Every month, we discuss the unique process of making music for video games. This month, we dive into the musical universe of composer Olivier Derivière, who’s behind the soundtrack of BAFTA-nominated 11-11 Memories Retold, plus The Council, Vampyr, Get Even, Remember Me, A Plague Tale: Innocence and more.
How did you get involved with 11-11 Memories Retold and when in the development process did you get on board?
I heard about the project when I was in Sweden giving a talk at Nordic Game Conference. I met with Yoan Fanise, who is the creative director, and he talked to me about the project – he was already working with Aardman but they were trying to find a publisher and the people that I was working with from Bandai Namco on Get Even got involved at the same moment. So it was like a reunion of the Get Even team to work on Memories Retold – very weird circumstances, where all the stars align! So this is how it started. I was involved at the early stages where nothing was yet done.
So how does that compare to your previous projects? Do you usually start working on the music later in the project or is it the same kind of approach?
It depends. Of course you want to be involved at the very beginning of the project to understand what the core of the game is but also to make sure the team understands that music is more than just music. For Memories Retold, it was quite unique because I was writing the music as they were writing the script, as they were doing the visuals, because time was very short.
For most of the games that I’ve been doing the sooner the better, and the deeper the involvement the better the results.
Do you feel like you had an impact on the game’s development?
Yes, I think it’s a team work. It’s a sort of a mutual involvement, from me to express my concerns, if there are any, and from them as well. I want them to express their concerns for the music. You know we had moments where it was like: ‘Should we do this for the music? Should we do that?’ It’s a conversation.
Using a choir in Memories Retold gave the game a different dimension. Why did you make that decision?
11-11 is about kids going to war and becoming men. And the idea was that it would be good to capture this with the music. We couldn’t get a children’s choir because it’s very complicated to hire but what we did is that we hired specific voices, female voices, that are very close to young boys and girls, to sing. And the idea was that you would have those textures, those children-like colours, to capture what is in the actual game. It was kids going to war – they were like 16 years old, that’s crazy if you think about it.
What type of material do you usually request from the studio before you start writing the score?
Mainly talks… It is very difficult for people who do games to envision their own game because video games are very difficult to make. So of course you can request guidelines, artworks, references, you can understand what’s the very core of the intention, but it’s a long process for the people who are making the game itself. It’s very long and it’s based on failure. So this is why you want to be very close to them so you understand all of the steps.
“When you see a gameplay mechanic, what you can do with music can transform the experience into something completely different.”
You mainly have experiences in games music when some other composers may have done a bit more films or documentaries – why were you attracted to video games music in the first place?
Because I’m a gamer. And I think what video games are offering to players is much wider in terms of universe, worlds, stories, characters… Much more interesting to me than anything else, except maybe literature, nowadays. Because it feels like there is a lot of freedom into what we’re doing in games. So it’s very interesting to explore and push the boundaries as much as possible.
The end point is the player experience. It’s not about the music itself. It’s not about the visuals. It’s about how we convey refreshing new experiences for players. It’s a very unique time for video games and I hope it will last as long as possible as freedom is a word that is almost only possible in games.
Do you have any tips for developers and how they can best help composers to make music for their game?
Number one: music is people. And you need to talk to these people, you need to make them part of your own team. You don’t want them to be external from to development team because then it feels like they will never understand the substance of what you’re doing. So I think the developers need to go towards the composers but they need to have composers that speak their own language too. They need composers who understand how a game is made but also what is a game.
One example is Tetris Effect. People are like: ‘Oh it’s a music game’, like Guitar Hero. But what’s funny is that the core gameplay is a very basic Tetris game. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about: when you see a gameplay mechanic, what you can do with music can transform the experience into something completely different and that’s something that is very underrated, misunderstood, by a lot of people. When you understand that, you can extend [the devs’] vision, you can enhance the experience.