Around the Verse: The Music of Squadron 42 explores the art and tech behind the score for Squadron 42. Composer Geoff Zanelli (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, The Pacific, Outlander) walks us through his process, while Ross Tregenza and Lee Banyard discuss the technical challenges for the CIG Audio team. Sandi Gardiner and Josh Herman host this week’s episode, which also includes an update with Brian Chambers from Foundry 42 in Germany.
Around the Verse: The Music of Squadron 42 – Cleaned and Corrected Transcript
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Sandi Gardiner – VP of Marketing
Josh Herman – Character Art Director.
SANDI GARDINER: Hello, and welcome to Around the Verse, our look behind the scenes into the development of Star Citizen, and Squadron 42. Today we’ve got a special guest host, joining the program, Josh Herman, Character Art Director, and Star of last week’s Star Citizens Happy Hour. He’s filling in for Chris, so thank you.
JOSH HERMAN: Thank you, it’s my pleasure. These shows are a unique part of Star Citizen’s development, so I’m lucky to be a part of them.
SANDI GARDINER: Yes, they are, and since we have you here, anything you would like to share from the character art this week?
JOSH HERMAN: Yeah, this week we got through some of our character modularity system bugs, and it’s going to help us create a lot of unique and distinct looks, so I think we’ll be showing a little bit about that in an upcoming Around the Verse episode, so look to that.
SANDI GARDINER: Very cool, and that would be awesome. For now, though, let’s head over to our Frankfurt office, and Brian Chambers, for this week’s Studio Update.
Brian Chambers – Development Director at Foundry 42 Frankfurt
Hey, everyone! I’m Brian Chambers, development director of Foundry 42 Frankfurt. Since our last update, the team’s grown by an additional six people, across five different disciplines. We’re glad to have them on board, and I’m sure you’ll meet some of them in the near-future. The entire team’s been busy, so I’ll give you a quick update on a few of the disciplines.
The weapons team has been busy reworking some items from the Klaus & Werner manufacturer. The Gallant, the Arrowhead, and the Arclight are all getting revamped to have a finer level of detail, as well as prepping them to work with our future attachment system. The Devastator 12 from the Kastak Arms manufacturer is also going through a similar process.
In regards to ship weapons, the team’s been blocking out different weapon types, sizes, and upgrade levels for the Knightsbridge arms manufacturer.
The QA team here in Frankfurt works closely with the designers and engineers to support them however they need. One bit of recent support was validating damage to players. They used our existing FPS test map to verify how much damage a player could take on each portion of the body all at different ranges. They used all existing weapons at various distances, both online and off, and documented all their findings along the way. In the process, we found discrepancies in the damage taken to players, so we tore those apart and rectified them for our 2.6 release.
The environment team also works closely with the Engine team to push our visuals for planetary tech. They made great progress on new procedural moons, making sure they look good from an extreme distance and close-up, all the way to the point where you land on them and explore.
They also made progress on new varieties of vegetation. Along with the new varieties, the engineers implemented functionality so we can now have bending tree trunks and branches as opposed to previously where just the leaves moved.
The VFX team also works with the engineers, and they’ve been working with them on new toolsets for procedural particles. These tools allow us to spawn particles based on specific parameters to help the environment feel more dynamic and alive. Parameters include terrain elevation, angle, specific textures, specific ecosystem, and so on.
We also now have ecosystem based weather particles that are attached to the camera and procedurally play when you’re inside that specific ecosystem, as well as the ability to group particles along with specifically procedurally attributed objects such as trees or rocks. This allows us to add more bespoke detail to items across the procedurally scattered items, such as leaves falling from trees and dust blowing off rocks, and more.
So. That’s it from Frankfurt, thanks again for watching, thanks for all the support, and we’ll see you next time.
Back to the Studio
JOSH HERMAN: Appreciate the update, Brian. And of course, welcome to all our new employees joining us in Germany, it’s great to have you guys on the team. How cool were those cactuses?
SANDI GARDINER: Super cool Cacti!
JOSH HERMAN: Cacti? I don’t know. The ecosystems we’re able to pull together are getting more incredible, especially now that we’re able to add the tech and additional animations, as well as procedural particles.
