Hi plague makers!
We’re celebrating the launch of the Shadow Plague update across PS4 and Xbox One this week, with a special behind-the-scenes devblog. Marius Masalar, the composer responsible for the Shadow Plague soundtrack, was kind enough to sit down with us for a chat about Nox Eternis, the ominous track that accompanies your play throughs of the Shadow Plague.
Hi Marius! To kick us off, what were your initial aims as work began on the Shadow Plague update? How was it different to other Plague Inc. tracks you've worked on?
The Shadow Plague was a special one for me… I’m from Romania - literally born in Transylvania - so I remember laughing when we first started discussing this update. Talk about right up my alley!
A lot of the planning around this cue centred on finding the right mix between the gothic feel of vampire lore and the more modern edge of the existing Plague Inc. music. My goal was to find interesting ways to incorporate some of the classic “vampire” instrumentation (the choir, the church organ, etc.) without falling into stereotypes or deviating from the musical language we’d established for the game up to this point.
Can you take us through your songwriting process?
Nox Eternis came together fairly quickly. There were no “back to the drawing board” moments. After the initial discussions, I went away and started thinking about possible approaches and exploring the instrumentation without really assembling anything concrete.
Sometimes I find that giving myself a bit of space is important. If you dive in head-first, you run the risk of taking the obvious approach rather than the best one. For projects without tough deadlines, I like to set aside some low-pressure time near the beginning of the process to let the concept percolate before I sit down to write.
By the time I started sketching, I had a clear theme in mind, and a good idea of how I wanted to establish the mood for this plague type. The very first work-in-progress sketch I submitted was remarkably close to where we ended up.
How did you have to iterate on the piece to make sure it was the perfect fit for the new expansion?
From that initial sketch, most of the back-and-forth involved finessing the pacing and structure. It’s a tricky aspect of game music, because even though Plague, Inc. isn’t frantically paced, a looping cue has to sound appropriate not only for the beginning of a play session, but also the end where tension is running high.
Once that was in place, we worked hard on incorporating elements of sound design into the piece to make for a richer soundscape, balancing them against the music so they set the mood without being distracting.
Fun fact: all the various vampire noises - the growls, the hissing, the roars - were recorded by yours truly. By the end of it, my neighbours were very concerned and I had entirely lost my voice!
Is working on music for Plague Inc. different than working on music for other games?
Plague, Inc. is one of the most unique projects I’ve ever been involved with, because it’s almost a modular score.
For most projects, I get a call and write the entire score from start to finish. With Plague, Inc., the core music was written at one point in time, and then each new expansion brings with it an opportunity for new music.
There’s often a gap of months or even years between individual cues, so I get to come back to the project with a fresh outlook and a new theme to immerse myself in. Each cue brings new challenges, and we often experiment with different writing and implementation techniques in an effort to keep things interesting.
It’s a refreshing and deeply inspiring way to work and I’m always profoundly grateful to be involved.
Do you have a particular philosophy that you bring to your songwriting process? What advice would you give aspiring games composers?
If I could offer some advice to my fellow composers, it would be to find and cherish the right kind of client. Be discerning, and be patient… success is rarely earned quickly, especially in game audio.
The clients that you can build a career with are the ones that don’t just pay real money, but pay real attention to how music impacts their project. Their priorities are entirely different. They won’t hire you because you’re the cheapest, they’ll hire you because you’re the best. Which means you actually have to be the best - at writing, at scoring to picture (which is very different from just writing good music), at collaborating, at taking criticism, at communicating clearly, at deciphering director-ese (“please make it more warm and yellow”), and so forth.
Finding those clients is a huge part of the workload of being a professional media composer. There are exactly zero shortcuts.
What no one wants to hear is that a tremendous proportion of success in media scoring is attributed to luck rather than talent. In practical terms this means that what tends to set successful media composers apart from their amateur colleagues is not necessarily skill, but perseverance.
Having your own voice, taking the craft seriously, making an effort to learn a new technique every day, and all of that is just as important… but what will bring you success is having the patience and fortitude to be around and smiling when opportunity comes knocking.
Finally, many fans have asked, what are the vocals in the song actually saying?
All I’ll say is that it’s part of an old incantation… and I don’t recommend looking up the rest...
If you’re keen to discover the Shadow Plague track, Nox Eternis, for yourself, as well as the rest of the Plague Inc: Evolved Soundtrack - including more tracks from Joshua Kaplan and Marius - !