Recently we got the chance to have a chat with the composer of DONTNOD's promising-looking Vampyr, Olivier Derivière. We got to discuss the manner in which he approaches his compositions, the intertwining of game development alongside the music, and how his passion for video games birthed a phenomenal composer for the industry. Let's dive in.
Push Square: What influences did you look to when working on the soundtrack? Films? Other games? Books even?
Olivier Derivière: Beside my own cultural experience, I didn’t look to anything else but the game. I think if you want to create what a game needs, if you want to find the musical identity, you can definitely get all the answers by researching/playing the game. Vampyr was very inspiring on so many levels.
Vampires generally have a very specific sound associated with them dating back decades. Is this something that you thought about while constructing the score?
Yes, there are two aspects that are quite recognisable when dealing with vampires. The first one is the way you compose the melodies. I don’t know the origins of this but it has to have some flourishment between notes. The second is the cimbalom. It is an instrument that reflects the London of that time.
What was the initial goal you sought to accomplish as far as a soundscape when you began the process of scoring Vampyr?
Each time I start scoring a game, I don’t know what I am going to create until I completely understand what the game is about; not only the world, the characters, and the story, but also the gameplay and the player’s experience. For Vampyr, I had to compose for a gritty, industrial London with a character, Jonathan Reid, who is a doctor becoming a vampire in a semi open-world game with tons of dialogue and fight sequences. So the first thing I wanted to accomplish, like any of the games I’ve scored, was the general colour of the experience, in other words, what instruments I will use. I created some industrial electronic textures led by a cello solo and we tried to make the musical experience as organic as possible.
[Alongside this] I composed the main melodies because I am the type of composer that loves to use thematic music to add some additional narration to the game. With such premises established, I then just need to follow the intentions of the creative director, Philippe Moreau, and deliver what it means musically speaking.
To what extent was the score directly influenced by the game? Did you create the score in a vacuum, or was it more intertwined with the development of the game?
I am always very close to the team I work with. It can last months, even years, as was the case with Vampyr. Making a game is a very long process and if you want music to be part of the meaning of the game you need to be very close to its development. Of course, I was not composing every day, but I kept an eye on every step of its development. There is a lot of music in the game that follows the whole narrative arc.
The score heavily favours strings, but there is still plenty of breathing room for other things to shine throughout. How did you go about juggling that balance to make sure everything got the right amount of attention through the title?
If you listen to the soundtrack album you will mostly hear the narrative music that I wrote for the game. As it is about the main character and he is personified by a cello, you hear it quite extensively. However, the game is a totally different experience. The soundtrack is maybe a third of the whole score and the rest is mainly industrial textures. What we wanted to create is a contrast between the world and the main character. I hope players will feel the humanity of the narrative when it kicks in and the disturbing environment of London at night.
Was there anything in particular you picked up from games you had previously scored that you found especially useful while scoring Vampyr?
I am not sure. I guess so, but I never look back for both composition and interactivity. For nearly 15 years now I have been trying to create unique identities for each of the games I’ve scored. Alone in the Dark, Assassin’s Creed IV: Freedom Cry, Remember Me, Get Even, and many others, they are all so different…
The score Vampyr does an extraordinary job of setting a mood and keeping the listener there through the run time. What did you do to ensure that this would happen? And what did you do to have that transfer over to the game itself? Did you look at concept art for the title, play through early builds? Talk about the title?
Thank you! I’m very happy you felt this. The most difficult part was to avoid the music becoming a wallpaper, something that will be forgotten while playing, that is just there. However we didn’t want the music to be too expressive because it could become overwhelmingly intrusive and tiring, and since the action happens at night it shouldn’t be agitating. However, certain locations and situations required much more narrative focus and this is where, I hope, the contrast balances out.
Are there any particular pieces that you’re especially fond of?
Please, don’t ask a parent which of his/her kids he/she prefers. [Haha, oops! - Ed]
And the flipside of that, anything you found that just wasn’t working as well as you’d hoped?
I think most creative people end up frustrated by their own results. I always feel I could have done it better, or a little differently, or maybe less of this and more of that... But in the end I think we gave everything we could to make the experience as meaningful as possible. I feel very proud of the work we accomplished.
And then for the finisher, how’d you find yourself scoring games? Is it something that just kinda happened? Or was it a conscious decision that it was something you wanted to get into?
I am a gamer, a hardcore gamer. I was fascinated by video games since I was young and I always wanted to be part of the creative process. Since my beginnings in games I have been advocating for music in games to be more about what games are rather than mimic what movies and TV shows are doing. I think the next generation of video game composer, those who devote their craft to interactive music, will create new ways of expressing music in games. This is what I’ve been trying to do for years and will do so until I turn into a vampire! I will never let it go!
And that does it for us! You can pick up the soundtrack on bandcamp here (something we highly recommend. This soundtrack is something special) You can also check out a video about the soundtrack on Olivier's YouTube channel here. And look for the game soon!