This week we caught up with composer Olivier Deriviere who has composed music for a number of games including Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry, Remember Me,Alone in the Dark, Of Orcs and Men, Obscure and Obscure 2.
You’ve scored a number of popular games including Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry, Remember Me and Alone in the Dark. What do you find the most difficult aspect of scoring a video game in general?
The most difficult aspect of scoring a game is to determine precisely what would make the music unique to its subject and how it will work with the gameplay mechanics. I’m always surprised when I hear that scoring a game or a movie is quite the same. Of course it has its similarities such as finding the right instrumentation and themes but then it’s all about the player, not about the story or the setting. In a video game, the main character is the player and as a composer you want to support his or her experience as best you can and I think that is the most difficult aspect of scoring a game.
Tell us a bit about your approach for scoring Assassin’s Creed IV Freedom Cry. (How did you research the sounds required, how did you try to keep it uniform with the rest of the game’s soundtrack?)
This game is very unique in the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise. First of all, it happens during a very dark age of history where slavery was considered normal and secondly it’s not about the Assassins versus the Templars but much more about an assassin named Adéwalé who was a former slave – after he gets stranded in Port au Prince he witnesses what happens to his own people and for the first time he wants to help. What is very interesting is that gradually his roots will come back to him and that was my approach. I wanted to get the musical roots from Haiti into my own score and gradually make them the center of the musical journey to illustrate the personal evolution of Adéwalé and transfer this to the player.
What obstacles did you come across when scoring Assassin’s Creed IV Freedom Cry?
The project had a very short time period and we couldn’t afford any mistakes. The biggest obstacles were to find the right performers and I couldn’t be happier to have found them with La Troupe Makandal, a Haitian music group based in New York City, and the Brussels Philharmonic. For the music I wrote, I had to gather the perfect performers and I have to say I wasn’t disappointed, quite the contrary.
Your score for the video game “Remember Me” mixes electronic and organic sounds as well as digitally manipulates live orchestral sounds. Tell us a bit about the digital manipulation side of the score – how did you decide on it and how was it done?
The digital manipulation was an idea that came from the game. In “Remember Me” people can digitize their memories to store them, share them and some people, like the main character, can hack and manipulate them. We thought it would be really interesting to reflect this aspect in the score. It took me quite some time to really construct this composition because I was in uncharted lands and since Dontnod, the developer, trusted me I really wanted to take this incredible opportunity to go beyond my limits. Using lots of electronic effects and a live orchestra recorded in London, I can say it was quite crazy but it turned out quite well and I am very happy about the outcome.
Apart from combining electronic and natural sounds, how did you attempt to create the futuristic feel to the soundtrack for Remember Me?
It’s really difficult to answer this question. I think the futuristic feel comes from many aspects of the score besides the combination of the two different nature of sounds, electronic and acoustic. The first, I think, comes from how they combine, not as a hybrid style as many other soundtracks have developed already, but as a necessity from one to the other. In the score, the synth sounds you hear on top of the orchestra are the result of an electronic manipulation applied on the orchestra performance, there is no actual synth playing. It means that they are completely dependent one to the other to create the sonic sound of the soundtrack. And the other aspect is the style of writing. The score includes classical colors that were used in sci-fi that I guess subconsciously adds this feel to my score.
What does your studio currently consist of hardware/software wise?
I have many different hardware and software configurations to adapt as quickly as possible to my projects. Mostly it’s computers with crazy amounts of memory and horse power coupled with RME and Digidesign hardware to work on Cubase or Pro Tools. For plugins, I could list VSL, Kontakt, Slate Digital, Lexicon and many more. But what ultimately makes the difference is I own all the console game systems from very old generations to the very latest next-generation. I think this is how I really understand how to score a game, by experiencing the more I can.
Would you like to move into the film/tv scoring world in the future, or is your passion in solely scoring video games?
My first passion has always been video games but I do sometimes compose for TV or movies. Not big features but really interesting projects that are also very unique. I spend most of my energy working in games but maybe later in my career I may do more film/tv…who knows?
Where do you see the video game scoring industry in 5-10 years’ time?
Deep down I hope it will be much different from most of today’s game music. I think the main aspect of a game is how you experience it. Today the big titles such as “The Last of Us”, “GTA5” or “Assassin’s Creed” are mostly a hybrid between a movie and a game. They have own their unique gameplay mechanics but they are still based on a narration borrowed from the movies. I think this latter aspect will disappear, not in a sense that there won’t be any more storytelling but much more that the way it is told will be dramatically different. If you look at the upcoming technologies such as the Oculus Rift you may already have a glimpse of what awaits us. I can’t say for sure what it will be but I hope it will help the video game medium to emancipate from the movies. As for video game scoring, it will then depend on this evolution. But already today, in many indie games, you have fresh ideas of how music can become much more than just an illustration, it is really exciting!
What advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time to when you were originally starting off?
Every professional I met before starting my career gave me the same advice: “Don’t try to reproduce what already exists, you can master it but use it as a start, not as a goal”. The aspect most young composers tend to underestimate is the knowledge of what makes a game. I think you have to play as much as you can to really experience a video game for what it is: a personal journey in a world with its own rules.
Your studio is on fire and you only have time to grab one thing – what do you take?
Oh my!!! I only just got a PS4 due to the shortage and for sure I will grab that! No question!