Pillars of Eternity Post-funding Update #76: Music

As you've probably guessed by the newspost title, the latest post-funding Kickstarter update for Pillars of Eternity concerns the game's music and its composition, and is entirely penned by audio lead and composer Justin Bell. Here's an excerpt from it:


Making Pillars of Eternity feel like a modern day Infinity Engine game is important to us, and music plays a big role in achieving that goal. But what does that actually mean in practice? Well if you were to loosely analyze the music from Baldur's Gate 1 & 2 and Icewind Dale 1 & 2 for example, you would find a number of stylistic similarities between them. Without getting too technical, their music combines tropes found in European folk and pre-Renaissance modal music, and mashes that together with modern day orchestration techniques and film music aesthetics.

You're probably thinking... (Where's the human side of all this? Where's the emotion? The music for the IE games is so much more than simply a mash-up of musical elements!)

Putting it in such cold and analytical terms doesn't really give those soundtracks the justice they deserve, does it? Still it's important for me as the composer to understand things in that way, and here's why. An incredible teacher of mine used to say, (When in doubt, use a model). Another incredible teacher would likewise say, (Never proceed without a plan). What they were both saying is that if you're going to take a journey, you need to understand the path and know your destination to the best of your ability. Even if the plan needs to change at some point down the path, always think it through first.

Luckily for me both are pretty clear. In that sense the soundtracks for the IE games are both my model and my plan, at least to a point. I've made a couple minor structural modifications to the formula, which I'll describe in greater depth further on. But first I'd like to give you an inside peek into the creative process I use to write music.

The Commute

Here's some news that'll undoubtedly shock each and every one of you...

I commute to work. Every. Day.

Exciting right?! Right... Don't let the mundaneness of that description fool you, as this is actually one of the most important parts of my day. It's one of the few times that I get to listen to music without interruption, and I use this time to get inspired to write. Things I've been putting on lately are the soundtracks for The Elder Scrolls (III, IV, and V), The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, anything by Basil Poledouris, and of course the IE soundtracks, just to name a few.

As I'm driving and listening I stay on the lookout for small moments that inspire me in some way. When I come across something that attracts my attention, like an interesting harmony or nice orchestral combination, I document the track number, time range, and any observations I have using a little handheld recorder. By the time I get to work I usually have roughly 10 small voice memos recorded for myself. When I get in front of my computer at work I pull the tracks I noticed into my audio program, edit out the sections in question, and categorize them with my notes for future use. It's a way of systematizing inspiration, which I'll admit may sound counter intuitive to some. When working on a project with deadlines while simultaneously trying to keep things the creative juices flowing, being organized is critical to successfully balancing those two often competing requirements.

And an excerpt from the soundtrack itself, also courtesy of the update: