Sounds Like Death: A Q&A With Dead Rising 2’s Audio Team

by Jeff Cork on May 04, 2010 at 09:54 AM

Dead Rising’s soundtrack borrowed heavily from the types of tunes you might expect to hear at your average shopping mall. Music piped through the zombie-filled halls was familiar and forgettable—in other words, it was perfect for its setting. Dead Rising 2’s action shifts from that shopping-center location to the glitzy casinos and strip of the fictional Fortune City.

If you’re wondering what that might sound like, you’re not alone. We talked with the audio team at Blue Castle games to find out what kinds of things would be hitting our ears in Dead Rising 2. Audio director Dieter Piltz and music composer and producer Oleksa Lozowchuk were kind enough to answer our questions.

Is Lifeseeker on the sequel's soundtrack? The convict’s theme “Gone Guru” kind of grew on a lot of us.

Oleksa Lozowchuk:  “Gone Guru” actually inspired one of the ambient music tracks in DR2 and was a perfect fit for the outdoor battle in DR 1...this time round, however, we focused on a darker/edgier palette, and tighter rhythmic energy that would help propel the battles, yet still have enough variety for prolonged listening…Another thing we did to make the experience more enjoyable for users, was to implement battle tracks that had vocals, in such a way that you’d only hear the vocal version the 1st time you play the battle, and thereafter, only an alt/instrumental version.

What kinds of influences did you draw from when composing the game's ambient music?

Lozowchuk: Dead Rising has a very strong and loyal fan base, so first and foremost, we drew inspiration from and tried to stay true to DR 1, and its use of ambient music.  People have come to expect a certain unique underscore to their DR experience, and we simply wanted to expand on what that world might be.

DR 2's ambient music centers on striking a contrast of emotion while sandboxing, versus the energy felt when shifting into boss battles, which like the story-based score, has plenty of its own motivation.  In some cases, where I had the chance to look at art concept or 'themed' environments beforehand, I focused on adding another dimension to the space, and tailoring the music to work well with the killer enviro-based sounds our SFX artists created, which very often had their own tonal character.  However, the majority of the music came from immediate/emotional responses I had to simple casino/mall map legend names, since much of the world was only grey-boxed, and didn't exist as I created the music.  Thankfully, when you hear it on the mix stage, along with the crazy SFX, and amusing dialogue, you know that you are in a world none other than Dead Rising.

Are there any that might be surprising to our readers?

Lozowchuk: One thing's for sure - creating mall/casino muzak is actually a lot more involved and difficult than people might think.  After spending a fair amount of time researching the science behind it, and seeing what works within the DR world, Tom Green (one of our producers) and I boiled it down to a set of criteria:
- It can't be too complicated/groovy, nor melodically or emotionally memorable, so as to draw attention to itself;
- It needs simple, transparent melodies and neutral harmonic progressions, with no dramatic highs or lows;
- It needs serious 'trying way too hard' production value;
- And it needs to be music that caters to older folks, by trying to stay 'young,' yet not being too modern as to alienate them.

I came across a description online somewhere, which summed it up nicely: it is "...music with the entertainment value removed, a vaguely pleasurable musical sound that does not require conscious listening."

One of the other goals, for the ambient score, was to not only provide contrast to the onscreen action, but also some comic relief - a companion of sorts.  Sometimes it was iconic, other times it was subdued.  What mattered to me was that the music felt like DR, that it was catchy and accessible, and that it could put a smile on your face...whether you heard extremely schmaltzy or cheesy muzak; bossa lounge or Django jazz; Mariachi or polyrhythmic Mayan soundscapes; yodeling bratwurst polkas or Polynesian ukuleles; Appalachian banjo hoedowns or Vegas rockabilly/alt country; ‘80s glam rock or casio disco; electro/Euro trance or drum’n’bass; Medieval hurdy-gurdy or Zappa-esque carnival music; Enya-like poseidon vocals or heavy prog metal... it didn't matter, as long as it resonated with the context, and had raw energy and life to it.

DR 2 is really the perfect game to score because the world is so far-reaching, the story has a raw emotional arc, and it involves so many crazy characters and unique scenarios.  On one hand, it proves to be quite a challenge in creating a cohesive soundtrack, yet on the other hand, it’s very rewarding, as you can delve into a plethora of genres and create a wide and varied musical world. 

At one point, some Capcom lead creative personnel came for an extended studio visit to Blue Castle, and I had to give a score presentation of some main themes and ambient music.  My greatest sense of relief came when, while listening to the work in progress, smiles appeared on their faces.  They said the music felt very much like Dead Rising.  After that, it was all about getting the score done, and doing what I could to help make DR 2’s audio as strong as possible.  DR 2’s core story has over 5 hours of new original music (not including any licensed music)...so we hope there's something for everyone.

If you had to make a five-song custom playlist of existing songs to accompany you in Dead Rising 2, what would you put on it?

We have such a great audio team here at BlueCastle, that it warranted their feedback also...

Custom playlist
#1 - DR2 Muzak
#2 - NineInchNails or Whitney Houston ('80s)
#3 - Tom Jones, Edith Piaf, or Elvis
#4 - Rammstein, Meshuggah or Motorhead
#5 - Beastie Boys or Gogol Bordello

What's the gnarliest sound in the game, and how did you get the effect?

That's a tough question because DR2 has some much gnarly stuff going on! I think a lot of the weapon sounds really stand out - the Tesla ball, the paddlesaw, the power exanguinator... We tried to record as much stuff as possible ourselves which generally involved trips to grocery and hardware stores and then drives to one of the local mountains where things were nice and quiet.... We've also built some pretty cool tech that allowed us to add a lot variety and variation to the sounds. There's lots of obvious over the top stuff but there's also a lot of cool more subtle things going on. The blood cannon has a lot of detail to it when you listen closely.