Rogue, of Mac Heroes, and myself, recently had the opportunity to do an e-mail interview with Rob King, the guy in charge of sound on Heroes of Might and Magic IV which is currently under development by New World Computing and will be published by 3DO in Spring 2002. We sent the questions on November 9 and the answers arrived on November 13. Hope you enjoy!Questions and Answers
Angelspit: First of all, thank you so much Rob for taking the time to chat with us. We are really excited to discuss an underated side of computer games, the music. Let the questions begin!
ROB: Alright, let's go!
Rogue: Rob, you are the Music and Sound Supervisor for NWC. What exactly does that title mean? Are you the top dog in charge of music there?
ROB: Well I am the top dog till they want changes... :) One thing I have always loved about working at NWC is that they have given me creative freedom on most of the projects I work on. I am in charge of anything you hear in the game. From composing or producing the soundtracks which usually includes mixing and recording them to all the sound effects you hear in the Game. I am also in charge of hiring and directing the voice talent as well as the recordings.
Angelspit: How did you get started in the industry? How did you end up in the gaming field?
ROB: Well I have been doing music for about 16 years now. Started singing in bands at a wee ol' age and then moved into production in my early twenties. I have been at NWC for almost 8 years now. Getting in was a bit strange. I worked at a record store my last year in college and had a health class with a guy who had just got a job as an artist for NWC. We kept in touch after school and he came by and told me that this company (NWC) was hiring a "Sound Guy". So needless to say I applied. At the time I didn't even own a computer nor ever used one excect for my Atari 5200. :) I have had plenty of "recording" experience though. After a couple of interviews Mark Caldwell really liked me and gave me the position. I went in head first...and it all worked out.
Angelspit: 2001 has been a difficult year for 3D0 and New World Computing. However, the NWC employees I exchanged mail with are all enthusiastic and extremely friendly (Jennifer, April and Becky come to mind). What is it like to work there?
ROB: For me, I really do love it. I have excellent relationships with everyone at NWC. The producers and management I work for are all truely talented and have an uderstanding towards audio for a game. Jeff Blatner (V.P. of Development), Jon Van Canegham (President), David Mullich (Director) and Keith Francart (Director) are always a pleasure to work with and are very professional.
Rogue: Based on your descriptions in the Heroes Community forum, it sounds like the Heroes 4 soundtrack will be very interesting and thematically focused. Could you describe it again here for people who missed that discussion?
ROB: "The score is amazing this time around. We used over 30 musicians in the making of the score. My good friend Paul Romero is back at the helm Composing and Conducting again. We have Opera..... Yes, It is back and better than ever my friends. Karin Mushegain is back (From HOMM2) and we also used Dean from the NYC Opera. We also have a full Women's Choir " NEVENKA" and tons of string players. Justin Bahrami, only 17yrs old layed down an amazing flute track on The "Academy" Town. For the Adventure themes we went for a total different approach. The entire adventure score is Celtic. Using all live musicians. Bagpipes, Mandolins, Guitars,vocals and a bodhran. The new Combat themes are heavier and more aggressive. I have always been excited to work on these games especially because they are just plain good. I think you will all enjoy this soundtrack as much as I ! have creating it."
Rogue: What instruments can we expect to hear? Anything that is unusual for a Heroes game?
ROB: We have added a few... Keeping with the "Theme" of what all The Heroes soundtracks have always had there will be ton's of strings and all the classical instruments. We have added new to HOMM 4, the addition of celtic instruments. Mandolins, Bagpipes, Guitar, Mandecello and accordian. The "Battle Themes" also include alot of synth sounds as well as heavy percussion along with a nice blend of classical instrumentation to keep it all together.
Rogue: The vocals were one of the most memorable aspects of the music in Heroes 2. Why weren't there any vocals in Heroes 3, and what led to the decision to bring them back for Heroes 4?
ROB: Funny thing...When we did HOMM 2 I was fighting for the vocals. Many people at the time thought I was crazy for wanting to put opera in a video game. Anyone who has played a HOMM game knows that it is a breed all it's own and I wanted to do something different in a game that seemed to never have been done before. I really felt it would add some magic to the experience. It was a hard sell but they went for it, and it proved to be a success. Not everyone liked it, but most did. I mean you can never please everybody but damned if I wanted to try. When we did HOMM 3, we opted to go with more world instruments with a couple of vocal samples. People actually missed it! I had a few emails telling me that some of of the fans were dissapointed that the vocals were gone. This was one of the biggest factors in bringing back the Operatic vocals for HOMM 4. We don't use them for every song so there is a little something for everytone. The addition of the NEVENKA Womans Choir is also! nicely added to compliment the arrangements.
Rogue: Many people have told me they felt the music in Heroes 3 was weak compared to that of Heroes 2. Not only due to the lack of vocals, but also because the tracks seemed shorter and more repetitive. How do you feel about that opinion? Do you feel there was a weakness, or perhaps a design limitation, that caused the Heroes 3 music to seem less "memorable" to fans of the series?
