Justin and I were recently interviewed by Patrick Gann from OSV about the soundtrack and work on the project! Check it out here:
It’s a really good read and delves into some of our inspirations, reasons why we did certain things the way we did and some other cool info. It was an awesome interview!
Thank you so much for this honor OSV and Patrick!
Interview by ‘Original Sound Version’
We recently got a chance to listen to the Out Of Hell Original Soundtrack in its entirety, thanks to a digital release from composer Justin Lassen. Now, it’s time to learn more about the game that helped inspire such creepy, haunting bits of audio.
Out Of Hell is a total conversion mod based on Unreal Tournament 2004. It’s been “in the making” for many years now, but it’s finally out. And as far as game mods go, this one looks to be of extremely high quality.
In the following interview, we learn how Lassen and Nguyen met up, and how the work all came together. Check it out after the jump.
OSV: Thanks, gentlemen, for taking the time to talk with us.
Long: Thank you for having us!
Justin: Thanks for having us here on the site! For me it’s the second time being interviewed here.
OSV: First of all, Long, how did you find out about Justin Lassen, and how did it come together that he would provide the music for Out Of Hell?
Long: We first met when Justin contacted me a few years ago with some really encouraging things to say about Out Of Hell. He said that the visuals really inspired him and he generously offered to compose a soundtrack for Out Of Hell.
I listened to a lot of his music and really loved the dark/Gothic style but at the time I already had some music in place (albeit not so great in retrospect) and had to decline his offer. We stayed in contact from time to time and I often visited his site thereafter.
Then in 2007, I came across his blog and read that he had experienced a hard drive crash which destroyed some of his work. Having lost work through computer failure myself in the past, I sent him an email with my condolences. We began talking again and I was surprised to find that he was still really inspired by the project!
I was no longer satisfied with the music I was going to use (since it just didn’t mesh with the game) so I decided to ask him if he would come onboard and provide a custom soundtrack for Out Of Hell. He happily agreed and the rest is history!
OSV: From the time when Out Of Hell was merely a “hobby” or dream of yours, to the present day where it’s finally released, the interim was nearly seven years. During that time, what did you imagine the audio for your project would sound like? Did you ever have clashing ideas, where one won out and the other simply wouldn’t be used?
Long: I always knew that the soundtrack had to be something ambient and not blaring or in-your-face. Out Of Hell was about slowly creating dread and tension so the music had to have that dark ambient quality to it. It was Justin who was finally able to provide that. I tried establishing different moods with each of the settings and needed the music to meld with them. I was really quite lucky to have met Justin because he immediately understood where I was going with the visual ambiance and seemed to pull the music right out of it. I have no idea how he does that.
OSV: Justin, have you played Out Of Hell beyond the necessary work of learning about the game to write the music? What are your thoughts of this total conversion mod?
Justin: Throughout the years Long has sent me tons of videos and screenshots. So for composing and score development, I had plenty of that from which I could draw inspiration. I’m heavily inspired by digital art (i.e. my Synaesthesia series), so that was great to have those creations of his available to me during the process.
Believe it or not, I never once played the game during the entire score development and production as he kept the game files very protected and off of public servers (with good reason). When I finally did play the game on a trip up to Vancouver, Canada in 2008, I was blown away with how perfectly Long was able to make each composition fit into the game. I felt as if at least in this particular game, it was a perfect marriage of the art forms (i.e. Tim Burton and Danny Elfman).
It was a huge honor to be a part of this project from start to finish. I have no complaints at all about this total conversion mod. I knew it was going to do well years ago from the initial screenshots and story I saw in 2004, and having it come out to much applause and support from not only the fans, but the industry and the press world, was a surreal delight and confirmation of that long knowing feeling.
OSV: The track titles for the Out Of Hell soundtrack all seem to reference Hell and its adjacent ethereal landscapes (such as Purgatory), many times in different languages. It’s all very “hellish.” Was there ever a point where you (Justin) wanted to add a lighter piece, or request that Long put a place of respite in the game so you could add a less tense piece? Or are you happy with this outright dark and creepy score as it stands?
Justin: I definitely wanted this video game score to be different than any other horror games or any other games in general. Most games in recent years today are churned out by these video game soundtrack production houses, with what seem like Logic templates, factory presets, Garageband MIDI and run-of-the-mill trained genericism. Instead of relying on the usual sampled trailer-esque brass/strings/evil choir sound that most games about “hell” create, I wanted to try something more personable, subtle and – perhaps in some ways – more spiritual and out there. I want to note that there is nothing wrong with doing it the other way, but in my case, I wanted to try something different. I’m not a fan of corporate scores.
I tried for less cinematic, less epic, but somehow it ended up being a pretty full experience anyway. I like that kind of unexpected magic. I didn’t want the music to ever get in the way or take over the entire show or try to upstage the game. I wanted a perfect harmony for Long’s vision.
(It also gave me a chance to use a ton of my own custom samples and loops that I collected over the years in Europe and UK. I love collecting samples, impulse responses and ambiances from strange far away lands. I’ll be releasing more of this in a special loop library from Sony in the near future.)
At first everything was just called Untitled 1, 2, 3, etc. I didn’t want to be influenced right away by any kind of generic name or level name. I wasn’t sure what naming conventions I wanted to use, but I certainly didn’t want to dive into the cliche, with things like “dark tunnel theme,” “evil ghost scene” or some trite reference to something in the game. I’m also a huge fan of Aphex Twin, who is famous for using his own “jibberish” on his releases. At first glance, you might assume all of these words are jibberish. I like that.