SANDI GARDINER: Very cool! And you and your team have begun working on creatures too, right?
JOSH HERMAN: Yes, we’ve created concepts of fauna to go along with the environment team’s flora. I think we showed off some insects sculpts back in November that I did, but we’ve been expanding there to make our biomes diverse and immersive.
SANDI GARDINER: Another big part of Star Citizen’s immersion is the music and tech that, goes along with it and we talked before about some of the dynamic music system and how it applies to the persistent universe. Today we’re going to sit down and talk about its use in Squadron 42 with composer Geoff Zanelli and lead sound designer Ross Tregenza.
Art & Tech: The Music of Squadron 42
Geoff Zanelli – Independent Composer
Lee Banyard – Audio Director CIG Audio
Ross Tregenza – Senior Sound Designer at Foundry 42
I’m Geoff Zanelli. I thought music was this thing that other people in other cities went and did. It didn’t quite occur to me that it was a career path that I could embark on until I was a teenager. And soon enough I started to realize that music can take all sorts of shapes and forms that don’t necessarily exist on the radio.
I was a guitar player. I had a band. We were terrible. We were an unsigned band. We weren’t necessarily looking to go pro with that, but I wanted to be in music. Once I got a guitar I stopped homework and athletics. [Laughter]. I don’t know if I’m proud of that, but it took me somewhere. I guess being in a band format didn’t quite fit with what I wanted to do. I was forever wondering ‘could this be bigger? Why does a song have to be three minutes? Why is there always a verse and a chorus?’
This inevitably leads you to music for media, film, television, and video games. You have a lot more options for the shape of things.
So off I went to college. And that time I was only a musician for three years and I was the best guitarist I knew and then I walked into a building and I was easily in the bottom third when I walked into Berklee College of Music in Boston. [laughter] All these guys had come up playing all their lives, which was a good and humbling thing for me but I knew I was aiming for composition.
So, I took a degree in film music and music engineering and production. Then, when I was trying to start a career I banged on about sixty doors in Los Angeles. Or, I should say, I mailed resumes to sixty studios in LA while I was still in Boston saying ‘Will work free’. Hoping to get fifty phone calls back hoping to have the horrible dilemma of picking which studio will hire me…And it doesn’t work like that. Of those sixty studios, I got one phone call and I thought ‘OK, this is a long road.’
Fortuitously, that phone call came from the studio which was then called media ventures, owned by Hans Zimmer. I came up, I was an intern so I did come from the bottom rung. I knew nobody in Los Angeles, nobody in film, nobody in video games…Nobody. Then I just never went home after that. They let me in the door, the session would be over, and I’d go into the archives and pull tapes out and listen to them. I just wanted to be around it.
My whole career has been little steps. There was never a huge break for me. I was an engineer getting my orchestration education. Then I was an assistant to a composer named John Powell and eventually, he would start to ask me “Hey, do you want to look at the percussion for this cue? Do you want to write a small piece of music for a scene in the movie?” And from there it just blossomed.
Eventually, I began writing for Hans Zimmer’s movies and you know at this point, maybe twenty years ago when that started and that began that working relationship that blossomed into something that I never expected. Next thing I know I am working on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. I wrote a lot of music with Hans.
Nowadays I have my independent career. Recently I scored the recent Pirates of the Caribbean that’s coming out. So, I guess that’s the culmination of the relationship I have with Hans.
LEE BANYARD: My name’s Lee Banyard, I’m the audio director here at CIG Audio located at Foundry 42 in the U.K. I act as the focal point for all the audio disciplines. Which includes music, sound effects, dialog, and code. I help unify the creative vision that comes through Chris and then through me and make sure everyone is working in roughly the same direction.
ROSS TREGENZA: Hi! I’m Ross Tregenza and I’m the Senior Sound Designer at Foundry 42 working on music systems for Squadron 42. I’ve been working with Geoff Zanelli on the project over the last year of so.
I started as a musician back in the nineties and slowly made my way into video games. I composed for the game Time Splitter and became more of a long-term employee there. Eventually, I came to CryTek and then made the move to this fantastic studio here.
Because of my background in music, Lee Banyard has me working on music systems which is just phenomenal. The scope of the game and what we can do with the music is utterly endless and it’s been very exciting.
