Development Diary 9: The Music

23 Feb Development Diary 9: The Music


Tameem Antoniades

Music is such a powerful tool for driving emotion, often more so than art, dialogue or plot. So it makes sense that it should be part of the creative process from the start. Like every other aspect of the game we wanted to find a style that felt interesting and different in Hellblade.

The style of music says a lot about your game. A big orchestral score is probably the default choice for a lot of games and movies.  It suggests a particular kind of product: the big Hollywood blockbuster experience.  That is not what Hellblade is about.

Another obvious choice is to focus on the setting which in our game is a clash of Celtic and Viking cultures.  We felt that a traditional Celtic sound would put a cultural barrier between you and Senua and would make it harder for the player to embody her journey. As for the Viking side, who knows what music would have sounded like in 700AD in Norway?

Rather than focusing on setting the music should tell a story or give an emotional resonance.  Hellblade is about Senua’s dark journey into a strange hellish land to fight a clan of Vikings.  Any number of style choices could tell that story.  Think of the impact of non-conventional styles of music for independent movies like Drive or Reservoir Dogs.

In the end, it does come down to personal preference and practical reality.  Ideally, the game should have a musical identity all of its own.  After all, we do aim for a similar ideal for visuals and gameplay. So how do we find someone that can deliver that?

I personally have had little involvement in the music side of our games as this has generally been the remit of our Audio Director.  On Hellblade, we don’t have an Audio Director on the team so I had to get hands-on with the music development.

I haven’t studied music, I don’t know the correct terminology and so I am very aware of my limits.  But I do know the story I’d like the music to tell, and can articulate feeling through analogy. We all can.  In your mind, the searing pain of a cut has a sound, as does the drone of depression, and the roar of rage, etc.  And in these terms I can help steer.

But for this to work, the musician has to be on the same page and you need a level of innate understanding that allows you both to push and explore beyond the basic needs.  I had this with Andy LaPluega.

If we were doing a traditional commercial AAA game, I would put my preferences aside but a lot of Hellblade is driven by our personal influences. I knew for sure that Andy could do the Viking battle music but unsure about other styles.  But I thought it might make sense to put some faith in his musical ability and see what he can do.  After all, that is a demand we put on ourselves, to work outside of our comfort zones so why not do the same with Andy?

By now you may have noticed a pattern in our approach be it art, characters or gameplay.  We start with a germ of an idea, explore freely beyond the obvious choices, focus on key motifs and then develop a cohesive whole.  This approach seems to work for all creative endeavours, and it seems to work for music.  It is an approach that depends on having creative faith in people who have a burning desire and ability to explore and push beyond convention.

I put faith in Andy’s ability and he gave it back with some deliciously dark and inspired songs. There’ll be more development and exploration in music to come but based on the work so far, I’m glad we have him on board.

  • Val
    Posted at 18:10h, 23 February Reply

    Absolutely love what you guys have come up with so far!
    I am wondering if you’d consider having a female singer for Senua’s songs? I feel like that would fit even better for at least some of her side.

  • André Vila Franca
    Posted at 18:11h, 23 February Reply

    The game keeps getting more and more beautiful and powerful! Great dev. diary!
    Keep up the great work!!

  • Austin K
    Posted at 18:26h, 23 February Reply

    I’m in love with the musical direction so far. Great job guys… including Andy LaPluega. It great to see how allowing a musical artist in early can help give them a different drive and motivation. Like Andy said, he feels like he has the chance to help drive the story of Senua, and that’s the way all team members should feel, whether they’re contracted or in-house.

    Keep it up guys.

  • Carlo
    Posted at 19:19h, 23 February Reply

    It seems the further you get away from the box (thinking outside the box) the more interesting the game becomes. You have my attention..

  • RodyHW
    Posted at 19:45h, 23 February Reply

    I was waiting for this. The music is quite important for me when I’m playing a game. The viking part is freaking impressive, so powerful. The Senua’s song is great but from what we know on her so far it seems a bit too “happy”. Don’t get me wrong, I love it but I was thinking of something more “dramatic”. The more I learn about this game, the more I want it.

    (Sorry for my grammar, hope you understand my point ^^” )

  • Arijon
    Posted at 22:39h, 23 February Reply

    This approach that you are having with music couldn’t be better, and I’m sure that the results will be very good, but most importantly they will evolve and mature with the game itself. You’re doing great, keep it going.

