James Hannigan has worked on a number of projects, including Command & Conquer 4: Tiberian Sun and Red Alert 3. He chats to us about moving onto Dead Space 3, and writng music for games in general.
You worked alongside Jason Graves for Dead Space 3 who had handled the previous entries. Why were you brought in when previously he’s worked on the games alone? Was it so you could bring a new perspective to the soundtrack, help set a different tone that more suited the higher focus on action versus the horror?
I wouldn’t say it was specifically about added action. One thing was made pretty clear from the outset, and that was that I was to bring something of myself to the game. There are moments when my music leans in an obviously ‘Dead Space’ direction, and others where it exists to add a dimension, comment on new characters, to move the story along and to be specifically ‘Dead Space 3’.
There’d have been little point in me trying to replicate the exact same approach Jason has taken and employed so expertly with the Dead Space series to date for its own sake, so the goal was to add something to the mix without deviating too much from what Dead Space is all about. If it’s not broke, you don’t try to fix it, so you look for what you can add. I particularly like writing themes, and I hope there are some memorable ones in the game.
If you were to compare the score of Dead Space to the score of Dead Space 3, do you think it would show how the game has evolved as a whole?
Yes, I think so. But I definitely don’t feel there’s anything missing from the Dead Space 3 score in terms of its roots. There is perhaps a broader emotional palette for the music here, which is a reflection of the game’s wider scope, new story and, at times, epic nature.
Was it difficult to stamp your own mark on the score when a lot of the themes for characters and creatures have already been established?
Not entirely, because it becomes possible to comment on people, plot events and in-game situations in your own way while still being stylistically on the same page – or near enough, at least. The thing you probably do need to do, however, is to be consistent with your treatment of characters, places and certain aspects of the game, as you don’t really want conflicting interpretations of the same thing evident throughout the game, creating a fragmented and confusing feel to the score.
That’s why you need a good Audio Director, in this case Nick Laviers, to oversee everything and bring together the pieces of the jigsaw, keeping an eye on the bigger picture. You set out to create themes or musical ideas that signify people, places or situations, and you obviously don’t change these halfway through for no good reason. Although, obviously, the perspective may change as the story unfolds and certain things are revealed.
How about Isaac himself? He went from a reluctant hero that stumbled upon this entire situation, to now when he’s a practised hand at fighting necromorphs, but is also quite damaged by his journey. How did you go about creating a score that reflected this?
In Dead Space 3, the heroic nature of Isaac’s actions are often brought to the fore and the score probably reflects that. So, although some of the music remains personal and about his experiences and interactions with other characters – such as with Ellie, Carver and Norton – there are times when it simply comments on the intense action he finds himself embroiled in and the heroic nature of his deeds. The way you comment on these in-game situations, cutscenes and so on can really vary according to the perspective you are taking on the world at any given time, and with so many huge and exciting set pieces in Dead Space 3, it made sense for some of the music to correspond with that sense of scale, as well as focus on Isaac’s personal journey and inner-world.
The music of Dead Space 3 makes a lot more sense if you’ve first heard it in context, I think, rather than in isolation. There’s a theme that returns from time to time in the game, which I’d describe as being darkly heroic, in the sense that it has a sort of vaguely uplifting feel to it – but also gives you the feeling that Isaac’s life is a bit of an uphill struggle!