[Interview] Mirror's Edge Composer Magnus Birgersson
We chat with the man behind the music in one of the most strikingly unique games of last year.
Published: June 29, 2009
Okay, so it's been a while since Mirror's Edge hit, but the impact of the game's visuals and especially the audio haven't been dulled one iota by the passage of time. If anything, the game is even more of a standout in this era of bald space marines and ultra-clunky combat armor. That Mirror's Edge actually uses the same backbone (the Unreal Engine 3) as the beefier, more male-dominated games we usually see is an even bigger testament to the skill and temperance that developer Digital Illusions CE had when designing the game.
From the stark whites and simple muted color palettes to the wildly different parts of the nameless city where Faith, an information courier or "runner" scampers about, the game is, in a word, beautiful. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop while avoiding direct confrontation (most of the time) with the ever-watchful totalitarian police force seeks to stop runners from spreading information they can't filter or control, Faith uncovers an intricate plot reaching the highest levels of power in the city.
What's truly amazing about Faith's journey, though, is just how visually and aurally different each of the areas she ends up running through really are. It's the audio portion of things that we were especially smitten by here at TPS, and when we were offered the chance to fire a couple of questions at Mirror's Edge composer Magnus Birgersson (who authored the entire soundtrack under his Solar Fields moniker), we didn't just jump at it, we tightrope walked, rolled, slid and shimmied our way toward it.
Here, then, is our brief chat with the man behind Faith's alternatingly driving, ambient, somber, thrilling and emotional journey.
TotalPlayStation: This is your first game soundtrack, correct? What was it like trying to come up with a set of semi-interactive tracks that would respond to the game's different speeds of play and exploration?
Magnus Birgersson: Yes this was my first game soundtrack, so it was a little different for me. We quickly found a perfect formula for the collaboration and it ended up being a very creative and inspiring process.
How much music was actually composed in total for the game, and was all of it used?
I think it was around 150 minutes of music, and all of it was used.
How early on into the project did you come on, and did you get a chance to help shape some of the game's tone and style as you were composing the tracks?
Magnus Walterstad, audio director at Dice, first contacted me late 2005 after he had heard my music and the first time I visited Dice was in 2007. I got to see a prototype for the movement in the game. Very cool and nothing I had ever seen before.
Despite some of the tracks sounding rather simple, the more we listened, the more we picked up on quite a few layers of ambient flutters and little stutters here and there. How many separate layers made up the most complex music in the game? How about the simplest?
Interesting question, but I think the most complex piece of track might be around 100 audio channels, if I create for example one atmospheric sound I end up with a lot of different layers just to create one sound.
The simplest one is two channels of audio, one bass channel and one kick.
How did you go about picking up on some of the different moods of the levels? Did the DICE folks let you come in and see them getting roughed up, or was it more of a disconnected composing session?
Me and Magnus Walterstad went through the different levels of the game, moods and feelings during the period I was composing, talking about the different parts on each level. This gave us the amount of pieces and variations per level that needed to be written. We reiterated on these a few times since the design and flow of the levels sometimes changed. It was very important for both me and Magnus to keep the music as a seamless amplification of the experience.
One of the things that amazed us was just how much the music fit Faith's character. At the risk of sounding a little stupid or over-analyzing things, it seems like there was a lot of feminine, rounded, smooth movements mixed in with a constant driving 4/4 beat during the action bits and a genuine sense of awe and wonder during the puzzle sections. Does any of that make sense? Was there an attempt like that at building specific emotions during the four key phases of the game (combat, puzzle, ambience and chase)?
The music is deeply rooted with everything you experience in the game. Faiths emotions, story, the environment, lighting would be variables me and Magnus discussed as a foundation for how a particular piece of music would be written. Even the size of a room would be a factor for how the effects in the music would be used.
We know it's a lame question, but do you have any favorite parts of the game or tracks that you're really proud of? It's mainly an excuse to gush about the puzzle theme in The Shard, but we're genuinely curious about any favorites that might have bubbled to the surface after so much time with the audio.
For now the entire track Kate is a little favorite.
Shard puzzle is a quite emotional peace of music also.
Depends on what mood I’m in I think :)