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Inon Zur is a multi-award winning composer who has spent the majority of his career writing videogame scores. His resume boasts the likes of Baldur's Gate 2: Throne of Bhaal, Dragon Age: Origins, Prince of Persia and Crysis, among a long list of other game projects.
After cutting his teeth on 2001's Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, Zur went on to compose the ambient orchestral arrangements for Fallout 3, Fallout: New Vegas, and Fallout 4—the latter of which is now being visited and revisited following the launch of Fallout 4 VR.
I recently caught up with Zur to chat about his career, what inspires him to write music for videogames, and how he approaches each project differently.
PC Gamer: You've worked in television and film, but the majority of your work has been with videogames. What was it that first attracted you to games?
Inon Zur: Videogame score is very unique and a different process than movies and TV. Since the music cannot be locked to a picture (cinematics and cut-scenes being the exceptions), it has to carry a strong signature that can represent what’s going on in the game without hitting specific points. This is challenging, but the creative process is more open and the freedom to write a piece of music that has no boundaries or limitations is very rewarding.
I also feel that many of the producers and audio directors in the game industry value the music very much and are willing to invest in a high level of production, like recording live orchestras and so on. This is what I’ve found in the scoring for games world and this is why I like to work in this medium so much.
Do you play videogames yourself—what has your relationship with games been like over the years?
I love games, although I don’t have enough time to play them since I have to score them. I will, however, usually play the games I’m working on to get the feel of the gameplay and to make sure the music does what we want it to do.
Under Bethesda's care, the Fallout series has often adopted a '40s-style rock music OST, despite being set well into the future. Does this style of music affect the application of your ambient orchestral scores?
Usually no. Throughout the years I developed the ‘Fallout musical signature’ that is very unique to the Fallout world and for the most part has nothing to do with the ‘40s style of music. That being said, sometimes there are crossing points where I have to tie the two musical worlds, and in these cases I definitely take into consideration the “Fallout Radio” style and try to match it with the score.
How did your approach to creating the game's overworld music change from Fallout 4, to Nuka World, to Far Harbor, if at all?
I think that in general the Fallout music style is evolving and ever-changing, based on the game content. For example, in Far Harbor the feel was more haunting and sad in comparison to the main game. I used cello solo and female solo voice to highlight the uniqueness of these worlds. Nuka World was more like a theme park, so I matched that feel with the music. Overall the main signature is not very different but I can steer it in different directions based on the story and locations.
You've now composed Fallout 4, Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 3. Firstly: Do you have a favourite? And secondly: Is there anything specific you must consider when composing Fallout music—are there any special techniques you've relied upon in all three games?
There is a definite creative approach that connects all these games when it comes to music. What we call ‘organic sound design’ is the main tool when it comes to the Fallout world of music. Rather than playing a traditional instrument to create traditional music, the way these instruments are used to being heard, I use them in a non-traditional way. Or I can use a non-musical instrument (practically any object or tool) and produce music from it.
This is what is so unique in the Fallout scores. The fact that you can hear music but not be really sure how it is actually produced. It is a nice enhancer for the mysterious and unknown world of Fallout.By the way, I also scored Fallout Tactics, which was way earlier.
Your career in videogame music spawns a number of very different games. How does your approach differ when writing a Fallout score compared to, say, Dragon Age: Origins, or Prince of Persia?
It all starts and ends wtth the story and setting. I will approach games like Dragon Age as a dark fantasy world. It has a very distinct, artistic setting—in this case, dark fantasy. I will approach it from this perspective and will try to bring to life this world from an emotional point of view within the boundaries of this style.
The story of course has a lot of influence on the composition, but the style of the game and the world it resides in will be the biggest factor when it comes to the initial musical approach.
Of all the games you've written music for, which score have you enjoyed most and why?
I have to say that I can’t single out any specific title… I enjoy almost any project for its individual set of challenges and artistic world.
Which game was the most difficult to write music for and why?
Usually games that don’t have a known definition—but rather a new approach in terms of the story and setting—those are the most challenging to write for. However, I must say that each project presents to me its own creative challenges, and even those that are a continuation of previous projects bring new and exciting creative opportunities.
I imagine it's a great feeling when the games you've worked on do well—not least the Fallout series. But how does it feel on your end when a game isn't received positively by critics?
