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VGA 2009: Bungie's Marty O'Donnell talks moody soundtracks

Kevin Kelly

This past Saturday brought us the Spike TV Video Game Awards and – before experiencing the litany of world exclusives that awaited us inside – we spent some time outside cruising the red carpet and talking (briefly!) to many of the game developers and talent. We squeezed them for information as fast as we could while simultaneously wishing them holiday cheer and good tidings. Yes, it was as awkward as it sounds. HHere's what we learned from Bungie's Halo-matic composer, Marty O'Donnell.

Why was the music such a departure for Halo 3: ODST?

It was just a completely different story with different characters, it was a small scale, it took place in a lonely city where it was raining. It was a detective sort of story where one lone ODST was looking for his buddies. From the very beginning Joe Staten, the writer, wanted to create an atmosphere that felt very film noir, very detective story. I'm the main composer, but my partner Mike Salvatore in Chicago and a couple of other guys in Seattle, Stan Laparte and C. Paul Johnson contributed stuff. I tried to keep all of the themes in that noir, jazz, dark area. There's a few times where we're in the rooftops or doing some high-action regular old Halo stuff in vehicles and we went back to that big, bombastic, epic stuff, but I always wanted to bring it back to that noir feel.

Were there any musical references to classic Halo during those moments?

I didn't do any actual thematic callbacks. I still wanted to do .... well, number one was no monks. But I still thought the big orchestral epic sound had a place. With some other stuff, you know. Piano, guitar, etc. It's like three hours of music, and you can't narrow yourself down to a small palette, you have to really be as expansive as possible.

So now you're working on Reach?

Yes, we're premiering the first look at the opening section of Reach. It's right out of the game. I'm really excited about it. It has a really different feel.

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