I recently had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Broadbent, an experienced composer who is making his mark in the world of both games and film. He’s worked on trailer music that’s been used for X-Men: Days Of Future Past and Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, to name just a couple.
A recent endeavour of Broadbent’s was composing over three hours of music for the Ubisoft RTS game Champions of Anteria. In the interview below, we speak about how working on the game’s unique interactive soundtrack presented its own challenges, but also creative opportunities. Find yourself a pair of headphones and listen to a sample of Jeff Broadbent’s work on Champions of Anteria, while you read the interview.
How did you start out composing music professionally?
While I was in my final year of university at UCLA I started work professionally by composing production music tracks, which have been placed in many different television shows and networks (including MSNBC, History Channel, Discovery, Disney Channel, etc)
After graduating from university I started composing music for various video games. My first larger-budget video game score was Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Activision), which was an exciting project, full of epic and cinematic music. Around that same time I began composing trailer music as well.
You’ve worked previously on trailer music for various games and film/TV. Were any of these commercials particular highlights to work on?
I very much enjoyed composing my first trailer music album, created for Position Music, who would then license the music to trailers and commercials. The album, titled Enemy Below, features dark, aggressive, and intense sound-design-inspired music. The tracks do not use traditional instruments, but rather rely on synthesizers, sampled and processed sound effects, and distorted percussion, giving a very modern and edgy feel.
I really enjoy this type of music, in part because it contrasts a great deal with some of the fully orchestral music I compose for other projects. Composing this album gave me a chance to be very experimental and creative, and to approach the music from a unique sonic direction. The music has been used in several movie trailers (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, The Lazarus Effect, a featurette for the movie Fury, a commercial for Rocawear Blak featuring Grammy-nominated artist Fabulous, etc)
What are the main differences between composing music for games and for film/TV?
One of the biggest differences is that video game music is interactive, and as such, the music needs to change according to the actions of the player.
A good example of this is from a game I scored called I Am Alive (Ubisoft). This post-apocalyptic game involves a lot of exploration of abandoned and tense locations, including encounters with hostile and violent situations. I composed an exploration music layer, which would play while the player was exploring. The music for this layer was very ambient, mysterious and dark, yet still calm. When the player approaches a potentially hostile situation a different tension music layer would fade-in, which adds more dissonance and suspense to the music. If a full combat situation erupted, the music transitions to aggressive and active music to support the action.
Another difference is that video game music in general tends to require a lot of tension and action music, as a lot of video games involve some kind of combat and fighting. Of course, film and television music can use this music as well, but they also tend to have a variety of less-intense music to support dialogue, dramatic moments, etc.
You have recently worked on Ubisoft’s Champions of Anteria. When did you begin work on the game?
I actually began work on the game starting in 2014! The game was in development for quite some time, and underwent several design and gameplay changes. I composed the majority of the in-game music in 2014, and then in 2016 I composed music for the cutscenes and trailers of the game.
Composing over three hours of music for Champions of Anteria must not have been an easy task! Were there any particular difficulties that you had to overcome while working on the game’s soundtrack?
It was a lot of music! But, I enjoyed working on it very much.
The main challenge was creating music for the interactive music system of the game. The basic idea is that each champion has their own unique music instruments, so that as the game player adds or subtracts various champions from his group, the music score changes accordingly.
In addition, each music track I composed needed to have an out-of-combat version (subtle/ambient exploration music), an in-combat version (aggressive battle music), and various short music cues for victory, loss, intros, and outros.
Overall, I had to take care that the various music layers and champions’ instruments were well balanced with one another, so that they could sound good in various combinations.
How did composing for the interactive music system of Champions of Anteria (specific instruments are mapped to specific champions) differ from composing for other games?
This was the first game I’ve worked on where each character in the game (champion) has his or her own unique music layer. A lot of games will have music layers to represent the different gameplay intensities (exploration, tension, combat, etc), but Champions of Anteria was special because the music system is tailored to the champions in the player’s group.
For example, the monk Anslem features choir, the desert archer Nusala has various ethnic wind instruments, Baltasar the bard uses guitar, mandolin, and harp, and the knight Vargus is represented by epic brass (french horns, trombones, trumpets).
The way I approached composing the music was to first create the “base” layer. This was a music layer (usually consisting of some strings and percussion) that would be present for all of the champions. After this I composed the champions’ music layers, balancing them with one another via orchestration and mixing.
The interactive system contributes to a very adaptive music score, which can actually change and reveal different musical textures and melodies depending on which champions you have selected.
Do you hope that this is just a step in your on-going working relationship with Ubisoft?
I would love to continue to work with Ubisoft! In particular, I would really enjoy scoring a modern action video game with them.
In addition to my orchestral composing, I have a strong affinity for modern, sound-design-inspired music, which is very fitting for games with a current or futuristic theme. Examples of this are found in my video game music (I Am Alive, Transformers, PlanetSide 2), as well as modern-action trailer music, and music I’ve created that has been featured in several modern television promos (Marvel Agents of Shield, NCIS, Hawaii Five-O) and shows.