Halo Anniversary Disneyland Adventures | Music Centerstage in Game Releases

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Blair Jackson



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As videogames have become more sophisticated and complex in recent years, so too have their music scores. Long gone are the days of simple scores banged out on solitary keyboards and integrated into the game at the lowest possible bit-rate. Orchestral scores are common for big-budget games, as are hybrid scores that use electronic and/or percussion elements, rock and other music forms, as well as orchestrated passages. With some top games requiring two or more hours of music, there has been plenty of work for large and small studios to keep up with the demand, and musicians and singers are finding a new source of income for their talents.

Take, for example, two wildly different games that were released on November 15 by Microsoft Games Studios for Xbox 360: Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary and Kinect Disneyland Adventures. Both of these certain hits shared the same audio director (Microsoft’s Kristofor Mellroth), music production company (Pyramind Studios of San Francisco) and recording facilities (a combination of Pyramind and, for each game’s orchestral score, Skywalker Sound in Marin County, Calif.). Yet each project had so many unique challenges dictated by enormous differences between the two games, it’s difficult to make generalizations about what is required from a music recording standpoint at this upper level of what is known as Triple-A gaming.

Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary is something unusual in the game world—a complete remastering and revisiting of a classic first-person shooter game. Bungie’s original Halo title was the flagship game for the Microsoft Xbox format, released 10 years ago to the day of the Anniversary edition. The new version, developed by 343 Industries, hews very closely to the original but with greatly enhanced graphics, plus improved audio and a complete reinterpretation of Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori’s famous score—so instantly recognizable to gamers for its chanting monks and driving synth cellos.

Recording Chanticleer at Pyramind Studios for <I>Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary</i>. From left: Peter Steinbach, Paul Lipson, Steve Heithecker, Matthew Oltman, Kristofor Mellroth

Recording Chanticleer at Pyramind Studios for Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary. From left: Peter Steinbach, Paul Lipson, Steve Heithecker, Matthew Oltman, Kristofor Mellroth

“It’s my favorite game of all time,” says Microsoft’s Kris Mellroth. “It was a landmark game, not just for gameplay, but for audio as well. It also has that super-iconic score. So it was a little nerve-racking [remaking it], and I wanted to make sure we got it right, so I wanted to have a team I knew would treat the music with respect. We weren’t there to second-guess what was done before; we were there to make a super-high-quality remaster of what’s there. In a way, it’s a love letter to the original. I’m such a fan of Marty and of [original sound designer] Jay [Weinland], and I played Halo I so many times.”

With Pyramind’s long history of top-quality music and audio work for games by so many major game-makers—including Ubisoft, LucasArts, Sony Entertainment, Electronic Arts and Microsoft Games—it was a natural choice for Mellroth when he was a looking for a one-stop shop that could handle music, audio post, implementation, mixing and mastering. Between Pyramind audio director/composer/COO Paul Lipson and founder/CEO/mixer/mastering engineer Gregory Gordon (and their team in their downtown S.F. studios), they had all the bases covered.

“The original Halo score was mostly sample-based,” Lipson says, as he and Gordon sit in Lispson’s studio/office, “and there was no sheet music at all. I was given a file directory for the in-game music, and then Lennie Moore [a well-known composer and orchestrator in the gaming world] and I transcribed every single note of the score and re-orchestrated a lot of it.” As Mellroth notes, “If we could find a way to enhance something—say, add some brass for this passage—we were going to do it.”

The score’s non-orchestral portions were tracked mostly at Pyramind, including new guitar performances by Lipson and Bryan Dale, some bold synth work spearheaded by Brian Trifon, and percussion elements “virtualized” by Lipson and New York musician/composer Tom Salta, a longtime collaborator with Pyramind. “We did record a live drummer for a few tracks at our studios here,” Lipson says, “and I know Tom brought in a live percussion player to blend in, as well, but most of it was created using custom samples and sequencing.”

Then there were the monks. For Anniversary, Pyramind hired what Lipson calls “the finest vocal ensemble in the world,” the San Francisco–based all-male group Chanticleer, who had never sung on a videogame before. “The monks are the most iconic thing in the score, so it was important that they sound really powerful. As a longtime fan of Chanticleer, I was thrilled to get to record them here at Pyramind Studios.”

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