‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ composer Olivier Deriviere on the video game’s kinetic score

Having created one of the most disruptive scores for a video game yet, French composer Olivier Deriviere chats about getting experimental for ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’

February 19, 2022 01:20 pm | Updated 01:20 pm IST

Screenshot of 2022 video game ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’

Screenshot of 2022 video game ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ | Photo Credit: Techland

In a post-apocalyptic video game, using the environment of dilapidated buildings to parkour like a spider monkey to avoid the zombie-riddled ground is one thing... but having the music build intensity through bass and shifting tempo as you scramble up a wall, dart past a horde of zombies and leap off the edge to safety is something else. That is what you can expect if you play Techland’s Dying Light 2: Stay Human.

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The year’s first AAA (big-budget, blockbuster) title had plenty of intrigue surrounding not just its storyline but its gameplay on next-gen consoles and PCs. Despite its bugs at launch and somewhat predictable storyline, the gameplay itself motivated gamers to stick around till the end. Dying Light 2 follows Aiden, a social outcast, trying to find his sister in a world devastated by a virus... but the game has a ray of light amid all the chaos and ‘Lord of the Flies’ politics.

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Treating this essence very seriously from the start of pre-production is the game’s composer Olivier Deriviere, who sees video games as “a cultural object [that] reflects our world, society, existence.” Three years of working on the game produced a score that breathed life into a game of the undead, and gamers often find themselves bobbing their heads in time with the music— whether they are doing a fun exploration of the world, making a plot-changing decision or engaging in the most brutal combat.

Deriviere is thrilled at the response gamers have had to the music to the much-awaited sequel to the 2017 game. Avid gamers would be familiar with some of the titles he has worked on such as A Plague Tale: Innocence (2019), Remember Me (2013), Vampyr (2018) and Streets of Rage 4 (2020).

In an interview with The Hindu, Deriviere dives into why this project deserved a custom instrument and creating a new layer of immersiveness through music.

Edited excerpts:

While ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ is a post-apocalyptic game with a certain mood, there is a sense of hope for Aiden’s story and wonderment in the world. How did you balance tone through the score and story?

The Creative Director [Adrian Cizweski] didn’t want the game to be about fear and despair but rather hope and empowerment. Overall the game is fun to play, and to make the experience too serious and dark may have contrasted too much with the entertaining parkour and chaos that players can create with each situation. The story can have some dark and emotional parts and I was really happy to compose very different colours, themes and music depending on the situations.

What did you take away from your collaboration with Cizweski and game director Marc Albinet?

I have a strong team spirit. It is key for me to interact as much as needed with the creative director and the game director; for Dying Light 2, I spent three years fully committed with Techland. We were having daily meetings to make sure the vision from Adrian was well understood and that the gameplay mechanics developed by Marc would be supported correctly with music.

Screenshot of 2022 video game ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’

Screenshot of 2022 video game ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ | Photo Credit: Techland

How experimental did you get for ‘Dying Light 2 Stay Human’, that you haven’t managed to do for other past projects? Can you elaborate on using the Electric Psaltery?

I am always experimenting as I usually don’t know what I am going to do and, more importantly, how I am going to do it. It is always scary at first but I think this is what a creative person should go for: the unknown. For each project I do, I try to create a music identity that will be fully part of the DNA of the game and Dying Light 2 was no exception.

Dying Light 2 is about a young man who is trying to find his sister in a broken city after a world pandemic that killed most of the humans. I wanted to capture this feeling through one instrument so I went to my friend and instrument creator extraordinaire Nicolas Bras and he created the ‘Electric Psaltery’ which is made out of metal and junk materials. It has three guitar necks and you can play with your fingers or a bow. It is a very broken sound which fits the game’s mood perfectly.

Composer Olivier Deriviere

Composer Olivier Deriviere

Many gamers have been praising the responsive nature of the music in the video game — especially when they build up a single parkour. What was the key to creating the interactive score?

Much of my work is to dedicate music to the player’s experience. Most of the time there is a team helping the composer to create the interactive score but I had such a strong idea of what I wanted the music to do that I did it on my own.

This is by far the most complicated aspect of my job and I am thrilled to see the reception from the gamers. I really wanted them to feel that the music was supporting any actions, even parkour movements, in the game and it seems to have paid off.

Can you talk about the collaboration with the sound design team on balancing score and environmental sounds, and making them work to enhance the story?

It was a constant conversation; mixing a game is very difficult but the tools that we have nowadays allow so much flexibility that there is no wrongdoing between music and sound effects. We can adapt in real-time (when the game runs) any volume depending on what is going on and if a big explosion happens, then the music goes softer but if a big emotional scene needs a big swelling score, the music takes over. The technology in games is getting to a point where the only limitation is our imagination.

Screenshot of 2022 video game ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’

Screenshot of 2022 video game ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ | Photo Credit: Techland

Did you make any music for ‘Dying Light 2: Stay Human’ that didn’t make it into the final cut of the game?

No, not really. It is more a matter of when and why a musical moment would happen that really was the main conversation with Adrian. I would start something very soft but he would tell me that the intention has changed and now he needs action or fear. It is much more this process of back and forth as the game is in development than having music rejected.

I always start composing when it is the right time and since I am so close with the team it is unlikely (though still could happen) that I would be wrong while in production. However, in pre-production, I tend to try a lot of styles and themes and this is when I know I can be wrong but this is how you align with the creative director. We learn what our sensitivities are and we adapt to each other.

You’ve worked on quite a few post-apocalyptic titles; what draws you towards this genre?

I don’t want to extrapolate too much but I think a lot of creators are influenced by their surroundings and the fact that many games ake place in a post-apocalypse setting may not be so disconnected from our time…yet, it is also a great opportunity to create entertainment experiences. Concerning my involvement, whatever the game and when possible, I try to focus on the human aspect of it. The deep-down emotions, the complexity of existence, the hard choices we all have to make.

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