September 17, 2019

Making of the Hunt: Showdown Soundtrack

When the Hunt: Showdown audio team needed a song to accompany the game's first trailer, they got a bunch of people from the office together, and they wrote it themselves. The “humming theme" Rise Up Dead Man was recorded in a single day, using the humming, stomping, and clapping of Crytek's audio team and the Creative Services department.

“Every song we've done since has been built on the foundation of that theme," said Senior Audio Designer Jonas Obermüller. “We had no idea that it would resonate so much, but it paved the way for everything that came after."

The full Hunt: Showdown soundtrack, which released digitally on platforms like iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, and Amazon Music in late August 2019, contains six original tracks and is credited to the Port Sulphur Band.

“The Port Sulphur Band is the Hunt Audio department, and me," said Narrative Designer Nicolette Stewart. “I wanted to tie all of the music into the game's lore, so it was important to me to give us a band name that would have fit in 1895, and that could have been a band you'd see playing around town in the world of the game."

Once the team—consisting of Audio Director Florian Füsslin, Principal Audio Designer Christian Schilling, Senior Audio Designer Jonas Obermüller, Junior Audio Designer Lukas Keil, and Junior Audio Designer Dominik Zingler—had written that foundational first track, the rest happened organically.

“After they did the humming theme, Flo stopped by the Narrative department and asked if we could write some lyrics for it. He was just thinking it was a cool lore opportunity; I don't think he expected to get music and lyrics back. I went home and wrote the text and melody that night. I sang it to Flo and Jonas the next morning, and we recorded the prototype in Jonas' office that afternoon."

Though its production is decidedly modern, the soundtrack's music took inspiration from music from the time period in which the game is set—1895 Louisiana. Devil in the Churchyard started as the kind of morbid children's rhyme or lullaby meant to warn about the dangers out in the world – in this case, Hunt's gruesome monsters. Sinner's Blues was influenced by the gospel and blues music of the time, while End Will Come was inspired by the sad Civil War ballads about fallen soldiers who would never return home to their families and friends. Poison Curse, a bit of an outlier on the album as far as the sound, was written to be performed in a smoky saloon.

Finding the Sound

The team created Devil in the Churchyard, initially, for a short teaser video. “I was supposed to write a voice over script, and every single draft sucked. So I wrote a song instead"

“I already had the lyrics for the full song. I'd written them as part of the writing test I did when I first joined the Narrative Team," said Nicolette.

The song was well received, but even with two songs recorded, there still weren't yet any concrete plans for a full soundtrack album.

“After Devil in the Churchyard, Flo just kept stopping by my desk, all casual, like: think you could write another one? So I kept bringing in songs," said Nicolette. “I would record a prototype of the vocal and send that around with the lyrics to see what everybody thought, and then the writing process went on from there. Lukas and I would record the final vocals fairly early in the process, and then the guys built the instrumentals around them."

It's an unusual way to write music, according to Florian. “Usually you have the instrumentals first, and you add the lyrics on top. Starting with the melody line and the lyrics was an interesting and inspiring way to turn it around. Especially for the Hunt music because it helped to keep the music organic and sparse—not overproduced. And then during the process it might turn around and in the end the instruments are carrying it more than you thought it would."

One or two people would take lead on each of the songs, but listening to the Port Sulphur Band talk, you can see that the album was a truly collaborative process, with every member bringing their expertise to the table.

“It's the best thing about working with other musicians," said Junior Audio Designer Dominik Zingler. “You write something and maybe imagine it going one way, and then the next person adds something to it that you would never have thought of, but that makes it even better."

Every song underwent a back-and-forth sculpting process, until the group found the right combination of elements to make sure each song stood on its own, but also had the typical “Hunt" feeling.

“Every single song—except for Poison Curse—has the humming from the main theme in it somewhere. Even if you don't consciously hear it, it's there," said Lukas.

