Music of Bionic Commando - interview with sound director & composer Simon Viklund
Music of Bionic Commando - interview with sound director & composer Simon Viklund
Ahh… Simon Viklund. This name should be known for every fan of «Ballistics» - fastest game on the Earth. Yeah, his pumping Prodigy-like music charms our ears through the nitro ride in the depths of gigantic tube. Then was the «Bandits: Phoenix Rising». A post nuclear adventure on the wheels, we can say. Very atmospheric mix of techno, rock, funk and disco – that’s what Simon showed us.
Today he is working at GRIN as a sound director/composer on two big projects: Bionic Command and Bionic Command Rearmed. Want to know more? Read below!
My name is Simon Viklund, I’m 28 years old and I’ve worked at grin for eight years almost exactly. I know Ulf, one of the founders of the company, from art high school. When the company was just starting out and they were making prototype games to show investment companies in order to raise funding, I was the one who composed the music for them.
We are wondering why in game credits list (for example, Bandits: Phoenix Rising) you second name written as Wiklund, but everywhere you are mentioned as Viklund. Trying to hide from the fans, Simon?:)
Haha, nah… I didn’t know there were any fans to hide from… The thing is, I found out a couple of years ago that my family name is really “Viklund” and not “Wiklund”. My father always spelled it with “W” which had me believe that was the correct spelling, but my grandfather spelled it with “V”. When I realized this, I started spelling my faily name that way instead.
When did you decide to compose music? We wonder if you have classical musical education or you’re a self-made?
My mother plays the piano and my father used to play a lot of instruments – violin, clarinet, saxophone, mandolin – so you could say I come from a musical family. When I was still in grammar school I played the violin for a few years. Then I started taking piano lessons, but I quit that when I started high school. That’s when I copied the tracker program “FastTracker II” from a friend and started doing electronic music. I’d like to add that I’ve since paid the $20 or so fee that the program cost.
Which musical instruments can you play? In addition, what hardware and software are you using in your creative process.
I don’t play the violin anymore, but I can still play the piano… not as good as I whish I could but hey… In the middle of high school I got an acoustic guitar as a Christmas gift from my mother and taught myself to play that. I also own an acoustic bass and an electric bass, and not too long ago I bought a nice Gibson electric guitar but sadly I haven’t had time to play on it much.
What program I use when I create music on the computer depends on what kind of music I’m making. For BC, I started using Logic on a Mac – which is actually my first professional encounter with a proper sequencing program. In the beginning of my career I actually used FastTracker II to make the music for Grin’s games – the music in both Ballistics and Bandits is made in FT2.
For BCR, I’ve actually returned to using a tracker – “Buzz” – because I feel so at home with that type of programs and it has all these nice software synths that give the music the right sound.
The music in the original is so great that I wanted every melody – from the music you hear when you’re on the overview map to the jungle you hear when you’ve lost all your extra lives. To make the songs longer than 40-60 seconds (which is the length of the songs in the original game) I’ve of course added some melodies and harmonies of my own – but everyone who knows the original music won’t be disappointed, that I can promise.
There is music player on official site with some prepared tracks. Will be that kind of 8-bit stylization made for other tracks of game?
Yes, that is the style of the entire soundtrack. When you listen to the music of the original game you can determine two things: 1) It is made up of beep sounds, and 2) It is probably meant to sound like grand orchestral music with drum rolls to give it a military feel.
For BC, we based the style of the soundtrack on point 2. The music for that game is orchestral with a military feel to it – very cinematic and atmospheric. Since the story revolves around many concepts that are more or less science fiction – robots, biomechanical limbs – we decided to add a little electronica to that soundtrack too, but not too much.
For BCR, I based the style of the soundtrack on point 1. The music for that game is very “electro”, with references to a few artists that I like, such as The Prodigy and Daft Punk. I’ve basically taken the melodies and harmonies of the original songs, filtered and distorted them, and added some heave looped breaks or techno beats to them. I think it works very well, fits the game and makes the original music justice. It becomes a homage to not only the music from Bionic Commando on the NES but to old game music in general.
Bandtis: Phoenix Rising – one of your best works – just NEED to be released as CD Audio soundtrack. Do you have any plans to release music of BC: Rearmed on separate CD or maybe with the collector’s edition of game?
