As video games continue evolving into grand cinematic experiences, their soundtracks have become ever-increasingly integral to the experience. Long gone are the tinny, 80s-era chiptunes of yore, since replaced by orchestral scores produced by world-class composers -- and now even remix albums by chart-topping electronic artists.
In the case of the hotly anticipated Halo 4, which kicks off a new trilogy cycle in one of gaming's greatest franchises, Massive Attack producer Neil Davidge has taken over the reins from Marty O'Donnell, the granddaddy of Halo soundtracks. It was a daunting task, but Davidge, an avid Halo player, couldn't wait to get started after being wowed by a life-sized statue of Halo main character Master Chief at Microsoft's 343 Industries Washington studio in late-2010.
In fact, he was so excited that he went straight home to his Bristol studio to get a head start, months ahead of schedule.
"I've been playing Halo since the beginning," Davidge tells Huffington Post Canada Music. "We played the first one a half-dozen times with friends, in the studio and with my daughter. Going back and trying to formulate my ideas for the score, I went back and played them again!"
Equipped with a musical team well worth its Hollywood salt and firmly ensconced in the historic Abbey Road studio, Davidge orchestrated 40 string players, 12 horn players, a 16-person hand-picked male tenor and bass choir, plus 10 women from the London Bulgarian Choir. So, yes, there will be more of the epic symphonics which have been a Halo trademark since game one.
But unlike O'Donnell, who tended to start with the orchestral textures, Davidge worked out the electronic aspects of the various songs and then worked in the instrumentation. He was, after all, an integral contributor to the Bristol trip-hop sound and the production master behind slinky and sinister Massive Attack hit albums Mezzanine and 100th Window. He's also composed the score to movies like Clash of the Titans and Push, among others.
"[Marty O'Donnell] almost single-handedly turned the game score into a far more professional cinematic medium," says Davidge. "I didn't have to blank out what he had done and say, 'No, I can't do what he did.' [But] it required a huge leap of faith in terms of committing myself to any piece of music for the game. They would give me stills -- visuals, game capture video, or maybe a sentence or two to description of the theme or mission, and maybe some environmental pointers. I had to go on instinct a lot of the time, immersing myself into the characters, the images, imagining myself in that scenario and then creating them."
Davidge's compositions have also been put through the remix grinder by electronic and rock acts DJ Skee, Caspa, James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins, 100 Waters and Apocalyptica to create an album using 14 different song explorations from the score. It was easy for Davidge to tap these artists, because many of them were players, too.
"As a composer and producer of albums, I would spend a lot of time playing Halo whilst working on an album because there is a lot of downtime, like waiting for the band to turn up, or maybe you don't have any ideas yet, or something technical is going on in the studio or the computers went down," he said "There are bands on tour buses around the world are playing games like Halo so it's great to get them on the project."
Essentially, each remix artist has taken what they were inspired by from the score and then added their own thing to it.
"It's a fun remix album to listen to," says Neil. "It's quite a journey in it's own right, and a good companion to the regular soundtrack."
And if you're incredibly lucky, you might even find Davidge to be a good companion on multiplayer. While discovering his Gamertag might take some cyber-sleuthing, it's possible you've come across his style before.
"I'm definitely sneaky, more of a sniper. I'll size up a situation before going in. I've been playing for so many years, but my 15-year-old daughter is embarrassingly good, she kicks my ass!"