This is the story of a rescue operation undertaken by people who don’t commonly find opportunities for heroism in their professional lines of work. Nevertheless in this case, their joint actions saved money and reputations and kept a large project from unraveling after years of work.
Cue 1 : Prelude — Adagio
Licensed video games, by definition, start off with a cache of existing material: the groundwork for plot and character already laid, the tone and style somewhat pre-determined. If the video game is based on a feature film, there may also be pre-existing music from the movie score. Comparing the full listing of cast and crew for a film and a related video game on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) might awaken in the uninitiated the idea that the video game is a comparatively simple enterprise.
But that is not the reality. A licensed video game can take much longer than a film to develop—as long as 3–5 years, have a great deal more music—as much as 4–5 hours, and may be less derivative than the typical description implies. It may adapt the characters and spirit of a movie and leap off from there, acquiring extra characters, extended plotlines, and new music as the game logistics are worked out. Or the game may be slated for completely new music from the start.
Sound is added after the corresponding game levels are complete, meaning composition can start about halfway through the cycle. And no matter how limited the number of new cues, if the music is orchestral, the coordination of a large number of people will be necessary to get those cues recorded.
The creation of a score with an orchestra is a process that has operational planning demands similar to those of any large-scale, extremely intricate, synchronized operation: a university graduation, the staging of a Broadway show, a plan to shut down the opponent’s defense in a pro football playoff game. Specifically, it requires meticulously prepared instructions in the form of a musical score that gives the conductor a detailed overview and tells each performer exactly which pitches to play for how long at what tempo and dynamic and with what technique and feeling for each split second of time. It also requires that this score be meticulously performed by dozens of people and captured by sound engineers in the shortest amount of time possible to avoid astronomical costs. The professional musicians who perform the score are expected to simultaneously provide an exacting rendition of what they see on the printed pages of music they have received only moments beforehand, as well as provide an often highly emotional and dramatic reflection of the video game’s plot, expressing markedly different moods and tones as they move from cue to cue.
What follows is the story of one video game score that almost didn’t get recorded and how it was saved in the end by the dedication and professionalism of people you may not typically think of as heroes: it was saved by music industry professionals.
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