LEE BANYARD: I work quite closely with Ross on almost sort of day-to-day basis in helping kind of we pin down exact what musical needs are for the game, and that includes the Persistent Universe as well as Squadron 42. We take those requirements and go to our composers, like Geoff Zanelli for Squadron 42 and Pedro Comacho for the Persistent Universe.
Ross does a lot of the implementation, detailed ground work where that’s concerned, but we work together just to communicate to Geoff or Pedro exactly what we need from a creative standpoint so they provide us with the actual music, but then we take into the game and try to make that work in an interactive context.
Geoff’s worked, I think, mostly in film and television. He has worked in a game context as well which I think assists us. He’s worked on Outlander, the Pacific series for HBO and Pirates of the Caribbean is a big one he has done recently. I think he only recently finished up with that and now and he’s got more time to devote to us, so we’re quite happy about that.
He’s extremely into what we are doing. Quite proud of it. They both are, both Pedro and Geoff, so that’s made them very easy to work with, and he’s got a great line of communication with Chris as well as us.
GEOFF ZANELLI: When the first two Wing Commanders first came out, let’s see, I was in high school, and that meant if I wasn’t playing my guitar I was playing Wing Commander. [Laughter] I may even owe an apology to my teachers for not studying hard enough for a time. It was such a great game you couldn’t put it down.
The thing is, at the time the attention to detail in that game was just so far above anything else that was out there. You know it was ubiquitous really. If you were a gamer you were playing Wing Commander, and if you weren’t playing Wing Commander you weren’t a gamer. [Laughter] It was that big.
So, I met Chris Roberts when he was producing Outlander, and he heard my score for Disturbia. I think John Schimmel played it for him. So, the two of them and Howard McCain, who’s the director, called me in to watch the film or watch some scenes to see if it would inspire me, and it did instantly. I mean, you can see it still excites me to think about that, because I was raised on these adventure movies and fantasy and sci-fi. Movies which are larger than life. Those are the movies I remember from my childhood.
It was easy to get excited about that and then when Chris and went through the process of writing a film score, which is usually over the course of a few months, we got to the end of it feeling like we had a good workflow, getting along well. The relationship was symbiotic, and by the time Chris was getting going with Star Citizen I think he thought of me as a, as a story driven or a narrative composer, because he remembered what I did for, for the story, it was quite complicated in Outlander, so when he started to build the story-driven, narrative elements of Squadron 42.
For Star Citizen, I think it was an easy phone call for him to make and an easy yes for me to give.
I think that’s the reason why the Squadron 42 component to Star Citizen is in my hands because it’s something I’ve always done. I’ve used the story to build the architecture of the score, for lack of a better term. You know that’s one of the fundamental duties of a composer that’s writing anything for a narrative.
The very first piece of music I wrote for Star Citizen was for the Constellation commercial. I should say before I started writing that I looked at the footage and realized this is really a commercial about exploration. That’s what the ship is for. You know, knowing exploration is an element of the game and it’s certainly an element of Squadron 42 as well, I set about writing some music just for a commercial that could transcend that usage. I think of it as exploration music.
It may or may not make an appearance in Squadron 42 but it was at least designed to be able to do so. For me, the exciting thing about the commercials is they exist in the world of the game, it’s not an added layer on top, it’s part of what’s immersive about the universe.
The first piece of music I wrote for Squadron 42 was Bishop’s speech. To me, you know, it wasn’t just a self-contained video or at least I didn’t think of it like that. I thought of it as the catalyst for a giant plot twist in this huge universe we’re immersed in.
So, I’m writing a piece of music that’s meant to use the speech as a hinge to draw players into this story that we’re about to give you. It’s written in such a way that it applies to other aspects of Squadron 42 we have yet to discover. It’ll be certainly indicative of an approach to what the music is for the game and I think gamers want to feel immersed in this enormous universe.
Implementing the gameplay music, it’s a dynamic system, that’s much more technically involved than, doing a cinematic here but we’re looking for ways to be fresh and new with our approach with that.
For me as a gamer, I notice the standard way of handling music right now is you have multiple layers of intensity and it responds sometimes very roughly to what’s happening in the game to the player. Something more intense happens then it will just sort of jump to the next level of intensity in the music.
