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Dark Void Zero Interview: Producer Shana Bryant and Composer Bear McCreary

January 21, 2010 | | 6 Comments Share thison Facebook Dark Void Zero Interview: Producer Shana Bryant and Composer Bear McCrearyon Twitter

These two are the real deal. Many developers out there claim to be oldschool gamers, but Dark Void and Dark Void Zero Associate Producer Shana Bryant and composer Bear McCreary have thoroughly convinced me that they’re the best people for the job when it comes to this retro gaming movement we’ve been seeing from Capcom.

While we learned that Bear McCreary is a huge classic gaming fan at Comic Con this year, we recently learned that he’d also be scoring the 8-bit Dark Void prequel, Dark Void Zero. This news excited me to no end, and we were super excited to be able to speak with him and Shana Bryant about the title, its 8-bit roots, 8-bit gaming in general, and of course Dark Void, Dark Void Zero, and their respective soundtracks. It’s a good time with lots of retro goodness, so read on!

Our Dark Void Zero interview is waiting for you after the jump!

OSV: Hello to the two of you, and thank you for speaking with us about Dark Void Zero. I have to ask if the story presented in the Dark Void Zero trailer claiming that Dark Void is a lost Capcom game really true? If so, why revive it now, and why was Dark Void Zero kept under wraps until so close to the console release?

Shana: Well, that would be telling, wouldn’t it? 😉 No, but really, we’re all huge retro gaming fans here at Capcom. It’s practically a requirement to even get in the building, so the chance to not only update an old-school title but to actually reach into the vault and restore and release the original was definitely a dream-come-true for many of us, myself included. The secrecy actually just wound up being a function of the restoration process. We were working with code that was only 50% or so complete, design docs that were missing/unfinished, and trying to track down development team members who’d long since left the industry. We simply had no idea whether or not we’d be able to release the original game at all. But fortunately, we’re a bunch of nerds, and a challenge is a challenge. Working with Bear and the folks at Other Ocean, we were all determined to see this through, and so Dark Void Zero became.

OSV: Was it immediately determined that Bear McCreary would be handling the game’s music? Although he worked on the console version, and he’s a huge fan of Capcom’s 8-bit music, he’s known mostly for his work in film and television. Bear, would you like to comment on how you were approached with this project and how excited you were to be working on an amazing 8-bit version of an already amazing looking console title?

Bear: When I first heard that Capcom was developing Dark Void Zero, I leapt at the opportunity to be involved. Actually, rather than them approaching me… it was actually more like me insisting that I get to score the game! I think they assumed I’d be too busy for a smaller game like this, but I was very excited about the possibilities of scoring an 8-bit game, especially one that takes place in the Dark Void universe, where I could draw from the same set of musical themes.

Shana: Yes, as he mentioned, we really did assume Bear’s schedule was way too crazy! But fortunately it worked out perfectly. The fact that Bear composed all of the music for Dark Void meant that there’s a truly organic connection between the full orchestral pieces in Dark Void and the fantastically retro 8-bit chiptune of Dark Void Zero. Savvy listeners will easily pick out familiar refrains, such as the Watcher theme or the Main Title melody, and regardless of which version you familiarize yourself with first (the 8-bit or the orchestral), hearing the alternative version for the first time is pretty incredible.

OSV: A lot of people have been comparing Dark Void Zero’s look, sound, and gameplay to Mega Man, although I don’t see the resemblance as far as the gameplay is concerned. How does Dark Void Zero stand apart from the Mega Man series in these areas? Perhaps Shana would like to comment on the look and gameplay, and Bear would like to discuss the music, and how much the recent 8-bit revival of the Mega Man series influenced this project?

