Blood, Wine and Grime – Interview with Marcin Przybylowicz, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Cyberpunk 2077 composer

FeatureFeb 23, 2016 at 7:00a PSTKrystian Smoszna

Blood, Wine and Grime Ė Interview with Marcin Przybylowicz, Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Cyberpunk 2077 composer

Blood and Wine, the second expansion for the Witcher 3: Wild Hunt will be released within the next few months, and we got a chance to talk about it with Marcin Przybylowicz, composer for Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and Cyberpunk 2077.

In the second quarter of 2016, fans of the Witcher 3 will finally put their hands on the second expansion to the last yearís hit. Since itís only a few months until the release of Blood and Wine, we decided to pay CD Projekt Red a visit and talk about the expansion with the composer of music to the Wild Hunt, Marcin Przybylowicz. Moreover, we talked about some things that might be of special interest to those of you, who loved the music in CD Projektís latest game. We also touched on the subject of Cracow Film Music Festival, during which the music from the Witcher will be performed live.

Krystian Smoszna: For how long is the Witcher in Marcin Przybylowiczís head now?

Marcin Przybylowicz: It depends on how you define the starting point. You could say that itís been five years Ė thatís how long Iíve been working for CD Projekt, coming here every day and doing whatís in my job description. You could also say itís much longer, because I had my first gaming witcher-related experience sometime around the release of the first game. Thatís when I took part in the project ďInspired by The WitcherĒ, and one of my songs became a part of that album. Before I joined the team working on the Witcher 2, I was an outworking sound designer for one of the trailers.

You can also hear Marcinís music in Hard West. - 2016-02-23
You can also hear Marcinís music in Hard West.

The question is by no means random, because Geralt is so deep in your head, that you can hear some witcher-ish sounds in the Hard West soundtrack.

Thatís funny, because I came across such opinions on the internet when I was checking whether people liked the Hard West soundtrack, and there were comments mentioning that. But to be honestÖ Iím not sure. On one hand, I could be less kind to myself, and I could say ďyes, your creativity is gone and youíre biting your own tailĒ; on the other hand, I could be more kind to myself and say ďevery creative person, whether itís a sculptor or a musician, works within certain artistic expressionĒ. The longer you cultivate your art, the more define your expression becomes. You create your own style.

Do you consider music for the Witcher 3 your magnum opus?

Not necessarily a magnum opus, since Iím only 30, but I believe what everyone told me since I was a child - youíre as good as your last creation. Sure, I became widely recognized because of the Witcher 3, and thatís absolutely not a bad thing, itís a reason to be proud; no doubt, however, that this is my biggest project up to date, and the most important one at that - both professionally and personally. Contrary to lots of small games, or my time with Afterfall, Bourgeoisie and other projects, I can say that only now with the Witcher Ė this is entirely my thing. For one, I was a part of the production process from the first till the last day; secondly, as a music director in CD Projekt, it was my call to create an artistic vision for this music. It was up to me to decide what it will sound like and who will help us do it Ė here Iíd like to mention Mikolai Stroinski and Percival. Keeping in mind all of that, this is the most important project I have ever made Ė for now.

Do any side projects Ė like the previously mentioned Hard West or Seven Ė help you grow as an artist?

They definitely help me keep my intellectual balance. When youíre surrounded with dragons, magic and swords for five years, itís nice to do something about guns every once in a while. On the other hand, there are also other projects Ė you need to keep in mind that I donít stick to games exclusively, I also make films. Recently, I was a part of Pawel Hejbudzkiís Charon, and the film got an award at Gdynia Film Festival. All that has to make you grow as a creator. Every project has various requirements and challenges, and if you want to make it good, you need to meet these requirements while expanding your horizons at the same time.

Scene from the film ďCharonĒ. - 2016-02-23
Scene from the film ďCharonĒ.

You can hear it in the music for Hearts of Stone, that Ė as far as I know Ė you prepared entirely by yourself.

