BAFTA Award-winning, Ivor Novello-nominated composer and musician Paul Leonard-Morgan (Dredd, Limitless, Walking with Dinosaurs) recently produced his first game soundtrack, scoring EA Games’ flagship $180 million (about £112m or €143m) release Battlefield Hardline.
“I was approached by EA in early 2013 about the game,” Leonard-Morgan tells PSNEurope from his Glasgow studio. “EA loved some of my previous soundtracks, and wanted to give the game a really urban score. They wanted to make it sound completely different from the previous Battlefield games.”
Leonard-Morgan took advice from Paul Gorman, the game’s audio director, before starting out, and feels the process of writing music for games is completely different to a film soundtrack – not that this seemed to have posed a problem for the composer. “I’ve created a sound which we’re really excited about, [and] which I don’t think has been done in a game score before,” he explains. “It’s like a band meets electronica meets vintage synths. It’s got a real edge to it.”
The process started with a kind of audio mood board. “I would send over tracks on Spotify from my studios in Glasgow and LA to the audio guys in San Francisco and the music supervisor in Santa Monica, and they would do the same,” Leonard-Morgan reveals. “Gradually, we would have a huge playlist consisting of tracks which we felt were representative of the sound we were trying to create for the game.”
Some of these tracks have gone on to be licensed from various bands for the game, but Leonard-Morgan said the process had been more about finding the right sonic identity for the project – and he reveals that the biggest help in approaching this new game direction was the score that he completed for Walt Disney Disney World’s Test Track ride last year.
“It’s what we call non-linear,” he explains. “Nothing will ever happen at the same time twice. If you’re scoring a film, the criminal’s always going to pull his gun out at the same time, and you score it like that. In a game, there are so many permutations. It works in layers.
“Layer one tends to be what I call the 'grabbing a beer' layer. It bubbles along, and the player might leave his PS4 for five minutes and head to the kitchen. The music’s still going to be playing in the background. Then he’ll come back in and play. Suddenly, someone with a gun comes in, so we’ll ride up the faders for layer two. Layer three will be adding tension big-scale, and then layer four will be tons of drums and distortion, as there’s an epic shoot-out going on. But people play the game in their own time, so all these layers need to loop without people getting bored – they could be playing that one level for hours.
“The other challenge is writing four pieces that all have to be able to loop and play at the same time, in case we raise the level of the fader at various times. If the layers don’t work together, it’s going to sound like a total mess.”