GZ Interview: SOCOM II and Champions of Norrath composer attempts to revolutionize the industry with Shadow Ops: Red Mercury


“SOCOM II” and “Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest” composer attempts to
revolutionize the industry with “Shadow Ops: Red Mercury”


by

Louis Bedigian


 

“…Every move that the
player will make will be accompanied by a specific [music] cue that will be
designed to be there and only there.”

 

                 
        
 Inon Zur


If I had mentioned Inon Zur
to you two years ago, you likely would not have known who I was talking about. 
He was there the whole time, composing music for Baldur’s Gate II: Throne Of
Bhaal, Icewind Dale II, and RLH (cinematic music).  But the name was not spoken
of nearly as much as you’d expect for a composer as prestigious as he.

 

That’s about to change.

 

He blew you away with his
music in SOCOM II.  He’ll take you on an exquisite adventure with his
mesmerizing score for Syberia II.  Most recently he impressed the gaming
community with his work on Champions of Norrath: Realms of EverQuest
A PlayStation 2 exclusive, Realms of EverQuest features the talented
collaboration of Inon Zur and audio director Adam Levenson.

 

As if composing
great music wasn’t enough, Inon is attempting to revolutionize the industry


He’s extremely passionate about improving the quality and interactivity of music
in games.
 
He wants more interactivity with his creations.  As a gamer who loves music and
wants nothing more than to see it evolve in gaming, I say bring it on!

 

Inon’s next project, Atari’s
Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, isn’t due for release until summer hits. 
And his next next project, the one that’ll come after Shadow Ops, is so new that
the game developer has yet to announce Inon’s connection to it!

 

With his very crazy
schedule, it took quite a while for us to get a hold of Inon.  It was worth the
wait though, because the resulting interview is one of the most interesting and
insightful interviews I have ever had.

 

 


SOCOM II was one of your
first big projects.  What was it like working on that game?

 


Inon Zur:

Very intense.  We had a very short time to do close to 100 minutes of music. 
Most of them were recorded with the Northwest Sinfonia.  Also we had a separate
recording session with specialists for Arabic music, and some other [sessions
with different] kinds of music that we needed special instruments for.  We did
that in LA.  So we had to prepare for that, I basically started to work on the
game around the end of March/early April, and most of it was already composed
toward the middle of June.  It was quite intense, but a really good experience.

 

Did you base any of your music on the sound
of the previous game, or did you decide to go your own route and come up with
things entirely on your own?

 


IZ:


Seth Luisi, the SOCOM producer wanted a totally different direction.  The first
one was more traditional, which I think was a good score, but Seth wanted to go
in a different direction, more like an action movie.  So we didn’t look back on
the first SOCOM and started from scratch.

 


Besides any game material
that was provided, what served as inspiration for that game?

 


IZ:

Movies that were created at the time, Black Hawk Down, Tears of the Sun, and
other movies that dealt with special forces, special units that are fighting
terrorists.  I listened to these soundtracks, I took whatever I liked, I didn’t
take what I didn’t like, and added my own tastes to it.

 


You worked on the music for
Realms of EverQuest.  What was that experience like?

 


IZ:

It was a great experience.  The whole idea of EverQuest is extremely
interesting, traveling from a magical place, and you are basically following the
main character, going through all these imaginative, magical worlds, until he
meets his doom, his demise, or wins.  For me it was a real musical challenge,
which I gladly took, and I think it came out very, very interesting.  I really
encourage the players to pick it up.

 


Inon is very proud of his
work on Realms of EverQuest.

 

 


Did you do any research
before composing the music?

 

IZ: Before any game I try to do as
much research as I can.  On EverQuest I worked with Adam Levenson, the audio
director for Champions Of Norrath. We listened to Lord of the Rings and other
scores, but we also listened to a variety of

world music
, we talked a lot about its influences, we talked a lot about
the emotions for the gamer.  The way he starts the game, the middle, and the
end.  It was quite a journey.

 

How many sounds or styles or types of
instruments did you use for Realms of EverQuest?

 

IZ: That’s a very interesting
question.  For EverQuest, we had a few different musical areas and I approached
each one with a different musical style.  The first one is the classic style,
traditional orchestra.  The second one is, you could call it, ancient/ethnic
instrumentation, like ancient flute and whistles, and other kinds of exotic
instruments. 

I used percussions and drums as one of the musical layers to convey the
aggressive nature of the enemy and the war.

 

How long did the music and composing
process last for Realms of EverQuest?

 

IZ: Around five months.

 

How much music did that end up being?

 

IZ: I think over all 60 minutes.

 

Musically, what can players expect from
Shadow Ops: Red Mercury?

 

IZ: I always try to do the best job
I can on any score.  But one thing that I must say that is different about
Shadow Ops is the fact that this is the first game that I was involved in
directly, not only in composing the music, but also with placing the music
physically in the game, and having total control over what the gamer will hear
as far as music.  Atari granted me the freedom to do this, and it’s really
helping me to bring my music and use my music in the most dramatic and effective
way.  Sometimes only composers know how to use [music].  I think the player
should affect the interactivity of the music.  One part will just play and loop
and play and loop like any other game.  But there are interactive parts, and
every move that the player will make and choose to make will be accompanied by a
specific cue that will be designed to be there and only there.

