Orchestrating Overwatch – The Composers that Conceived the Cities & Countries Soundtrack
Every Blizzard game is a giant development undertaking and each of them has garnered a passionate fanbase that props each of them to this day. Overwatch is no exception and has celebrated its fourth-year anniversary last May 2020. To help supply fans around the world with new exciting content, Overwatch recently released the Cities & Countries soundtrack which can be enjoyed on iTunes, Deezer, Spotify, and Youtube. The soundtrack collects everyone’s favorite map music all in one easy to access place, evoking memories of adrenaline-pumping confrontations and glorious victories.
Overwatch has worn its multicultural inspirations on its sleeve, everywhere from hero selection and map design to story lore and sticker sprays. The music in Overwatch harnesses its influences and all coalesced into memorable map music, care of veteran composers Adam Burgess and Derek Duke. Overwatch Composer Adam Burgess orchestrates and composes for the franchise. Blizzard Music Director Derek Duke contributed many pieces to the entire Blizzard family of games, music direction for Diablo 3: Reaper of Souls.
Music in video games is a supremely integral part of a player’s experience. It is essential for world-building, situation association, player emotion, and more. However, it also often feels like it is deeply underappreciated compared to the work of the developers and graphic artists of the same. What’s A Geek takes this opportunity to delve deeper into the challenging, yet fulfilling creative process behind a franchise that is loved by millions of players in every hemisphere.
When were you brought into the development of Overwatch? How did it affect your overall output for the game?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “We are fortunate to work in-house at Blizzard Entertainment, and our department is considered critical to the game development process. We are brought onto the game at a very early stage of development. This definitely affects our output, as we are able to work closely with each discipline to refine our music approach in a very iterative way. Having the time to re-approach and re-evaluate the way music functions in the game is valuable to the team, as it allows us to be confident that we are making the right decisions for the game and our players.”
Video Game music was famous for limitations that pushed creators to try new techniques. Did you face any such challenges, or did you use any new techniques for the Overwatch?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “Technical limitations were not much of an issue for us, however, as Blizzard’s first FPS title and first new IP in many years, this game is very different and unique. It needed a different approach to the way music functions. Overwatch is highly competitive, and the Overwatch team has a value we call ‘Play By Sound’, which means that if you closed your eyes, you could identify key gameplay feedback simply from the audio. This especially crucial with the sound design of the game, but also extends to music. Because of this, it was important that each piece of music signals an important part of the gameplay.”
Can you share with us how you developed the dynamic and reactive music that accompanies the length of a match? What were the challenges you faced in making music for a multiplayer-focused game, as opposed to a single-player experience with cutscenes and scripted events?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “In a lot of ways, a match of Overwatch is very predictable in its structure, and that definitely simplified things for us from a dynamic music standpoint. We knew each map would have a load screen, a specific amount of time to choose your hero, and then the match would play out in the same structure, with the exception of a possible overtime. This made it quite easy when it came time to implement the music, as we were working with very concrete lengths and values. We certainly didn’t face as many challenges as you would in a single-player experience, where time and exploration are decided by the player.”
How did you balance memorable music with the other elements of sound design; musical complexity and design simplicity?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “We consider music to be very important in any game title. Music is such an important part in building a brand-new universe and instilling it with the right emotional qualities to resonate with people. When music works hand in hand with other disciplines, it can make you feel like a hero, it can make you cry, and it can make you feel anything in between. We think the key is collaborating with these other disciplines to make the right decisions for each particular moment. At the end of the day, we want everything to be very cohesive, and that requires clear communication and collaboration.”
Did you consider using leitmotifs for interconnected characters or maps?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “We have certainly composed themes for many of the heroes in the Overwatch universe, and each map location has a unique piece of music that you can hear on the recently released Overwatch: Cities & Countries soundtrack. We are always excited to use these themes in interesting ways across all of our Overwatch media.
How do you minimize people from simply muting your game and playing their own music?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “Overwatch is a game that our player base is likely to invest hundreds of hours in, so music fatigue is something we are very conscious about. During matches, music is only used to signal that something is important is happening. For example, it alerts you to the fact that there are only 30 seconds remaining in the match, the spawn room doors are open, or you are currently in overtime. We certainly can’t control people’s usage of music; however, this approach definitely helps.”
What makes you want to compose more video game music? What makes it different from every other medium out there that utilizes music?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “We are gamers at heart, and our passion for these amazing universes that Blizzard has created is everything we need to want to compose video game music. As the art form evolves, we are seeing a move towards music becoming much more interactive and responsive to player actions. This is really exciting to us, as it deepens the immersion far beyond any other medium.”
Who are your inspirations? And who do you think are the next rising stars in your field?
Adam Burgess + Derek Duke: “We’re inspired by so many artists from all genres and eras. One great quality about Overwatch is that it is such a diverse game, and it requires us to make a wide variety of music in all different styles. We try to stay inspired by keeping our ears open, absorbing, and listening to everything we can. We have several young composers in our music department, and we are looking forward to them becoming the next rising stars in the field.”
What’s A Geek hopes this opportunity gives inspiration to all aspiring musicians of all stripes that wish to enter the video games. The interview gave us a deeper appreciation of the creative talent behind one of the current juggernauts of the industry. The next time we storm the castle at Eichenwald, raid the hidden temples of Ayutthaya, or prepare at the Panorama Diner of Route 66, spare a moment to savor the melodies that commence every round and look forward to the sweet sounds of victory!