One of the most common complaints I get is that a song “doesn’t fit the game.” This always bothers me for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is not my goal or my job to exclusively make songs that simply emulate the overall mood of a game. Second, this notion is highly subjective and everyone’s experience of a story/game/movie will be different.
Everyone comes away from a good game with different memories, different favorite moments, different characters or aspects they liked. So a song may not fit what you felt was the tone of the game, but it always fits with my experience of whatever the particular aspect I wrote about was. For example you may have felt Red Dead Redemption was about brutal violence and dark human nature but I liked the story of a man who loves his family and is trying to redeem himself for them, so that’s the part I wrote about.
This month’s two songs both received this complaint a few times although the overwhelming majority felt they were just fine. I’ll address them in more detail further down.
Question time: (got a ton of interesting questions this month!)
Is it ok if I come up and talk to you at the Escapist Expo?
I’m kind of surprised that people feel they need to ask me this, of course it’s ok! I’m a very sociable guy, I enjoy meeting new people and talking to people so by all means feel free to come up and talk nerd-stuff with me at the Expo. You guys are the ones who watch my videos and buy my songs – you give me the opportunity to make a living from my music. I owe my success to you guys, be it large or small. So get over here, grab yourself a beer and come say hi!
Will you ever make a song about an RTS?
Maybe, if I ever find an RTS that doesn’t make me feel like a mentally challenged cave troll.
Do you worship the false God Talos? (from Ancano’s Twitter account)
I worship the gods of rock!
Do you ever have a game you really like and want to make a song about but can’t seem to write one that fits?
Yes. Halo. I have yet to come up with anything that seems right for that series, despite endless requests for it.
Who inspires you?
I’m inspired by artists who always want to try something new and keep changing up their style. Bowie is a huge influence, Devin Townsend is another. I hear a lot of Iron Maiden in my songs too as I grew up on them and they’ve always been my favorite band.
Have you ever had creative restrictions imposed on you by external sources (e.g. BioWare)?
Not really – BioWare did ask me to make a high energy rock song (“Take It Back”), but that’s about it. The Escapist lets me do whatever I want (within reason; I’m sure there would be some head scratching were I to send in a 16 minute Philip Glass style atonal synth drone-piece called “Mario’s Hat” or something like that).
Shadows In The Moonlight
I was apprehensive about tackling another Assassin’s Creed song after the somewhat mixed response to “Brothers Of The Creed.” But I love the series, Ezio is one of my favorite characters and well, I’m a stubborn, determined git and wanted to make another AC song just to show that I could.
The inspirations for the music were the soundtracks of AC2 and Revelations. My friend Lorna lent her voice to this one for the chanting part. The intro was almost identical to the style used in AC2 – acoustic guitars, strings and harp providing a backdrop for Lorna’s lovely floating vocal. I wanted to capture a very European, Renaissance-esque feel, something many felt was missing from the previous AC song.
The vocal melodies in the song are very deliberately crafted. Each line starts low, climbs upwards, then drops down again. This was meant to subtly imply climbing and falling. I wanted the melody to sound like the way playing the games feels, constantly ascending and descending against the lush classical backdrop.
The abrupt musical shift two thirds of the way through the song into more eastern sounding melodies is meant to convey Ezio’s final chapter in the story, hence the “Revelations” line. The “shores of gold” line is a simple reference to Constantinople’s golden shores.
I wanted this part to be brimming over with extra layers to the point where so much extra stuff was added in it all started to become a bit cluttered. This was exactly how I felt about Revelations – there was so much un-needed extra crap in that game that it tended to overpower and mask the main story and mechanics that were so good in the first place.
A couple of people complained that the lead vocal was lost in the mix here and yes, it was, that was the whole point. I added in so much extra stuff and even brought the main vocal down by 4 or 5 decibels so it felt like another background instrument as opposed to the central focus of the piece. I even whacked up the de-esser on it so it lost some of the clarity on the “s” and “t” sounds. I felt it suited the game – perhaps not a great move on a musical level but I liked it as a weird little statement. You can make your own minds up on that one!
Lyrically, the song is simply a very brief story of Ezio’s life. “Race you to the top” was the first line that popped into my head when writing as that opening scene to Assassin’s Creed 2 (where Ezio and his brother race to the roof of the church) has always been one of my favorite moments in the story. Verse 2 deals with Ezio’s “all grown up” time in Venice as an expert covert killer. I like the line “On Venetian stone I climb and clamber, cloaked in dark” – I’m a sucker for alliteration, I always think it makes a line move along more smoothly.
The song and lyrics fit the game perfectly!
Phew. Glad most of you felt that way this time!
This song makes me want to finish Revelations. If only I could figure out those damn tower defense things.
I have filed those tower defense minigames in the “What the fuck were they thinking” drawer. They sit there festering away next to GTA4‘s checkpoint system, Dead Space‘s turrets, Max Payne 3‘s timer-based mission fails and Sheva Alomar’s alternative costume.
The guitar is a bit loud, drowns out your vocal near the end.
Seems a bit aimless for me. Expected something more vivid, more action.
The vivid action in the AC games was not the focus of the lyrics so it wasn’t going to be the focus of the musical style either. The “aim” was to abbreviate Ezio’s life story, not describe a swordfight.
Didn’t really fit Assassin’s Creed because it was too relaxing.
Playing Assassin’s Creed 2 was one the most relaxing experiences of my life.
I’m surprised at how many comments are criticizing the slow, contemplative nature of the song, saying it should have been more violent and big … I guess it’s a common complaint with your music, people not understanding why your song is like that when all they did in the game was kill people, but I still just wish people didn’t regard games with such shallowness as to ignore the thematic elements around which you build your songs.
You are my new favorite person. Everyone read this, memorize it and think about it next time you’re about to complain that I song I wrote wasn’t “actiony” or “violent” enough.
Silver And Steel
This was one of the easiest songs I have ever written and I attribute that to what a great character Geralt Of Rivia is. I think it took me literally 15-20 minutes to write the lyrics for this one, he just kept on giving me more ideas and I just ran with it. I like the rhyming scheme in this one: every first, second and fourth line rhyme, and every third line rhymes inwards on itself. I also used this rhyme structure in “Nord Mead” – I think it feels very folky or something.
The music style was something I wasn’t too sure about at first. I knew a lot of people would want something “dark and edgy” sounding, but the song is not about the “darkness” of the Witcher universe – it’s about Geralt and from what I saw in game Geralt is a droll, easy going guy who just kind of takes it all in his stride while finding ways to enjoy himself amidst all the corruption and angst.
So the style I chose was folky. Something I imagined Dandelion would come up with and sing drunkenly at the bar in Flotsam. After all, the story is narrated by this very glib, whimsical character – so why make the song all “dark and edgy”? I fucking hate those two words. They have become so over-used and so often thrown around as buzzwords that they’ve not only started to lose their meaning, but people often confuse “dark” with “having artistic merit.” When I hear the word “edgy” I always imagine a prissy boyband talking about their new album that’s “more edgy” because their label hired a guitar player for a few songs.
Besides, I didn’t feel the Witcher was a dark game. I felt it was authentic – the characters were true to life and very real with very real flaws. But the game was full of humor and fun too and the tone in which it was presented and narrated was, as I said, glib and whimsical. That’s what the musical tone was meant to imply. The pace of the combat was also quite brisk and lively, so I think that’s another way the music fits.
The alliteration is everywhere in this one. Told you I’m a sucker for it! “Crooked kingdoms”, “clouds collide,” “deadly dark elixirs,” “caustic, curdled,” “wound and weave and carve and cleave” – the song is loaded with alliteration. I can’t help it, I just like the sound of it!
I included the Polish line as a tribute to the writer and developers. Got a lot of love from my Polish fans for that! I also used a new vocal microphone on this song. I think you can really hear the more crisp, clear tone, especially in the chorus.
Your Polish accent was all wrong.
Ah well, sorry about that. I did get advice from a Polish buddy but in the end I didn’t have time to go back and re-record the vocal afterwards.
It’s too light and easy – compared to The Witcher it’s just … wrong.
There’s that word again – “wrong”. Wrong for your experience of the Witcher maybe, but just right for mine, I’m afraid.
WTF. The Witcher is metal, not bloody folk.Try some black metal next time.
Yeah, those Dimmu Borgir songs in the Flotsam tavern sure made me headbang. Do your eyes of molten iron ever get tired behind those musical blinkers?
Your goal of reducing repetition is coming along nicely.
Nice to hear. I was a bit worried this one may have reverted in that respect but people didn’t seem to think so.
Not right for the game. Should have been darker and grittier.
Let me know how that new One Direction single with the guitar on it sounds. Haven’t had a chance to listen but you sound like you might enjoy it.
Why was there no mention of all the sex. The game was full of sex.
Because sex is just sex. You see sex everywhere. It’s not a part of the story I found particularly interesting or inspiring or unique. I never really have much interest in sex in games. I prefer it in real life.
See you next month, folks!