PlanetSide 2 rocks: An interview with composer Jeff Broadbent

PlanetSide 2 rocks An interview with Composer Jeff Broadbent
In this post-Halo age, it's hard to imagine any sort of galactic ground battle happening without a stirring score at your back. So the challenge to the SOE audio team and Composer Jeff Broadbent was formidable: PlanetSide 2's soundtrack had to rock so hard that it would bring tears to the eyes of combat-hardened troops.

Whether or not the musicians and audio team succeeded is, of course, your personal opinion, but it's hard not to be impressed with the end result. Broadbent's worked on a variety of projects spanning video games, TV, and film, but PlanetSide 2 is his first crack at scoring an MMO.

We talked with Broadbent about his inspirations, experiences on the project, and his take on the end result. Read on and be enlightened!

PlanetSide 2 rocks An interview with Composer Jeff Broadbent
Massively: What do you listen to? What are your favorite scores from movies or video games?

Jeff Broadbent: I listen to a wide variety of music including classical, romantic era, twentieth-century art music, rock, jazz electronic, and more. As a multimedia composer, I have been asked to create diverse pieces of music, so having a strong and varied musical background is very helpful. I grew up studying classical and jazz music, I studied twentieth century orchestral music in university, and I also play guitar, so all of these combine to form a strong musical background.

My favorite film scores include music by John Williams (Star Wars, Empire of the Sun, E.T.), scores by James Horner (Aliens, Braveheart), Joe Hisaishi (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke), and more modern scores such as the Bourne Identity series by John Powell. I really enjoy classic video game scores from the Final Fantasy series, Secret of Mana, etc. I'm currently playing the game Ni No Kuni, and it has a wonderful score by Joe Hisaishi.

How is writing for science fiction and action different than, say, fantasy? Do you prefer one genre over the other?

Science fiction, due to its modern nature, often requires the use of a hybrid musical approach where acoustic instruments (strings, brass, percussion) and synthetic instruments (synthesizers, electronic percussion, samples) are blended together. Fantasy, on the other hand, will primarily rely upon acoustic instruments (orchestra, choir) and also exotic or ethnic instruments at times.

I can't say which genre I prefer, as I enjoy both immensely. I have a classical training in composition with the orchestra, so I'm very comfortable writing symphonic and choral music. At the same time, due to the work I've done as a sound designer, I really enjoy creating and manipulating sound, which is very helpful for the science fiction music. Despite their differences, both genres employ the principles of good composition, orchestration, and mixing, so I actually see them as being fairly closely related.

If you had to choose just one word to describe PlanetSide 2's score, what would it be?

POWERFUL!

PlanetSide 2 rocks An interview with Composer Jeff Broadbent
Were there any special considerations given for composing an MMO score versus a traditional video game score?

In composing for an MMO, the musical needs tend to be more diverse. For example, in PlanetSide 2, we had three different empires with different music approaches for each. I recently composed music for another upcoming MMO, and likewise it had different groups with different musical identities.

MMOs also can have music serving a variety of roles, including combat music, ambient music, themes, and location-based music (such as music for a town or village). This can push the musical envelope by requiring more musical variety than some typical game scores.

What motifs did you decide on for PlanetSide 2's score?

The developers wanted to retain the primary themes from the original PlanetSide and incorporate them in new ways into PlanetSide 2. For each of the empires' main themes, I created new versions of their original themes and also composed some additional/secondary themes to go along with the original material.

You mentioned that each of the three empires have their own sound and musical style -- orchestra, blues rock, and synthetic. What made you settle on those for empire identities, and which was the most fun to work with?

The Terran Republic is an authoritarian empire using their military might to bring discipline to Auraxis. Using the power of orchestra, choir, and large percussion helped to convey this sense of power and grandeur, so that was an excellent choice for the Terran.

The New Conglomerate is an empire rebelling against the perceived tyranny of the Terran Republic. This group is comprised of various mercenaries and freedom fighters. Blues rock was seen as the choice to convey their rebellious spirit, yet also a feeling of freedom as they battle for their independence on the frontiers of Auraxis.

The Vanu Sovereignty is driven by both spirituality and a quest for supreme technology. For this empire, the use of synthesizers, tech-style percussion, and also exotic instruments like world vocals and duduk helped to create a unique sound palette to represent both cutting edge technology and ancient spirituality.

While you probably are proud of all of it, which piece are you most partial to from the PS2 soundtrack?

I would have to say I am most fond of the Vanu Sovereignty main theme. I really enjoyed creating the soundtrack for the Vanu; blending synthetic instruments with exotic winds and vocals was a very interesting combination. The main theme has rhythmic drive yet also a mystical feel in the slower sections -- this makes it a very provocative piece of music.

PlanetSide 2 rocks An interview with Composer Jeff Broadbent
Which piece was the most challenging to create or conduct?

I would have to say that creating the New Conglomerate main theme was the most challenging. We went through a few iterations with this piece, trying first a more heavy metal oriented theme before gradually settling upon the blues rock approach we have now. At times a trial-and-error approach is necessary to refine the music and test out various ideas.

How long did it take to create and record the score from start to finish?

I started composing in March of 2012, and we held the live recording sessions in June of 2012. After the recordings, another month or so was spent mixing the music and preparing the various audio file formats for delivery. So all in all, music production lasted around four months.

What feedback have you heard from SOE and the players about the score?

I've heard great things! I remember when I first created the Terran Republic main theme, Audio Director Rodney Gates said that SOE President John Smedley really enjoyed it. That was great to hear.

I've received emails from gamers as well in which they've told me how they have enjoyed the music. I'll read comments online also in which gamers state how they have enjoyed the different musical approaches for each empire. Players also have shared experiences of how the music heightens the excitement of capturing bases, etc. I really enjoy this feedback as my primary goal is to enhance the gaming experience and help the gamers enjoy and become more immersed in the world.

Thanks for sharing all of this with us!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
This article was originally published on Massively.