For me it’s most important to know that I did everything in my power to support the game with my music. It is sometimes hard to predict what people will embrace, but I think that I need to always stay true to myself, no matter what the outcome is. This way, even when some project is not well received, at least I know I gave it my very best.
You've won a number of awards for your work on games overs the years. Of those, are there any you're especially proud of?
Not necessarily. The awards, accolades and great reviews no doubt have a great impact and are reassuring. However, I know that they can’t really define if the score was truly deserving of such praise, they are artistic opinions that people have, and as much as I respect this, music is so very personal and subjective.
Throughout your time in games, a number of series that you've worked on have been cancelled or discontinued. Is there any particular series you'd like to see revived?
Certainly! I would love to see Prince of Persia make a return! I greatly enjoyed working on the series and would love to write a score for a new game in this series.
Are there any series that you haven't worked on that you wish you could have been a part of?
I’m a huge James Bond fan so I would love working on a Bond score. That would be a dream project. I also like to write jazz music, so any projects that employed this style would be a real joy to compose for!
Speaking generally, how has the videogame music scene changed over time?
There are many factors that contributed to the evolution in videogame music. The first is the technical aspect—today we can fit a huge amount of memory into a game, so there is basically no limitation when it comes to space. Therefore, the quality of the music can be maximized; music can be broken into stems, the interactivity of the score can be enhanced dramatically since there are no memory space constraints and since the audio engines are more sophisticated today, the music can respond in real-time.
The second factor is the introduction of software like WWise, and other similar applications. These are working wonders when it comes to how the music is being implemented in the game. They expanded the audio director’s possibilities and made it easier and more creative than ever.
The third factor is the overwhelming success of the videogame industry—this brought more resources to the productions and therefore the composer has more budget than ever to create a high-quality score, with live recordings, quality mixes, for example.
Certainly music was always heavily valued by game developers and gamers at large, but today I believe it’s more than ever.
Inon Zur's work on Fallout 4's Nuka World and Far Harbour DLC is available now on Apple Music.
Since dropping its King of the Kill appendage earlier this year, Daybreak Games' battle royale 'em up H1Z1 has sought to improve its menus, UI, and weapon balancing, among a number of other features on the advice of its community. Now, it hopes to open up to more players still by going free to try for the next seven days.
From tomorrow, December 14, H1Z1 will be free to download in full. Existing players can team up with new faces in Solo mode, Duos, Fives, the Combat Zone, "and everything else present in the full version", so reads an FAQ on the game's website.
All progress made during the free trial period is also transferable to the main game, should you decide to make the jump. If this applies, you'll probably want to take advantage of the game's coinciding Steam sale which knocks 75 percent off its recommended retail value. At the time of writing, H1Z1's full Early Access price is £14.99/$19.99.
H1Z1's free week kicks off tomorrow at 10am PT/6pm GMT, and runs till the same time on December 21. More information on can be found in this direction.
And for those of you feeling festive, H1Z1 is also hosting its Wreck the Halls event running now through January 1. More on that can be found here.
Finding Paradise is the loosely tied follow-up to Freebird Games' To the Moon and A Bird Story. The latest similarly-styled narrative role-player is due tomorrow, December 14, and now has an official trailer.
The action-heavy, loot box-featuring short that dropped last month was of course a tongue-in-cheek jab at current goings-on in the videogame industry, and was at odds with what Freebird's games tend to represent. The latest video is much more familiar in tone and presentation, against a typically lovely Laura Shigihara score.
Finding Paradise sees the return of To the Moon's Dr Rosalene and Dr Watts—while Colin, the child from 2014's A Bird Story, features now as an adult. Here's the game's Steam blurb with more on what this chapter's all about:
Dr. Rosalene and Dr. Watts have peculiar jobs: They give people another chance to live, all the way from the very beginning... but only in their patients' heads. Due to the severity of the operation, the new life becomes the last thing the patients remember before drawing their last breath. Thus, the operation is only done to people on their deathbeds, to fulfill what they wish they had done with their lives, but didn’t.
Finding Paradise is the second full episode of To the Moon's series. It follows the life of the doctors' new patient, Colin, as they attempt to unravel a life that is split down the middle, and fulfill a wish that appears to be self-contradictory by nature.
