Exclusive: Composer Cris Velasco Talks ZombiU

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Ubisoft’s horror title ZombiU has been a huge hit since its release on Nintendo Wii U. Fans were excited to see such a terrifying title be brought life to life by one of gamer’s most beloved companies, and they did a superb job bringing the undead zombie chaos.

We recently set down with composer Cris Velasco to discuss ZombiU and to give fans a behind-the-scenes look at this new title. 

Exclusive: Composer Cris Velasco Talks ZombiU

AMANDA DYAR: ZombiU was a surprise hit for the newly released Nintendo Wii U after it was announced by developer and publisher Ubisoft back at E3 2012. How will your soundtrack for the unique title help create an atmosphere that will keep Wii U owners hooked to ZombiU?

CRIS VELASCO: My score had one main purpose: to scare you. I used a combination of percussion, electric guitars, processed human screams, detuned carnival organs, music boxes, and a string quintet I call “The Apocalypse Ensemble”. Every instrument that was recorded was misused and tortured to create a truly unsettling soundtrack.

AMANDA: ZombiU is one of the many great new launch titles for the Nintendo Wii U. How was creating a soundtrack for a new franchise on a brand new platform different from the other projects you’ve worked on?

CRIS: It wasn’t much different than any other title really. I always strive to do my best to write music that will complement and enhance the gameplay no matter what the project is. ZombiU was special for me though because I’ve been itching to get back into horror again. Horror games give you the opportunity to use a much wider, and perhaps more interesting, palette than other genres. Ubisoft wanted a very aggressive and violent score as well. It’s definitely different than anything I’ve done before and I had a lot of fun writing it.

AMANDA: The official ZombiU soundtrack features nearly an hour of original compositions. Do you have a particular track on the album that is your favorite, and did you draw inspiration from any other works while working on the game’s score?

CRIS: Ubisoft had a very clear and specific idea of how the music should sound when I started writing, so I took most of my cues from them. Also, the images from the game they were sending me were very graphic and horrifying and offered plenty of inspiration all on their own!

One of my favorite tracks from the album is “King Boris”. It’s very different from anything else on the entire score and I really enjoyed writing it too. There’s something so nightmarish about carnival music. To get that demented organ sound, I actually used two different calliopes – a steam-driven organ (originally played through train whistles) and slightly detuned one of them, then played them in unison. It makes for a pretty disturbing effect!

AMANDA: You’ve recently completed work for other big name games such as Borderlands 2 and Mass Effect 3 and older horror titles such as Clive Barker’s Jericho and Hellgate: London. Where does the experience of working on ZombiU rank among your other projects, and what do you enjoy most about working in the gaming industry?

CRIS: Writing the score for ZombiU was definitely a different experience than some of those other titles you mentioned. A lot of the time I feel like I’m scoring the story arc of the protagonist. In Mass Effect 3, for example, the music was a reflection of Shepard’s journey to save Earth. Even when things looked grim or impossible even, the music still showed the determination of the people that were heroically battling the Reapers. In ZombiU, there is no real protagonist. The first time I played the game, my character lasted about 5 minutes before a zombie ate my brain. Part of the game mechanic is that you will never be that same character again once you’ve become infected. It didn’t really make sense to score the game through the eyes of anyone. So this score was pure atmosphere. As I mentioned before, its purpose is to scare you, and that’s definitely something different from my other experiences in writing music for games.

For me, writing music for games couldn’t make me happier. I truly love what I do. It’s very gratifying for me to go from something unabashedly epic and orchestral in God of War, to working with Sascha Dikiciyan on a dramatic, ‘80s influenced sci-fi score for Mass Effect, and then jumping into something so brutal and visceral like ZombiU. It keeps me on my toes and makes the creative part of my brain very happy. At least until it’s eaten by zombies!

You can visit the official ZombiU website to learn more about the game.

Exclusive: Composer Cris Velasco Talks ZombiU

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