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Denying the importance of a solid, well-composed musical score in modern games is blatant ignorance. Soundtracks and scores have become one of the most imperative and vital components in today's video games. Audio is key to setting the right mood for a game, and without it players can feel disconnected from the experience. An otherwise silent game trailer or scripted sequence can be brought to life with a fitting symphony and in-game events can be heavily influenced by a myriad of sound bytes or audio clips. Needless to say if you're a true gamer, one who appreciates a well-written story and a carefully-crafted visual design, then you are probably grateful for the amount of time and effort that goes into creating a rich atmosphere through sound. This is no easy task of course, as today's game composers must traverse many obstacles while remaining as original as possible.
In the E3 trailer for Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution, a musical number by composer Michael McCann titled “Icarus” sets a somewhat dismal tone before elevating to a more heroic sound. This directly reflects the game's wavering atmosphere and some of the events in the story. Listening to the audio (available below) and then watching the trailer really brings the title to life and creates a truly unique piece of CG. In Human Revolution, two of the biggest factors which drive the game's plot are conspiracy and the idea of “transhumanism,” which basically translates into “more than human.” The storyline in Deus Ex is tightly wrapped around discovery and technological advancements—in a not-so-distant future science fiction game world. In a recent interview, McCann shares some of his thoughts on these principles and illustrates which elements were crucial for composing the score for Human Revolution.
McCann states that one of the main focuses of the game's soundtrack was the conflict between the natural and the technological. The two sides are prominently featured in many different ways throughout the soundtrack—and in the game itself. “One key element is the duality between acoustic and electronic instrumentation—and for every cue there is a constant trade-off between the two—they kind of weave in and out of each other, always fighting for priority.” This is an audio mechanic that has seen its fair share of exposure but remains a very effective formula in the science fiction genre. McCann goes on to explain why it takes hours to edit and refine the sounds to achieve perfect timing and pitch, so that the line between acoustic and electronic becomes blurred. Allowing the two to coexist and complement each other creates a very vibrant audio experience.
Many different music genres have been implemented in the game's soundtrack, such as folk, Asian, and even street ambiance. The pronounced urban setting requires that these sounds be fused together in order to attain authentic rhythm and rich harmonic melodies. “Synths were important in this score, not just because they are important to the cyber-punk world of Deus Ex, but also because they are a counterweight to the more acoustic elements in the score,” says McCann. He states that the synths were key to preserving the cerebral and futuristic tone of the game by setting a “stark emotional state.” He also explains why it was very important to keep the trance-like effect that the original game created with its soundtrack and to affect people even after they have stopped playing. While the game serves as a prequel to the first title, Deus Ex 3: Human Revolution promises to carry the same quality in its own original soundtrack—and to keep players synched with the game's stunning visual design through a powerful audio experience.
"Icarus" by Michael McCann