Finding Paradise is due tomorrow, December 14. Ahead of its launch, Freebird Games' head honcho Kan Gao released the following video on managing expectations:
My ship is falling apart and I’m down to half crew. It seems like ages since I left port and the sea is throwing everything it can at me. Disease. Disorientation. Even the whales are out to get me. I glance over at the horizon, and spy another ship. Turns out, it's more pirates just like us.
I’m going to stay and fight. It’s a risk, but I’ve made it out of tougher scrapes and their ship isn’t that big. Before long we pull alongside and I order my crew to board. We jump onto their ship and cut through their ranks. The gamble pays off quickly: we're victorious. I check the loot. There’s jewels, gold, and even wooden planks to fix the ship. Finally, my luck is changing.
These types of stories are common in Don’t Sink, a new 2D sandbox RPG published by Studio Eris. It lets you live out your fantasies of being a pirate: you make your own captain, hire a crew, and sail the seas in search of fortune and fame.
One of the best things about Don't Sink is that it never gets bogged down in wordy tutorials or overbearing expository text. It simply gives you a bunch of tools and tells you to get on with it. You can work towards buying bigger ships (like I did), try to build up your colony, or sail the seas to rack up wins. How you pirate is up to you.
There are a few things you’ll have to balance to be a successful captain: keeping an eye on the condition of your ship, the wellbeing of your crew (depicted on the screen as status bars), and your supplies (wood, food, drink, cloth) are all important.
To keep those bars topped up, to prevent your crew from dying and stop your ship from sinking, you need to spend money. You’re constantly having to find ways to get coin and manage your spending. Some of the ways to do this include delivery jobs, sidequests, and of course winning battles at sea.
While at sea, encounters with pirates occur randomly. Whenever you’re in combat, a wheel appears with four options to choose from: you can flee, fire, board, or repair. Each of these actions takes time to perform, so you have to make your mind up quickly to escape unscathed.
Even in Early Access, Don’t Sink is compelling. Building up your base and taking on new crew and responsibilities is tremendously satisfying, especially as you can see the time you put in pay off directly with new ships and gold. There’s also a neat metagaming aspect to it, letting you compare progress with other players over leaderboards based on how far you’ve traveled, the number of enemies you’ve defeated, and how much you’ve spent.
During my time with Don't Sink I went from having a small crew of just eight to becoming one of the higher-ranked players. I developed my base to its fullest potential, and even expanded my crew to over 100 souls. Getting there was a ton of fun too, full of high-sea hijinks, random encounters, and treasure.
It’s worth mentioning Don't Sink has a couple of limitations at the moment. There are only six islands to visit, and there’s also very little in terms of quest variety. Most missions involve transporting goods between the different islands, which can get repetitive because of the limited size of the map. What would be great is more questlines based around individual, characterful NPCs to give the towns more personality.
There are a few pirate games on Steam, of varying degrees of quality. Don’t Sink stands out for being simple, streamlined, and well-presented. It has a charming pixel-art aesthetic, with an eye-catching color palette of blues, greens, and yellows.
2018 promises not one, but two massive pirate games in Ubisoft’s Skull and Bones and Rare’s Sea of Thieves. But while these games have huge production values, Don’t Sink is a more lo-fi and uncomplicated pirate-'em-up. I can’t wait to see how it grows with the benefit of player feedback.
We first played Book of Demons in mid-2016, just before sitting down with its creator at PAX West, who said it was born of a desire to distill Diablo down to its purest form. Which came as no surprise, it immediately reminded us of Diablo, albeit far cuter. It's been trucking along in Steam Early Access ever since, and recently received a big update which added the rogue, the last of its three classes.
With the addition of rogues, Book of Demons has completed its high fantasy class trilogy. Where mage does magic things and warrior does tanky things, the rogue is described as a flexible class with long- and close-range options thanks to her bow and daggers.
Like mage and warrior, rogue also has unique class cards—16 to be exact. Book of Demons' combat works on a deck system: the cards you include become the skills you can use while dungeoneering. This plays into its procedurally generated dungeons, as you'll likely never build the same deck or run the same dungeon twice. You can sample the cards for yourself in the free demo available on Steam.