Shana: Dark Void Zero’s garnered its look and feel from a number of old-school Capcom titles in development during the same era. Mega Man of course played a part, as I believe it to be an influence for countless 2-D and 3-D endeavors throughout the years. However, gameplay-wise, the designers took more influences from Section Z or even Bionic Commando. Visual cues lean more toward Metroid and again Bionic Commando in that Capcom was really going for a sense of realism in the characters and environments. And Dark Void Zero is a classic Capcom game, which of course means it’s frakkin’ hard. 🙂

Bear: Mega Man was very much an influence musically, mostly because the scores for the first 4 Mega Man games were incredibly influential on me as a kid. I still enjoy that music. As for the look and gameplay… no, I don’t think they were influenced by Mega Man in particular. Personally, the gameplay reminds me more of a game called Metal Storm, which used the vertical axis in remarkable ways.

OSV: We loved the 8-bit rendition of the Dark Void main theme that was released last year. Was this a hint that Dark Void Zero was being developed, or was this track created without the knowledge that Dark Void Zero was in the works? It would be awesome if that remixed inspired the game itself.

Bear: The 8-bit version of the Dark Void theme was something that I just decided to do on my own last spring, as a way to thank the gang at Capcom for such a rewarding experience. At the time, there was no serious discussion about making an 8-bit game. So, I like to think that my 8-bit track had some influence on the decision. 🙂

Shana: The 8-bit version was fantastic in that it was the first Dark Void music that we ever released. So many fans heard Dark Void in all its 8-bit glory before they got to hear the full-orchestral majesty. And then that both versions were composed by the same man was nothing short of mind-blowing. As for the timeline, it’s a little bit of chicken and egg. But of course, once we had the main theme in pocket, how could we not release a game to go with it?

OSV: How many people are working on this project? We know that many 8-bit titles have very small development teams, and we’re curious as to the numbers involved with Dark Void Zero. Bear, how many minutes of music were you able to write for the game?

Shana: As expected, the development team for Dark Void Zero was relatively small, especially when compared to your grand AAA titles like Dark Void. But what Other Ocean lacked in manpower, they definitely made up for in talent and passion. We like to say that Dark Void Zero was a labor of love through and through and it’s absolutely the truth.

Bear: I would’ve written hours if I could, but there were limitations to how much memory could be allotted to audio. In all, I composed about 15 minutes of music. The average Mega Man game contained about 30 minutes of music, so for a game with only 3 (instead of 12 – 16) levels, this is pretty good.

OSV: Despite being a fan, Bear, was it difficult to create an entire 8-bit soundtrack? Did you work within the constraints of the actual NES console, or did you create more fleshed out compositions that simply use 8-bit sounds? On that topic, what tools did you use to create the Dark Void Zero soundtrack?

Bear: The technical side of scoring DVZ was an incredible challenge. For the original 8-bit theme I did last spring, I used software emulators, but I wasn’t happy with the sound quality. So, for DVZ I worked with my synth sound designer Jonathan Snipes and together we created a new sample library of NES sounds, taken directly off the NES hardware using a NES cartridge that had been fused with a MIDI interface. Compared to the software emulators, these sounds were analog, warm and inviting. The same “Mega Version” released last spring now serves as the “Dark Void Zero Theme” and this new recording sounds glorious and totally authentic. Considering that most people would think 8-bit music sounds “bad,” Jonathan and I spent a ridiculous amount of time making it sound “good!”

Writing with carefully edited samples instead of a proprietary hardware synthesizer meant I could bypass all the limitations of the hardware and write music as complex as I wanted. However, to stay true to the style, I still wrote within the musical constraints that composers for the original NES games struggled. The result is music that sounds, in my admittedly biased opinion, absolutely authentic and could easily be mistaken for music coming off NES hardware in 1986.

OSV: I’m already dying to hear both the Dark Void and Dark Void Zero soundtracks. Is it likely that we’ll see a soundtrack release for one or the other, or hopefully both?

Bear: I think you’ll be very happy with what we’re working out in this area.

Shana: Indeed. Nothing’s been officially announced as of yet, but stay tuned! Fans of Bear’s music in both Dark Void and Dark Void Zero will definitely be happy with what we’ve got in store.