Often it starts out at the beginning or it becomes a repetitive event, for the gamer. I think repetition in game play music can be a problem because you’re going to be playing the game for many hours.
One of the things I’m doing is looking for ways to avoid repetition in the music. Certainly, Chris Roberts would share that ambition and so would Lee Banyard and Ross Tregenza in the UK Audio Department.
ROSS TREGENZA: It’s a dynamic music system that’s a little more in-depth and grand in scope then you get in other games because our game’s so massive. We want a system that responds to the player but also because Squadron is such a fantastically cinematic game, we want the music to respond in appropriately cinematic, epic ways.
So, it gets fed into by what you do in the game, things like attacking people, explosions, that kind of stuff. It’s situational, it could be if you’re flying that’s a whole set of music with its own rules, that’ll transition seamlessly into EVA music if you’re floating around or if you’re down in ground combat.
Again, saying ‘universal system’ but it handles what you do sort of elegantly and smoothly moving between these different aspects and there’s a language that Geoff has defined musically that’s very different. You’re in space, and it’s huge and it’s epic and as you get down to ground and it’s seamless but suddenly you know where you are. It’s got a whole different tone to it, different feel, it’s more personal and visceral and right there in front of you.
Our real challenge, we’ve been, Sam and I have built this system, but there’s the system here and that’s a technical consideration but we need to bring Geoff’s unique voice into that system.
GEOFF ZANELLI: Just in the past few weeks we’ve made some breakthroughs in the gameplay music. There will be three main states. For instance, there’s a whole engine for space flight and this is music that’s now capable of playing calm moments, you’re just flying into a system or something, and it can break out into action, it can break into heroic music, or grim music when things go bad. It’s all part of one enclosed system of music that plays all through the space flight in the game, and there’s a similar system for first person, and a similar system for EVA events.
Those are things that could apply to the entire game. That’s just a starting point because then it evolved, initially we thought well, we need sort of action and not action, but as time went on we realized this is going to be more interesting if there are different levels of intensity for all the action.
You know, you could be surrounded by 20 bad guys or there might only be two. The game responds to those scenarios and it’s also knows when the player has the upper hand, so it can play more heroic music. Or when the player’s in trouble, so it can be grim. And it’s all dynamic, it’s all synced very tightly to what’s happening with the player.
The challenges of writing that kind of music, well first off you need to know you’re doing it from the get go. There are tactical reasons why you kind of write the music modularly; sections need to be self-contained if you’re going to do this, so each of those little modules can be worked on as an individual cell of music, because it can come at any time during the player’s experience.
If you’re halfway through a great big melody and you make a left turn, that’s an abrasive thing to do musically, so we build the music in the dynamic system in a different way than we would in the cinematic system. Dynamic music must be able to leap just like that, from one thing to the next, because you never know when the player’s going to turn the corner. But what we’re able to do right now with the engine and even in the state that it currently is, which will only improve, is we’re rapidly approaching the same decisions that I’d make when I’m scoring a film, but the game engine is making those decisions based on what’s happening with the player. It’s spectacular.
ROSS TREGENZA: So, as time’s gone on we’ve hit a couple problems that have been a real pleasure to figure out on the creative side of the process. One of the first big ones was the transitions between segments because this is all modular system. You could be in a looping section of music that’s covering, what we call grim. The situation’s gone bad, everything’s blowing up so we’re in this grim, heavy action sequence, but then we need to go into a heroic clip of music, but we need to get there with the transition that isn’t at all jarring.
The first thing to do was just, I mean you have the same tempo and same key, but as the music transitions from one another we just get this blur and you get elements of one, elements of the other and it just wasn’t gelling. It took us a long time to figure out how to resolve it, but we figured out our focus was musicality over immediacy.
What we’ve done is locked the exit and entrance points of the music to key moments. If there’s a crescendo, as you get the top of the crescendo that’s a moment where it can exit or enter a different segment so you get these points that you hit and then it’s allowed to enter another piece of music. We’ve completely negated the need for a crossfade so it’s pure music. One section of music will drive up into a crescendo and hands to the exit of the crescendo of another piece so it’s a beautiful evolving full, sort of seamless, musical journey and we never have these ugly crossfades, there’s nothing obvious about it which was a real success.
