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Jesper Kyd on “Hitman Contracts” and scoring video games

Over the years, the video game soundtrack has emerged has an integral part of the whole gaming experience. With advancements in technology, it is now possible to add full soundtracks to any title. With the popularity of video games on the rise, many musician and composers have added video games scores to their resumes.

New York based musical artist Jesper Kyd is one of those composers who’s found a niche in the video game industry. Kyd, who specializes in creating music and sound design for interactive media, film and television, has been involved in the gaming industry for over nine years. He’s scored popular titles such as “Brute Force”, “Freedom Fighters”, “MDK2” and more recently “Hitman Contracts”. Kyd is renowned for creating compositions that blends modern electronica with classical orchestrations.

In a recent interview for the Moncton Metro Marquee, Kyd explained that he selects only projects where he feels something new can be offered in order to stay diversified and to assure that he does not repeat himself when composing a new score.

“Though I have done three Hitman scores, they are quite different from each other”, he added. “I would not normally be interested in doing two scores in a row that require the same music style. I believe it is very important to have creative opportunity and have fun while composing. If not, it shows in the overall music execution.”

For the Hitman Contracts score, Kyd decided to experiment with ideas that would correspond with the change of direction and atmosphere of the latest game. He added that it’s clear from the get go that this game would require a very different score than the orchestral based compositions used in the first two Hitman titles.

“I wanted to create a score that would enhance the dark elements of the game. I don’t feel an orchestral score would have worked as well. Dark and scary electronic music can sound really cool, but if you go too dark with an orchestra, it can become annoying to listen to, especially if you have to hear it many times during gameplay.”

Due to its interactive quality, Kyd believes that video game soundtracks play more of an important role than that of a movie score. He noted that the music which accompanies video game cut scenes is very similar to what’s found in movies. But Kyd added that in-game music can add a huge level of depth and atmosphere to a title when implemented correctly.

“Since you are playing the character in a game, you connect with the game world in a more intense way than in film. You get feelings of accomplishment from completing a level and you really have to work hard to move ahead to the next level/puzzle. The music has a huge opportunity to connect with the player, which can lure you into staying longer in the game world.”

Kyd says he has a lot of creative freedom when it comes to his compositions, but added that the music has to relate to the game. And since Hitman Contracts would be a very dark and disturbing title, the goal was to create a score that would enhance this mood.

Kyd doesn’t believe that technological limitations in the past were the reason behind the lack of quality scores in video games. He added that a composer who doesn’t understand game scoring is often the reason for the lackluster game scores.

“Interactive music is an interesting subject, but this approach has actually been around since the C64. The sound and music systems are getting more complex though, and it’s great to see developers starting to develop their own audio tools for games.”

Recently, the original score to Hitman Contracts was released on CD. The soundtrack, along with other Jesper Kyd compositions, can be purchased online through www.gamemusic.com. The soundtrack is an amalgamation of modern electronica with atmospheric overtones that give listeners a glimpse into the dark and disturbing world of Hitman Contracts.

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in [here] magazine in Aug. 2004

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Counter-Strike set to return with graphical overhaul (Counter-Strike Source PC Review)

One of the most popular online multiplayer titles is about to get the extreme makeover treatment. Valve’s “Counter-Strike” will be making a return later this year as an enhanced product to be bundled with the long awaited “Half-Life 2” (HL2).

Counter-Strike was originally released in 1999 as a modification (mod) for Valve’s first-person shooter “Half-Life”. The game was created as a multiplayer alternative for fans who wanted more out of Half-Life. It didn’t take long for the mod’s popularity to catch-on and become one of gaming’s premiere online titles. In 2000, Valve made Counter-Strike an official Half-Life product, and was released as a stand alone retail commodity which was later bundled with other Half-Life titles. Last year, an Xbox version of the game was released along with a single-player offering (Counter-Strike: Condition Zero).

The new version, dubbed Counter-Strike: Source (CS: Source), will feature next-generation enhancements such as graphical engine improvements, rag doll physics implantation and better in-game physics. The overall product will surely impress fans who’ve been longing for a retooled title.

The graphical overhaul is immediately noticeable as soon as a level loads-up. CS: Source features some impressive bump-mapping and dynamic lighting effects. The textures and amount of detail found in the levels are quite remarkable. The game will not only utilize HL2’s graphical beauty, but will also employ the game’s impressive physics engine.

CS: Source is a heavily detailed version of the original. Aesthetic additions such as drum barrels, tires and empty canisters can be moved by either shooting or by kicking them. Stray bullets now lodge themselves into brick walls creating a realistic bullet-hole effect. Projectiles also create vivid debris effects when shot in direction of the ground.

