Doyle W. Donehoo Interview: Writing For The Warhammer Universe (February 2009)
Doyle W. Donehoo (America's Army, Savage 2, Sniper: Path of Vengeance, Black Stone: Magic & Steel) might not be a household name yet, but this might change with the release of Relic's much-anticipated Warhammer 40K: Dawn of War II. After the score for Dawn of War had been written by Jeremy Soule, many game soundtrack fans are eager to hear what music awaits them in the sequel.
Interview Subject: Doyle W. Donehoo
Interviewer: Michael Naumenko
Editor: Michael Naumenko, Simon Elchlepp
Coordination: Michael Naumenko
Michael: First of all, tell us about yourself. When did you decide to be a composer and how did you enter the profession?
Doyle W. Donehoo: I have been a musician all my life and I have listened to a large amount of varied music for as long as I can remember. Along the way I had some basic music training in college, but a lot of what I know came from playing in bands as a bass player who later added keyboards and bass pedals. Meanwhile for many years I was a Software Engineer and Manager with a great deal of interest in war games and video games. I also studied tactical and strategic warfare and wrote a paper in college on the subject of the evolution of tactics and strategy.
After the Internet bubble burst at the end of the last century, I became a full time composer.
Michael: Have you had any classical music training?
Doyle W. Donehoo: Classical training is a great way to learn things quickly. I took a harder and slower way to learn music and the business.
Michael: What groups and artists do you like and draw inspire from?
Doyle W. Donehoo: A great deal of influence and inspiration came from the usual assortment of classical composers, but I have listened to movie soundtracks, show music and big bands all my life, already before I even started school. I have a huge collection of a wide variety of music, from experimental electronic music to classical, with every possible genre in between. There are few things I don't like.
MIchael: Why did you get into composing for video games?
Doyle W. Donehoo: While I was an engineer, I had a lot of interest in video game technology. When the hardware finally got good enough to support quality soundtracks, I became very interested in music for games. When computer technology became good enough to support high quality, sample based instruments, I began to rebuild my studio with multi-media in mind. Listening to movie and game soundtracks in the 90's, I was certain I could produce music at least as good as what I was hearing in the mass media. When I became a full time composer, it was time to put that notion to the test.
Michael: Did you listen to Jeremy Soule's Dawn of War soundtrack or play the game?
Doyle W. Donehoo: I have been playing video games since the time they were text based, as well as having played a great number of table-top war games. I have hundreds of video games, some of which cannot be played on today's hardware. I used to go to the E3 convention, and one time when I was there, I saw a demo of the first version of Dawn of War and was very enamored with it. Every year at E3 I would see a different version and give Relic my demo. Naturally, I played every version and expansion pack of Dawn of War and loved it. I heard all of the music associated with Dawn of War, which I found entertaining.
Michael: What was concept of your soundtrack for Dawn of War II and what materials did you receive from the developers when you started working on the game?
Doyle W. Donehoo: I received some (classified) materials from Relic, but the Warhammer universe is so deep, it is easy to get some good background material to work with. Dawn of War II is a whole new game, so we set out to have a huge sound to go with the vast Warhammer universe.
Michael: What kind of music will we hear in the game? Were there any live session recordings?
Doyle W. Donehoo: The music for Dawn of War II is mostly grand orchestral music with some non-traditional instruments mixed in for the Orcs. There were no live sessions. I did it all with my virtual orchestra and instruments.
Michael: How much time were you given to create the Dawn of War II soundtrack?
Doyle W. Donehoo: Most of Dawn of War II I was done over about a year's time. There is over an hour's worth of music in the game.instruments.
Michael: What equipment (hard- and software) do you usually use for writing music?
Doyle W. Donehoo: In my studio I have a master DOW and seven slave computers, all of which stream my sample based virtual instruments. I work with a template of about 300 tracks/instruments. I have a few hardware synths in the mix, however most of my instruments are computer based. I have too many soft instrument libraries to list here.
Michael: What is approach for writing a piece of music from scratch?
Doyle W. Donehoo: I usually begin with a large template that I have developed for the job, and start to write. Most of the music is either performed into my DAW from a MIDI keyboard, or written directly in the DOW piano-roll view. Everything is heavily edited and shaped.
Michael: Could you tell us about your daily routine in the studio? How many hours per day do you spend on writing music?
Doyle W. Donehoo: Well, when I am composing for a major job like Dawn of War II, my life is pretty much eat, sleep and compose every single day. Some days can be very long indeed. How many hours a day? As many as needed. The daily routine in the studio is probably pretty boring to anybody watching, going over and over certain parts until they are right, and laboriously editing large amounts of MIDI data. For the composer, time goes by pretty fast.
Michael: Where do you get inspiration from when your brain just can't come up with new ideas?
Doyle W. Donehoo: Time pressure and the possibility of failure are a great inspiration! I probably get most inspired when I write to picture (which I did for the Dawn of War II trailer), because then the music just seems to write itself. It's a bit harder when someone gives you a group of in-game characters and says, "Write music about them." Then I want background information and pictures to give me a vision that inspires the music.
Michael: Predict the future of the game music industry for us!
Doyle W. Donehoo: I believe the future of video game music will involve that which is unique to video games: interactive music. The techniques and tools for this kind of music have yet to be fully worked out, but it is a natural progression in game music. On the composer side of things, one of the biggest aides to our music will be cloud computing and computer modeling and synthesis, shaped by acoustics theory. Large sample based instrument libraries may soon be a thing of the past or just a more specialized segment of virtual instruments.
Michael: Would you call yourself a hard core gamer? What games have you played recently?
Doyle W. Donehoo: I am a fairly hard core video gamer, but so far I have restricted myself to the PC. When I got the Dawn of War II job, I was just working through the last races of Dawn of War: Dark Crusade. I have been enjoying the Codename: Panzers and Call of Duty games. I like FPS and RTS games most of all.
Michael: And, last but not least, some words to our readers!
Doyle W. Donehoo: Sure! Buy video games! Play video games! Go out and buy more video games! Play those games! Repeat! :) Have fun and be sure to listen to the music!