The game being called Out Of Hell really gave me a wonderful starting ground to decide what instruments I wanted to use: what processes, what filters, what environments, etc. I did a lot of research about the history and concept of Hell in general. Instead of relying on the boring Christian version of Hell – being this burning place, with people on burning crosses and whatever else they can dream up in the Bible – I thought it would be interesting to explore the various versions of Hell in dozens of cultures in the world. I would research each different “hell” from the Internet and the library, and write down my notes of how I felt that those hells might sound. Having this kind of research available was not only educational for me, but I think really helped to give the games soundtrack a special kind of spirit.
I think some of the pieces are lighter than others, though they are certainly all different shades and hues of the story and colors of the game. But there is a sense of sadness and dread and subtle horror. Sometimes being in a game world that is just constant attack violins gets old and boring. Long’s game being more of a piece of artwork, you actually want to take the time to explore all the paths, all the textures, all the fine details that he placed in the world. He put so much work into making that world come to life and really immerse you in it that I felt I needed to do the game justice with the work I did for it.
I’m actually very happy with the way the the final soundtrack turned out. Truth be told I wrote over 50 pieces of music/ambiance/score for this game, and narrowed it down to 27 I felt best represented Long’s game/story vision; Long, in turn, narrowed that down to 19 tracks that are in the game today. I gave him full freedom on how he wanted to cut them, fade them and augment them for the game itself. He did amazing, and I couldn’t ask for a better partner on a game!
OSV: Clearly, the audio of Out Of Hell matches the visuals quite well. For someone as well-versed in “dark” music as yourself, Justin, was writing the score for this game a challenge for you? Or was this something that just felt natural?
Justin: I think for some reason, dark music comes natural to me and composing to visuals comes even more natural. I feel strongly that I am blessed and cursed with Synaesthesia (a mixing of the sense) in that when I see a scene, I hear in my head, a completed piece of music, and it is my job to get it recorded as quickly as possible. It is as if I transfer into that scene for a moment, and feel and hear what it may be like in a world like that.
Writing for Out Of Hell wasn’t hard or challenging. It was enjoyable the entire time. It is that rare dream project that every composer ultimately wants. Full creative freedom and chance to explore and learn. It was a very natural experience, and was a way for me to reflect my own issues and project them into this hellish world of Out Of Hell. It was very therapeutic for me.
OSV: Long, surely you are some sort of game enthusiast. Can you tell us about some of your favorite games and the memorable music from those games?
Long: I have a big list of favorites but the first that comes to mind is Shadow Of The Colossus. To me, it’s a perfect combination of beautiful visuals, atmosphere, storytelling and music. Koh Otani’s soundtrack for that game was beyond epic and fit so perfectly with the environments and situations you were presented with. I enjoy games that can immerse you to the point where it ceases to be “a game” and more of an experience. Shadow Of The Colossus is an absolute masterpiece.
DOOM (1 and 2) is another classic favorite and were the first games that I ever obsessed over. Even now, I find them pretty immersive and the soundtrack still really fits them all well! The new ambient music for the PlayStation port was my favorite in the series.
The original Silent Hill is another favorite of mine. To this day I still have trouble playing it alone despite finishing it several times before! Though the visuals may seem “dated” by today’s standards, they still manage to induce fear and unease in me. This was also the first time I had ever heard Akira Yamaoka’s work and I was utterly blown away by his masterful usage of industrial sounds to compose something so nightmarish.
These are just a few of them but the list would keep going if I went on!
OSV: Do either of you have a single favorite track from the Out Of Hell Original Soundtrack?
Long: My favorite song is “Mictlan.” If I were to ever pick a song that encompasses or represents Out Of Hell, I would pick that one. The song has some really melancholy and somber undertones and you can’t help but feel the desolation in it. I think it suits the Out Of Hell themes of isolation and abandonment very well.
Justin: My favorite track is actually called “Hell,” because to it felt more like how I envision a “hell” should be. It also gave me a chance to work with a boys choir. A real boys choir, not a sampled one. Pretty impressive for a mod with no budget, I’d say. Though a lot of string pulling was required…
I was in choirs my entire life, from elementary school all the way through high school, and enjoyed every moment of it. I was a tenor the entire time, always singing the highest parts, and falsetto. I really enjoyed that kind of singing. When I was little I wanted to be in the a group like The Vienna Boys Choir. Now that I am a “grown-up,” I can’t join a boys choir, but it doesn’t stop me from appreciating those kinds of tonal qualities in singers. Children are some of the best singers in the world.
I put enough effects on it, to shy away from that typical “ha, we used a choir in our game, so that means we’re big budget and AAA!” game audio industry attitude by smothering it with artistic hellish effects and atmosphere. Sometimes that pristine perfect diamond Hollywood sound doesn’t quite get the point across in a subtle horror game.
OSV: Will there be expansion content released for Out Of Hell? And if so, can we expect some new music written?
Long: I am hoping to remake Out Of Hell utilizing newer tech to create a more polished and immersive experience. The game will actually be expanded upon and include more story elements, more locations and a whole slew of features and improvements. You can also bet on Justin coming back to provide another beautiful score for Out Of Hell!
OSV: Thanks again, both of you!
Justin: Thanks again for having us on the site!
Long: It was an absolute pleasure, thank you!
[Long and Justin deserve a big high-five. If you want to check out the game, just head to outofhell.net and download it. Also be sure to check out the screenshot contest, which is sponsored by a whole slew of awesome companies, including Valve. Contest ends December 20th.]