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The Music of The Mojave Wasteland

October 14, 2010 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next
 

[Obsidian Entertainment audio director Scott Lawlor talks composing the soundtrack of Fallout: New Vegas, and how elements of the previous games' scores merged with a new direction in the series' sound tech and audio aesthetic.]

Atmosphere is the key ingredient in the Fallout: New Vegas soundscape. From the long-decayed, echoing gunshots to the dense, layered ambiences, these are the sounds that pull the player further into the post-apocalyptic world of the Mojave Wasteland.

My goal for Fallout: New Vegas was to make sure the music fit in seamlessly with this soundscape and would help to subconsciously guide the player through their 100+ hour experience. In order to do this, the music had to match the atmosphere of the world to a T.

We wanted to pay homage to the history of the series and draw a line between Mark Morgan's musical style from Fallout 1 and 2 and Inon Zur's musical direction from Fallout 3. To this end, Inon brought everything full circle in Fallout: New Vegas with a masterful score that perfectly fit the environment.

In such a large world with so many hours spent roaming the wasteland, it would be easy for the music to get repetitive. We ultimately decided that a location-based, adaptive and reactive music system would be the best way to alleviate the problem.

The end result is a music system that flows seamlessly from the randomly generated ambient music in the empty wasteland to the layered, location based music in the towns.

The dungeon music transitions smoothly between exploration, tense moments, and when the player is in the midst of combat, while the whole system is reactive to the relationship the player has with the factions in the area.

All of this together achieves a smooth, scored musical experience that reacts to the player’s choices in the game. [EDITOR'S NOTE: You can hear elements of the soundtrack and see Scott, Inon Zur and others discussing audio as a whole as part of this Fallout: New Vegas video diary.]

The process of putting together this system took well over a year and had many phases. I will take you through how we approached everything from Preproduction, to Production, and Finalizing.

Preproduction

The musical direction in each of the previous Fallout installments was quite different. In New Vegas, we wanted to attempt to homogenize all of the varying influences while bringing something new to the table that was specific to this game. We came to the conclusion that Inon Zur was the perfect person to do this. He is a very diverse composer and we felt that he would be able to achieve our goals for this game.

Once we had decided to go with Inon for the project, we started to brainstorm ideas of what type of music would best fit the Southwestern feel we were taking for New Vegas. I sat down with Josh Sawyer, our project director, and we decided on some goals for the project. In our first email to Inon, we set out these goals:

To sum it up in one phrase: Southwest in the Future

Open, Spacious, Raw, Lonesome, Cowboy, Rattlesnake, Desert, Wind, Heat, Rust, Steel, Dirt, Grit

  • To start with, your Megaton piece from Fallout 3 is along the lines of what we are going for
  • We also like the spaciousness of Mark Morgan’s piece, Redding, from Fallout 2
  • The instrumentation should focus on Western/Folk instruments mixed with more Modern, Industrial, Found-Sounds and Gritty Synthesis
  • Experiment with smaller String Ensembles like quartets where you hear a lot of the rosin on the strings

We envision there being three types of music in the game. Licensed tracks, Ambient Music, and Scripted Music.

  • The licensed music will focus on the Rat Pack era in Vegas
  • The scripted music should be the most similar to your work from Fallout 3 but with more of the southwestern influence
  • The ambient music should be very spacious and open -- We may experiment with layering percussion over the ambient pieces for battles

With this, we began the process of iteration that defined the musical style for New Vegas. Early on, we gave Inon a number of directives, pushing him toward a few influences that we wanted to see in the project -- including Jonny Greenwood’s score for the film There Will Be Blood. Also, there were a number of pieces of music from each game in the Fallout series that fit the direction we wanted to take the music for this game.

Once we had defined our goals for the project, it was a breeze. Inon was inspired to create something unique with this project, and he immediately came back with demos of the first pieces that sounded exactly like what we had imagined. We were off to the races.

Now that we had defined the aesthetic direction for the project, it was time to focus on how to best present the musical content to players in context of the game. Again, Inon was instrumental to this process. He is a big believer that the manner in which his music is implemented is crucial to how it is perceived. We had a number of talks early on about how best to go about this.

Fallout has a unique set of challenges when it comes to music implementation. The experience the player has is largely unscripted and is subject to a number of unpredictable choices that they will make. At any point, the player can choose to walk away, or turn the other direction. This means that tightly scripted musical changes are essentially worthless. In this case, the player has the control.

Not only is the format largely unpredictable, it is also an extremely long form. Since the player is likely to spend countless hours in this world, we didn't want the music to be overbearing or annoying. This meant trying to create variations and diversity wherever we could. In order to do this, there needed to be various approaches for each situation.


Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

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