 

An early look at Shadow Ops: Red
Mercury.

 

 

That’s very cool.  Did you learn
anything new while implementing the music?

 

IZ: I cannot even stress how much I
gained from actually being involved in this process, which was a totally
different experience from all the other games that I did.  I learned how to
utilize a cue in gameplay, what really works and what does not work.  We
experimented with new methods on the Xbox and the Unreal engine.  That music
will change – go from one piece to the other – almost seamlessly.  [This was
done with] a technique applied that I cannot talk about.
 


Joe Zjonc (Zombie’s audio director) was a great help and inspiration working on
the music. I also want to thank Mark Long and Rafael Curulla (the game’s
producers) for their great insight. It is never myself alone, it is always team
work, a truly collaborative process, that achieves the final and best results.

 

Video games are not as easy to break
into as they used to be.  How did you get your start in this constantly growing
industry?

 

IZ: I was quite lucky in fact.  I
was approached by my agent and one of the people that coaxed me in this area
more than anybody else, Bob Rice of Four Bars Intertainment.  I would like to
commend him as much as possible.  He was a key element in my success and in
other people’s success.  He recognized my ability and offered me to work and
compose for video games.  At first I actually said no.

 

You said no!?

 

IZ: Of course (laughs).  At that
time I knew nothing about video games.

 

Bob offered to send me some soundtracks of
games that were released at that time and to let him know if I changed my mind. 
And when I listened to them I said definitely, they definitely changed my mind. 
Music for video games, I want to be there!  And he said sure.

 

The first job that was offered to me was
Klingon Academy, published by Interplay.  Since then I’ve been doing video games
for BioWare, Sony Computer Entertainment, Sony Online Entertainment, Vivendi
Universal and others.

 

Do you ever write any music on the
side?  Anything that doesn’t currently have a destination but could, perhaps, be
used in one of your future projects?

 

IZ: Many times I know that there is
a project coming, so I will compose something totally new that I’m not being
paid for just to show the developers that this is my angle.

 

What was it about composing that made
you say, "This is it, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life"?

 

IZ: Well, I need to look back to the
age that I was, seven or eight.  [Back then] I was quite into composing, it was
something I really wanted to do.  So I’ve applied myself throughout the years to
learn music, learning all kinds of music in Israel, which is where I came from,
as well as here in the U.S.  So I can quite convincingly say that I wanted to do
this since day one.

 

Like this view from Syberia II?  Just
wait till you hear the music that goes with it.

 

 

Where would you like to see the music
industry end up in 10 years; technologically on the production side of things,
and technologically on the way that gamers hear it through sound systems?

 

IZ: First I would like to see the
resolution of one of the biggest problems in video games.  As you know, it is
very hard to predict many things in video games.  Unlike movies, where the
course is set and you just score the picture, and you’re watching the movie and
it will never change, gameplay is very unpredictable.  Many times we had to go
from music scene to the other music scene, at any given time, and sometimes it
just doesn’t work.

 

I would like to see a technique developed
to fix this, and I myself am working on a technique like this, and the first
time you’ll be able to hear it is in Shadow Ops: Red Mercury.  The second
example is a game that I just started work on, but my involvement has not been
announced so I cannot talk about it yet, but it’s going to be a very exciting
game.

 

Second, I want music for computer games to
evolve and be recognized as a legitimate art form like any other musical genre
in the music world.

 

On the topic of interactivity, in The
Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, you can hear consecutive musical notes by
striking the enemy multiple times with a sword.  Do you like the idea of that,
where a player attacks someone and it creates a unique music sound?

 

IZ: It all depends on the game [and
what] each developer will choose as his or her dramatic tool for sound.  I
wouldn’t say that this tool is great, or that this tool is bad.  Every game is
different.  I wouldn’t usually go for a musical sound effect.  I want to
separate music from sound effects.  I would like to hear the realistic sound of
a sword rather than a musical note.  I don’t think that’s interactivity.  I
think interactivity is following the gamer, changing the music as the player’s
health gets worse and worse.  Or following him as he does better and better and
wins.  It starts gradually and then changes.  That way you build music that will
closely follow the gamer [throughout the game].

 

Is there anything else you’d like to
share with our readers?

 

IZ: I want to thank all the avid
gamers that are giving us the bat to do what we are doing because we have their
appreciation.  The game developers should be applauded as they give us composers
the chance and opportunity to do what we’re doing.  And it’s only because of
them that we can express ourselves this way.

 

Thank you for a great interview Inon.  I
can’t wait to hear the sounds of Shadow Ops: Red Mercury, and I look forward to
further announcements regarding your innovative techniques.

 

 

Inon Zur Official Site:


www.InonZur.com

 

Inon Zur is represented by
Bob Rice of Four Bars Intertainment.