Once upon a time in the Czech lands… It could’ve started with this one, but Kingdom Come: Deliverence is not a fairy tale. It’s more like “the Middle Age simulator”, so it needs to have a very realistic music to capture that period.
I had a pleasure to talk with Jan Valta and Adam Sporka.
Let’s turn it upside down and take a look on the backstage of creating a music for this game. I had a pleasure to talk with Jan Valta and Adam Sporka – the composers of Kingdom Come soundtrack.
gamemusic.net: The soundtrack for Kingdom Come: Deliverance won a.o. CEEGA award in a music category. But let’s start from the beginning. How did the beginning of your cooperation look like? Do you remember the first scratches of your music?
Jan Valta: There’s a story behind the very beginning of our work. We (Adam and I) wanted to create an adaptive music demo and pitch it to Warhorse. After some months of work, Adam’s friend who worked at Warhorse told him that Daniel Vávra (creative director of the project) already has some composer in mind. So we gave up. And literally the next day I received an e-mail from Daniel who was offering the composer’s position to me – because that guy he had in mind was me. A real nice surprise.
It took me about five different versions until guys at Warhorse were satisfied. – Jan Valta
During our very first meeting, I told Daniel I want to work with Adam, because he’s both a skilled programmer & scientist and gifted musician – which is a very, very rare set of skills. So that’s how it all started.
First scratches of music: that was in the summer of 2014 when I was working on music for Alpha Teaser – very first piece of music created for Kingdom Come: Deliverance. It took me about five different versions until guys at Warhorse were satisfied but I never regret it: it gave me a great opportunity to set a “common ground” on the general style of music for the game. The rest was easy: 3 years, about 5000 hours of work of both me and Adam – and we were done.
Last thing: the main theme for Kingdom Come (you hear it i.e. when you first see the Skalitz behind the horizon) appeared already in the very first version of that very first piece of music. By then, it was just a small motif consisting of 6 tones which supported some other melody. But somehow I felt there’s a potential in it, and it never left me.
Adam Sporka: My first scratches were in C++. Before we joined the Kingdom Come: Deliverance dev team, we decided with Jan to sit down and implement our own technology for adaptive music, called Sequence Music Engine. At the very end of 2014 I managed to integrate our engine to the codebase of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, based on CryEngine.
gamemusic.net: The Middle Age in Kingdom Come is shown so realistic, that the game is often called “The Middle Age Simulator”. The main character, Henry, is intentionally on the fringes of the greatest historic events, but the background of them is heard everywhere. As well as the real sounds of local birds, town life and nature. What about music? Have you been inspired by the original medieval cantos and songs?
Jan Valta: There isn’t too much original medieval music available – quite few real scores of that period persisted till our days, and these are mostly meant for the church practice. So we had to make it around.
Adam composed a whole Mass based on his own gregorian chants. – Jan Valta
I came with a set of general rules which we followed all throughout the soundtrack, such as: modality (instead of the modern minor/major duality); irregular form of phrases (just as if it were led by the lyrics), ancient cadences in harmony; almost no thirds in melodies; use of ancient instrument, no use of piano etc. Simply put: we used elements they resemble ancient times, and we avoided those they would sound too modern.
But of course we were inspired by what we all feel is the “medieval” music (which, in fact, is more the music of the renaissance). Also, Adam composed a whole Mass based on his own gregorian chants – and that required quite some research and listening, too.
Adam Sporka: My father, Richard Sporka, was a concert singer and for a long-time member of the Prague Madrigal Singers, one of the top chamber ensembles in Czechoslovakia, performing early European music dating back as far as 1400s. As a kid, I would be going to their concerts on a regular basis. This game was an excellent opportunity for me to reconnect with the world he represented. Our medieval-sounding tracks, performed by Bakchus, were inspired by the music they would perform. The Gregorian chant pieces in our game are also modern compositions but I wrote them after listening to lots of examples of period music.
gamemusic.net: Film music or game music is always highly linked to the picture or the story, although sometimes it finds a space for itself or a place in a pop culture. Are there any artists not related to the gamedev who influence you?
Jan Valta: There would be many. My background is classical so I literally grew up with music by Dvořák, Mozart, Ravel etc., to name a few. Also, I am a lifetime lover of John Williams soundtracks – he’s the man. Plus we have some excellent Czech film composers of the previous decades – same as you Polish have Wojciech Kilar (which is fantastic, by the way), we have Luboš Fišer, Zdeněk Liška etc. All these are composers whose work I always admired – and surprisingly, most of these were given to me as a reference by Daniel Vávra, because he admires them too.
Awesome community with many creative people, including musicians. – Adam Sporka
Adam Sporka: It might sound silly to some, but here I go anyway: I am a proud member of the fandom of My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the cartoon series which premiered in 2010 and closed this year. The show itself was fun, especially the first two seasons, and the fandom was an awesome community with many creative people, including musicians, open for collaborations and mutual critiques. That’s how I met my friends from the Wasteland Wailers, a Transatlantic group of songwriters we started back in 2013.
gamemusic.net: Henry takes part in many significant events, but at the same time he stays in his low-key world. The music puts it all into the frames of a mood. Is there a piece of music which is particularly important for you?
Jan Valta: I like the opening sequence very much – it was thrilling to type the notes into the score and imagine that this will be the beginning of whole the big, epic story! Also, SPOILER ALERT
I really love the cutscene with Henry’s father visiting him in a dream. ***SPOILER END *** Aside for these, some of the exploration music, mainly for nature (fields, river, night) are quite dear to me, if I may say so about my own music. In the last DLC (A Woman’s Lot), there are two vocal pieces which I like, too (and surely not only because both are sung by my wife). And I must make a bow to Adam for his songs from the original game! They are just perfect.
