Game Music

EVE Online Composer Interview: Jón Hallur Haraldsson

July 30, 2009 | | 4 Comments Share thison Facebook EVE Online Composer Interview: Jón Hallur Haraldssonon Twitter

Jón Hallur Haraldsson is an Icelandic native, and a member of the company CCP Games, also located in Iceland. The company is responsible for one of the most truly “open-ended” MMORPGs out there, EVE Online. This epic sci-fi fantasy world gives so much free reign to players that content, plot, and “balance” are all determined by the collective decisions of the players. There is nothing “static” about this world.

This presents a unique challenge for Jón, whose ambient electronica helps to set the mood for the vast, space-age fantasy world presented in-game. We were fortunate enough to contact Jón and ask him about his experiences with EVE Online, among other things. After the jump, check out our full interview with Jón Hallur Haraldsson.

OSV: First of all, thank you, Jón, for agreeing to do this interview with us.

Jón: You are welcome.

OSV: Tell us, how did you first get involved working for CCP Games? Were you there from the beginning, or were you hired on based on your musical talent partway through EVE Online‘s development?

Jón: Funny story, I was visiting CCP with a class from school back in March 2000, and in the tour we got, Reynir (Creative Director) pointed to a room and said that this was where the music and sound guy was supposed to sit. I asked who they got, and they said the job was up for grabs. So I applied, pointing them to my various sites I had in those days and was hired two months later. At that time EVE was just beginning to go into full production mode.

OSV: The music for EVE Online has been categorized as “ambient,” “techno,” and “trance.” Would you agree with these labels? How would you describe your own music, particularly the soundtrack to EVE Online? Also, have you attempted to compose music in other styles than what’s found on EVE Online?

Jón: I would agree to those labels, but perhaps not in the modern use of the word “trance.” But sure it has repetitive elements, and is electronic music, so it could be called all three of those things. Back in the days I used to concern myself a lot with defining my music but I don’t do that as much anymore. I like to amalgamate, to take whatever I like from whatever style and try to put that into my music. But I guess the most fitting description of the EVE Online music would be ambient music.

As for the second part of the question, yes. I have composed a lot of music over the years, and before EVE I had only done a couple of ambient tracks. Most of my music was very beat-driven and not much like EVE at all.

OSV: Since the 2004 CD release of the EVE Online soundtrack, how much more music have you written for the game? And, are there any plans for physical or digital distribution for EVE expansion scores? (Information for readers: note that EVE Online has had nearly a dozen expansions and content updates, including the most recent, “Apocrypha,” released in March 2009)

Jón: Sixteen ambient songs are played in the game client. When deep space complexes were added to EVE, we also used eighteen older songs I had made for EVE, two of my own remixes and six songs from another composer. In addition, we will be moving some selections from the EVE soundtrack to iTunes, and offering a distinct “goodie” for those who purchase it. This should happen sometime in June; we are just finalizing things as we speak.

OSV: CCP has announced that they are working on an MMORPG in the “World of Darkness” franchise alongside that franchise’s chief developer, White Wolf. Can you tell us, are you working on any music for that title?

Jón: I cannot say. Pass!

OSV: What sound equipment and software do you use for creating your music?

Jón: EVE was written mostly with Korg Trinity and Triton, Novation Nova, Roland JP-8080, with some Korg DW-8000 and Yamaha DX-21 here and there and a little bit of guitar and bass sprinkled over the top. Nowadays I’m all digital. I almost exclusively use Propellerheads Reason in conjunction with Digidesign Pro Tools or Ableton Live, depending on what the project is.

OSV: Have you written music for any games outside of CCP? Also, have you written any “original” music (not attached to any games or other commercial products) that fans of the EVE Online soundtrack might enjoy?

Jón: I have been a part of some game engine mods, but they never saw the light of day, so no. But I have written hundreds of songs both before and after EVE which I guess some people might enjoy.

OSV: Being a small island nation, there are not many well-known Icelandic musicians. We have to ask: who are your favorite musicians within your country, and is Björk one of them?

Jón: Well I have to admit that I didn’t “get” Björk right away but she is obviously a giant now. Others worth mentioning are Sigur Rós, Múm, GusGus, Emiliana Torrini, Leaves, Ampop, Hraun, Lay Low, Hjálmar, Jeff Who?, Trabant and on and on. We also had a lot of excellent electronic bands back in the nineties.

OSV: What games do you enjoy playing? Do you enjoy the music from the games you play?

Jón: Being an early 80s child I have been playing computer games as long as I can remember. Among my all-time favorites are Zak McKracken, UFO: Enemy Unknown, Deus Ex and Max Payne. I really haven’t played much in the last couple of years apart from casual games; currently I’m playing Puzzle Quest: Galactrix. As for the musical question, if it’s done just right I won’t even notice the music… for me, that makes good game music.

OSV: Who would you cite as musical influences in your own life?

Jón: I would have to say popular culture of the 80s and 90s, but I would like to name a few, in no particular order. Prodigy, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher, FSOL, Orbital, Chemical Brothers, Dj Food, Coldcut, Boards of Canada, Simian, Jarre, Vangelis, Jungle Music…

OSV: What aspirations do you have for your career? Do you intend to continue writing music primarily, or take on other roles within CCP Games as your primary occupation?

Jón: I just go where the jobs takes me. I guess my job is a lot more technical than it used to be.

OSV: Tell us your thoughts about the online game industry in general. Do you have any insights to share with us?

Jón: It’s still growing, hasn’t reached its full potential, and there are plenty of battles to be won. It’s a very creative field, and there is room for everybody. Both music and sound design has some interesting challenges up ahead, like fully adaptive soundtracks, or granularly synthesized sound effects to make the experience more interesting. As playtime with online games is much longer than with your average one-and-done games, it’s important to expand on concepts of how the audio is integrated in the game.

OSV: Thanks again for speaking with us! It was a pleasure getting to know you.

Jón: The pleasure was all mine.

We’d like to thank not only Jón Hallur Haraldsson for answering our questions, but also Ned Coker and everyone at CCP Games for facilitating this interview. Be sure to check out the trailer for EVE Online‘s latest expansion, “Apocrypha,” below!

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