Inon Zur Interview: Going Retro-Futuristic With Fallout 3 (December 2008)

Interview Credits

Interview Subject: Inon Zur
Interviewer: Michael Naumenko
Editor: Michael Naumenko, Simon Elchlepp
Coordination: Michael Naumenko, Greg O'Connor-Read

Interview Content

Michael: First of all, please tell our readers about yourself. How and when did you start writing music for computer games?

Inon Zur: I was born in Israel and played music from a very early age. I played piano and French horn and studied composition from the age of 10 years old. I arrived in the US in 1990 and studied at the Grove School of Music and UCLA, and soon after I was composing a lot of music for TV and movies. In 1997 I was approached by Four Bars Intertainment to compose music for games. At first I said no, but then my agent sent me examples of music from games by composers such as Ron Jones and when I heard the quality was of a high standard, I agreed and was offered my first game, Star Trek: Klingon Academy. From then on I started focusing a lot on composing for games. I’ve since composed over 40 game soundtracks including popular titles such as Baldur’s Gate II: Throne of Bhaal, SOCOM II, Crysis and Prince of Persia.

Michael: How did you get involved with Fallout 3?

Inon Zur: I composed the music for another Fallout game [Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel], and the Bethesda team was familiar with my work, so I was approached by them to compose the music for this game based on my previous experience.

Michael: Was there any concept art available when you started work on the game? Did you receive a working game demo?

Inon Zur: There was very few concept art or pictures available. I was provided with mainly script and written descriptions. Unfortunately there were no working game demos available.

Michael: What do you think of Fallout 3 as a game? Do you like playing video games?

Inon Zur: It is very impressive in every aspect, but the element I like the most at the heart of the game is the story. I am a very strong believer that the driving force behind any media should be a good solid story. If we have that, the rest is just details; we need to let the story drive all the aspects of the game and just make sure we stay on track with it.

Michael: Did you play previous Fallout games? What do you think of Mark Morgan's music for these games and are there any references to his scores in Fallout 3?

Inon Zur: Mark’s music has very strong hand writing, and it is very effective in the previous games. Sometimes I reference similar methods of musical sound design when it was called for, but utilize them in a different way, a bit more active and with an attitude. I also added some new components to the score that were not in previous Fallouts. Overall, Fallout 3 was treated with a more orchestral approach to support the more cinematic story and feel of the game.


Michael: Would you like to be the Chosen One? If yes, who would you choose to be in the Wastelands: the charismatic person, the guy with the big gun, or a member of the Brotherhood of Steel?

Inon Zur: I was always the “Lone Ranger”… I like to fight alone, so there is my answer:)

Michael: What were the differences between this project and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel?

Inon Zur: The story for Fallout 3 is more personal and vast. It is less technical and cold, and has many human aspects. The score reflects this as we try to support the new direction that the developers were looking for.

Michael: Tell us more about the recording sessions, if there were any.

Inon Zur: The music is mainly sample-driven and electronics, which I performed in my studio.

Michael: What instruments did you use when creating this soundtrack? There are some rumors that you even used a banjo for some Western-like tracks in game. Is this true?

Inon Zur: Yes, that’s true. I tried to integrate some unusual instruments in the score, so it would have a different, otherworldly sound. Also, the combination of folk instruments and heavy sound design synth which was processed to create the “retro – post futuristic” feeling is an important sound for the game.

Michael: Is there any dynamic music in Fallout 3? If so, how it will be implemented into the game? Which type of music do you prefer to write: dynamic or linear?

Inon Zur: Actually, except for some of the stems that I drew from main tracks that were used for variation purposes, we didn’t play too much with a dynamic music system. We rather let the music help build the atmosphere and be more of a “scene framing tool” role rather than a strong active component.

Michael: What was your collaboration with Fallout 3's audio director like?

Inon Zur:I feel that the Bethesda team that worked on this game – Todd Howard as the lead producer and Mark Lampert as the lead audio – were very supportive and gave me a very free hand in the writing. They believed in my musical senses and very seldom intervened or changed musical directions. We had a very good collaborative process.

Michael: Tell us about your studio equipment (hard- and software) and your music creation process.

Inon Zur: I use many music sample libraries on the Giga Studio software, which is a very powerful tool. I use Cubase as my sequence software and use some outboard gear like older synthesisers to sometimes give it a more analog touch.

Michael: How much time did you spend on Fallout 3's soundtrack?

Inon Zur: I worked on the score (on and off) for about a year.

Michael: We know there will be about one hour of music in the game, which doesn't seem like much for a game as vast as Fallout 3. How did this come about? Keeping treasures for yourself? :)

Inon Zur: Not at all. This is was what the developers wanted. They did not want to go for a massive WALL TO WALL sound, they had something more minimalist in mind, so just one hour of music was enough to create what they were looking for.

Michael: Were there any funny moments during your work on Fallout 3?

Inon Zur: We always laugh… Humor has a very strong role in collaborations… you can’t really get close to someone without humor. I can’t really recall a specific moment, but I can tell you that overall the producer had a great sense of humor and every time he felt like it, he would give me a very funny description of what he thought my music sounds like… he was very entertaining.

Michael: Would you like to play more of Fallout 3 once the game has been released?

Inon Zur: Sure!

Michael: Are you proud of your work on Fallout 3? What do you think makes your soundtrack stand out from others?

Inon Zur: I don’t think that my soundtracks are superior to any other mainstream games. I think that I always try to predict what the gamer should feel in a certain scenario and I try to motivate this through the music. The emotional element is very strong in my music, and I always try to find what really drives the story and support it with my music.

Michael: Will there be an official soundtrack release for Fallout 3?

Inon Zur: Yes, online.

Michael: You are one of most recognizable game composers right now - have you thought of doing solo albums? 

Inon Zur: Yes, I think about it, and hopefully I can do it when I have more time.

Michael: What advice can you give to aspiring composers?

Inon Zur: Talent is about 25%, the rest is hard work and persistence. Believe in yourself and work hard to follow your dream, that is the only way. There are no short cuts as far as I know. Be patient and active, and always write, write, write.

Michael: Thanks for your time!

Inon Zur: Thanks!