BethBlog Interviews Inon Zur

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I had a chance to chat with Inon yesterday and ask him some questions about his background, experiences, and thoughts on music and gaming.

Tell me about your career as a video game composer. How did you get your start?

I started composing music for video games about 1997. The first game that I composed was Planet Academy. I got to know my agent Bob Rice at this time, and he introduced me to Interplay. I did many games for them, at least three of the Star Trek games, Icewind Dale 2, and Baldur’s Gate, Throne of Baal, and also Fallout Tactics.

This is actually where my relationship with Fallout started. I really fell in love with this kind of musical concept, which is totally different from other games. It’s totally mood driven rather than thematic or rhythmically driven. The music is basically trying to cater to a certain mood, while not using much of what you’d really expect from a regular score. It’s a little different.

You mentioned Fallout Tactics. I’m wondering if you could talk from your perspective about the difference in approaching those two projects. How are they similar? How are they different in terms of your approach and the music that you composed for each?

That’s a great question. Fallout Tactics that I did with Interplay was all about being very weird. We tried to find any aspect of music that wasn’t conventional. I had people screaming and shouting in the studio. I had people banging on some chairs, the floor, all kind of really weird things. Basically the outcome was a very interesting score which was not so friendly for listening to it by itself, but it worked pretty well with the game.

What we really tried to do here in the current Fallout is take it a little back to the center, but still maintain very mood driven music, and use some not so conventional aspects of scoring. However, we had battles which we didn’t have in the first Fallout. So when you are engaging into battle, you have battle music that is not like what you would hear in games like GOW but still its more sort of rhythmical energetic music, which is different. We have something which we call musical theme for the game, which we did not have in the previous game. So we have more of a musical signature in this game.

Tell me a little bit in your perspective, Inon, since you first started until now, how do you feel that music in video games has changed?

In the beginning we really had to take into consideration a lot of hurdles and a lot of limitations that we wrote for. PCs were quite limited, and PS2 was the new thing. Usually we could stream only one stereo, but we had to. The whole memory issue was a big deal so we couldn’t decode the music like now, in full .wav’s, it was close to a more primitive .mp3. So let’s put it this way, everything was not as great. Not just talking about surround of course.

The other thing is people really didn’t think that music for games was such an important aspect. Music was something that sort of looped in the background, sort of like part of what you accidentally hear when you are shooting, hacking, or slashing stuff. Then came the new generation of games, and slowly people started to realize that, if you utilize it in the right way, music has a lot to offer. It could add a very important dimension to the game, which is a dramatic and emotional aspect not being brought anywhere else. Soon we were able to write more music instead of a few tunes. We started to record orchestra, and things started to obviously sound much bigger and better.

Then people also started to think about all the interactivity of music which is a whole new story. How do we make queues not just loop but really react in time to what’s going on during the game play. All these aspects started to develop, and are still developing today, still encountering lots of hurdles on projects I’m working on but at least people start to know what I am talking about when I say that I need music to basically stop here and to react with the stinger and then continue and basically get smaller get bigger all these dynamics can basically be done now with some audio tools.

So you mentioned Stingers, and that was on my list of things I had to ask you about… to talk about Stingers. What is a stinger and how do you use them and incorporate them into your approach to doing music?

Well stinger was a word that was invented for Todd. Basically we are looking for ways for the music to give the player this sort of like a real-time experience, almost like a movie experience. You do something and music basically responding to what you are doing. It’s really awesome, think about it. You start your journey and the music starting with you, then you stop the music can slow down. Then you engage into battle music can right away change into battle.

Now many times it’s really hard to do this and you need almost unlimited amounts of time and budgets in order to create these kind of things. So what you do is you create short musical segments, called stingers, and you could basically push trigger on events. And when these events start happening and the stinger pays right when it happens and when you as the player sort of jump or you react and feel that the music sort of responds right away. Not by a long queue but by a short queue that describes what happened.

I know that you did the music for Crysis, talk a little bit about some of the other stuff that you’ve been working on recently both in video games as well as non-video game stuff that you’ve been doing.

That’s a hard area. I’m currently working on about five games that I can’t talk about. Basically I did music for Warhammer. I did Everquest 2: Rise of Kunark, Company of Heroes: Opposing Fronts, and Rise of a Ninja. That’s what I could talk about for the last year. Everything I’m working on this year, I can not talk about.