The added rag doll physics, powered the Havok 2.0 engine, give the game a natural feel to it. The Havok 2.0 physics engine allows for interactivity with the game’s environments creating realistic effects that respond accordingly to their actions. For example, if an opponent is shot in-front of a wall, his body will hit the surface accordingly in relation to the angle and shot positioning. In short, the rag doll effect makes death sequence look astonishingly lifelike.

One thing that’s important to note is that CS: Source’s gameplay remains exactly the same as its original. Everything from the weapons to the character movement is exactly as they were in the original 1999 version. Long-time fans will appreciate the feat as they’ll immediately be familiar with how the game handles.

CS: Source, along with Half-Life Source, will be included freely with the retail version of Half-Life 2, and will be the only multiplayer aspect of the title. According to Valve, the game should start appearing on store shelves this fall. Valve has also noted that the game will also be sold as a stand-alone product.

Counter-Strike: Source will undoubtedly be immensely popular among gamers and will give the title a much needed next generation overhaul. Counter-Strike Condition Zero owners, with a valid CD-key, should note that beta testing on the CS: Source map “de_dust” will begin on Aug.18.

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in [here] magazine in Aug. 2004

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Doom returns for yet another splatter fest! (Doom 3 PC Review)

The gateway to hell opened-up on Aug. 3 giving a new opportunity for PC gamers to visit id Software’s latest gaming masterpiece “Doom 3”. For their latest first-person shooter, id Software decided to retell the story of the original Doom title which was first introduced to the masses over 10 years ago. This time around, the game is story-driven and explains, through in-game movie sequences, the events surrounding the original title.

Doom 3 recounts the story of an unnamed space marine sent on duty to serve on the Union Aerospace Corporation’s Mars facility. Soon after his arrival, a demonic army is unleashed, bringing disorderly chaos to the installation. Armed with a flashlight and a standard pistol, our hero must find a way to escape the carnage and expel the forces of evil from the space station. During the course of his 28-level journey, our character will face-off against a horde of dastardly foes that originally appeared in the first two iterations of the title. New creatures were also thrown into the mix for extra shock value.

Doom 3 looks absolutely stunning. The game uses dynamic lighting to perfection. Shadows are cast with such accuracy that it feels lifelike. Doom 3 also utilizes bump-mapping techniques that enhance the look and feel of the creatures and its environments. The game also features character renders that are simply jaw-dropping. There’s no question that Doom 3 is the best-looking video game released to date.

Doom 3 also holds-up fairly well in the sound department. While the game doesn’t feature a traditional soundtrack, the ambient noises in the game are truly remarkable. The title also features full-on 5.1 surround sound capabilities that truly add an extra level of creepiness to the title. One of the low points about the game is some of the sound design. For example, your main pistol sounds kind of bland when compared to other modern day first person shooters. Also some sounds become quite repetitious after a few hours of gameplay. But overall, the game features a top-notch sound engine that will literally have you jumping-out of your seat in some instances.

The game can be quite hard at first as you must learn to juggle both your weapons and flashlight throughout the game. Unlike other recent first-person shooters, Doom 3 features a light source that isn’t part of our arsenal. This means that you’ll often be shooting in the darkness without even knowing if you’ve downed your target. Luckily, modders have released various mods that fuse the flashlight with your weapons for an easier undertaking.

While Doom 3 might not be the most original first-person shooter out there, it is indeed the best looking title to date. The Doom 3 core graphics engine has already been licensed to a few developers, and will more than likely play an important role in future next-generation titles both on the PC and video game console format. If compared to id Software’s former licensable graphics engine, which is based on Quake III, the Doom 3 engine will presumably have a lifespan of approximately five years.

Doom 3 is a title that must be experienced. The downloadable media found on the Internet doesn’t do justice to the title. Doom 3 has to be seen and experienced in order to truly be able to put judgment on its visuals. The game is also not for faint-hearted, as the game is splattered in gore and features quite a-bit of fear-educing sequence that will have you reaching for the lights. Doom 3 is also the perfect excuse to upgrade your PC, sure, the game still looks great on a low-end machine, but you might have to drop a few hundred dollars on your machine to bump-it-up to a higher quality. Doom 3 is a unique title that serves-up quite a memorable experience. You don’t have to be a fan of the first person genre to appreciate this one.

Andre Barriault lives in Dieppe and is co-editor at the gaming website www.XGR.com – Originally published in the Metro Marquee / [here] magazine in Aug. 2004

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