Jukebox Heroes Extra: A chat with City of Steam's composer

Jukebox Heroes Extra A chat with City of Steam's composer

When you're called in to create a score to an off-kilter steampunk game like City of Steam, then you had better bring a unique sound that highlights the difference between this and all of the yet-another-fantasy-MMOs (YAFMMOs) that litter the field. Composer Daniel Sadowski fully invested himself in this project to make that happen, and I wanted to talk with him about the making of this interesting soundtrack (which you can purchase on iTunes and Amazon, by the way).

So for this follow-up interview, Sadowski shares his soundtrack influences, how he got involved with City of Steam, and what he used to make a steampunk world come alive through music.

Jukebox Heroes Extra A chat with City of Steam's composer

Massively: Can you introduce yourself and your musical resume?

Daniel Sadowski: Hello, I am a music composer, and I compose for everything including films, TV, video games, and anything else that requires music. As far as games go, I have composed for titles such as Man Of Steel: The Video Game, A Boy And His Blob, Disciples 3, Megamind, and many other titles. I am currently working on a couple of games at the moment, one from a very big publisher.

My background comes from my love of music and the passion and need to always stay creative.
Some things that inspire my writing directly are my passion for many different musical styles, many different movies, nature, my family, the challenge of building something unique, and of course, deadlines.

I've been in the video games industry since around 2005, so I have seen a lot of ups and downs and changes within the industry. It's quite the challenging business to be in, but it's also very rewarding and worth it when you get to hear your music in a game and when you get to be part of creating new worlds, which is the ultimate joy.

So let's talk about City of Steam. How did you get attached to this project?

David Lindsay, who is the creator of City of Steam and one of the owners of Mechanist Games, got a hold of me after he heard some of my music on my website. David is an amazing storyteller and author, as he actually created encyclopedias filled with details and stories of the world of City of Steam. In fact the game was inspired by his imagination and his books. He really liked my style and thought that I could offer a unique angle on the music that would fill City of Steam. They brought me on board and trusted my vision to do something different, and it turned out to be an awesome collaboration. They told me later on that they were really searching for something different.

When you tackled creating music for a steampunk fantasy MMO, what went through your head in deciding on a musical approach?

It was a very daunting task to come on board a steampunk game with volumes of history and characters and have to create something that would please everyone including the game company, steampunk fans, and fans of MMOs. So instead of trying to please 10 different viewpoints, I decided to take a more personal approach to the music.

I remember when they first sent me some of the in-game art of the beautiful and intimidating levels, I was really blown away. I basically imagined what it would be like to be thrown into this huge world, what it would feel like to look through the eyes of the main character. I felt intimidated, in awe. I felt lonely and adventurous. It really brought up a bunch of mixed internal feelings and ideas. So immediately I started to compose from this viewpoint of looking out from an inward place instead of just trying to make the music "sound steampunk" -- whatever that would mean.

So it is way more of an introverted score, you could say. In all honesty, I think that as composers we try to find the heartbeat or concept of a game and then we sort of go from there. I am really glad I took this approach on City of Steam because a lot of people seemed to love the music and really feel that it captured the game very well and also the feeling of steampunk. But I think when it comes down to it, the reason people feel the music is because it's more emotional and comes from an inward place, which makes it more personal. This is sort of ironic given that the world is so huge and physical.

What are some of the motifs and instruments that you used?

I used a lot of solo viola. I tend to be drawn to more the the solo violin because the sound just appeals to my writing more. I also used a lot of acoustic and electric guitars, but they were heavily processed at times so they may not have sounded like a guitar; other times you could tell there were just plain guitars going on as well. I also used a lot of female solo vocals.

This goes back to the last question about the musical approach. Because it was turning out to be a more introverted score, solo instruments such as viola and solo female vocals played a big part in building that concept further. Even when the music had to get more "epic," I would still always sprinkle in those solo sort of elements so that it would retain that more personal vibe. The creative team would even tell me sometimes, "We want more solo stuff and more personal-sounding emotional instruments!" So when I would slightly wander in a different direction, they always reminded me of the initial beauty and intimacy that we had captured, that it was OK to stay in that place.

For a lot of the action cues, some of them had to be more aggressive and not very solo sounding, but there weren't as many of these compared to the majority of the score. As for motifs, there were a few used, but mostly the score called for a lot of variety. Because it was such a huge world with many different places and races, the team really wanted the levels to sound very unique and different from each other. With that said, there were a few small motifs and instrumentation that I used over and over to capture a consistent vibe and feeling throughout the game.

Jukebox Heroes Extra A chat with City of Steam's composer

City of Steam released its digital soundtrack way before the game launching, which is highly unusual. Why did that happen so early?

A lot of games these days build up fan followings and players from alpha, beta, and through the final release. So even though the game wasn't literally finished when I finished the music, it was in a very playable form, and Mechanist Games wanted players to really be part of the alpha and beta. So from that sense when I finished the score, the game was pretty much done and playable.

Mechanist Games wanted to cross-promote the music at the same time when it was going though beta, so they wanted to do the CD release "as the game was being built" as sort of a cool extra for the alpha and beta players to enjoy. With venues like Steam, MMOs, digital games and such, a lot more independent companies are doing more interesting things like this as far as letting fans and players be part of the game building process. So I think it was a great idea that they released the music as the game was being finished.

What reception have you gotten for the score so far?

It's been great. The game isn't huge, as it's more of an indie title. So not too many people have probably heard the music or game, but with that said, the game does have a medium following that is growing, especially in China, Poland, and Russia.

Making a game or making music for a game is a daunting experience because you really put yourself out there for the world to see and analyze. On the music of City of Steam, I really tried to stay true to how I first felt when I imagined being a character in this world and those very personal feelings. I really stuck to that idea all the way through the game, and I think that's what people have been attracted to in the music.

I think I have like over 50 quotes and emails from different reviews and fans that really felt touched and moved by the music, and that really means a lot to me as an artist.

What is your favorite track? (I know, it's like choosing between kids!)

That's a good question because I really see the score as one huge piece of music that represents the entire world of City of Steam. If I had to choose, I would say the main theme because it was my first reaction to the game that really fueled that piece. Also I like Industrial Wanderers.

Is there more music in the game than was released on the OST? Are you still making music for City of Steam?

Yes, there is an extra hour of music that I did that was not included in the iTunes and Amazon release. I plan on getting this out there somehow. And yes, I have returned to make music for City of Steam about five times now. I actually just finished a handful of tracks a couple of weeks ago. Maybe I will go back again in the future; I'm not sure.

What are some of your favorite composers and soundtracks to listen to?

Oh boy, this is the one question that is hard because I really appreciate all kinds of music and have so many composers, musicians, and soundtracks that I truly admire and respect. The list is quite diverse and it grows every day: Hector Berlioz, Antonio Vivaldi, Gustav Mahler, Antonin Dvorak, Robert Schumann, Kenny Dorham, Claude Debussy, Joseph Kosma, Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, Max Steiner, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein, John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Ennio Morricone, James Newton Howard, Harry-Gregson Williams, M.8.3 -- and this is just getting started! There are other numerous solo artists and bands as well from alternative to hip hop to blues and funk! The list just keeps going on. There are so many amazing musicians, bands, and artists out there, and I enjoy listening to as many as I can.

Thanks for talking with us, and keep making that personal-sounding music!

MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!