OSV: Any chance we’ll see Bear working on the upcoming Mega Man 10? I think he’d fit right in! Perhaps Shana can send over a recommendation to the Mega Man 10 team!

Bear: Scoring an 8-bit Mega Man would literally be a dream come true. And I considered asking the folks at Capcom about it. My work on DVZ certainly shows I have the chops to pull this kind of thing off. However, I didn’t even bring it up because I’d feel like a total @$$hole if I did it. Whoever scored Mega Man 9 knocked it out of the park. I honestly felt it was the best video game score to come out that year. That person should score Mega Man 10, not me. I’m just looking forward to playing it and enjoying the score!

Shana: I personally think all games regardless of platform and publisher should be scored by Bear McCreary from this day forth.

OSV: Capcom is leading this 8-bit revival we’ve been seeing with this title and others. How do both of you feel about this? Is it a niche worth exploring more? Are you looking forward to working on and playing more 8-bit games in the future?

Bear: Absolutely! The sights and sounds of the 8-bit era were due to technical limitations in the 80s, but are now a genuine aesthetic. To people of a certain generation, this gaming style is incredibly nostalgic, but I also think that creatively there are still many unexplored possibilities.

Shana: Ditto. The amazing thing about this resurgence of 8-bit fanaticism is that it’s so damn accessible. For old-school gamers (ahem, like myself), there’s that powerful nostalgia, the history, the “where-we-came-from” and “how-far-we’ve-come” of it all, sure. But just as powerful is to watch some of the new generation of gamers experience it for the first time. The 8-bit era (or “The Golden Age of Gaming,” as I call it), there’s something special about it. For gamers who may never have experienced the original Golden Axe or The Legend of Zelda or the first Final Fantasy…for gamers who’ve never held a controller with less than 10 buttons, this sudden revival gives them a glimpse into the history in a way that they can appreciate and understand. (Is that too geeky? Now that I re-read it, it sounds really geeky.)

OSV: We’ve already heard Bear’s top five games, two of which were classic Mega Man titles, but would Shana like to take the test and tell us her top five favorite games of all time? There better be some NES-era titles in there!

Shana: Oh geez. Top 5 games, huh? Well, I was a Nintendo gal, so please forgive the bias.
1. The Legend of Zelda series – Which one? All of them.
2. Final Fantasy 6 (US FF3) – Remember the Opera House? I swear back in 1992 it sounded like Draco and Maria were really singing.
2. Chrono Trigger – It’s a two-way tie between FF6 and Chrono Trigger. Both were amazing Square titles with intriguing characters, an incredible story, and simply unforgettable music. Sigh. Don’t make ‘em like they used to…
4. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse – Yes, SOTN is amazing, but if I had to choose, 3 characters and multiple paths was pretty legendary for its time.
5. Super Mario 64 – It was reeeeally hard to pick SM64 over Super Mario World. SMW was a near-flawless game, but SM64 literally changed gaming forever.
6. Bonus: Resident Evil 4 Wii Edition – The game literally made me love shooters again, and that was a genre I hadn’t bothered with since I retired my GoldenEye cart.

Also, I wanted to let you know that this was the hardest question in the interview. I keep staring at my list and I’m still not sure about #4 and #5.

OSV: Is there anything the two of you would like to say to gamers who will be playing Dark Void and Dark Void Zero in the coming weeks?

Bear: Keep an ear out for melodies and themes in common in both scores. And have fun!

Shana: Sounds like Shameless Plug Time®. 🙂 Working on both games was an absolute blast. Also as Bear mentioned, look out for enemies/weapons/characters which appear in both titles. I hope people really dig Dark Void as well as its “predecessor” Dark Void Zero. Best when enjoyed as a set!
(Dark Void Zero and Dark Void are hitting on January 18th and 19th, respectively.)

OSV: Thank you both for your time. Congratulations on Dark Void Zero!

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