Game Music

BlizzCon 08: Interview with Audio/Video Director Russell Brower

October 21, 2008 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook BlizzCon 08: Interview with Audio/Video Director Russell Broweron Twitter

Yeah, I know, BlizzCon ended over a week ago, but we’re still not done! We were able to get some time with Russell Brower, the audio and video director at Blizzard Entertainment whose name you may recognize from the “Diablo III Overture” that was released for free last month.

Well, we talk about that particular piece along with a number of other topics. We get confirmation that Wrath of the Lich King will feature over 7 hours of new music, and we also get an idea of who will be handling the music for the individual races in StarCraft II. Finally we discuss how the “Diablo III Overture” will appear in the completed game.

Which of Blizzard’s upcoming titles are you most looking forward to? Would you buy a 20-volume soundtrack for World of Warcraft?

Read our BlizzCon interview after the jump!

OSV: Alright, we’re here with Russell Brower, audio and video director at Blizzard Entertainment. It sounds like you guys are busy with several massive titles on the horizon including StarCraft II, Wrath of the Lich King, and Diablo III. Would you like to start by giving us a state of the audio department at Blizzard Entertainment?

Brower: Sure! We’re a busy group because the two groups are among the handful of groups at Blizzard that work on all the projects. Whereas a lot of folks are on teams and focus on a given title, we’re working across all of them. And that includes PR-related things, things for the web, and BlizzCon events. So the state of the audio and video departments are always at the ready and always at high alert.

OSV: Yeah, I was kind of curious because I just mentioned audio and video director. The video department was placed under your supervision last year I believe. So I’m wondering what it has meant to you as the audio and video director, do you feel that supervising both aspects allows you to add more cohesion to the product, or how does that play out?

Brower: I think that’s an excellent advantage to having a centralized role here. But I would temper that by saying my job is not to tell everyone what to do. We have some really talented people on both sides, audio and video, and I try to keep a big picture view of what Blizzard as a whole is doing, and it helps again, as we’re a department that has to juggle everything, we have to set our priorities sometimes because we have resources both human and time that are not infinite.

OSV: I did want to ask you as it seems you have a lot going on in terms of running the departments as far as administrative things. So I’m wondering how you’ve found the time to compose over this time. You worked on the StarCraft II piece we heard, and the Diablo III piece we’ve heard, and you have music in Wrath of the Lich King, I’m just wondering how you ever have time to write music with your busy schedule.

Brower: Well, I think that I came to my career as an artist first, and so I think I’m pretty good at letting things gel in the back of my mind. So while I’m attending meetings or filling out cost estimate spreadsheets or something like that, I’ll be mulling on maybe the concept art I have on my wall, or the screen-grabs I’ve taken from the latest build of any of the given games and have them on my screensaver, and I absorb that. Another good writing time for me is when I’m driving because I’ve noticed that the act of driving, it keeps busy the part of my brain that would otherwise go, “Are you sure what you wrote is good enough? I don’t know if Chris Metzen will like that…” You know, that part of my brain is involved with defensive driving, so I’m not even aware of it, but when I get to my destination, sometimes a melody will have clicked, and then it’s pretty quick to write it down, and I write it down.

OSV: Wow, so I guess that’s a hint to those out there who are busy with desk work. The screensavers and the artwork around.

Brower: Yeah, I totally believe in surrounding yourself with visuals and the story, and you know, in my spare time, I’m known to read our novels. Especially, a year and a half ago, I was working on “Escape From Durnholde Keep,” it was part of the Caverns of Time, one of the branches of Caverns of Time for The Burning Crusade, and The Lord of the Clans was a perfect backstory and inspiration, and I devoured that in about three hours because it was a real good book, and then I was able to write my music with some kind of… however that story affected me, it sort of flows into the act of writing, and I can’t define it any more than that because it’s somewhat of an abstract process.

OSV: So complete immersion. I was hoping to ask about a few specific titles. The next title out is Wrath of the Lich King, which sports a very abstract, ambient sound from what we’ve heard in the beta. What can we expect to hear in the final build of the game? What can you tell us about the individual team members’ contributions to the score?