Yes, we wrote the music for Hearts of Stone entirely on our own, and we had no one helping us with it. Percival was the only exception, but this time we didnít involve them in the creative process, we just used them as session musicians. If we use Master Mirrorís theme throughout the whole expansion and we want to have the musical coherence of sound, we just had to invite Mikolaj and Kasia from Percival to become session musicians and record it for us.

The experiment definitely worked, because Ė personally Ė I think that music from the expansion is much better than the one from the original game.

Iím glad to hear that. Can you tell me why exactly?

It seems to be more coherent, and that might be coming from the fact that everything, from the first to the last note, is written exclusively by you.

I never thought of it, because I think that music In the original game was actually coherent. I like music from the expansion more, but I think itís because I listened to it less and our work on Hearts was generally much shorter. Itís definitely different, more dark, sometime more grotesque, and that music was exploring totally different regions within the same style.

Gaunter OíDimm. - 2016-02-23
Gaunter OíDimm.

Itís also more fresh.

I agree with that, because this music consists of something that people were not used to in the original game; even though we aimed at similar feeling that we had with, for example, the Ladies of the Wood or in other plot-sensitive moments, we only went over our heads in Hearts of Stone. The plot, the narration, even Gaunter OíDimm himself Ė all of that made it possible to go a little crazy with some other ideas.

Did you use some leftovers from the Wild Hunt in Hearts of Stone?

There is one thing that I couldnít get out of my head, but there was no place for it in the original game. This is the music that you hear when fighting Olgierd with the burning house in the background. Originally, this is Percivalís song called Dziewczyna SwaroŅyca [Svarogís Girl] that we reworked, rearranged and produced anew, so that it sounds more our way. For a long time I had an idea for that piece - because I really liked it - but I couldnít really find a meaningful place for it in the original game. So yes, there was one song set aside, waiting for the better times, and finally we were able to make use of it. Everything else is my original work that was written specifically for this expansion, something like a well-tailored suit.

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone Game soundtrack - You're Immortal

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone Game soundtrack - You're Immortal [2:51]

Tell us more about this, because many people have no idea what the process of writing music for games looks like. In what way you decide that a certain theme will go with a certain scene? For example, letís think of breaking into the auction house of Borsodi Brothers, which is my favorite piece in the whole Witcher 3.

Through all these years, I was able to come up with a really nice system of cooperation between departments. Working on music isn't about sitting in front of a computer, typing notes and something comes out of it. Our soundtrack is that good, because it is created in cooperation Ė not only with the game director, who has a general idea of the whole thing and knows what ďfeelingĒ he wants to have, but also with the directors of certain quests. So if we think of that heist, I meet with the people who created the quest and we talk about it, and then I try to describe all the emotions evoked by that event, preferably within one sentence. You can say that itís because time changed, that weíre the generation of Twitter, but if you canít describe these emotions with just few words, it means that you donít know the concept behind the quest. In this case, the description was ďOceanís ElevenĒ, and that meant a heist. When it turned out that we will be recruiting people, preparing for the heist, and then it will all go to hell during the mission itself, I had a general idea of what I wanted. I love heist movies, and I watched tons of them, so I knew where I wanted to go with the music, always keeping in mind that everything needs to be placed within the world of the Witcher. On one hand, you need to have an artistic and stylistic vision Ė because itís still about Geralt and it happens in Velen Ė but on the other hand, in terms of gameplay and directorial elements, you get more creative space.

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone Game soundtrack - Mystery Man

The Witcher 3: Hearts of Stone Game soundtrack - Mystery Man [2:40]

The next step in writing music for such a quest is realizing what characters take part in it. Here it was Ewald who presents the whole plan to us, so the director revealed his story to me. I found out that heís a slippery guy, because he doesnít tell us the whole truth, and I tried to match the music so that it describes his personality well. This theme had to be dark, more aggressive, and a little bit of soft rock felt right in here. So we concluded that weíll use classic riffs on medieval instruments. We knew that, while listening to that piece, the player needs to immediately get a hang of it, swing his head a bit and tap with his foot. I think we achieved that.

And what does it look like in case of the background music?

I canít do background music.

Really?

