for the implementation of music in the game I can say that other people dealt with that.
«In March when we’ll have Allods finished we’ll continue collaborating on a solo album. Mark and I are even planning to provide ourselves with one and the same technical basis so as to work more productively. »
Are you satisfied woith your work?
I'm very happy of the fact that in such a large-scale project as «Allods Online» such a great composer will be involved and I'm very glad that we managed to realize it here, in Russia. In fact the game «Allods Online» is tremendous not only in terms of music but also as for the gameplay and design as well. It's really a unique game project for Russia.
And what about the soundtrack release separately from the game?
Yeah, the release of the soundtrack is slated for the near future. I'm already thinking about how to make it the best. I want to use tracks from the game fusing them and using sounds and ambient noise in the mix. I think that will be a glorious CD which will be a stunning listening separately from the game.
You are welcome :)
Breath of Astral can be downloaded by the next link
Game-OST kindly thanks Nival for an opportunity to make this interview.
Vladislav Isaev on MySpace: www.myspace.com/scanntec
Mark Morgan on MySpace: www.myspace.com/markmorgancomposer
Official game site: www.allods.ru
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