Production of each song followed the same trajectory—lyrics and vocals, followed by instrumental arrangement, recording, and production—but the composition process for each was slightly different, and involved a lot of trial and error. For example, Devil in the Churchyard, which started as a short clip for a video backed up by a lot of sound effects, was difficult to bring from clip (embedded above) to full-length song.

“The trailer was mostly supporting the vocals with SFX and background game noises. That version was almost only vocals," said Lukas, who recorded the majority of the album. “So we recorded the vocals a second time, as well as some background vocals for the B part and the bridges, some whispers…basically we couldn't do it in the same way had for the video version, so we took a different approach, packed in the snare drum, and I fiddled together that shoveling rhythm with Christian."

“There was another version of Devil in the Churchyard being produced at the same time," added Florian. “It was for a Virtual Reality demo, and it was a pop version, w ith drums and bass behind the same vocals. So we worked on multiple versions at the same time, never really knowing which one was going to make the final cut. I think that one was the most difficult to produce and had the most iterations. It was the second we produced but the last we actually finished."

Then there was End Will Come, which was first used on a trailer showcasing new Times of Day being added to the game.

For the song's album version, Jonas put his hand to the arrangement and composition.

“End Will Come is such a slow song with a lot of space, and I wanted to bring in a lot of audio textures," he explained. “ln the beginning you have these weird metal noises of string scrapes, but Nicolette is singing about a boat, and the instrument becomes a sound effect when you connect it with that image. I took lots of stuff from the original Hunt humming theme and altered it. The bass that plays in the chorus is actually a lot of layers. It's a normal electronic bass sound that Lukas recorded. Then there is an acoustic bass layered on top, and the humming from the main theme loaded onto a sampler so I could play it on a keyboard and layer that into the bass too. In the end you have this thing that sounds like acoustic bass, but it also sounds really wide and large. It gives it this dark tone which is the bottom of the song. It's a really sound design-y piece."

At the same time, Dominik was working on the arrangement and composition for Sinners Blues.

“Sinners Blues was heavily influenced by End Will Come. Jonas did a really good job maintaining the Hunt style, while at the same time going in a completely different direction with the sound. He used the violin, and other real world instruments, and processed them so they sounded Hunt-like but not too distorted. That was a big inspiration for the Sinners Blues, and I tried to apply the same principle to my arrangement."

The final song to join the album's roster was Poison Curse, which the band hinted, on a recent Hunt: Showdown Twitch developer livestream about the making of the album, might just be foreshadowing for what's to come.

“Poison Curse was a bit difficult," said Dominik. “It's a classic jazz song, so my idea was to make it completely different: so without the humming and without the dark moody style of the other songs, and with more of a live concert atmosphere. I used a very simple instrument set up with a small drum set, a double bass, a piano, and the vocals. And it all came from the very natural idea of sitting in a tavern or bar and listening to the live music being played there."

Keeping it in the family

“From a production side I think it's pretty cool that we managed to do the music completely internally, no outside musicians, no extra composer," concluded Florian. “It's a process that fits right into a game dev environment where you have the game and it slowly solidifies into what you will ship; the same thing happened with the songs. Nobody came in at the beginning and said hey we're going to need x minutes of music produced in multiple layers like ambient or tension. It started out of necessity and evolved alongside the game."

“The music really feels like a natural extension of the lore and the world," added Nicolette. “We all spend most of our waking hours inside the world of Hunt, and I think that close connection with the game world really helped us to create a soundtrack that felt like it was an organic part of that world."

The world of Hunt: Showdown lives and dies by its soundscape: the scream of the Hive, the distant ring of gun fire, the whispered conversation between Hunters that leads you to their location, or the distant echo of Devil in the Churchyard being played on a gramophone in an abandoned building. Though most of the soundtrack does not appear in the gameplay itself, it is another addition to the game's intensely immersive world.

Get a copy of the soundtrack now on like iTunes, Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Music and other digital music platforms of your choice.

Need a copy of Hunt? Get a copy on Steam or Xbox.

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