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Interview with Alex BrandonBefore we get started with the questions, I've got to apologize for my tardiness. I know you were supposed to have these a week ago, but like I said before, some things came up, and I had to take care of some very important things in my personal life. I appreciate you taking the time to do this, not only for my benefit, but for all the fans out there.
The music in Deus Ex is some of the best, and I don't mean that in just a gaming sense. When I'm at home working, or just surfing the net, I'll play the MP3's in the background, because I enjoy the music so much. Music in a game means so much more than people realize. It sets the pace of the game, adds tension or relaxation to the atmosphere, and even tells the player what's going on around him/her. You and the rest of the music team did an awesome job on the Deus Ex soundtrack and I most certainly can't wait to hear what you've got in store for us for Deus Ex 2 and Thief 3.
For all you fans and followers of Alex Brandon, or even if you're just a fan of Deus Ex, get something to drink, and even a snack if you wish, kick up your feet, and enjoy this feast of information he supplies.
DeusEx Machina: Please fill in all us fans with a Bio of yourself. Why and how did you get started in the music industry, and lead us up to your present state. Please include your age and the details of how you ended up at ISA.
I got into the game industry first actually, around 1993 when a friend of mine, Jason Emery, coded a dual parallax scrolling engine (that's two 2d maps that can float independently of each other… "Shadow of the Beast" had a 7 layer parallax engine).. at first this engine was slated to be used for an adventure game but that idea was washed aside in favor for a vertically scrolling shooter. After several months of pretty constant work on an editor and some mock ups, we took it to two companies, Epic Megagames and Apogee. Epic bit and signed us up. I did some design, most of the management until we got our producer, and all the music. Since then I've done music for a handful of games including Unreal, Unreal Tournament, and recently Deus Ex. My knowledge of the Unreal Engine has been quite useful since I'm one of the few non Epic developers who has been with its construction almost from the beginning. I'm 26 now and was invited by Warren Spector to be the audio director here at ISA last April. I came in May and the rest has been a whirlwind of cool stuff I'll divulge later.
DeusEx Machina: Did you ever participate in the old Amiga Mod scene? What work did you perform and on what Mod's, such as design, music, etc.?
Sure wish I had!! I first heard Amiga music when I was heavy into the first big PC soundcard: the AdLib. Quite taken aback I wrote a few MED tunes on a classmate's Amiga 500 but never released them.
DeusEx Machina: How much of a gamer are you? What systems have you played on, and what systems do you currently play on? What games are you currently playing?
I'll admit that I'm not as rabid as I once was. I started playing games with "Asteroids Deluxe" in a small arcade located in my hometown of Annapolis, Maryland, and didn't stop until I was about 16 or 17. I played just about any arcade game that came out in between 1980 and 1990 before taking a breath. My first letter to Santa asked for a Nintendo and I played most NES titles until it died. Then along came the Genesis, the SNES, the PS1, the Dreamcast (which I still want to get Ecco on), and while I'm not planning on buying a PS2 for awhile I'll get one eventually. On the PC end I've been playing games since my first, "Legacy of the Ancients" way back when… currently enjoying "Alice".
DeusEx Machina: What is your favorite game ever made from a design standpoint? Favorite game made from a sound/ambience standpoint? Favorite game made from a music standpoint? Why?
From a design standpoint I'd have to say that my favorite game is Deus Ex, Populous, or Syndicate Wars. For sound I'd say that Thief 1 is, and for music that's a real toughie… my favorite game soundtrack in terms of composition is still Strider (arcade version / Genesis version), next up would be Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Those are both very thematic… I still haven't heard a game that uses really effective ambient music yet, an exception possibly being Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver.
DeusEx Machina: What is your design philosophy when creating music for a game? What preparations do you make in order to get in the proper mind set? What is the hardest part about making music for games, and where is most of your time spent doing so?
Depends on the game… but I usually enjoy playing at least a demo before I seriously start writing for a level. The most difficult part of making music for games is trying to please everyone, which is impossible. Ages ago almost everyone liked game music because it matched the whole thematic presentation of the title… Donkey Kong, for instance, had blocky little characters and a cute, camp theme that played… they both fit perfectly. Now, things are entirely different and anything goes… the tough part is NOT making your game sound like a movie or anything else. It needs to be unique and since you're now using the same palette of sounds as everyone else in the professional music industry, its more difficult to get that singular quality.
DeusEx Machina: Do you still go by your nickname of Basehead? Where did that name come from?
My nickname was actually first Chromatic Dragon.. then Siren, then Sandman, then back to Siren. Basehead is the name of my colleague Dan who co founded Straylight Productions with Andrew Sega back in 1994 or so. All those names are silly but my reasons are lost to time itself.
DeusEx Machina: What happened to Straylight Productions? What happened to the other musicians who worked on Crusader? Approximately, how many musicians have you worked with in your career, and to what capacity?
Straylight Productions is still up and running with Dan Gardopee (Basehead) at the helm. He's doing a few projects here and there. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrew Sega, who co wrote both Crusader games' in-game music with him, is now at Digital Anvil / Microsoft as a programmer. I've worked with about 8 or 9 musicians, mostly as a producer and collaborator on all the titles I've worked on.
DeusEx Machina: What kind of input do you get from the rest of the development team so that your music fits the theme of the game? Are you allowed to pretty much go with your gut instinct and be as creative as you want?
Yep on the second question, but its all about knowing different game types and writing to suit them. UT, for instance, needs fast paced hardcore driving beats and heavy instrumentation. Deus Ex needed more dynamic music to match different situations. The team members definitely have individual ideas about what music they see… level designers are usually my more constant feedback supply because they're attached more closely to individual levels, and the lead designer will give overall approval based on his vision as well.
