Q&A with composers of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt soundtrack

By: Gamemusic.pl
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How hard was it to maintain balance between the Western, Hollywoodesque soundtracks and the Eastern/Latin sound? The Witcher OST sounds completely different than most games, yet it still has some Hollywood vibe. So have you tried to fit into this well-known style? It wasn’t a hard, but rather a pleasant task. The Witcher naturally required this Hollywoodesque, or simply epic sound due to large scope of the game itself, as well as the presented events. There are big things happening, so the music had to follow. This Hollywood color is known for its ability to sustain the picture and help to tell a story, hence the idea. Mixing this further with the Slavic colors was pure fun. It blended naturally. Thanks to that, the soundtrack became original, as stated in the question.

I would add even more – it was said that we kind of connected the West with the East. I think of it in other way. What is considered by the Western audience to be the exotic element of our music is just folk music from this part of the globe. You’d call that ‘ethnic music’. In contemporary movies or games the ethnic quality is usually linked with Middle-Eastern or Far-Eastern music, however what we did is in fact ethnic music too. It’s coming from Central Europe – the lands of Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belarus, Ukraine, and so on. It’s not that we merged two entirely different worlds.

We used what has always been there. The freshness comes from using the sounds with which people are generally unfamiliar. It may be normal for our Slavic mentality, but other nations don’t know them, because they have their own cultures. Thus I don’t consider this to be a blend of East and West, but rather making use of our Slavic legacy and presenting it in a modern form.

I think this sums up our work. How did you conceive the idea of inviting Percival band to cooperation? What was the base of fitting their songs to the in-game scenes? The story behind us cooperating with Percival is neither long nor complex, to be honest. Once we realized what our Witcher should become and what the overall feeling will be, we began the pre-production of the music. We knew that we wanted to refer to the first game of the series, to the folk sounds, and we started creating our catalog of references, inspirations, and cool things. Percival was there.

Q&A with composers of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt soundtrack

At some point we decided that, instead of making efforts to adapt this primal language to our work, why not just ask Percival, the professionals. They do it really well, they breathe with their own music. Acquiring them as collaborators gave us also the real instruments they use, and so on. This is the material which we began to creatively form and adapt to our vision. That’s no secret – we simply decided it was worth a shot, invited them, did some rehearsals, and it worked out.

All we had to do was repeat this and, well, make the game. I’ll add that from my perspective they provided us with a great set of tools, including musical phrases recorded especially for this project. We also got access to their previously recorded material. All of this wonderfully contributed to the unique sound of The Witcher 3. Regarding our decisions as to where shall a certain phrase be used, it was a very natural process of composing.

If there was a battle track to be done, we had to find something aggressive and raw. When it came to ballads, aggression wasn’t an option, so we looked for something that could blend with the background and exploration. How did you match your tracks with the game’s areas? What were your guidelines with regard to that? This is closely related to the character of those areas. World of The Witcher 3 can be divided into three main zones.

First one is Velen, the no-man’s land, a country destroyed by war. Then there’s the city of Novigrad with its surroundings, something entirely different in terms of architecture, atmosphere and emotions. Finally, we have the Skellige archipelago, which is again a completely different thing despite what all those areas have in common. When we began working on the music for a certain area, the first thing that had to be settled was the zone to which it belonged. So if it was a part of e.g. Novigrad, we got a set of constraints regarding tools which we could use.

That’s because we wanted to give each zone a unique feel despite having to keep everything coherent. And so Novigrad is probably the closest to modernity, the music there is more civilized than in Velen. Plucked string instruments are dominating, what can’t be said about Velen. This was the first choice, and the rest comes down to the requirements of an area and the emotions it shall evoke. It’s one approach when you’re composing music for the swamps, where there’s an orphanage and Ladies of the Woods, but a different one for some old Elven ruins. We kind of became the tailors who were creating custom suits, each one especially for certain needs.

Yeah, I’ll continue with Marcin’s idea – the main way of dividing our music were those three worlds. I think we approached this task similarly as graphic designers. Each of those zones, apart from having a unique musical color, is painted with different visual hues. We tried to reflect that with music and give them their own definition. After that, it sort of became a pursuit of sustaining the emotions coming from the areas and the player’s immersion as well to keep him satisfied.

Who is the author of ‘The Wolven Storm’? How long did it take to write the lyrics of this ballad and did the author have any constraints regarding its theme? I am the author of ‘The Wolven Storm’. A very long question, by the way (laughs). I need to focus – let me start with the constraints. Generally speaking, working on this ballad was fast, intense, and pretty easy.

That’s a really pleasant situation, because it rarely happens this way. It began with the decision whether it’s the melody or the lyrics that should be written first. We went with the melody, to ensure it carried the proper emotions, because we already knew the narrative context of that scene. Then the lyrics were created, first in Polish, then in English, and again in Polish. This was the basis for further language versions. The song was created in two days or so. I was the first link in the production of that scene, so I had the comfort of not having to look back. I had no constraints regarding the length of the scene, its tempo, narration, or other details.

I knew it had to be melancholic, a love song. Geralt once more experienced a bard singing about his life. That’s something he likes, as a character. And that’s it, really – the rest was pure invention and translating this foundation to create a song which could bear the emotional burden. Soundtracks of many other games tend to have a main theme which connects the tracks. I imagine that connecting the areas of The Wild Hunt was challenging due to the different feel of Skellige or the swamps. Did you take any main theme as inspiration? Rather than inspirations, we had obligations to fulfil in terms of themes that made it to the third Witcher from the previous games.

This was our only melodic commitment, and perhaps an inspiration in a way. Besides that – I don’t think so. Our inspiration was not any other music, but the game itself combined with the urge to do our best. We can include folk music here, but more in terms of references than inspirations. The look of the game and its story were the main inspirations.

No particular melody took this function. Yes, The Wild Hunt is the third part of Geralt’s adventure, so naturally we strived for a musical closure of the whole trilogy. Hence the themes from Witchers 1 and 2. They appear in certain sections of the story. For instance, the theme of kingslayers from Assassins of Kings won’t appear just anywhere, but will be perfectly fitted for the narrative. Same goes for the main theme, the love theme, Ciri’s theme, Wild Hunt theme, and other auxiliary themes.

Looking from this perspective, we kind of have a palette to use in various locations, but it’s not that we say: ‘Hey Mikołaj, you’re doing Skellige now, and you haven’t used the main theme yet, why don’t you throw this phrase in there’. No, when I plan the music, I think of it both as a separate vessel of content which has something to tell, and as something that has certain roles to perform. We’re dealing with a video game, so music has to illustrate and create a context for events.

At this point our ‘catalog of themes’ can blossom fully. We use those melodies, but only when the story requires it, not unlike movies. When it comes to mixing those two worlds, we have to go back to the coherence of style. Skellige, Novigrad, and Velen sound different from each other and have their own unique qualities, yet I think we managed to keep it all coherent. It’s not like having three separate soundtracks. Our whole soundscape has been crafted so meticulously and with attention to detail in order to create a feeling of the player being in there. That’s the most important part of video game audio.

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