With the Far Cry 3 DLC released today, we tracked down the outfit behind its soundtrack, Power Glove, to talk how they replicated the soundscape of 80s action cinema.
The clock's just started caressing half past the hour when the Skype call comes in. It's past midnight here in the UK. I'm half-slumped over the desk, downing the last dregs of my fifth builder's brew of tea of the day. On the other end of the phone and on the other side of the world, Power Glove are sitting down to the first sip of their morning coffee.
The two man outfit - two brothers - are checking in from separate locations, their day jobs requiring them to field the call, an interview on their work and how they got involved with Blood Dragon, away from the studio that was their home for the past year as they crafted the score for the Far Cry 3 expansion pack. At the time of our talk, it's just over twenty-four hours before the stand-alone expansion's release, and some two weeks since they put the finishing touches to their work on the project.
Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon channels 80s and 90s action cinema in a sci-fi adventure that emulates the look, feel and sound of that era. One of the key elements is the soundtrack - a synth-heavy selection of tracks that emulates the iconic work heard in the likes of Terminator, The Thing, Escape from New York. It's great stuff, so it's not surprising then that the soundtrack was offered as a pre-order incentive, and has been released separately the same day as the game hits PSN, Xbox Live and Steam.
Recording equipment primed, and with the technical issues of the first few minutes abolished
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What's the background of Power Glove?
We started four, five years ago, just casually. We released tracks on MySpace - in a way it was a little bit jokey, tongue-in-cheek. After a while we started to get a good response on the internet, and we took it from there. It was more something fun, making the kind of music we wanted to listen to that wasn't really out there. And then that response pushed us to keep going.
Has your style and production evolved over time? How do you make sure you stay true to the spirit of not only the iconography of video games, but of that particular era?
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Originally we'd started more with chiptunes, messing around with Genesis and Super Nintendo sounds, more 16-bit stuff. But after a while, we went more towards that VHS era - that VHS era of films. It was that we became more obsessed with. Well, not obsessed, but it came out more in our music, and that's what subconsciously comes out now - films of that era in general, rather the just video games. But we tried to capture that nostalgia of 90s video games.
You've never evolved past that era?
We'd started with chiptunes because that was more technical. Then evolved more into... less digital video games and more 90s synth. We don't pick a decade, we just pick from everywhere. We listen to a lot of electronic music, Vangelis, a lot of prog rock...with Blood Dragon it was focusing in on that era of movies.
What setup do you guys have? Instruments or is it all through computer?
We usually prefer a combination. We have a couple of synths, that have been our go-to synths for a number of years, and with Blood Dragon we really wanted to make sure we were getting that authentic sound. A high priority then was making sure we used a lot of manual synth and a lot of recording; the collaboration of software and hardware is were we are at our best.
So how did this team up between yourselves and Ubisoft happen?
We got an email about it. Ubisoft were working on this dream project, and wanted to use one of our songs. At that stage it wasn't official, it was just up in the air. There was no real talk of us scoring the whole thing at that stage. But when we had word of what it was it was, it was very much "we've got to do it, we've got to do it". So we got in touch straight away...and we sent through a medley to show what we could do, and that was it from there.
How'd the collaboration work? The music and visual style seem to go hand in hand - was there back and forth between yourselves and the studio, did one influence the other?
We were sent through the script, and we chatted on the phone and straight away we were all on the same page. We sent through the demo and they said "we want that".
That first round, we went and wrote the main Blood Dragon theme, the Rex Colt theme, Omega Force and all that...we sent that through. And it just gelled. There wasn't that much feedback, just "keep doing that, keeping pushing that sound". They seemed happy from the get-go.
We knew they really wanted that electronic sound; John Carpenter and Terminator homages and such. The back and forths were less about the music, and more about the ideas in the game.
Had they sent you artwork to inspire you and the themes?
They sent through artwork, but we didn't see [the character of] Rex Colt until near the end of the process. It was more a verbal outlining - "just think Michael Biehn in Terminator - but if he was the Terminator". Initially what was sent through was concept art of the world, all based on that James Cameron style - purple lasers and blue lighting. Just seeing that image alone was enough for us to say "cool, we get it".
It's as much a love letter to the 80s action flick as to gaming's glorious past: did you draw on your own cinematic influences / memories, or was this the perfect excuse to mainline a ton of movies as 'research'?
[laughs] It was a bit of both. It was drawn from our unique childhood. Growing up we spent two years in Hong Kong as kids, which had a real impact on what we make creatively. Heaps of Kung Fu films. That kind of stuff was in our brains. The last six months we've been in that world [of Blood Dragon] and nothing else, to the point were its now the norm for us in writing a song. We're not trying to recreate that sound - we just write what sounds good.
The soundtrack does touch upon homages to classic pieces. How'd you walk that fine line between a clear nod to the influences and just replicating them?
It was funny because in one way we weren't sure [how it sounded]: it sounded fine to us, but if we go online are people going to say we ripped [this stuff] off? That paranoia helped us. But at the same time, when you're playing the game you''ll instantly get the reference.
When did you wrap up work on the game?
About two weeks ago we wrapped everything up. The game was officially done and finished two weeks ago. The last bit was doing some final masters on the CD. In terms of the sound you'll hear in the actual game, that was four to six weeks ago.
It's an enticing collaboration, more so given your style fits the game so well: but would you be interested in doing other video game soundtracks, and would there be any interest in adapting your style to fit the project - or does the project have to fit you?
The former. We definitely don't want to be doing the same thing. We'd love to push in any direction - we could go more video games in style, or more cinematic.
We do this style, but we're not bound to it. for example, we have hours of atmospheric hardcore cyberpunk music that we've written. Stuff like that we'll eventually release, so I don't think we need to project to suit our style, which opens us up to doing this again.
The soundtrack pre-order scheme's great additional exposure for the outfit: is it your hope that the soundtrack will be a good calling card for developers who'd want to work with you?
What's your personal favourites from gaming's musical history? Any particular scores, tracks or even artists that stand out for you?
We're going to go with Ecco the Dolphin. Its an amazing soundtrack. That's probably the one that didn't need to be that kind of dark, and deep, but it was, and it elevated the game to these weird places. Also Dire Dire Docks from Mario 64 - any level in a video game that's set in a cave or near water has a really good soundtrack. We did a theme that was exactly like that in Blood Dragon. It was an exciting day when we were told we'd have to score the start of the second mission, when you're in that cave. It was one of our dreams come true [laughs]
Have Ubisoft talked to you about Flashback at all?
They haven't. That'd be incredible.
What's next for you?
Our second e.p. We've had it ready for about a year, we keep changing the track list. We have to make a decision and get that out there. We've been talking about it for two years. And after that, we don't know.
Is Power Glove a a part time thing for you both?
Part time. It's a hobby, but this project has raised the question about whether we put more time towards it. Up to now its been coming home, getting into the studio.
How do you guys work together in the creative process?
We bounce work between each other a lot. One of us will work on a track and pass it to the other, then he'll send it back over...back and forth until its done. At the start it's funny and hilarious, we're really excited and coming up with these crazy ideas. By the end we're at each other and hate each other. It's two extremes.
Isn't there another Power Glove band out there?
There is. They came first. They blatantly do a rock version of the Mario theme, terrible stuff like that [laughs]. We don't want to start a rivalry...but we kind of do. They get a lot of comments about the work on Blood Dragon, people who think its them. So, sorry about that!