DeusEx Machina: Are you going to stick to .mod/.s3m/.it formats, or will your newer games have .mp3 or even a different sound format? Do you still use tracker programs (FastTracker or Screamtracker)? What sound applications do you use in general?
As sorry as I am to bid farewell to MODs, they're dead. Back in the 90s and even before that during Amiga days they gave the perfect compromise of flexibility and quality but are now finally being surpassed. We'll be using something new and improved for our next titles, unfortunately I can't say what yet. I still use trackers sometimes but I'm getting more into hard disk recording as I want to become a skilled player at guitar and keyboard to the extent that I don't need sequencing quanitization (taking recorded notes and making the computer move them so they align with the beats properly). J
DeusEx Machina: Do you mind if people compile your music to more enduser friendly formats like .mp3 or .wav and put it up on a server so other people can listen to it? Do you have a website so that the fans could listen to your work?
I don't mind at all, and in fact am very flattered that people want to convert tunes from games I've worked on. I wish I had time to make a CD I could just give people or a website with all my stuff on it, but that all takes money too which I don't have enough of at the moment. Perhaps one day I'll make a 'best of' CD but in the meantime a lot of my work is featured on various MOD compilation CDs such as "MODs Anthology" and "Scene USA".
DeusEx Machina: Have you been contacted to do music for Unreal 2? To what extent is your role in Deus Ex 2 going to be? Thief 3?
I was asked to do Unreal 2's music, yes, but someone else will do it… I asked someone else to do it and I wish I could say who, but he's in an evaluation period with Legend right now so it may not be final. Sucks, cuz the guy totally rocks and is one of the coolest musicians I know. As for DX2 and Thief 3, I'm responsible for all the audio, and in terms of WHO will do it all, I'm not sure… I know that I'll be doing quite a bit in both but definitely not everything.
DeusEx Machina: What advice do you have for those wanting to get started in the sound/music biz, whether it's for games or not?
As always, make sure you can do anything. Write any style, do voice acting, direct voice acting, know your equipment and technology, become familiar with engineering, composing, sound design, etc. The more you know the more marketable you are. One big bit of advice… don't just say you write techno / industrial / whatever style of music, and that's it, and expect people to be impressed. I consider someone a musician if they can write or play one style, but I consider someone a true composer if they can write in more than one style. It is SO valuable.
DeusEx Machina: Deus Ex shipped right before the Summer months. What have you been doing since the release of Deus Ex? Partying too much?
Hahaha I've done a fair amount of having fun alright. Went clubbing and dancing, been to a few parties, then I met my girlfriend at the end of August and had infinitely more fun… yeah I'm just about ready to explode at this point. But it sure isn't all going to be fun for long… I'm going to soon be busting serious hiney on a lot of audio stuff very soon.
DeusEx Machina: What kind of sound setup do you have at the house?
Apartment. J I use some of my gear at the office but I'm going to be using what I've used for the past year and a half pretty much: Cakewalk 9, Minnetonka's MX51 for hard disk / surround recording, a guitar, and some sort of synth that I'll buy eventually (I use my prized Korg Triton ProX at the office now, and I won't be taking that home as its vital there).
DeusEx Machina: Who kicks more arse, JC Denton on smack, or a drunken Kilrathi?
As much of a Wing Commander lover as I am, JCD would rock kitty's world… he's got augs plus smack on his side.
DeusEx Machina: How is your relationship with Warren Spector? The Witchter? The rest of the sound/music squad? ISA as a whole?
I met Warren at an E3 about four years ago when DX was just getting off the ground. Since then we've been mutual admirers of each others' work (a shock to me since this guy produced Ultima 6 when I was still in my nappies.. well, no he's not that old, but he had and still has 'game legend' status with me and it'll be another five years before I get there at the very least J). Witchboy and I share a lot of common ground so far in game design and especially use of sound and music in games so its been very smooth so far. And since I'm the only sound and music guy here I get along with myself… well, ok at times, but mostly good. ISA as a whole has to be the most laid back, intelligent, and nice company I've worked for/with. Here's to it being like that for the next fifty years!
DeusEx Machina: How are you liking the new office space? Was the move easy on you, or was it a real pain moving all the equipment?
Pretty easy actually. I lined up a studio builder and he built! The movers moved all my gear, so it wasn't tough at all. Talk to our office manager and MIS guy though, they went through hell. The new space is fantastic… huge and plenty of room to do whatever you want. All we need now is a racquetball court.
DeusEx Machina: Looking Glass Studios made some of the best games using sound and music to create a tense atmosphere in the game. What is your favorite company in terms of producing such great atmosphere in games? How is it working with the former LGS employees?
Atmosphere… let's see… "Alice" has damn good atmosphere actually so my hat goes off to the American team (haha like I'm talking about the Olympics). "The Dig" by LucasArts also did a great job as do all their games… "Loom" totally rocks, for instance. Epic sure knows how to make great levels and beautiful worlds. And of course "System Shock 1 and 2" both scare you out of your gourd. Overall I'd have to say I don't have a favorite company for atmospheres, but those I mentioned are all excellent at it. The former LGS people are all very nice. Speaking rather bluntly I foolishly thought they'd be a bunch of hard assed artsy braniacs from Cambridge but in fact they're quite the opposite… well, not that they have soft asses and stupid brains… uh.
DeusEx Machina: Have you started working on the music yet for Deus Ex 2 and/or Thief 3? To what extent have you gone?
Done a few demo tunes so far, but nothing worth mentioning yet. Still pretty early for that.
Alex, I thank you very much for you time, and your patience. The community is a valuable asset in the gaming world, and you have definitely proven your loyalty to us all…we appreciate this. I personally wish you good luck with your career, and I hope we can catch up with you sometime in the future and do this again sometime.
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