  • Michel
    Posted at 01:58h, 24 February Reply

    This is the first time I am disappointed. For me the music style you seem to have chosen completely destroys the atmosphere that had been created with all the bits and peaces you presented so far. The style and tone of the music that comes through while watching the video is absolutely horrible in terms of nourishing and supporting the visional mood. Please don’t get me wrong! I recognize Andy’s skills. He is sympathetic, creative and has a unique style. It’s cool that he’s from Norway, too! It’s just that his music really, really does not fit for what I imagine for this game. Watching the teaser trailer with the music you presented felt so different. It’s not the same anymore. It’s absolutely astonishing how much music affects the experience you have with a game. I think that I won’t be able to enjoy Hellblade if you stick with the current decision concerning the musical score. That makes me sad. But that’s what you always talked about. Your unique approach. So far everything fit together so nicely. It had its own style already. But now my high hopes feel crushed. One aspect destroys the whole thing. On the other hand, it seems, there are a lot of people who seem to like the direction you are going with the Hellblade soundtrack. It would be selfish and presumptuous to not recognize and accept that. One last thing I would like to say before I back away: Knut Avenstroup Haugen would have been a wonderful choice for this game! He’s from Norway, too. And he is super creative and a real genius when it comes to creating the right atmosphere and catching the right tone for a given setting. The Age of Conan soundtrack is wonderful. Its tone is definitely not what is needed for Hellblade but it gives you an impression of his skills as a composer. See what he achieves with music accentuating the differences in cultural setting between Age of Conan: Hyborian Adventures and AoC: Rise of the Godslayer! I watched some outtakes from the making of those soundtracks and it absolutely blew my mind to experience his skill and his approach with that music. I know that he could create an outstanding soundtrack for Hellblade and help make it unique using this aspect of the game without giving you a bad headache when listening to its music.

    • Vital (Brownie_USSR)
      Posted at 07:19h, 24 February Reply

      Keep! Hate depressing music, and even more so when it puts pressure on me in the movies or games. Those moments that I heard clearly will strain and escalate the situation – I believe you, believe that it will come up the game, but I hope that the music will not be obtrusive. And with a probability of 90% I did not write down the soundtrack to the player, as opposed to music Nitin Sawhney.

      • Michel
        Posted at 18:17h, 24 February Reply

        Sorry, I did not really understand what you wanted to tell me. I believe that you agree with what I said to some extend. But thank you for responding directly to what I said.

        • Vital (Brownie_USSR)
          Posted at 08:19h, 27 February Reply

          I support you, as well as my main language is not English, the translator may slightly let me down! 🙂

          • Michel
            Posted at 22:31h, 02 March


  • Warren
    Posted at 04:15h, 24 February Reply

    Again I have to praise you all for giving us so many glimpses into the story and feel of the game you are creating for us. I want to Agree with what Val posted on the point of maybe having a female (at least provide some background echo) would be very cool addition for the Senua tracks.

    And I have to disagree with Michel and that I think so far Andy has done a superb job of providing a good ‘ vibe ‘ for the game. The fact that he’s imersing himself into the game provides a great perspective on using his musical abilities to help tell your story.

    I am so very excited for all of you (and me) as I simply cannot wait to immerse myself into the finished (or beta) wink wink. game.

    I also have an idea for beast type for your graphics designer some kind of cross between a horse (keidsdale) and a demon dog. For maybe a beast that the vikings can ride or an enemy. I just imagine something like this being in the game. (just an idea) Great work guys and girls so far I love this.

    And again thank you so much for your diaries for us.

  • skeletonKey
    Posted at 08:45h, 24 February Reply

    I believe the musical score to be one of the most important, powerful, & resonating aspects.. It’s one of the core elements that will linger in your mind long after an experience is completed. Ninja Theory has always had incredibly beautiful scores that bring the artwork to a whole new level. Please include some female vocals.

  • Dom
    Posted at 09:33h, 24 February Reply

    Thanks for the comments everyone. It is great to hear the response to the announcement and it is important to hear your doubts too. Your feedback is so valuable to us. Everyone has musical preferences, but I would ask you to keep an open mind, We’re excited about the partnership with Andy and we know that his work is going to be a great fit for Hellblade. Trust us on this one!