Adam Sporka: When I heard your song for the DLC for the first time, I was fighting back the tears. One of the most moving pieces of music I’ve heard in the last few years. Regarding my own part of the OST, I think I’ll get back to the Gregorian chant once again: The recording itself took place in a church in Čáslav, Czech Republic, where many important events of our family were celebrated or mourned. Did we mention that Jan and I are cousins? We didn’t? We are!
BTW, we were super lucky when recording those chants and I realized that only while driving back to Prague that day: Čáslav is an important NATO air base and they had no training flights that day. They would definitely get picked up by our microphones.
gamemusic.net: Some of the musicians prefer the moment of creating, when they don’t know what will become of their melody. The others prefer when their music goes on stage and comes alive. Where do you feel more comfortable?
Jan Valta: When producing soundtracks, the recording stage is relatively easy in my opinion: all is set, ready in the scores and orchestral parts; there aren’t any doubts any more and the only thing you have to do is to conduct a number of fantastic musicians who bring your music to life (and in my experience, they always help it a lot).
The real work lies in the preparation stage – because in music, preparation means the composing itself which is a complex thing to do. And if you create a game soundtrack, there are two major things they make it a lot harder: adaptivity, and then the fact that you have to deliver the finished music to an unfinished game.
But even then – I love that stage too. So I can’t say which of those two parts of my work I love more. Actually the only thing which can make me uncomfortable is the lack of time – but that’s the price you have to pay to do such a wonderful work on such an enormous project.
Adam Sporka: To be honest, I have done so many different projects involving audio and music in my life that it’s hard for me to generalize. However, I think that coming up with a melody isn’t the bottleneck. It’s what happens before (you need to find something to compose for) and it’s what happens after (you need to sit down and produce it). I’m the happiest simply when I know that my music will end up being used and listened to by people.
gamemusic.net: Your Kingdom Come concerts show that the music you created says a lot about different events, characters and places. In games the melody usually doesn’t have enough time for itself – it always depends on the gamer. Was it difficult to connect the particular tracks with each other, so that they sound together like a one flowing composition in the game and they’re still linked to the story?
Jan Valta: I like thinking of themes and motives being some sort of extra set of characters: they are invisible but yet present, and they can do great things on behalf of the story (and/or the real characters).
Also, in a soundtrack you use the same theme many times in many shapes and emotional states. That is why over time, important themes become something like old pals to you: you know what to expect from them, you know how they will behave here and there and you also learn how they go along with each other – as I said, extra set of characters! And then you let them in: in the right moment, with the right emotion. That’s my ground for the dramaturgy from the musical standpoint.
Adam Sporka: Yeah, the structure of our music, including the mesh of seamless transitions, is pretty elaborate. We even wrote a journal paper about it (here).
We have two kinds of transitions on our music. The slow ones are the seamless transitions: When a change for the next music scene needs to happen, our engine waits for the next branch in the music signal which is guaranteed to be between two musical phrases inside the existing scene and leads the playback to an aleph, one of the three possible states of harmony, tempo, and instrumentation. Each scene has three possible beginnings, one for each aleph. The seamlessness is achieved by choosing the right beginning, based on the aleph the previous scene led to.
The fast ones are transitions via cinels (“cinel” = cinematic element) where we simply wait for the end of the bar in the existing scene. Then it’s a simple quick fade-out of the existing scene, synchronous start of the destination scene, and the sound of the suspended cymbal with the climax aligned at the start of the destination scene to cover the fade-out. The Czech word for cymbal is “činel”. The terminology we have come up with is full of puns in various languages. We apologize for them but we intend them!
Credo, one of our Gregorian chants, is a composition with alternative versions of strophes chosen at random, while maintaining the flow of the lyrics, so that while in the monastery you can’t sing with the monks because you don’t really belong there.
gamemusic.net: From the philosophic category of questions – each age in history sounds of its own music. If you could choose the date of your birth and live in one of the music era, what period would it be? The Middle Age actually? The Viennese Classic? The modern diversity? Or maybe the opposite direction – the electronic cyberpunk?
Jan Valta: Honestly, I am happy I was born just in the time when I was born. I am no fan of most of the contemporary music nowadays (no fan at all, to be precise) but still – any music you want is within your reach, and so is so much of the knowledge around it! With IMSLP (which I highly recommend), you can download full scores of the most fundamental works of western music and read them as if they were textbooks (which I highly recommend, too).
Also, the overall quality of musicians improved enormously over last couple of decades, along with the recording technology – which is for the benefit, too. And despite the prophecies about the inevitable end of the recording industry, lots and lots of new music are being recorded every single second around the globe, and there are even more options how to use it.
Yeah, when it comes to film music, I am particularly fond of the 70’s and 80’s – to me, those were the gold times of film soundtracks. He new millennium tendency is a film soundtrack represented mostly with a sound design instead of a “real” music (strong themes, interesting chords and their progression, polyphony etc.). I personally find it somehow empty, not enough emotional.
New music are being recorded every single second around the globe. – Jan Valta
But obviously it works just fine for the majority of nowadays production, and who am I to judge? May anyone do whatever he/she thinks is the best. Again – even if our present time has many flaws (and it does), I wouldn’t change when I was born. Not at all.
Adam Sporka: I am happy we live in an era where it is possible to study the work of others, get inspired by it, and freely express yourself. This way we may live in all music eras known to people at the same time and create new ones. I hope this will continue.
gamemusic.net: Perhaps The Middle Age wasn’t the best time for everyday life, but I guess every fan of KC would happily come back to the old Czech lands and see the further adventures of Henry or another medieval story. Have you been working on the music for the next Kingdom Come already?
Jan Valta, Adam Sporka: No comment.
gamemusic.net: I see. Anyway, I have my fingers crossed for your next music projects! Thank you so much for your time.