October 23, 2012
– Baldur's Gate
is well-regarded for many reasons, and certainly one of those is its phenomenal soundtrack. We caught up with Sam Hulick (you may have heard of his work for a little series called Mass Effect) and had a chance to talk about the new music he's been working on for Beamdog's upcoming re-release of the classic game.
RPGFan: You've had experience working with other composers, although in the case of BG:EE, it seems more like you were working in the same vein as the original composer, Michael Hoenig, rather than directly with him. Did you approach the writing of this music differently than you have some of your past projects, given that there is already, arguably, a "Baldur's Gate" sound?
Sam Hulick: There is a certain Baldur's Gate sound, for sure, though there have actually been two composers who worked on the first two games and expansions: Michael Hoenig and Inon Zur. Of course, each composer has their own signature sound, and so the music from Baldur's Gate 1 and 2 sounds a bit different than Inon's work on Throne of Bhaal, for example.
RPGFan: Somewhat related to my previous question, did you try to "mimic" the spirit of the original music, or did you feel comfortable going off and blazing your own trail?
I wanted to ease people into the new music gently. It would have been in bad taste, I think, to just write whatever I felt like without thinking of the audience. This is a franchise that's been around for nearly fifteen years now, and especially since I'm writing new music that's going to be used for new quests within Baldur's Gate 1, veering off in a new direction would have been jarring. So, for the new content in BG1 and especially The Black Pits, I stuck fairly closely to Hoenig's style by using some of his orchestration techniques so that the music would sound true to the original soundtrack. With any new content going into the existing games, my goal is consistency. Once the Overhaul Games team ventures into new territory, then I'll put my own personal spin on things.
RPGFan: Did you have any interaction with the original composer?
Sam Hulick: No, and I couldn't track him down on Facebook or Twitter either (being a fan, I had to check). In my imagination, he's living happily on an island in the Mediterranean somewhere.
Based on the samples
I've heard, I'd definitely say your new music is going to fit in quite nicely. How much new music have you done for BG:EE? Can we cross our fingers to see you coming back from BG2:EE?
Sam Hulick: I've provided about ten minutes of original music for The Black Pits and just a couple of tracks for BG:EE at this time. It's too early to comment on BG2:EE, but I will say that the Creative Director, Trent Oster, and I have been working well together so far. We are very much on the same page with what we envision musically for Baldur's Gate.
RPGFan: How much direction do you usually have when working on these giant RPG projects? Is it more of a situation where someone says "here's the game, okay, go!" or has it been more of a guided, "well, this is what we're looking for here, so can you work with that?"
Sam Hulick: In my experience, there's almost always clear direction given. It's rare for a producer or director to just say "here you go, write music." A good producer will have a vision for their game and will want to give plenty of notes on what they envision for the soundtrack. At the same time, though, a good producer will give enough breathing room for the composer to do their thing. Plenty of artwork, story background, and a handful of mood words for each setting, and I'm good to go. Sometimes the occasional musical reference tracks are helpful too.
RPGFan: Are there any genres of music that you haven't yet been able to try your hand at that you'd like to, given the opportunity? Related to that, are there any styles/genres that you think we should see more often in game soundtracks?
Sam Hulick: I like a challenge. Music from other cultures interests me. Red Orchestra 2 was a big challenge for me, having to write music that had a German and Russian classical music flavor to it. If someone came up to me and said "hey, we want a game that's heavy in combat, but the music should be based heavily on Indonesian gamelan music," I'd be all over that. It's a little scary at first, being pushed out of one's creative comfort zone, but you learn a hell of a lot, and it's always rewarding and interesting. I wouldn't mind seeing more risks taken musically in games. I'd like to see more game developers straying away from what's proven and safe to try new things.
RPGFan: A question I always like to ask musicians is what your favorite music is. Do you have a favorite composer or band? What about your favorite video game soundtrack?
My favorites tend to shift around a lot. I like Fleet Foxes a lot, though I don't listen to them much these days. Right now, I'm in this mode where I'm trying to find the next band that's going to hook me immediately and cause me to listen to their music non-stop all day. That hasn't happened in a while, though the band M83 has caught my attention recently. Skyrim is still holding fast as my favorite video game score recently. The melodies are just perfect.
RPGFan: How did you find yourself involved in the industry as a composer? What kind of background do you have?
Sam Hulick: I'm a self-taught composer who grew up in a musical household. My dad has played in bands his whole life, and I was fortunate enough to grow up surrounded by all kinds of musical instruments and equipment. I actually started out writing music entirely on a Commodore Amiga computer using a MOD tracker, then worked my way up to an Ensoniq VFX-SD, and then kept upgrading my gear until I finally reached a point where I was really happy with my production quality.
I've been into video games since I was a kid. At one point, the music in these games started catching my attention and I found myself hooked. I would let the games run just to record the music to cassette tape, then carry that with me and play it at school. Shadow of the Beast 3 and The Faery Tale Adventure were two early games where I was addicted to the soundtracks (hats off to Tim Wright and David Joiner, respectively). At some point in my musical journey, I realized I might have a shot at scoring for games, so I started networking with other composers, asking questions, learning as much about the field as I could. I won a composer contest in 2003 that helped get my name out there (and some work as well), and I met Jack Wall in 2005, who helped me get signed onto Mass Effect, and the rest is history.
RPGFan: What's the most satisfying part of being a composer, for you?
Sam Hulick: I'm not sure where to start! First off, getting up in the morning and sitting down to write music as a job is incredible. You'd think that would be the best part of it. Then you get emails from fans who you've inspired to pursue music, and then you realize that this must be the real payoff. But then you get emails from people saying that even though they aren't normally emotional people, your music moved them to tears and shook up their world. I keep discovering new rewarding aspects of this job every day!
RPGFan: Do you have a favorite song amongst your own works?
Sam Hulick: I have a lot of favorites. I'm really proud of my work on the Mass Effect 3 Extended Cut. I'm also really digging the new material on Baldur's Gate. Hard to pin down just one!
RPGFan: If there were no obstacles in your way, what would be your dream "collaboration" job (working with other composers or musicians)?
Sam Hulick: Dream collaboration with another composer: John Williams. Musician collaboration: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, but drop in Yo-Yo Ma on cello and Valentina Lisitsa on piano.