Developer Thing Trunk says Book of Demons will exit Early Access in mid-2018. Before it does, the studio says it will receive eight major updates including Mac support, improved sound, more cards and new game modes like an offline challenge mode.
For the first time ever, the UK Gambling Committee's year-end report on Young People and Gambling has looked into "awareness and participation rates" of skin gambling (if you're not sure what that is, here's a primer). The report states that, "based on the description provided within the questionnaire," 45 percent of children aged 11-16 knew about skin gambling, and 11 percent said they had placed bets with in-game items at some point in the past.
"'Skins' are in-game items, used within some of the most popular video game titles. They provide cosmetic alterations to a player’s weapons, avatar or equipment used in the game," the report states. "Skins betting sites allow videogamers to wager cosmetic items rewarded in-game or purchased for real money on a digital marketplace, accessible from the UK for several years."
A BBC report on the Gambling Commission paper leads with the statistics on skin gambling and then says that roughly 370,000 11-16 year olds in England, Scotland, and Wales reported spending their own money on gambling at least once in the prior week. But the context is misleading: The number is accurate, at least within the survey's margin of error, but it includes all forms of gambling, including slot machines, scratch cards, and wagers with friends ("five bucks says you can't make that jump"). Furthermore, the figure "represents a continuation of the longer-term decline seen since 2011," when 23 percent of 11-15 year-olds reported taking part in some form of gambling during the preceding week.
Prevalence of gambling with in-game items increases with age, from three percent of 11 year-olds to 14 percent of 14-16 year-olds, and was higher among children who had spent money on other forms of gambling over the past week, or who had played "online gambling-style games," like casino games, slot machines, or poker. In fact, the rate of playing those games matches the incidence rate of skin gambling, at 11 percent.
It's the ability to convert in-game items into cash that denotes the activity as gambling for the purposes of the report, rather than the actual conversion itself—the fact that the skins could be converted into cash, not whether they actually were. That's also how the concept was introduced to survey respondents: "When playing computer games/app it is sometimes possible to collect in-game items (eg. weapons, power-ups and tokens). For some games, it is possible to bet these in-game items for the chance to win more of them."
"The Gambling Commission takes the view that the ability to convert in-game items to cash, or to trade them (for other items of value) means they attain a real-world value and become articles of money or money’s worth. Where gambling facilities are offered to British consumers, including with the use of in-game items that can be converted into cash or traded (for items of value), a gambling license is required," the report says. "Tackling operators making gambling facilities available to children is one of the Gambling Commission’s priorities."
In other words, it's the people running unlicensed gambling sites who are liable to be targeted by the Gambling Commission, and not the games themselves, or the companies who make them. In fact, earlier this year the commission successfully prosecuted YouTuber Craig "Nepenthez" Douglas and his business partner Dylan Rigby, who ran the FUT Galaxy website that enabled gambling on real-world soccer matches using FIFA 17 virtual currency. But that currency could also be exchanged for real money, which fell afoul of the UK's Gambling Act and cost the duo £255,000 ($340,00) in fines.
"Because of these unlicensed skin betting sites, the safeguards that exist are not being applied and we're seeing examples of really young people, 11 and 12-year-olds, who are getting involved in skin betting, not realizing that it's gambling," Gambling Commission chief executive Sarah Harrison told the BBC. "At one level they are running up bills perhaps on their parents' Paypal account or credit card, but the wider effect is the introduction and normalization of this kind of gambling among children and young people."
Rainbow Six Siege is two years old, and it's aging well. Off the back of a 50-percent discount on all versions of the game in November, last weekend Siege hit 100,000 concurrent players, an all-time peak.
There's plenty of stuff that still needs to be improved in Siege: the frequency of teamkilling and leavers, 'spawn peeking,' 'dropshotting,' and that thing where one player loads into the first round of a match really slowly. But right now, here's why I think it's one of the best FPSes on PC.
Marksmanship does matter in Siege—headshots are lethal, gun recoil varies, and you'll often see players aiming through tiny 'murder holes' in a wall to surprise opponents. But good gadgets, good information, or good timing can counter good aim.