Another problem was that we needed to deal with is almost two succinct systems. We’ve got the dynamic music system on one hand for, that covers your gameplay in this beautiful cinematic way, but then we have these actual cinematic queues that are pre-written bits of music that Geoff’s composed for very specific moments in the plot and when we land on these, we need to make sure that we get to them beautifully and we exit elegantly. That’s something that Sam Hall, the coder over here, has worked very hard to get us a system that Geoff can work with that allows for that.
Now we have this amazing system we could be in, this dynamic music where you’re in space in combat and then we transition musically into this pre-written cinematic queue, but when you exit our game engine has been listening to what you’ve been doing. Maybe during that musical queue you’ve landed on a planet and everything’s calm, it knows that so when you exit the pre-written queue you come back to the correct music for your new situation which is a phenomenal bit of work from Sam, it just works elegantly, it’s lovely.
GEOFF ZANELLI: One of the things I’ve been open to as a composer is, “The next idea”. Even when I feel like I’ve written something that I’m happy with, I don’t stop writing and if something else comes up and I want to explore it, sometimes that pays dividends. I see that all the time in music, I see it all the time with filmmakers I work with and I certainly see it in Star Citizen as well.
ROSS TREGENZA: When we first started talking about building the dynamic music, I’d explain the elements to him but I didn’t know how deep he wanted to get into the intricacies of the system, but he loves it and he gets deeply involved in it and as time’s gone on we’ve met in the middle for both the creative and the technical. He comes to me every day with new ideas of how we can fix problems with musical transitions and you know, whereas a year ago we’d send over lots of technical information and reference material, it’s become very fluid now and it’s a real pleasure to work with him in this kind of way. I think he’s got such a phenomenal grasp of the technicalities of the system, it’s empowering him and it’s just making it better for everyone, it’s fantastic.
GEOFF ZANELLI: If I have an idea, I can put it out into the world and there are so many brilliant people here that want to live up to every ambition and it starts with Chris of course, but if I say I think we can make this music system even more dynamic than anything that’s come before, well the next thing I know, someone at Star Citizen has come up with a way to make that work within the game engine and it’s just a tremendous asset and it’s a blessing for me because you know, I feel I’m part of something that’s really pushing the limits of what a video game can be, what it can do.
Look it’s obviously a blessing I get to do this for a living. I think from day one when I sent those sixty resumes and got one phone call back I realized, when you get that phone call and somebody says they want you to do something, write music, be a part of a film, be a part of a video game, it’s a blessing and you can turn it into a great opportunity and it’s exciting to be a part of all of it.
Back to the Studio
SANDI GARDINER: Geoff has just got so much experience weaving narrative and narrative together, he’s taking Squadron 42 to the next level.
JOSH HERMAN: Yeah, it’s impressive how Ross and the rest of the rest of the Audio team have the tech bridging between those various emotions so seamlessly. You pry wouldn’t even know what’s happening if you hadn’t been told.
SANDI GARDINER: No, you wouldn’t. Right, one minute you’re flying around to this beautiful score and the next your pulse is racing as the music amps up for a dogfight, it’s cool.
JOSH HERMAN: The only problem is I have the Bishop speech song stuck in my head now.
SANDI GARDINER: And now I do too, thank you. Thanks.
JOSH HERMAN: Sorry about that. Speaking of thanks, thanks to all our subscribers.
SANDI GARDINER: Yes, without all your we would not be able to share in depth behind the scenes shows we bring to you weekly so thank you so much for all your support.
JOSH HERMAN: And thank you to all our backers for helping make the dream of Star Citizen possible. We wouldn’t be able to do this without you.
SANDI GARDINER: No, we wouldn’t and that is our show for the week but if you’d like even more Star Citizen, make sure to tune in tomorrow at noon pacific for the latest Happy Hour stream to watch some live gameplay and discussion.
JOSH HERMAN: Tomorrow’s stream will be more ship focused with special guests Elwin Bachiller and Ben Lesnick, stopping by to answer questions. Should be a fun one.
SANDI GARDINER: Until then we will see you…
BOTH: Around the Verse.