Ok, Iím kidding, if I couldnít make the background music, I wouldnít be working in this company, but thatís actually not my favorite thing to do. However, if you look at playersí opinions, they generally liked it.

Sometimes the background music was too distinct.

Exactly, now weíre back again to the subject of style. There are people like Jeremy Soule, who makes a really ambient and ďspatialĒ music. As a result, when you play The Elder Scrolls - even if youíre a musician, sound engineer or simply someone really aware of music Ė you often donít realize that there is music there and that it does something; you donít realize that this music is not getting through all the layers of gameplay and all the content that you have around you. On the other hand, there are composers like Jesper Kyd, who makes a really distinct background music and you get it immediately. Iím much closer to Kyd in this matter. Besides, heís one of my favorite gaming composers.

Marcin Przybylowicz and Percival. - 2016-02-23
Marcin Przybylowicz and Percival.

You can hear it in Witcher 3, especially on Novigradís ramparts.

You get the Assassin feeling, donít you? (laughter). Kyd is a genius and there could have been some unconscious, subliminal inspiration involved on my end. I canít influence that. Anyway, I had exactly opposite thing with Hearts. I uploaded the main theme of the expansion and after few months I checked the comments on YouTube. One of the comments mentioned that you can hear the same music in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. I was shocked. Although Iím mildly interested in the movie itself, Iíve seen this trailer and I didnít recall anything like this. So I played it again and listened to the whole thing more attentively, trying to focus exclusively on music. And yeah, I found a fragment that was really similar. I quickly checked the dates and it turned out that the trailer was released in January, and our piece was uploaded in August year before, so we were first. It just happens sometimes. The equal temperament (a musical tuning system Ė ed. note) has 12 tones in an octave, and that means that thereís a finite number of combinations you can have with these sounds. Two pieces might be similar to one another simply by accident.

You mentioned earlier that you didnít have any assistance from the outside with Hearts. What will it look like with Blood and wine? Will Mikolai be back?

Yes, Mikolai will be back in the new expansion, we also have a new composer on board - Piotrek Musial, who is behind music for games of 11 bit studios, including This War of Mine that received multiple awards. The three of us are working on the music for Blood and wine, and it will be completely new. Weíre not using any pieces that were written before, because we get a completely new area, new characters, and a new plot. They deserve to have their music written from scratch.

Percival will also play their part, because you recently posted their pictures from the recording session.

Yes, they also played their part in working on music for the second expansion.

Art from the second expansion, Blood and Wine. - 2016-02-23
Art from the second expansion, Blood and Wine.

Toussaint (the new area from the upcoming expansion) known from the books is kind of an idyllic land, left untouched by the war.

Yes, these peopleís lives revolve around drinking wine and enjoying themselves.

In what way will that affect music?

First of all, it will be less depressing than what you know from Velen, for example. On the other hand, if you played Witcher 3 or the first expansion, you know well that nothing in this universe is that colorful, and there will be some grime involved. Music will have that grime too.

Okay then. We have the idea of the area and its atmosphere, and as youíve said Ė this wonít be a musical repeat. So whatís Percivalís role in all of this? Their musical style is quite clear. Are they here to guarantee that the change will not be too drastic, and that there will be some elements conjoining Toussaintís music with what we could hear in Velen?

Percivalís participation comes from two things. First Ė itís still Witcher 3, so we need to have a continuation of a certain music style that we had in the original, and it needs to resonate with people. We realize that not everyone liked it, because there were some negative comments, some people were not happy; after all, this music isnít typical for the fantasy games. We decided to follow that road, and coherence needs to be kept now. On the other hand, Percivalís participation just makes sense; however, since we canít talk about the plot, I canít tell you anything more about it.

Marcin Przybylowicz and Percival. - 2016-02-23
Marcin Przybylowicz and Percival.

Did Percival record a completely new stuff?

Neither in Hearts, nor in the original game have we used only remixes of the already existing music; we also worked on new music, although we actually used a lot of what theyíve already written. In case of Blood and wine, these proportions are reversed Ė we mostly do new stuff with them. Obviously thereís a chance that remixes of Percivalís music will find their way into the game, because we simply like them. We like songs that you donít get to hear in games that often.

