The release of Alice VR is already behind us, my review of the soundtrack is imminent, and today we have an interview with the composer, François Jolin from Eon Sounds.
I saw the first screenshots – the otherworldly landscapes, the spaceship and the Mirabilis town pictures – I was amazed – François Jolin
gamemusic.net: Fairytale and technology. That’s how Alice VR can be shortly described, and your music is illustrating that aspect perfectly. I can already tell, that’s gonna be one of my favorite OSTs of this year, because you went into very stirring, smooth and spacious synthesis. Tell me, how did the cooperation with Carbon VR look like? How did that all began, what made you take this job and finally, what changed the blank sheet into opus I had the pleasure to listen multiple times so far?
François Jolin: It all started almost exactly one year ago at last year’s Gamescom in Germany when our Producer and Score Coordinator Peter F. Ebbinghaus met Błażej Szaflik, co-founder and owner of Carbon Studio VR, thanks to Piotr Iwanicki, Creative Director at Superhot. Błażej mentioned back then that Carbon was working on a VR project and from there on we stayed in touch.
Earlier this year in January, Blazej approached us because the Steam Greenlight trailer for Alice VR was in the making and we got to create the music for the Official Gameplay Trailer (the music will be included in the official soundtrack release). The first time Peter presented the project to me and I saw the first screenshots – the otherworldly landscapes, the spaceship and the Mirabilis town pictures – I was amazed of how much it already conveyed a sense of back story and how it created the mystery of what Alice VR’s world is about. The art already portrayed the kind of narrative and mechanics that would make the game very well suited for a unique VR experience.
I strongly believe that storytelling is all about the voyage it creates, responding to our inner sense of curiosity. Alice in Wonderland’s world is very much based on this. That applied in a VR game with a futuristic setting – I was hooked! Beginning of June, Peter got to visit Carbon Studio VR in Poland and to actually play Alice VR for the very first time. Back then he told me how he was especially impressed by the feeling of shrinking in VR – which makes sense because it is definitely not something you experience everyday!
The beautiful landscapes and rich canvas of the game was well fitting for the organic texture of this kind of music. – François Jolin
In the meantime, the great guys from Klabater had come on board as publisher and fast forward to August, we all had worked together on the music, voice over and sound effects for the Official Story Trailer that was released short before Gamescom (the music will also be included in the official soundtrack release). While working on both trailers, we were discovering Alice’s world more and more. We were trying to get a unique identity with the music that gave some hints to the concept of the game.
The trailers were definitely a good preparation for the final score and it also helped setting our international team for the full game: Myself as the audio director as well as main composer working from Canada, voice over talent Julie Shields bringing the Main AI to life from the US, Iohann M. Miller as sound fx designer as well as music mixer, also working from Canada, and last but not least composer Sebastian Watzinger who contributed additional music from Germany. Adding Alice VR’s home country Poland to the countries mentioned, it was another great experience of working across borders! Soon after Gamescom we could then really get started on the game’s soundtrack as well as the music’s implementation together with Carbon.
gamemusic.net: Every composer, aside from references and project leads’ hints, has his own inspirations. It seems to me, that I can hear subtle influence of Bohren & Der Club of Gore and a quite large amount of synthetic part of Vangelis’ soundtrack from 1492: Conquest of Paradise. What are your actual inspirations, how much did you experiment with the sound design?
François Jolin: For the first trailer the guys at Carbon Studio gave us “Trentemøller” as reference. I love this artist, he has an underground indie electro sound that really inspires me. I was eager to try it out as I saw it as a fresh and creative perspective I haven’t heard quite often in games. The beautiful landscapes and rich canvas of the game was well fitting for the organic texture of this kind of music. Carbon’s Art Director Aleksander Caban was really keen for me to explore this path — and fortunately really enjoyed the first samples.
Often it happens that when I’m deeply into the work I discover what could be my main musical anchors and references. While working on the score, often the fantastic music of “Dead Can Dance” came to mind. I felt that the journey the game offered us would lend itself well to this kind of soundscapes. The percussion beds and the orchestral sounds in “Sea of Tears” might be an example of this. Throughout the scoring process, I kept reminding myself of Alice’s mesmerizing and colorful world. This gave me hints as well as some freedom to create what could be a futuristic take on Alice in Wonderland. For example you have these special levels as heard in the cue Little Alice fell down the Hole where I was pushing for an almost hypnotic feeling.
The soundtrack was done entirely with digital softwares and plugins. – François Jolin
Also without giving away too much of the storyline, the Main AI character that you hear in the Story Trailer and which follows you the whole time, is portrayed by the brilliant voice over talent Julie Shields for the English version of the game. She played her as a mix of a cold and almost detached persona but with a reassuring and soothing tone; I followed her lead musically. Her character’s theme can be heard in The Red Queen. You will see that she plays a very important role in the game.
These were my main signposts. Ultimately the inspiration came from the game itself and how you might perceive the characters and the world you enter. Being in constant exchange with the wonderful team at Carbon Studio really helped to develop the musical approach to Alice’s strange world and we hope the players will enjoy our take on the story.
gamemusic.net: Now the question most intriguing for our readers who are composers themselves. What instruments and software did you use while working on the music?
François Jolin: The soundtrack was done entirely with digital softwares and plugins. I used Cubase as my sequencer. Sound sources are coming from many Kontakt libraries I gathered over the years, some Reaktor synths and Omnisphere. A lot of these sounds are either tweaked or heavily processed. Some great plugins I have started using lately, are the fx plugins from the Cableguys. On this game I basically used all of their suite, i.e. Curve 2, Panshaper, FilterShaper and others. Some notable mentions would also be 8dio’s “Agitato Sordino Strings”, Audiomodern’s “Abuser”, Output’s “Substance” and Spitfire’s “Evo Grid”.
Furthermore, our recent addition Izotope’s “Neutron” was a key plugin at the mixing stage as it helped us giving the numerous textures their own space using the masking feature. Additionally we used its dynamic EQ to sidechain out some problematic frequencies or instrument ranges. At the end of the process, Iohann M. Miller our go-to mixing engineer and sound designer would take my approved drafts and apply his own touch and color to the final output.
gamemusic.net: Are you going to play Alice VR yourself? If you are a gamer, what are you favorite games and video game soundtracks?
François Jolin: Yes, definitely! I am fortunate to have already played it many times while making the score. Personally, I’m an avid gamer, but haven’t played as much over the last couple of years. I have always been a big fan of World of Warcraft (and spent my fair share of hours on this game for sure), I loved Mirror’s Edge with the amazing Solar Field’s music, and Red Dead Redemption was a huge one for me as well. I hope to find the time to play its sequel!
While being a sci-fi game as well, it is really different to Alice VR as it is a sandbox ever-evolving game reminiscent of the ‘Freelancer’ series. – François Jolin
gamemusic.net: Can you tell us, in which future projects we’ll hear your music?
François Jolin: Unfortunately we cannot speak about all the projects we are involved in. But there is one great game project I definitely recommend you to watch out for because it also is a sci-fi game: “Limit Theory” is a procedural space game from the very talented developer Josh Parnell and we are fortunate to have gotten on board very early on.
While being a sci-fi game as well, it is really different to Alice VR as it is a sandbox ever-evolving game reminiscent of the ‘Freelancer’ series. You can get a small impression of its world and sound in this video where Josh speaks about the development process. Since the video has been published, Josh has rewritten the entire game engine which is based on procedural generation and a big news update on the game and music will be made public very soon. Thank you very much for the interview, we hope the players will have a very good time living in the strange world of Alice VR!