Check the clip above: I'm in a 2v1 with 40 seconds left with my teammate Kootness, a PC Gamer Club member. We're out of stun grenades, and our opponent has a positional advantage—he's somewhere in the hostage room, but we don't know where. If we peek into the door, there's a good chance we'll instantly lose our heads because he only has to focus on a small bit of real estate.
Instead we try a timing attack, where my teammate and I enter the room simultaneously from the door and an opposite window. My breach alters the state of the map, the defender turns, and Kootness is set up to make the game-winning kill through the front door.
Siege isn't strictly about your K:D ratio, either. The way your team spends resources has a big influence on who wins, so much so that Siege reserves the opening minute of each round for laying defenses and gathering information. I love this phase because both teams get to feel each other out without the threat of death. It's a test of map knowledge. You can't reinforce every surface with steel walls: which ones are the most important? Should you place tripwire bombs in unexpected positions, or in more obvious, but higher-traffic doorways? A clever claymore mine can win a round.
And as an attacker, maneuvering your fragile surveillance drone onto the objective safely is a feat of miniature parkour and stealth. A carefully hidden drone can end up being the MVP.
Those drones are also a gateway for dead players to participate in the round. When you die, you can live on as a guardian angel for your teammates, marking any enemies who walk into the field of view of cameras. Ubisoft said in a recent video that it believes there's lots of unexplored territory in this part of the game, and I'm hopeful they'll expand even more on the after-death tasks available to players.
Rainbow Six is by-definition a diverse squad: a counter-terrorism team made up of operators from around the world. With Overwatch and Dirty Bomb, Siege is one of the few shooters where you can run an all-female team; 12 of the 36 operators are women. Brazil, Japan, Canada, France, Germany, and Hong Kong are all represented on the roster, with Italian and Moroccan operators coming in 2018. The most recent update, Operation White Noise, focused on the Korean 707th Special Mission Battalion, but also included Zofia, its second Polish character.
Siege's 18 maps are clusters of small rooms and hallways, layouts that often allow attackers to get extremely close to the objective before encountering an enemy. This phase—after setup, but before all-out combat—is a strange mixture of quiet and tension. You might be a few meters away from the enemy, but short sightlines and the abundance of walls usually grant enough safety to move, set up gadgets, and pause to communicate.
As Shaun wrote in 2016, this moment "is especially effective because there are virtually no other shooters that value silence or stillness." It's one of my favorite things about Siege, the space the game makes to poke at each other with gadgets, feints, and mind games. Some of my favorite fear-inducing maneuvers:
Bots are uncommon in multiplayer FPSes. Siege's aren't very smart, but on certain variations of its PvE Terrorist Hunt mode, which has three difficulties, they can challenge experienced players with snappy aim or whole roomfuls of C4 traps. And each win earns some renown, Siege's non-cash currency.
More importantly, PvE is a low-pressure way for newcomers to learn some of Siege's sprawling maps. At the peak of CS:GO's popularity, a bunch of my friends who hadn't played wanted to jump in with me, but I couldn't offer them a true training mode like Terrorist Hunt to ease them into the mechanics.
I'm interested to see what Ubisoft does in the Outbreak "co-op event" it's teased for 2018. Outbreak is planned as a temporary addition, and apart from the expanding map roster it'll be basically the only addition to PvE since launch.
The Netherlands is a nation with a long and storied history, but it will steered into Civilization 6 by a ruler of a relatively recent vintage. Queen Wilhelmina ascended to the throne in 1890, when she was just ten years of age, and led the nation through both World Wars before abdicating in 1948—a reign of nearly 58 years.
Wilhelmina's unique leader ability is Radio Oranje, named for her broadcasts to the Dutch resistance during the Second World War, which confers a loyalty bonus to cities originating trade routes to the Netherlands, and also a culture bonus for trade routes established with foreign cities. The Netherlands' unique ability is "Grote Rivieren," which grants major bonuses to Campuses, Theater Squares, and Industrial Zones when built near a river, and its unique improvement is the Polder, a man-made flood plain separated from the sea by dikes that provides food, production and housing from water tiles.
On the military side of things (because it always comes to that, doesn't it?) the Netherlands brings to bear De Zeven Provinciën, a powerful, 80-gun ship of the line that helped make the nation a legitimate naval power in the 17th century. (Historical side note: It's also the name of a class of advanced air defense frigates that recently went into service with the Royal Netherlands Navy.)
