Since Scrap Riders – an adventure retro-style game set in the cyberpunk future – has just been released, we talk with its composer: Nicolas de Ferran. We’ll talk about his musical inspirations, his passion for game music and how it was to record with the Game For Tutti studio.
To be honest, I didn’t dig too much into 80’s influences for Scrap Riders. – Nicolas de Ferran
Hello Nicolas! Let’s start from the roots. Could you please tell us about the music in your family home and the bands you listened to in your teenage years?
Hello! I come from a family of musicians. My uncle and my brother are both professional bass players and my mother is a pianist. I grew up listening to her playing Bach’s fugues and inventions, so I was immersed in music from a very young age. As a teenager, I was a big fan of punk-rock and metal. And I still am, actually! But I always enjoyed listening to a lot of different genres of music, so I was also listening to a lot of trip-hop, ska, reggae… My musical influences are very broad-ranging.
Was there a video game that made you say “I want to create game music!” in particular?
I think Dragon Quest VIII on PS2 was the game that really made me realize that I wanted to write music for games. It came a bit late in my gaming life (I was already 16 year-old when it came out) and I played a bunch of games with amazing soundtracks before, but this game’s soundtrack in particular really hit me in the face. I was so charmed and so enchanted by what I was hearing. I think it was the first time in my life that I realized that the game’s music was played by a live orchestra. To this day, it’s still one of my favorite games of all time, and the music is a big part of it.
What instruments did you use while making music for Scrap Riders?
Synths and samples only! I used a combination of Zebra, Diva, Massive and Serum to create all the musical textures of the soundtrack. It was really fun to do because all these synths work and behave differently, and it was super fun to explore all the possibilities! On top of that, I added a bunch of drum samples, but I tried to stay simple: kick, snare, hi-hat and crash only. The complexity comes from the drum programming rather than the drumset, so to speak.
What artists (musicians and others) from the 1980s did influence you during Scrap Riders sessions?
I would say that from that time period, jazz-fusion bands and artists like Chick Corea Elektric Band, Herbie Hancock or Dider Lockwood were the major influence. Not so much about the sound, but more about how the music is built and structured. To be honest, I didn’t dig too much into 80’s influences for Scrap Riders, because the goal wasn’t to make a soundtrack that could’ve been released in the 1980s, but a modern score with a retro influence.
Have you ever thought about writing film scores?
Yes, I scored many documentary films, I really enjoy it, but my heart belongs to games! It’s funny, when I talk to people about my game music career, the reaction I very often get is: “oh, so the ultimate goal is to score movies, right?”. No, video game music IS the ultimate goal!
While you were writing music for the Scrap Riders, did you use any unconventional song writing methods? If so, what methods did you apply?
Yes, I improvised a lot of the tunes when I was out of my studio (walking in the street, etc.), just by recording my voice on my phone, like a solo vocal jam session, and then coming back to the studio and producing them. I probably looked like an idiot to anyone passing by, but it was a really fun process!
It was super fun to explore these new musical horizons!
What musical genres would you most eagerly explore with your next projects?
I’m down to explore anything! I love challenges. Once, for a game jam, I wrote an orchestral-ska-punk score. I’d love to have the opportunity to write for a live choir, or a small chamber music ensemble, which are two things I haven’t done in games yet.
What was the hardest part for you when you were composing the music to Scrap Riders?
I think that the biggest challenge was achieving continuity and cohesion between the various pieces, which include many different musical influences that are specific to each moment in the game. But it was a really fun challenge to take on!
From the very beginning did you know how the music to Scrap Riders was supposed to sound like or did you have other ideas for it? Can you tell us something more about it?
When I started to work on the game, Marc Celma, the audio director (who also composed some tracks for the game) had already established a clear musical direction. But he allowed me to be as creative as I wanted to be, and he was always happy to listen to my ideas and suggestions. It was a wonderful collaboration. He really let me bring my vision to the table.
What new challenges were you facing? Was it harder or easier this time?
It was challenging in the sense that I had to compose in a style I was not really familiar with. I knew what synthwave was, but I never wrote any synthwave tune before. But it was super fun to explore these new musical horizons! Challenges are good for any creative mind.
Do you have any video game soundtracks that you particularly like?
Of course! As I mentioned earlier, Dragon Quest VIII is among my favorites. I’m also a huge fan of the Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky soundtrack. Skyrim, The Sims 4, Shadow of the Colossus, Pokémon Red/Blue… there are so many I love!
We can do so many amazing things with music in game engines.
What does game music mean for you? Especially when we think of music for Japanese games?
Game music means “player experience” for me. It is there both for narrative purposes and for gameplay purposes. We can do so many amazing things with music in game engines, especially nowadays. The tech is very evolved and I think we should take advantage of it as much as we can.
If you could choose two Japanese composers, who would cooperate with one another, who would it be? In which modern game would you like to hear their music?