DJ Highlights

Video Game Composer Quick Looks: Mick Gordon

Hello again, folks! DJ Blazkowicz of Jackpot OST is back with another quick look at one of the talented composers working behind the scenes in the video game industry. For our entry today, we will look at Mick Gordon, the composer for Wolfenstien: The New Order, Seasons 1 and 2 of Killer Instinct (2013)Prey (2017), and of course, Doom (2016). If anyone is wondering why many of these titles are followed by their year of release, welcome to the Age of Reboots!

Before we go any further, let’s have a listen.

Though he currently works with high profile video game studios such as Arkane and id Software, Gordon got his start playing in metal bands and pubs at 13, in Brisbane, Australia. With no interest in other genres, such as rock music or pop, Gordon began composing small tracks and sending them to local video game companies. As many of the companies preferred to source their talent locally, Gordon was soon able to break into the video game industry at Pandemic Studios.

Mick Gordon’s musical style is known for some amount of screaming, thrashing guitars, but a close look at the tracks he’s worked on reveals a surprising depth of tone and instrumentation. Killer Instinct (2013)’s Warlord features a driving metal guitar, yes, but there are also percussion elements meant to mimic struck bones and a heckin authentic 13 man Swedish choir. Back to Rise, from the same game, is a techno-rap brag track featuring throwback beats, the rap talents of Omega Sparx, and direct references to the Killer Instinct series’ 1994 and 1996 incarnations. Arguably his most famous entry, Doom (2016) features much more recognizable metal influences, with the added twist of old equipment scrounged from specialty stores around the world. To create just the right sort of unsettling distortion to give a sense of adrenaline soaked madness to the game’s track, Gordon included a Soviet era synthesizer, among other vintage units, to deliberately distort computer generated synth tracks. As a result, clean, computerized beats become the jagged, violent pulses that can be heard in the Doom track above.

Like many modern video game composers, Mick Gordon enjoys working with Responsive Video Game Music, a system in which verses, chords, and bridges are swapped in and out of a moment based on the actions of a character. Though not a Mick Gordon title, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance is a solid example of this sort of user directed sound experience; as players battle bosses, the background song eventually switches from an instrumental to a vocal track to heighten tension and excitement. Gordon takes this technique one step further by connecting everything from reloads, to breaks in firing, to the appearance to stronger enemies, to pause screens into the timing of his tracks. Though not visible on the released soundtracks available for purchase, many of his “songs” are actually 40 minute long monster tracks that are carefully assigned to different in game events. As a result, though players will not always notice during gameplay, it is their actions that are controlling how the music is being presented.

In the studio, Gordon collaborates alongside developers in ways that can be expected of modern composers. As always, striking the right tone and effect for a given scene requires an enormous amount of cooperation between all branches of the development team, and that includes sound designers. However, Gordon has mentioned that the process can be very different from one company to another. At id Software, developers of Doom(2016) (as well as the original 1993 version for MS-DOS), Gordon was directed to devote almost all his efforts to the dynamic music present during combat. However, at Arkane Studios (developers of Prey 2017), Gordon was given broader instructions that focused more on the emotional tone of a scene. For example: “You are floating in space” or “You miss home.”

That’s it for this session of Quick Looks! Plenty of composers out there these days, and we’ll keep doing our level best to bring their stories and songs your way.