ROB: HOMM 3 was just different. We wanted to use more world instruments like a kyoto and sitar and things like that. The fans were very vocal about missing the "Vibe" of HOMM2. As the producer I do admit to enjoying HOMM 2 more. As far as HOMM4 goes...well, in my opinion blows 1, 2 and 3 out of the water. The amount of time we spent from writing to recording was very tedious. We knew we had to make adjustments in the design of the Soundtrack to this game and bring it to a new level. We used alot more live musicians and the recording equipment was top notch. I could go on for hours about all the expensive mics and pre-amp's but I will spare you. :). It was recorded at 24bits on a Protools Rig at 3 different studios. Tracked on a Solid State Logic Console. This soundtrack sounds really good.
Angelspit: So, what are your impressions of the Heroes IV gameplay so far? Will it do better than Heroes II and III, if such a thing is possible?
ROB: I have only had a few minutes on it so I cannot really comment. But the few new features I saw were really cool, especially the ability to move your "Party" Characters around in the map screen. (Hope I can say that)
Angelspit: One feature I particularly enjoy in a computer game is when the music changes according to the current situation (Origin's Ultima IX: Ascension is a good example). While this is easy to implement in a linear adventure game, it is another story for a strategy game. Can we expect to see more of that in Heroes IV?
ROB: Well This game is just different. There is definitely a differnet theme to each type of situation in the game like the Towns, the Adventure Themes and the Battle sequences. Basically when you start to do something different the whole game really changes.
Rogue: Is all of the music made from actual recordings, or is some of it computer/synthesizer generated?
ROB: Most of what you will be hearing in HOMM 4 are real instruments played by real musicians. In the Battle themes you will hear some synthesized sounds as well as real perccusion and Drum loops.
Rogue: What equipment do you use for mixing? Do you use a traditional mixing studio, or is it done on a computer?
ROB: The entire score was recorded on a Digidesign ProTools system. We used various recording software to get things started but it all found its way to the protools system. We used Cakewalk's Sonar, Steinberg's NUENDO and Cubase as well as Sonic Foundry's Vegas and Sound Forge to do alot of pre production recording. Everything was recorded at 24bit 48K through Digidesign, Apogee and SoundScape Converters. Most all the instruments and Vocals were recorded straight to Protools or some of the other software bypassing any mixing console. The recording path was usually Instrument - Mic - Preamp - Compressor (Sometimes) - A/D converer - Protools. As far as the mix goes, I mixed it entirely on a Mackie D8B digital mixer and Protools using some great outboard gear like Avalon compressors, TL Audio Compressors stuff from ADL, Joe Meek, Neve and SPL. I also only use a Lexicon 480L for my reverb.
Rogue: I read that you are pushing for a HoMM music collection CD to be released someday. Would this be music from all games in the series, recreations based on the old music, or just stuff from Heroes 4?
ROB: Don't know yet. We have thrown around the idea of a collection from all 4 games. probably mostly 2 and 4 with a couple from 3 and maybe one track from 1. I really don't know at this time.
Rogue: Is it possible for there to be an mp3 of the week download, similar to what Blizzard Entertainment did leading up to the release of Diablo II?
ROB: That is a good Idea...I will mention it. :)
Rogue: Were you involved with the Sega Genesis version of King's Bounty? I've had the adventure music from that game stuck in my head for the past 10 years.
ROB: Not at all. But I will take a listen, maybe we could do some "Cover Songs" for HOMM 5? :)
Angelspit: It is safe to assume you are a gamer yourself. What have you been playing lately? Spent any time on Diablo 2 or Red Alert 2?
ROB: I have to admit I love to play games. I have every console, Mac and PC. I think that the diablo games, the C&C Games and the Heroes Games are some of the best ever made. Beleive it or not I am kinda one of those strange ones that likes those stupid fishing games too. Some of the new Fighting games for the new consoles are awesome too.
Angelspit: Finally, what's up with Red Delicious? I heard you once appeared on Farmclub and CBS News, among others. Did you get some good exposure recently?
ROB: We had alot of exposure a year ago. We also won the "Best Unsigned Band Online" award at the 2000 Yahoo Internet Awards. We are currently finishing up our Major label Debut on Extasy Reords/Warner Bros. as we speak. In fact I have to go back to the studio in 2 hours. We are mixing the CD with Jack Joseph Puig (Goo Goo Dolls, No Doubt, Remy Zero, Green Day) over at Ocean Way in Hollywood. We Co-Produced the Cd with Chris Vrenna (NIN, U2 - Elevation Remix). Steve Baca, Sara Wallace and myself have written all the songs on the CD as well as played the majority of the instruments. Paul Romero has also contributed some great string arrangements. You can read about us at our website that is almost completed www.Red-Delicious.com and check out other artists on our label at www.Extasyrecords.com. We are really excited about the music and hope everyone else out there will enjoy it. You can still get the demos at www.mp3.com/RedDelicious for a few more weeks. Well, Back to the studio I go. Thanks a lot, and I hope everyone enjoys Heroes of Might & Magic IV. I know I will. :)