Then outside of gaming I’m doing lots of trailers. I did the music for the trailer for Harry Potter, for Annapolis, for Fantastic 4, The Other Boelyn Girl, and Spyderwick Chronicles, and Fools Gold. I also am working for CBS and working on all the webisodes for the show The Ghost Whisperer. That’s a pretty full plate.

One other question. How did the experience of writing and creating the music for Fallout 3 change from before you had a chance to see the game and after you had a chance to see the game?

You know, in fact I had lots of reservations and actually I visited Bethesda and it was very close to what I thought. The document that I got was very well written by Todd and Mark Lampert and Gavin. They did a great job of tapping me into the realm of Fallout and what they were doing. Fallout, yes it’s a lot about the visuals, but the story itself is so powerful. So just basically getting inspired by the actual story created a lot of emotional triggers that helped me to compose the music, rather that actually seeing the game and playing the game. The actual story of this twisted reality, there is like a [whole other] reality that happened and it’s really, really powerful. It helped me a lot.

Thanks for your time Inon.

Reader Comments

  1. Thank you for posting this interview.

    I loved the Fallout Tactics game & soundtrack. And do listen to it from time to time, outside of the game. I also really liked the first Fallout 3 music track, that was eventually revealed to be done by Inon.

    I’ve been a big fan of the Fallout 1 & 2’s. As well as their soundtracks. While Inon’s work isn’t a clone of Mark Morgan’s work, it’s a good evolution of it. Music is a subjective taste. For me, I’m really looking forward to what Inon does with the Fallout 3 soundtrack.

  2. Just checked out the samples on the F3 site and I am very pleased with what I heard.

    Into the Wasteland: This score is indicative of something I would expect to hear in a major motion picture of similar theme.

    Megaton: Now this one really stands out and for me in conjures images of a wild west wasteland, not out of thin air mind you, they were put there by Stephen King ans his Dark Tower Series. This score, I feel really hits the mark for the setting of F3.

    Congrats and Thanks for doing such a great job.

  3. [Basically we are looking for ways for the music to give the player this sort of like a real-time experience, almost like a movie experience. You do something and music basically responding to what you are doing. It’s really awesome, think about it. You start your journey and the music starting with you, then you stop the music can slow down. Then you engage into battle music can right away change into battle.]

    Wow that sounds pretty immersive and like it’ll solve the disconnect feeling one gets when switching from battle to explore music in OBLIVION. I wonder if this is going to be available for the player to use with folders for each music segment. Gee I can imagine the size of music folders being bigger then the game itself with the music fanatics out there including myself.

    Great scores Mr.Inon especially the main theme capturing the desolate mood of clanging metal in cementary cities as the scene then changes to one of townsfolk in homemade survival gear and goggles etc mingling and going about their daily necessary chores to live another day.

    Thank you for..the information.

  4. Does Inon Zur have a website we can visit?

    I am pleasantly surpirsed by the 3 songs available for listening. And its great that you guys got someone that had something to do with the previous Fallouts. I was sceptical about the music at first, but now Im just really looking forward to hearing the whole score in-game. Is there any way we will be able to download/buy the soundtrack when the game comes out so that we could listen to it on our mp3 players?

    I love the songs. I am so glad that the music still focus a lot on mood rather than rythm, and it doesnt seem too conventional although its much more mainstream than the first Fallouts’ score which was PERFECT. But I guess because of first persaon action, the rythmic battle music might come in handy :) I walk away after reading this interview with a very positive feeling!

  5. I really dont like any of the tracks and i see nothing that connects them to music from original games. Substitution instead of evolution. Again.

    It would have been interesting to hear if mr. Zur ever heard or saw original games but i guess that leaving that question out speaks for itself.
    Again. (tictacs doesnt count)

    Its really no wonder that this music doesn’t even resemble the atmosphere of Fallout original games and departs from that distinct feel as much as this spinoff is departing from originals.

  6. From what I can see, Zur knows how to compose decently well.

    the fallout-3 clips showed though that he had no clue about the series. It feels like morrowind. Yet, it is supposed to be about snake squeezins, death, apathy, corny US folk tunes, and simpletons. I see no artistic vision in this besides maybe there is no artistic vision in the real game so it matches that. Make things feel pretty and look pretty yet be meaningless to the original, very powerful storyline.

    What’s up with that?

  7. Thank you for announcing.
    The music is not bad, but it isn’t cynical enough for Fallout :) less orchestral pathos please.