    • Michel
      Posted at 12:28h, 24 February Reply

      I am skeptical, but I’ll try. The music and visual demeanour of Combichrist sickens me, so I think it’s natural that I fear for the Hellblade soundscape. But as you said, everyone has his own musical preferences. Just because something is of different taste, doesn’t mean it’s terrible. I have the impression that Andy is creative and has a developed sense for the effect of music and visual stimuli. I also got the impression while watching and listening to the lastest devblog vid again, that the hellblade soundtrack won’t just be another Combichrist album. You value Andy’s special style and way of working with sound and music. He on the other hand is taking this project seriously and tries to find the right way to create the right feel for the Hellblade soundscape. As I said, I am skeptikal, but I’ll try to keep an open mind…

  • Dean
    Posted at 09:37h, 24 February Reply

    This is very interesting and I do like the way you going on the music front although I would agree with another blogger here that a female vocalise would be good for Senua’s song. I think your choice of Andy LaPluega for the music score is fantastic and his talent’s is showing through already in this video blog but it would be nice to see a female voice in there some where.

  • WisdomThumbs
    Posted at 10:08h, 24 February Reply

    I was surprised when I saw what you were doing with the music, and at first put off, but very quickly realized how it worked. Instead of just playing celtic music and viking music, you’re giving us a saturated and exaggerated musical symbolism for the two cultures. That’s cool.

    Very similar to a comic I used to read called “Northlanders,” which featured vikings and saxons speaking… well, modern English, with no medieval affectations at all. And the reason for this, as explained by the comic’s creator, was to put modern readers into the heads of vikings, and ease them in to the process of forgetting the myths and misconceptions.

  • Rayzor
    Posted at 03:42h, 25 February Reply

    Really love the Senua song…

  • Joana Ramiro
    Posted at 23:43h, 25 February Reply

    I really, really, REALLY freaking love what you’re doing with the music. It is unexpected but, somehow, it seems to fit perfectly.

  • Lumi
    Posted at 17:14h, 27 February Reply

    I am not sure to be honest. Would be glad to be proven wrong though. I hope there are some more traditional tunes too and some female vocals as well. The song in the teaser trailer fit really well.

    • Michel
      Posted at 22:31h, 02 March Reply

      I think so, too! The original trailer song fit wonderfully!

  • Rhiannon MacDonald
    Posted at 20:49h, 09 March Reply

    I’m not sure what to think of the music at the moment as I’ve never been a fan of Combichrist but ..Who knows, maybe Andy will do a great job and create really intense, atmospheric and touuching music. I do feel that female vocals/songs would be good in the game and not just for Senua. It would help to balance out the heavy sounding male vocals being used already. Aside from this issue I am still really looking forward to the game.
    On a side not have you considered some female viking enemies? There is some written and archaeological evidence that there were warrior women amongst the Vikings who came to Britain. Just a thought for some more variety for you.

  • Eon
    Posted at 13:49h, 10 March Reply

    I’m not entirely sure what I think of the Viking side music in the video but it could probably work…However what I was more impressed with actually was the lullaby that was playing. (I find it interesting that the song I preferred was the one that was outside of what he usually does) I thought it was very nice. I very much hope however, that you will also be using the song “Just Like Sleep” that played in the original video, in the game. I think the music in this video is a lot of what drew me in and made me want to know more. It gave me goose bumps and that’s a good thing. So if it’s at ALL possible I would strongly urge you to use that song in the game.

  • Ninja Theory’s Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice is looking absolutely stunning | NAG Online
    Posted at 06:38h, 29 November Reply

    […] released development diary videos detailing different aspects of the game from its story, combat, music, movement mechanics, and character, to one of the core ideas behind Hellblade, that being a main […]

  • VooD
    Posted at 23:02h, 09 August Reply

    So who is the real (with real, I mean the one who did most of the compositions) of Hellblade? The famous guy, or David García Diaz?

    I really love Diaz work in Rime, and it’s a pity that he’s not included in the development diaries as one of Hellblade’s composers (even though he is at the game’s credits)


  • Tico Wanga
    Posted at 18:21h, 15 August Reply

    This is a bit on the late side but do you have any lyrics and a possible translation of the surtr battle march song?

Post A Comment