Brower: Absolutely. The music for Wrath of the Lich King was created by myself, Glenn Stafford, and Derek Duke, and I’d say we wrote equal amounts. I did come to realize, I did the math, and we added just over seven hours of music for Wrath of the Lich King, bringing WoW to just over 20 hours total once this expansion set is released. As far as the style of music, it depends on where you were in the beta and when you played the beta, so depending on what you heard, you may or may not have heard nothin’ yet, you know? Because there’s more to come. You will hear in the soundtrack and whatnot a lot of melodic stuff as well. It depends on where it’s going to be.

OSV: There was this piano motif that kind of went like… [hums melody]

Brower: That sounds like Dragonblight, which is by Derek Duke, and boy, that’s a stunning background for that setting.

OSV: Absolutely. We’re going to be looking forward to that. The next title I’d like to ask about is StarCraft II. I don’t know what you’re able to say about the game right now, but what can you tell us about the direction for the game’s audio? Will we be hearing familiar themes, or should we expect mostly new material? Any idea at this point how much music will make its way into the game?

Brower: I think it’s a little early to put too much into categories yet. However, I’ll make a little more generalized statement in that we realize that people playing StarCraft II, we’ll just assume they’ve played StarCraft, because we all loved that, and we want it to feel—and this goes for Diablo III and anything else we do—we want it to feel like that universe. You’re not going to hear so much revolutionary, you’re going to hear evolutionary changes as the story evolves, as the settings change, we’ll track that. But we’re not trying to change it just to change it.

OSV: Okay, so we should expect a lot of new stuff? I’m kind of wondering how the clear-cut division of labor before was kind of Derek Duke did the Zerg, Jason Hayes did some of the Protoss, and Glenn Stafford did the Terran and some Protoss. I’m wondering how you’re getting into the mix this time. Is it not going to be as clear-cut this time? Everybody will be contributing everywhere?

Brower: Well, I think we often go into projects thinking, “You handle this, and you handle this, and I’ll handle that.” In the end, we all end up helping each other, and we end up writing sometimes out of our comfort zones. We each have complimentary skills, which is awesome, but if I wrote, say, what I’m kind of known for and nothing else, I’d probably start repeating myself or something like that.

Most recently, for instance, in the demo that Rob Pardo did yesterday, you would have seen an in-game cinematic that we internally called the “Tychus Intro,” where Tychus comes in, sees Jim Raynor at the Marsara bar, they haven’t seen each other for a long time, so I got to write a kind of dingy bar western kind of thing with an dobro and a harmonica and I had a blast. I’d never done anything like that before, and I’m really proud of it because it evokes this really strong mood, and that’s something that I wouldn’t have necessarily thought of myself for in the past, but we were at a point where we needed to get X, Y, and Z done, and I said, “Well, I think I’ll try that.” We try to be versatile. And you know Derek will be working on the Zerg, absolutely, and I will probably be working on some Protoss, and no one is going to write Terran music like Glenn, but I wouldn’t say it’s a hard categorization.

OSV: The “Diablo III Overture” was recently posted on iTunes. Congratulations on the amazing piece of music. It was awesome that it was released as a promotional tool for the game. I was hoping you could tell us about the piece and let us know if it will make its way into the game, or will it only be a promotional piece?

Brower: Well, it’s too early to say if it will make it into the game exactly as it is. It was designed to say, “Tah-dah, look what’s coming. Diablo is back and we have something to say.” That’s why it’s so big. While the familiar chord changes are there and the ascending line and everything, they’re all done big. They’re not done Tristram style because it was designed to say “This is Diablo III.” But as we get to the game, you’ll see us explore different styles and different sizes of score.

OSV: I wanted to know your thoughts on the value of music and putting music out there for free. Do you feel putting music out there for free in the case of the promotional iTunes item, or including the limited edition soundtracks in the limited edition box devalues the music? What are you thoughts on that?

Brower: Music is really valuable as part of the experience, so if it’s out there, I believe it’s doing positive things for the game because all our music is created in service or in context of a great game and a great story, so my answer is that I don’t see devalue there because it’s priceless.

OSV: We get a lot of interesting answers for this one, so it’s interesting to hear your philosophy.

Brower: Yeah, it’s priceless. It helps the story, it helps the game.

OSV: Well, that’s a good note to end on. Thank you very much for your time. I hope to see you tonight at VGL.

Brower: Absolutely. Thank you.

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