Game Music

GRIN: Bionic Commando Sound Team Interview

July 2, 2009 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook GRIN: Bionic Commando Sound Team Interviewon Twitter

We extensively covered Bionic Commando: Rearmed, the 3D remake of Capcom’s classic NES game, around the time of its release. The soundtrack, written by the game’s creative director (Simon Viklund), used re-arranged and up-sampled chiptunes from the original game and built an astonishingly fun soundtrack using these tools.

Viklund took on a new role, as sound effects coordinator, for the new Bionic Commando (PC / 360 / PS3). Swedish developer GRIN assigned other members of their sound team to the project: music director Erik Thunberg, and composer Trond Viggo Melsen. These two members of the GRIN team were courteous enough to answer our questions about the new Bionic Commando and other recent projects from GRIN.

Check out our interview with the Bionic Commando sound team after the jump.

OSV: Gentlemen, thank you for taking time away from your busy schedules to answer our questions.

GRIN Sound Team: You’re quite welcome.

OSV: Alright, first question. How much of this soundtrack is original composition, and how much of it is based on the original soundtrack (and Viklund’s work on Rearmed)?

GRIN Sound Team: The soundtrack is very much built around the original soundtrack, but in a more subtle way than in Rearmed. Whereas Rearmed is more like a “remix” of the old one, the new Bionic Commando is more like a sequel, set within a new context – but with old, classic elements preserved. We’ve played a lot with the classic themes, but expanded them with new elements, rearranged them and put them side-by-side to new melody lines.

OSV: Different development studios work with their sound department in a variety of ways. How do things work at GRIN? Specifically, do you write the music and then find places to fit it into the game, or are you working with the graphics and programming teams on a regular basis to see what kind of music is needed for what levels / scenes? Describe the process to us, if you could.

GRIN Sound Team: When we started at Grin, all projects were running, and a lot of content was already produced, levels built, etc. so we could pretty much start to play those levels, feel the atmosphere and then start composing when having a particular level fresh in mind. But levels do change, during the work progress, which of course means we have to take those changes in mind and make changes in the music as needed.

We also work closely with the gameplay programmers, especially when there are complex switches in the music while, for example, playing a boss fight.

And, of course, we have to work close to the SFX guys, to make sure that sound effects and music don’t clash in the mix.

OSV: Could you give us a breakdown of your individual contributions on the title? Did you write music separately, or did you collaborate on single tracks together?

GRIN Sound Team: We have both been involved in all tracks in one way or another, be it electronic beats or bombastic brass. Usually, one of us started with a main idea, then passed it on to the other after some time. This went on back and forth until we finally were satisfied with the results and Erik went on with the final mix. Trond’s main skill is making orchestral music and orchestral arrangements and Erik is more into the electronic and modern methods of composing, which makes for a great blend and adds flavor to each of our songs.

Simon Viklund and Jonatan Crafoord from our sound department did also contribute with tracks to the game. Also, Jamie Christophson at Sound Deluxe and Henrik Anreus (Sound Designer, GRIN) delivered some excellent guitar lines for some of the tunes. Even our ex-sound guy in Barcelona contributed to the score with his piano interpretation of the Bionic Commando Main theme. So you can say that pretty much the whole sound department was involved in this score.

OSV: How many minutes of music are featured in the game? What tools did you use to create the music?

GRIN Sound Team: The soundtrack is approximately 90 minutes. In the future, we hope we can use the same set of tools for our music, but we found that since we had a very pressured time table it was better to stay within our favored environment. Cubase and Logic were the sequencers of choice and we used a lot of software synths and sample libraries like Reason, Sonnivox, Project Sam, EWQLSO, Vienna as well as loads of other plug-ins.

OSV: A game like Bionic Commando, having a lot of history and a reputation to uphold, makes it a fairly prominent title. How did you cope with the pressure of having to compose for a game with big expectations from fans of the original game?

GRIN Sound Team: To be honest, we were nervous… Being one of our all time favorite NES game scores, we really felt we had to bring out the very best in order to provide a score that would be well received by the fans as well as being worthy of comparison to the original score. In the end, we were quite happy with the result.

OSV: The two of you also worked on some other recently-released GRIN-developed games: Terminator Salvation (based on the new film) and Wanted: Weapons of Fate. How did you balance the work, composing for three games that would be released within the span of two months?

GRIN Sound Team: We’re still exhausted… (laughs)… Seriously, this was very tough. In the beginning we worked on one project at a time so we could focus. As development progressed on these games, we had to move quickly between all projects to make sure everything kept working and to polish the tracks we’d already made.

OSV: Of the three soundtracks (BC, WoF, TS), which was your favorite to work on, and which do you think is the best finished product? And please tell us why you felt the way you did.

GRIN Sound Team: That’s a tough one. We think all of them appealed to us in different ways. For Bionic Commando we could go over the top without any hesitations, it’s just that type of game. For Wanted we had the chance to work with a lot of the music from the movie, which was an honor since Danny Elfman is one of our favorite composers. Last but not least we had Terminator Salvation, do we need to say more?

OSV: For readers who haven’t heard the music from Bionic Commando yet, give them, in your own words, a description of the game’s audio. What musical styles/genres are represented? What can game music fans expect from the soundtrack?

GRIN Sound Team: We think this soundtrack differs a bit from what you normally hear in a game nowadays. The score represent a broad spectrum of genres, including glitchy ambient-electronica, epic orchestral Hollywood sound, beautiful smooth strings, rock, big beats and hybrids between orchestral and electronic. There are also fragments of the music from Rearmed, but blended within new arrangements, so the overall sound is still very organic. To achieve this, we also hired external musicians and recorded violins, cellos, percussion, vocals, guitars, flutes and even accordion, to make it more lively. And, yes, we played some of the instruments too.

OSV: Are you excited about the deal made between Capcom and Sumthing Else Music Works, which will allow for your Bionic Commando soundtrack to be published? Also, do you know yet whether the distribution will be digital only, or whether a CD version will be sold as well?

GRIN Sound Team: Yes, we’re very glad that the soundtrack is going to be released. It deserves it! Unfortunately, we don’t know if the distribution will be digital, CD or both.

OSV: Are you able to tell us at this time what you’ll be working on next?

GRIN Sound Team: Sorry, at the moment we can’t say anything about it…

OSV: Thank you again, good sirs, for answering our questions. Best of luck to you in the future!

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