Are we to expect the new Wolven Storm?

What? I couldnít hear your question! (laughter)

How big will the soundtrack be?

Definitely bigger than the one in Hearts of Stone. In the expansion it was around 40 minutes of in-game music; this one Ė since itís going to be at least twice as big as Hearts Ė will need to have much more than that. I canít tell you how much more, because I actually donít know that yet. We work on that music all the time, everything is tailored and every quest gets a lot of love, so that it sounds well. I donít know at which point weíll stop.

Blood and Wine. - 2016-02-23
Blood and Wine.

Letís focus on the Cracow Film Music Festival. Iím really interested in that undertaking, and I would like to know whatís your part in it.

Itís quite substantial, Iím directly involved in organizing this event.

Iím glad to hear that. Will you present a lot of material there?

A LOT. The whole day will be devoted to the Witcher and Itís a milestone for us. Through 9 or 10 years of its existence, the festival became one of the most important events of that kind in the world. Every year there are so many celebrities here, that you canít even name all of them. Itís really awesome that weíre the ones who get to be the final act of the festival. Movie screenings usually closed the festival, and that was a jewel In the crown of the whole event. Now we get to be the cherry and it means a lot to us, as the creators of the Witcher. I donít think it will be misusing the word or some kind of snobbery, when I say that - for the Polish gaming industry - weíre the stars of the festival. This means that expectations are high and we donít want to let anyone down. We want to do it as best as we can.

Can we expect similar highlights as during the last yearís edition of the festival? Trevor Morris performed the suite from Vikings with Wardrunaís Einar Selvik.

Yes, Percival will definitely appear on stage; there will be other guests as well, solo artists, but I donít want to reveal any names now, I donít want to interfere with the festivalís organizers. When it comes to the suite from Vikings, there is a great recording from last year on YouTube, you can hear and see how awesome that was. I think you can treat it as a benchmark of what is to come in case of the Witcher. We love our baby, and weíll do our best to show that during the concert.

Letís slowly wrap it up. Would you like to write music for Baginskiís Witcher?

Is that a question with a hidden thesis? (laughter)

I donít know, I was waiting for your reaction.

Yes, I would love to. I started my adventure with music, because I wanted to do films. It doesnít mean that I consider games to be fillers, though. I do films, but they donít reach as far as the Witcher 3. So generally yes, I would like to do that, because this is the area that I know well, and film as art is completely different, so you need to use a different set of tools. However, thereís the other side of the coin too. For me as a spectator, it would be really nice to see how a different composer deals with it, because that could be stimulating for me.

Is it harder to make music for movies or games?

Thereís no ďharderĒ here. Thereís ďdifferentĒ. Itís as if you asked whether itís more difficult to ride a bike or drive a car. There are some similarities Ė you use the road, move forward, turn left or right Ė but there are lots of differences as well.

Marcin in the recording studio. - 2016-02-23
Marcin in the recording studio.

And what appeals to you more?

Itís hard to say. With movies itís different Ė they are created much faster, the work is more intense; supposedly, in Hollywood a composer has about eight weeks to write music, and that time starts with meeting the director and ends with the soundtrack already in the pressing plants. In case of TV series, itís even faster. Trevor Morris told me one time, that when he was writing music for Vikings, he was doing one episode a day. The TV station puts pressure on you, and you canít afford to have any delays. On the other hand, games are really time consuming and you have more time to tweak the details, but thereís also the aspect of interactivity and adaptability, you need to implement all of that. Sometimes itís Ė I donít want to use the word ďhellĒ Ė just difficult, because some ideas for the story are going one way, technology goes the other way, and there are also gamersí expectations that you need to meet. You need to combine it all to save your face as a creator, to make it all work, and to have people willing to buy it. So thereís no ďwhat appeals to you moreĒ, itís rather a case of certain intellectual state and realizing how you should approach it. Just like that.

Are you thinking about Cyberpunk already?

My superiors already force me to do it, because I spend most of my time with Geralt; however, some first attempts with Cyberpunk were already made.