Meet the Composers - Interview with Space Marine's Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan


Posted December 3, 2011 - By Rick Damigella

Space Marine's Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan

THQ and Relic Entertainment’s Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine features a fantastic soundtrack composed by game music veterans Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan. The Feed got to talk with Cris and Sascha about what went into composing the epic themes for the game and what it takes to craft an enjoyable listening experience for Space Marine’s soundtrack album.

The Feed: Space Marine is not your first, second or even third game soundtrack collaboration. Can you enlighten our readers about what you’ve worked on together?

Cris & Sascha:  We’ve worked on around 30 games together to date.  Borderlands, Prototype, Hellgate: London, Haze, Dark Messiah, Mortal Kombat, Mass Effect 2 and many more.

The Feed: Obviously, working together on these projects has produced some fantastic music. Does it get easier with each new game you work on or does each game present its own unique set of challenges?

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Soundtrack - "Prologue" »

Cris & Sascha:  It’s never “easy” to write these scores together.  Each project does definitely present its own challenges.  However, we’ve been working together for nearly seven years now so we rarely have to second guess each other anymore.  We know what’s going to work and how to combine both of our musical voices into a single, cohesive track.  We’re both constantly pushing each other creatively.  There’s also been a sort of mantra that we say at the beginning of every project: “Never take the easy way out!”

The Feed: What were your inspirations for the music you created for Space Marine?

Cris & Sascha: 
A lot of different material.  For the Space Marines we wanted to use extended, drawn out melodies.  This seemed to lend a sense of grandeur to them.  We also played a lot with different ways to harmonize their music.  Like leading you down a path to expect something dark and in a minor key, only to blast you with a huge major chord.  It’s nothing revolutionary but it did help to add a layer of drama we thought.  Tribal music for the Orks.  Even though they’re fairly technologically advanced (for Orks) they still come across as reckless and brutish.  For the Chaos music we tried to make it sound as far away from the other factions as possible.  Lots of distortion, industrial metal hits, and tons of crazy nightmarish sounds!

The Feed: How much music did you compose for the game?

Cris & Sascha:  We composed over two hours of music for Space Marine.

The Feed: What was the most challenging thing about putting together Space Marine’s music?

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Soundtrack - "Titus' Theme" »

Cris & Sascha:  We wanted Space Marine to take on a more emotional edge.  The score really pushes the drama and the plot along instead of just accenting the melee.  Even though the bulk of the game is quite action-driven, there’s a pretty big story going on too.  We wanted to try to tap into that narrative and imbue the score with some grandeur.  We also went this route during a lot of the big battle sequences.  Our music is meant to be somewhat of an off-screen narrator, commenting on these epic events, rather than just pointing to what was happening in real-time.

The Feed: Since this game is part of the Warhammer 40,000 universe, with its long history, was there any pressure or expectations to fit the music you were creating into a certain style or sound?

Cris & Sascha:  We were quite aware of the Warhammer franchise and what a huge fan base is already built into it.  However, we’ve never played the tabletop game and we weren’t intimately familiar with the entire franchise back story or all the ins and outs of its enormous history.  I think that this actually helped in coming up with a unique sound for Space Marine though.  This score was a definite departure from the other Warhammer scores, which makes sense with this being such a different experience.  Relic didn’t push us to emulate any particular sound or any of their previous Warhammer scores.  It really freed us up to try something new.  Hopefully, the fans like the music and accept it into the musical canon for the Warhammer universe.

The Feed: Since you are coming from two distinct styles of music production (orchestral and electronic) what kind of challenges does this present, or is it more about the unique sounds you can create together?

Cris & Sascha: 
It’s a bit of both really.  Back when we started, the ‘hybrid’ sound in games wasn’t too common. We figured out how to best incorporate our two distinct sounds through a lot of trial and error. Mixing live (or sampled) orchestra with electronic elements is not easy. You don’t want anything to stick out yet everything should be heard. Over the years we’ve learned how to best combine everything into the sound we’re known for. Sometimes everything fits together so perfectly that you don’t even realize there are electronics playing with the orchestra or vice-versa.  But if you take one of these elements out the score it loses some of its depth and vitality.  The trick is to pull it off in a way that one element never overwhelms the other.

The Feed:
Let’s talk about the soundtrack album. Once you’ve created all this music for the in-game experience, what does it take to turn it into a linear listening experience?

Cris & Sascha:  A lot of work actually!  Most games have a large number of cues that need to loop back to the beginning of the piece, so there’s no real ending.  This doesn’t make for a good listening experience outside the game so we always write new endings.  Also, some scores are made up of a lot of short (around one minute) tracks.  Again, it’s not something that comes across as well on a soundtrack album so we expand the tracks.  Sometimes we write new material not in the original game.  Sometimes we’ll also combine parts of different cues together to make one seamless, longer piece.  This can be a pretty labor intensive process actually, but it’s important for us to try to make an enjoyable listening experience rather than just throwing together a bunch of tracks ripped right out of the game.

The Feed:
With more and more game soundtrack albums releasing each year, do you think we are finally reaching a place where gamers, and soundtrack fans in general, are starting to appreciate these kinds of releases they way they have been in Japan for years?

Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine Soundtrack - "A Hero's Legacy" »

Cris:  I’m not sure if we’re at Japanese proportions yet, but I’ve seen such a huge growth of interest for game soundtracks here over the past few years.  As games continue to become more sophisticated the music is right there too.  We’re putting a lot of work into these scores so it’s quite a payoff for us that fans want to listen to the music outside of the game.  Also, if any developer doubts the interest level of a score release they only need to see the crowd’s reaction at a Video Games Live or Night in Fantasia concert!

The Feed: Can you tell us about what your next collaboration might be? Even just a hint?

Cris & Sascha:  We wish!  We have a few things coming out next year but there’s one major announcement we’d love to share but definitely can’t talk about quite yet.  It’ll be worth the wait though!

The original soundtrack album for Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine is available now from Sumthing Digital.

Meet the Composers - Interview with Space Marine's Cris Velasco and Sascha Dikiciyan


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