Sound studio

Composer Olivier Derivière on reanimating the sound of Dying Light 2: Stay Human

Dying light 2. // Courtesy of Techland

My path has always been survival video games. I love feeling helpless in a brutal world where the odds are stacked against you. It’s an escape from my daily life in this… oh. Shit.

Dying Light 2: Stay Human is Techland Studio’s sequel to the 2015 video game dying light. The concept of the series revolves around “What if you were in a city overrun by zombies where your greatest weapon against them weren’t guns, but rather parkour?”

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Yeah, that scene is all I could think of at first too. One of the hardest things to do in a first-person game is figuring out how to make platforming and jumping both fun and functional. Few people have succeeded, outside of this IP address.

The other determining element of the dying light frankness is that they can eat their cake and… eat it (?) too. In games, daytime zombies are more subdued, like George A. Romero’s old shamblers. When night falls, everyone goes full throttle 28 days later quick-zomb nightmare. It’s the best of both worlds for fans of every school of the undead.

The recently released sequel to dying light expanded the universe into a place where the survivors attempt to rebuild society, despite not defeating the undead. Along with this, the player-character is tasked with making decisions about how the future of humanity will be shaped.

We spoke to prolific composer Olivier Derivière via translator about recording the soundtrack at Abbey Road, creating a living score and what it takes to keep it human.


The pitch: How do you start the process of creating a game soundtrack?

Profile Olivier Deriviere

Olivier Deriviere. // Courtesy of Top Dollar PR

Olivier Deriviere: There are two sizes. The first is the artistic approach, that is to say the type of music, the instruments and the themes. The second dimension concerns interactivity; how the music will react to the game. This involves long conversations with the various members of the developer’s team, and primarily with the creative director.

You’re not scoring the stills of a movie, you’re composing for a smooth 100 hour experience. What did you do thematically and technically to get it started?

This is a very difficult question because games can last an hour like Streets of rage 4 or hundreds of hours like Dying Light 2. Of course, we can’t score 100 hours of gameplay with unique clues all the way through. So the strategy is to assess what the different game loops are – what players will do over and over again – and how we can dress them up to feel different and interesting every time.

In Dying Light 2, I really wanted to push the idea of ​​storytelling in an open world, where of course players are free to move around the game world and do whatever they want. But a game can tell two stories at once: the scenario and the player’s journey. The last one is the most important when it comes to open-world games, and I think the technology provides enough freedom to really support it in a unique way.

You wanted to create a post-apocalyptic soundscape. How did you create new post-apocalyptic instruments to achieve this?

The creative director “Pyza” wanted to reflect on the broken world of Dying Light 2. All in Dying Light 2 tackles this theme, from the broken city to the broken characters. The music should follow. That’s why I asked my friend Nicolas Bras to create a unique instrument he called “The Electric Psaltery” that sounds really “broken”. Also, due to the scale and emotions of the game, we added an orchestra, but not a regular orchestra. I had the privilege of working with the London Contemporary Orchestra, which can provide some truly unique articulations. Together we have created something that feels a little uncomfortable, a little broken.

What was it like recording at Abbey Road?

It’s always a treat to go and record at Abbey Road. Due to COVID, I had to be at my studio and do remote sessions. Not only that, but for the first time, I had to record the orchestra separately. First the strings, then the woodwinds and finally the brass. It was an opportunity for me to arrange the music differently than if the orchestra were all together.

You mentioned that recording your soundtrack is completely different from the in-game experience. What systems allow your soundtrack to organically evolve based on a player’s actions? How do you compose in this spirit?

I’m really into designing music for games. This means that the music should have specific functions depending on the actions of the player. For example, in Dying Light 2if you start running the music will start, then the more parkour moves you make the louder the music until you reach what we call the “parkour flow” which reaches the top of the music.

To create such a feeling, you must first conceive the idea, test it and finally produce it. It’s a long process. But after many failures and attempts, I was able to achieve what we had in mind.

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Dying light 2. // Courtesy of Techland

You come to this from some of the most genre-defining era scores in games of the decade –A plague tale and vampire. What did you learn by getting involved in the arrangements and the musicality of these works?

plague tale and vampire have a similarity which is the cello performed by the great Eric Maria Couturier. But one is more melodic and the other more textural. Each project is a mystery to me on how I will write and produce the music. That’s why I spend a lot of time getting into the creative director’s mind to really understand what they want. They have all the answers. You have to listen very carefully to what they say, not about the music, but about their playing and all the solutions will come to you.

Dying Light 2 is a huge departure from the first game, in terms of the amount of story, dialogue, context, etc. I don’t know if you have any ideas for the first game, but I would like to hear your thoughts. Beyond that, I would like to know how you approached this with ideas on an evolution around this new vision?

Dying Light 2 is huge! Like super big. It was a real challenge for everyone. I have worked closely with Techland for three years to provide the best musical experience possible for musicians. We wanted to tell a story in an open world without making it too linear, so I had to create the most sophisticated musical structure I’ve done to date.

Tell me absolutely everything about what it was like to start your game scoring career with the all time underrated games Obscure and Dark II. Probably my only chance to ask you about these gems.

Ha! Old memories. the Obscure series has a special place in my heart because it was the first games I scored. I can’t tell you everything but I will tell you this. This experience showed me that coders are really undervalued in the public eye. I spent days and sometimes nights working with a coder, especially Bruno Carrez. Thanks to him, I was able to achieve what you can experience in the game: a flow of music despite all the loading times. It might seem trivial today, but back then, on PlayStation 2, getting such a feature that would play music seamlessly between gameplay, cutscenes, and loadouts was groundbreaking. So for all the coders who over the years have given me the ability to make my music shine, I mean: thank you !