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Inon Zur: Interview on Ubisoft VR game ‘Eagle Flight’

Earlier in the year, it was confirmed that esteemed video game composer Inon Zur (Fallout series, Dragon Age: Origins) would compose the original music for Ubisoft’s forthcoming virtual reality game Eagle Flight. Some music from the game has been released, and can be heard in the videos below.

GameSpot spoke with Zur, who had not worked on a VR game previously, and he gave some insight into how the VR platform affected his approach to musical composition.

Getting this one out of the way first–how many times did you listen to Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle” when preparing for this game? Is the track in the game? Do you think Steve Miller would want it to be?

“The flight of an eagle is something to behold that has obviously inspired many creators, artists, and among them many composers as well. We can go back to the beginning of time; even the Native Americans wrote songs about how an eagle flies. The power and gracefulness behind the flight of the eagle is mesmerizing and people try to capture that. By the way, I do like Steve Miller!”

On a more serious note, is this your first time writing music for a VR game? If so, what was the process like relative to some of your other projects, like Fallout and Dragon Age?

“Yes, it’s the first time I’ve composed for VR and I’m very, very excited about this new medium. I think it gives the composer a great opportunity to work with and support a multi-dimensional experience. Overall, it is more challenging to match with the sound effects since SFX and all that has to do with sound in the game is extremely active, variable, and changing. At the same time, music needs to stay in the same position as far as audio location. So you have to write musical segments that are able to co-exist with and support the level of activity of sound effects in VR, which is challenging but also very exciting.”

The score has been described as “soaring and uplifting.” What exactly does that mean?

“Overall, the orchestral setup combining with high female voices that are not harsh but very soothing, with very driving percussion (but not heavy percussion) creating this soaring feel in the score. Also the melodic lines are very long-arc shaped; the melodies are not fast and the shape of the music is always wavy and does not jump around all the time. So you feel through the music that you’re flying, rather than walking around on the ground. Writing the melodies and letting the high strings play them also supports this aspect.”

The two tracks we heard are incredible–Aeralie Brighton and Mimi Page are wonderful. How did you come to work with them and what was that like?

“For the last few years I have been on a constant search for unique vocal performance that could transform some of my music and bring new elements to my music that add originality and create a new sound. I believe that both Aeralie and Mimi each have unique qualities in their voices that support this aspiration. They’re also inspiring me in my writing because when I’m thinking about their voices, it really helps me shape the music to complement their voices. So this combination has proven very effective and I feel very fortunate to collaborate with these two great artists.”

Can we expect the rest of the soundtrack to have a similar tone?

“Yes and no. The first two tracks–“The Wild Sky” and “Secrets of the Louvre”–showed more of the beauty of the world and nature taking over Paris. There are also dramatic moments and action music for the competitive modes.”

What kind of instrumentation will we hear?

“Traditional orchestral sound with tribal and ethnic percussion, voices that sound more ethnic than classical, and an assortment of instruments add to the blend.”

Flying seems to be a grand, momentous thing. One of the things that I remember most about the Disney movie The Rescuers Down Under is the song that played as they were flying on the eagle’s back. Flying is a majestic, amazing thing–how do you translate that feeling into music?

“The combination of orchestration, harmonization, and the melodic style supports the majestic feel of flight and the scenes below.”

And in the VR space, the music and sounds are all around the player in a different way than a traditional game. How did that affect the music you wrote?

“From a musical point of view, you’re trying to feature less elements because the rest of the sound has so many that the score needs to flourish in a peaceful way with all these elements. VR is very challenging when it comes to sound overall so the music needs to provide emotional support without being overbearing.”

As I understand it, the world in Eagle Flight is one where there are no humans; it’s just you and other birds. How did that affect the kind of music you wanted?

“The music tends to lean toward more primitive sounds to convey the beauty of nature. The mix of ethnic instruments and soaring vocals enhances the orchestral palette.”

Did you play Eagle Flight before writing the music?

“Yes, I was invited to Ubisoft Montreal and was one of the first people out-of-house to play the game. The controls are very smooth and the experience (when it comes to speed and height and encountering other birds) is so convincing that I found myself screaming and shouting and the staff had to come and strap me down.”

 

Eagle Flight will be released for Oculus Rift on 18th October, PlayStation VR from 8th November, HTC Vive on 20th December.

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