Wow, I’m just amazed that anyone knows of Bandits – let alone knows me for the music of that game, haha. I guess the sheer quantity of music that I made for that game (around two hours and 20 minutes) ensures that at least some of it is good… It has some good tunes, without a doubt, but the mixing and production on most of them is horrible…
Whether the soundtrack for BCR will be released on a separate CD is up to Capcom. The music has certainly generated some positive buzz so we’ll see. In the latest podcast on the official Bionic Commando website (podcast #13), Ben Judd (the producer of both BC and BCR) mentions the possibility of a soundtrack. Check it out at www.bioniccommando.com. If you let Capcom know that you’d like such a thing, maybe they’ll listen!
Yes, I composed the orchestral music for the protoype of the all new Bionic Commando (or 3DBC as we call it to spearate it from BCR and the original game for the NES), and some of that will probably survive all the way to the final version of the game. With the help of Jamie Christopherson and our newly employed sound designers, we’ve raised the bar quite a bit, so I don’t know if my creations still meet the quality demands but we’ll see. I’m better at producting electronic music than orchestral music.
What duration 3DBC soundtrack is? Will it be just a mix of separate tracks or maybe we can expect some kind of album that can be listen separately from game.
At this point I don’t know how much music we currently have for the game but I’d guess it’s around 40-50 minutes. Again, if you want an album – let Capcom know! There is a “post a comment” section of the www.bioniccommando.com website. Tell them you want a soundtrack and they’ll probably address that in the next podcast. If enough people ask for it, it’s bound to become reality, right? Let’s keep our fingers crossed.
Have you ever listened to works of other game composers and can you highlight any favorites of yours? Where do you get inspirations?
I actually don’t play games that much… I have a Wii but I’m never home to play it. I have all the great games to it – Zelda, Metroid Prime 3, Mario Kart Wii, Mario Galaxy – but I haven’t had the time to complete any of them. Around Christmas I bought “Super Paper Mario” but I haven’t even opened it yet – it’s still shrink wrapped!
So anyway, I’m really not that aware of other game composers – apart from maybe Koji Kondo. I take most of my inspiration from album releasing artists. As mentioned before, I took inspiration from The Prodigy and Daft Punk for BCR. Two other acts that inspired me for that soundtrack are The Crystal Method and Justice. Check them out – it’s great electronic music!
I hope I can take a week off and recharge my batteries. Just not sit by a desk for a few days, breathe some fresh air, maybe go to the north of Sweden and spend some time out in the wilderness. Then I’ll come back to the office with fresh energy and dig right into the next project – whatever that might be. It might be helping out during what’s left of the development of BC, but it might also be something completely new…
What can you advise to the amateur and beginner composers?
I don’t know about other businesses, but if your ambition is to get into game development, just keep honing your skills – listen to music that you like and try to learn from the ones that has already succeeded in the trade, but also take inspiration from non-musical aspects of your everyday life; nature, romance, anger. Technically, try to be versatile but also know your strengths and make sure that you use them to the fullest.
If you’re making a show reel to apply for a job, I’d say this: Rather than focusing on showing off a lot of different styles of music (electronic, orchestral, folk music, whàtever…) focus on showing off a lot of different emotions. You may not be clasically trained and know how to create grand orchestral music, but if you can evoke emotions with whatever style of music you do master, you will impress people nonetheless.
You have an unique chance to say “hello guys!” to all people of snowy Russia, whose main purpose in life is to drink vodka under accompaniment of balalaika’s and garmoshka’s :)
I’m sure you’re just joking about the world’s preconceptions of Russians. At least I hope you are, haha. Well I’ll take this opportunity then, to say that Russia is one of two countries (the other being Poland) that will get their own physical CD-ROM version of Bionic Commando Rearmed (with all text translated to Russian).
I don’t know if it’s because broadband internet connections are rare in Russia or if russians demand physical property (I know I’d like physical representation of stuff – I rather buy a CD than download mp3s), but I think it’s pretty cool! I hope Capcom sends a copy to our office so that I can see how it looks. I envy you guys. Make sure you show your love for 2D gaming, blip blop music and all that is retro by buying a copy!
Huge thanks for letting interrogate you!
Thanks for having me!
Official Bionic Commando website: www.bioniccommando.com
Official GRIN website: grin.se