John French is the lead composer for the Revision project, which overhauls Deus Ex. In this article, he talks about the challenge of improving on the game’s music.
Deus Ex featured a soundtrack composed by Alexander Brandon, Michiel van den Bos, Daniel Gardopee and Reeves Gabrels. It straddled a multiple genres, blending a huge variety of sounds to seamlessly combine jazz with techno and classical symphonic music with an urban ambient sound. Given the limitations of the tracker-based music format used at the time, the result was astonishingly rich in melody and atmosphere.
When I joined the Revision team, I hadn’t yet worked on a project this large in scope. To get to grips with the sheer scale of the soundtrack, I began plotting out the overall arrangement. Initially, I had planned 122 unique pieces of music, spanning every location and most plot points. Given the timetable we had at the time and my own strengths as a composer, I determined that we needed a second composer on the project if we were going to do the original music justice. Logan Felber, a fellow musician and DX fan, was the natural choice. We had previously created two albums together under the “EdenShard” name, knew that our musical styles would be complimentary, and that his tendency towards energetic electronic material would be a good fit.
Our goal has been to have the new music feel familiar, yet effortlessly match the new environments. Harry’s environment design work had completely changed the visual atmosphere of some locations to a point where the old material just doesn’t match the new mood and moments created by the visuals. Towards this end, we found ourselves scoring the game in three different ways, which can be broken down into adaptation, recreation, and new composition.
Adaptation is where we compose a new piece of music, and layer in recognizable melody and rhythm lines from the original score. The resulting track is discernibly different from the original, but fundamentally very similar. The emphasis here is not on replacing the original score, but on adapting it to better suit the atmosphere of a given location. For example: Some of the Paris environments were completely redesigned from the ground up, with an emphasis on making Paris actually bear some resemblance to the real-world city. To match the new look, we brought the melody lines from the original score through to our version, but matched it with a rich, atmospheric sound and set of instruments that we felt evoked scenes from Blade Runner.
Recreation is where we rebuild a tune almost note-for-note. We can’t recreate every sample used in the tracker compositions, but we can get very close. In these instances, we don’t change the notation extensively; we simply accommodate it as best we can given the tools at our disposal. Examples of this are usually found in the contextual tracks, such as combat or conversation music; in the Hell’s Kitchen suite, while the exploration music diverges from the original a bit, the combat track is extraordinarily similar to the old version.
Finally, sometimes we think that a bit of music from in the original score just didn’t work very well in the new environments, or we want to have a bit of custom music where there is no equivalent in the old score. Whatever the reason, New Composition is where we just sit down and write brand new music altogether. An example of this is the Area 51 music; while we liked the original tracks, we felt that they didn’t quite evoke an appropriate mood for the redesigned location. So we overhauled the sound there to be more grounded and mysterious than spacey and alien.
It’s been a long journey, and we’ve faced plenty of challenges along the way. We’ve repeatedly put ourselves in the position of having to make creative decisions that we know will alienate some people. We’ve always aimed to do the original music justice, and I hope that most people who play Revision enjoy our work. As we wrap up the last handful of tracks on this score, I’m just happy to say: it’s been a great ride. I can’t wait to see what comes next.
For more information and the latest news about the Revision project, visit www.dx-revision.com.