The Music of PlanetSide 2: Interview with Composer Jeff Broadbent
SOE's PlanetSide franchise has a phenomenal and immediately recognizable soundtrack. The faction-specific themes and iconic loading screen music are quintessential to the experience. We had a chance to engage composer Jeff Broadbent about his work on PlanetSide 2, and what its like to write music for the video gaming industry.
The PlanetSide 2 score borrows from the original PlanetSide. Did you find it harder or easier to score music within that framework?
Personally, I find that either composing entirely new material, or expanding upon previous music, is equally challenging. For me, the process is actually quite similar between the two - when I compose music, I begin by sketching out the basic melody and harmony outline, then I make decisions on the overall structure of the piece, and what instrumental colors will be used. So, for PlanetSide 2, in the instances where we utilized theme segments from the prequel, I would transcribe and analyze some of the original motifs for melodic and harmonic direction, and would then decide how we can present these themes in a new light, using new orchestrations, instruments, and rhythms. The challenge in this case was how to be true to the themes of the first game, yet also transform them into a new approach for the sequel.?
PlanetSide 2 has three distinct scores--one for each faction. What was your inspiration for scoring the different factions? For instance, did game lore play a role? What sorts of things were you listening to or paying attention to as you wrote each?
Game lore certainly played a part in the creative direction for each faction's sonic approach--I spent a good amount of time reading the lore for each faction to understand their background. I had several talks with audio director Rodney Gates concerning the musical approach for each faction. Even before I was brought on to compose, the development team was certain they wanted distinct musical approaches for each faction.
The Terran Republic is the mighty authoritarian faction, so powerful orchestra, choir, and large percussion was a great fit. I have a background and education in symphonic composition, so I drew upon my understanding of the orchestra and its vast repertoire in creating their score. I also wanted the themes of the Terran Republic to be very strong and bold, so using instruments such as French horns in unison and wide string octaves was very helpful.
The New Conglomerate is a faction rebelling against the perceived tyranny of the Terran Republic. They are also operating on the fringes of the established order, so a rock/blues hybrid blend was fitting for them. For their score, we created a gritty rock sound, yet also with a blues element (we recorded some live fiddle also to this end). In addition, I blended in some glitch-style percussion to the live instruments, to give the music a unique rhythmic tone.
The Vanu Sovereignty is a faction with spiritual roots and emphasis on new technology. For this faction, the idea of blending cutting-edge electronic sounds with spiritual/world instruments like duduk, ambient vocals, and various wind instruments worked very well--it was a combination of both the advanced and timeless, the technological and the spiritual. As I composed their music, I put emphasis on creating new electronic timbres and rhythms, music that has a driving pulse, but is also very interesting sonically.
In PlanetSide 2 specifically, but also in general, do you find it easier to express yourself creatively with an actual orchestra? Are there any major benefits to live recording as opposed to laying down tracks digitally?
"When composing, my objective is always to provide the emotional support for the game. That's the beauty of music, it can help the player have a more immersive experience by providing a sonic backdrop..."
I believe that using a live orchestra, if budget allows, is always the best way to go. The dynamic expression and lyricism that live musicians can bring out in the music is unparalleled, even despite all the technological advances in virtual instruments and samples. These musicians are fantastic--they are very talented and have spent years of their lives perfecting their craft. Live recording will sound more realistic, more cohesive, and more unified than composing via samples. It gives the human touch that makes all the difference.
We know you worked a bit with Don Ferrone on the Soundtrack for PlanetSide 2. Did the two of you collaborate on tracks, or score pieces individually?
Don and I both worked independently, so we didn't have the opportunity to collaborate together on tracks. I think in the end this actually worked out well, as we each could bring our own musical voice to the different compositions.
When you write music, what's your objective or technique? What are you trying to invoke in the listener?
When composing, my objective is always to provide the emotional support for the game. That's the beauty of music, it can help the player have a more immersive experience by providing a sonic backdrop that can further the story of the game and enhance the actions of the player. In PlanetSide 2, composing music that increases the excitement of the battle, provides the player with a feeling of allegiance to their faction, and helps them have a great interactive experience was my goal.
What advice would you give to young musicians who are hoping to break into scoring for the video game industry?
I would say, first and foremost, you need to have a love for music. When you truly enjoy what you do, it will allow you to spend the countless hours perfecting your craft and striving to be as creative as possible. Listen to as much music as possible, in many different styles. Study the works of the great composers, both past and present. As a freelance composer, learning how to run your own independent business is also very important, so practical business skills are key. Above all, be easy to work with, and enjoy the process of working with others. At the end of the day, for myself, that's what it's all about-- composing music that the gaming audience will enjoy, and having a great time working with the fine studios that create these games.???
Jeff, I appreciate you giving us a little time today and I hope youll keep us up-to-date on your next project.
Thanks very much!
Listen to tracks and learn more about Jeff's work at jeffbroadbent.com.