The Netherlands will join the Civilization 6 soiree in the Rise and Fall expansion, scheduled for release on February 8, 2018. Here's someone else you'll meet when it gets here, and everything else we know about it so far.
Resident Evil 7: Biohazard's Not A Hero DLC was originally due in the first half of the year before being delayed, instead landing alongside its Gold Edition and End of Zoe DLC. All three are out today, with developer Capcom marking the occasion with a Joe Baker-starring trailer.
And he's good with his fists, it seems, as he lays flat whichever Molded zombie-likes and/or Umbrella soldiers that stand in his way. Observe:
Owners of the Resident 7 base game stand to get Not A Hero free-of-charge, Capcom reminds us in a blog post, while End of Zoe comes in at £11.99/$14.99 as a separate download. Season pass owners receive both, as do those who opt for the game's Gold Edition—which also comes with the previously released Banned Footage portions of additional content.
As for what each new slice of DLC entails, End of Zoe sees players following up on Zoe Baker's unfortunate story alongside the "mysterious outdoorsman" Joe Baker, as featured above. Not A Hero, on the other hand, stars series veteran Chris Redfield who enters the fold in the immediate aftermath of the base game's Ethan Winters' tale.
Action-heavy, Chris "takes on this new challenge fully equipped with new weapons and tools designed to counter bio organic threats," in his latest outing, adds Capcom's blog post. "Encounters with deadly foes lurk around every corner—including a brand new type of enemy."
More information on all of the above can be gleaned from the Resident Evil 7: Biohazard Steam page. I liked this minute-long short with game director Koshi Nakanishi about redesigning Chris Redfield this time round:
The Creative Assembly is clear about this: the free Skaven Laboratory update is going to break Total War: Warhammer 2. When you start a battle using the Laboratory prompt on the main menu you get access to a suite of sliders that let you smash through the battle limits that keep Total War playable. The question is: how far are you willing to push to achieve the most bonkers results without a crash?
Perhaps you'd like to drop the gravity? A cavalry charge into a unit of clan rats will send rats spinning into the sky. They sail over the battle in graceful arcs before landing on the other side of a hill, confused and alone. Maybe you'd like to adjust the monster size slider so you can deploy an army of 200-foot tall hydras and watch them waddle slowly over entire enemy units. No problem, just don't expect the ensuing scrap to involve much tactical manoeuvring.
The unit size slider is the one that will really make your hardware start to creak. Staging a large battle with the slider maxed out puts thousands of little warriors on screen at the same time. If your CPU can keep up with this you get the vast horizon-to-horizon battles that you normally see on Warhammer box art. The armies are so large that they bump into each other quickly and form a vast throng from which there is no escape. No redeployment; only war.
It's a good excuse to get in close, turn off the UI and spectate. The armies try their best to fight on as normal, even though they're actually participating in a monstrous meat grinder that can only be won with persistence. You can zoom in to pick out a high elf swordsman chopping down rat after rat, making a futile contribution to absurd final kill tally. Even great heroes get swallowed up in the extraordinary mass of combat.
The Laboratory lets you experiment with spells and artillery as well. You can ramp up winds of magic levels to fuel more spells, and you can increase values like impact force, projectile penetration and explosions. I set these values to max and cranked the unit size up to 10x size and then built a vast Skaven army to fight. Then I deployed a single line of High Elf mages and marched them into the heaving rodent masses. In the low gravity I cast vortex spells into their midst, sucking dozens of rats into the sky in gross verminous fountains.
It's a fun toy for a free update, and if you've ever wondered whether an army of turbo-sized High Elf dragons would beat an army of turbo-sized Dark Elf dragons then the Laboratory will give you a result, and some comical scenes featuring oversized fantasy creatures bumping in the sky like warring balloon animals. I can see myself booting up the Laboratory in a couple of years time just to test the limits of whatever futuristic CPU/GPU combination I'll be running then. Will these huge (if unwieldy) unit sizes end up being the norm in Total War games?
The Skaven Labs update is due out this week on December 14, and should tide us to the first campaign map DLC for Total War: Warhammer 2 and the release of a new historical Total War game with Thrones of Britannia next year.