Christian Marcussen

Credits:
- Haze
- Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising
- Second Sight

Official website

 

Christian Marcussen has written original music for titles such as Haze, Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and Second Sight. We talked to him about the challenges of video game music scoring, the innovative style of his Operation Flashpoint score as well his influences as a composer.

Hi Christian, thank you for taking the time to do this interview. First of all, tell us about yourself. How did you get started in the video game music business?

I started out doing music for short films with the intent of doing film music at one point. I also played lots of games, and I was fond of a Mod for Unreal Tournament called “Infiltration”. It was a realistic military sim, not unlike Flashpoint, but it had terrible music. I offered to do something more cinematic, and I ended up as part of the team. Then by pure chance a guy who worked for Free Radical Design - the company who did the TimeSplitters series – also played loads of “Infiltration”, and heard my music. He said that I might consider giving their audio director a call if I wanted to do music for games. I did as he suggested and after 6 months of not hearing anything I was contacted. I did a short demo and was hired to do music for their games Second Sight and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect.

 

Let’s talk about Operation Flashpoint: Dragon Rising. When and how did you get involved in that project?

I got in touch with the audio lead at Codemasters. He offered me to do a demo, and once again I found myself hired for the job. This was however many years ago, and long before I started working on the game. Things kept getting pushed and I believe it took at least a year from when I was hired till I actually started working on it. But it was well worth the wait. I was a huge Flashpoint fan, and doing music for that was dream come true.

 

How much creative freedom were you given by the developers in order to find a unique and creative soundscape for the game?

The overall sound of the game was pretty much decided for me, although it did change a few times over the course of my involvement. Codemasters started out wanting something akin to John Powell’s Bourne music, and the demo that I got hired upon was in that style. After a while though it was decided, wisely I think, that the game needed something else than the traditional Hollywood action music. I mean, the game is really the opposite of that genre and they wanted the music to reflect that. One of the sound designers had a really interesting idea for the music. It was a track by a Tuvan music group called Hunn-Huur-Tu. It was really emotional and had a very characteristic kind of vocal performance called throat singing. It was really weird, yet very haunting and curiously, very fitting for the game. So that was the kind of style I had to do, which honestly was pretty daunting. I had never done anything like it. Luckily they still trusted me with the job and I know they were very happy with the end result.

 

How did you first start out writing the music?

Actually, the very characteristic music heard in the main menu was one of the last things I did. Prior to that, I had spent a lot of time on nailing the themes, and doing some of their promotional videos. These turned out to be great testing grounds for ideas, themes and sound.

 

How would you describe your score and what aspect of it are you most thrilled about?

I guess I would go with weird, emotional and brave. I still can't believe that Codemasters had the balls to have a score like that for such a high profil game, but they did, and kudos to them. What I'm most thrilled about is how well the Tuvan style of music turned out. I'm sure it does not sound Tuvan to those really familiar with that style, but it mimics it quite well, while still having a western sense of theme and harmony. I'm also quite happy with the Flashpoint theme which is heard in the end of the menu music and during multiplayer. The theme isn't heard much but I think it’s recognizable enough to be associated with the Flashpoint brand if used again for a sequel.

 

You’ve also scored Haze, one of the launch titles for the PlayStation 3. Could you talk a bit about the particular challenges of that project?

That score was challenging on many levels. On the bright side it was a Free Radical game and I loved working with them: Lots of freedom and a great communication. However, the look and feel of the game changed while I was working on it, and suddenly some of the music I had done no longer fitted what the publisher was after. But overall it was a really nice experience, and I'm pretty pleased with how my music ended up in the game. I would love to do a Haze 2 score since it would be nice to revisit the musical themes of the game. Sadly, that’s not going to happen.

 

Are you pleased that your scores are being discussed / compared with film scores? For many years the direction for "crossing over" has been from game scores to movie scores (e.g., Giacchino), but more recently movie composers have gone the other way (e.g., Schifrin, Elfman & Shore). Any thoughts as to why this latter flow is happening?

Yeah, I'm pleased with it. It’s always nice when people think your music is worthy of being a film score. As for the flow from film to games – I suspect there are several reasons. First of all, music budgets for games have reached a point where it’s worth it to cross over. By that I mean that they pay is acceptable to film composers and that the budget often allows for an orchestra, making it more satisfying than it was 15 years ago. Secondly, I think film composers like the freedom that game music offers. They often don't have to worry about aligning their music with the editing as they do in film. I also think they are allowed more creative freedom – freedom to go wild, experiment or do things how they want to do them. I guess studio execs are less inclined to give someone like Danny Elfman a hard time once they have him on board.

 

Where do you see game music in five to ten years from now?

I don't think it will be much different to be honest. The standard of game music is pretty high and I guess it will stay and perhaps increase slightly as music technology continues to get better.

 

What is, in your opinion, the most difficult / challenging / enjoyable task when composing for a video game?

The biggest challenge is simply making the music the best it can be, and to satisfy everyone. On AAA titles you often have to satisfy multiple people in different departments, who often have conflicting opinions on what the music should be. I once did a game where every time I had “nailed it” in the ears of who I thought was in charge, someone higher up had an different opinion, often diametrically opposed to what I had been told the week before. The game had an audiolead, brand-manager, and two producers and no one knew who was in charge or what they wanted. As you can imagine this can be pretty challenging as well.

Most enjoyable is surely when you do a piece of music that really captures the essence of the game, and everyone involved is happy with the end result. That's what Flashpoint was like, and that feels great.

 

What other composers / musical styles have had the greatest influences on you? What is in your CD-player / on your mp3-player right now?

I'm actually not quite sure what my influences are. My three favorite film composers would be John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith and James Newton Howard, so I assume these have influenced me the most. Right now I'm listening to the King Kong score by Howard. The fact that he did that score in less than a month is mind blowing: Great themes, emotion, action and drama.

 

What is, so far, your favourite project you’ve worked on?

That would be TimeSplitters: Future Perfect. First of all, working for Free Radical was great – but creatively the game allowed for lots of styles and genres due to the time travelling theme of the game. One week I was doing music for a futuristic warzone, and the next I was doing horror music. Additionally the game had lots of cutscenes which I love to do, especially as they allowed for some comedic music as well, which is uncommon for games.

 

What would be your dream project?

Doing a new TimeSplitters game, or a fantasy game. It would be a fun challenge to do a fantasy score in the style of Conan the Barbarian, another great score by the way.

 

What are you currently working on?

Currently I'm working on an animation project called Scottish Ninjas. It's a crazy, politically incorrect, action comedy. I just finished most of the music for the pilot that is now being shopped around, and reactions seem to be great. Later this year I expect to work on another game by Codemasters.

 

Do you play PC or console games yourself?

I do, but not as much as I would like - a few hours a week if I'm lucky. Currently I'm actually playing Flashpoint: Dragon Rising and getting my ass kicked. But I like the challenge and the intense feel of the game. The music ain't too bad either ;)

 

Thanks again and good luck on your future endeavours.

Thank you!