With console video games becoming more and more cinematic, Microsoft Studios was quick to secure the musical talent of Neil Davidge for the fourth installment of its highly popular Xbox franchise, Halo. Davidge, a pioneer of the trip-hop genre, is best known for his production work for Massive Attack as well as for scoring several films, including the Oscar-nominated Katrina documentary Trouble the Water and the 2010 blockbuster Clash of the Titans.
“When I first went into this, I thought scoring for a video game would be similar to scoring a film,” Davidge tells Rolling Stone. “Pretty soon I discovered the similarities were few.”
For his first video game gig, Davidge had to create a soundtrack that could stretch to any length, depending on gameplay. It had to be multi-layered, open-ended and able to be looped, intensifying as the game progressed.
Another major difference he discovered is that production work for Halo 4 has not been completed. In the past year, Davidge has flown to Microsoft Studios’ base in Seattle, Washington, several times to play a rough mockup of the game on a beta machine. He originally worked using video captures of each mission; that proved unfruitful, however, and he soon turned to artists’ impressions of the scenes instead.
“I was losing the emotional perspective,” Davidge says. “When I approached it more similarly to making an album, then I hit the nail in the head.”
In creating the score, Davidge wanted to recapture the “touch of romance” that the orchestration brought to the franchise, while at the same time explore its world more thoroughly with electronica to create a more vivid alien soundscape. Orchestra recordings for the Halo 4 soundtrack are currently taking place at the iconic Abbey Road Studios in London.
“Halo games traditionally have strong, sweeping melodies to drive the story,” Halo 4 audio director Sotaro Tojima tells Rolling Stone, “so we needed someone who could capture that, but with a very new sound.”
Fortunately for everyone involved, Davidge did not need to get acquainted with these Halo traditions once he jumped aboard. The producer has been an avid fan of the game series since the original came out back in 2001.
“I used to play all the time in the recording studio while waiting for the Massive Attack guys to show up,” he recalls. “We’re all huge gamers.”
Halo 4 is expected in stores this holiday season, but an exact release date has yet to be confirmed.