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June 2010

 

Composer Kevin Riepl
All It's Cracked Up to Be

 

 

Biography

Studied at The Mannes College of Music in New York

He was a long time assistant/writing partner with composer
Kevin Manthei

Was greatly impacted by John Williams' music for Star Wars.

Official Web Site
 


Composition Credits (Film)

New Hope Manor
Clemency
Broken August
Unnoticed
Lost Crossing
Rogue 379
Click




Composition Credits (Video Games)

Crackdown 2

Aliens: Colonial Marines
Huxley
Unreal Tourn. III
Gears of War
City of Villains
Shrek  SuperSlam
Unreal Champ. 2
Shrek 2: The Game
Dead to Rights
New Legends

Composition Credits (TV)

Six Degres
Branding & Mr. Whiskers
Johnny Test
Xiaolin Showdown
Invader Zim



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Composer Kevin Riepl

" I try to create a unique sound and style to it, but this one even more so because of the requirements to create something out-of-the-box, something that hasn't been heard before, and something that will definitely be remembered as “That's definitely the CRACKDOWN sound”. "

Kevin Riepl


Composer Kevin Riepl talks about his recent trip to E3 and a number of his recent projects including: CRACKDOWN 2, HUNTED: THE DEMON'S FORGE and also some titles that have been brewing for some time like ALIENS: COLONIAL MARINES.

(This interview has been transcribed and edited from the SoundCast audio interview.)

  Listen to the SoundCast interview w/ Kevin Riepl
 

 

Listen and Subscribe to the SoundCast!

CC: Well welcome back; we've had several conversations over the years, and it's always good to chat with you. You recently recovered from E3. With me being all the way on the East Coast, E3 is not a real possibility for me, so I have to live vicariously through Tweets and Facebook postings like yours. How was E3 for you?

KEVIN RIEPL: It was really good. It was one of the first years that I didn't plan any specific meetings. I just wanted to go and enjoy the show. I thought I was going to have 3 games on the show floor, but it only ended up being two games. One was CRACKDOWN 2 and the other one was HUNTED: THE DEMON'S FORGE. I just wanted to walk the floor and try out as much as I could; to just enjoy it as a gamer rather than someone in the industry. It was a lot of fun; there was no pressure in it. I just walked around and enjoyed. That's why this year, compared to previous years, I was able to Tweet and Facebook more, because I wasn't in a rush to go from meeting to meeting.

CC: Right.

KEVIN RIEPL: In that aspect, it actually ended up being more exhausting than previous years, maybe because I was so overloaded with trying things out, talking to tons of people, and just constantly on the show floor, walking around. Afterwards, when the show ended, was when I had my dinners and the parties I got invited to. So it ended up being really long days, but it was a huge amount of fun just and checking out all the games coming out. There are so much; obviously with Microsoft Kinect, Sony's Playstation Move, and the Sony booth had their 3D-gaming thing with their 3D-systems, which was pretty damn cool, I have to say. I Tweeted it at the time, and I was like, “Some people might think that the whole 3D thing is gimmicky, and it might be pretty expensive, and not everyone's going to go out and buy a 3D system, but it's really sharp and really cool.

CC: Did anything blow you away? It sounds like the games themselves didn't do that, but maybe the technology behind it, be it the Kinect, Move, or the 3-D stuff, but were there any games with a “wow” factor?

KEVIN RIEPL: Well, CRACKDOWN 2? [laughs]

CC: [laughs] I should've said “aside from CRACKDOWN 2”.

KEVIN RIEPL: HUNTED: THE DEMON'S FORGE.

CC: [laughs] Obviously you're involved in the video game industry. This time you say you've gone as a video game enthusiast more than a video game music composer. From the years that you've gone as a composer with all the meetings, coming away from that, do you take away different things; do you think it's as valuable or more valuable doing it the way you did this year?

KEVIN RIEPL: Being as I went as an enthusiast, I was able to take in a lot more of what the industry was showing. And being in the industry as someone who works in games, I think it's essential to see how things are being perceived, reviewed, what's getting awarded, or even at a more personal level, seeing what I like. My tastes have changed over the years, so it really allowed me time to really evaluate what I really like in the industry, and what others are flocking towards. I think anyone who is in the industry should step back and be the person to witness it from the outside, because it only helps when you're on the outside, viewing the industry as an enthusiast or just anyone who enjoys playing, and then going back on the inside, instead of just having the inside view. You can just keep making games, but if you're not on the outside looking in, you can lose a lot of what the fans like, and what people are dying to play, or what they're sick of, and I think that's essential when you make games, or any kind of media for that matter.

CC: Absolutely. So you have two games that you've just completed not too long ago. But first, I want to ask you about a few awards you won at E3, which was for HUNTED: THE DEMON'S FORGE, published by BETHESDA and developed by inXile. Can you tell me a little about that project and the awards you won?

KEVIN RIEPL: It's actually not completed yet. It's still in development and I'm still writing music for it. I think I have a decent chunk of music left to write for it. Although I liked this game to begin with, I like it even more now after being at E3, because of the similarity of the other games coming out. This seems to be a throwback to the fantasy-type games, the dungeon crawlers. I don't even know how to describe it, but it's darker and edgier than a normal fantasy-dungeon crawler. There's always two characters going along the storyline, constantly. You can have two players or go solo with an AI, and you can switch back and forth. But yeah, I'm having a blast. There was a period of writing on the game, and then there was a pause to get everything ready for E3. And now after seeing everything at E3, I've got this new fire to continue writing for it. Not that the fire died out, but just after seeing peoples' reactions, of course it pumped me up to get to work on it. But the awards it won was Game Chronicles Best of E3 2010 Winner. Also, it won Game's Radar Reason To Live Award. [laughs]

CC: [laughs] That's a pretty high award.

KEVIN RIEPL: It also won a Best of E3 Nominee at GamingExcellence. I don't know if it won any other awards because it was a closed booth. It was a Bethesda booth with a bunch of their games in it, and you could just pass by and see what awards it won. So I was in there a couple of times and one time, it had 3 awards on one of the statues of the characters. So I don't know if it got any more at this point.

CC: Ok, that's a pretty good start for a game that's not even finished yet. It's a really good start.

KEVIN RIEPL: Yeah, I know! The game's looking really good, and it's got a bunch of different styles of gameplay that I think are going to make the game fun.

CC: Let's move on to CRACKDOWN 2. A big-time sequel for a surprise hit game of 2007, the first CRACKDOWN. I remember I got the demo and played it; I never bought the full game, but I remember being intrigued that it was just different than most anything else I was playing at the time. Of course there was the connec to HALO 3 as well.

KEVIN RIEPL: Oh, right, I remember that.

CC: I think that really worked; it got people to download it and try it.

KEVIN RIEPL: I think so too.

CC: Fast forward 2-3 years and CRACKDOWN 2 is about to be here. The demo's just been released a couple of days ago, and you're on board. Of course, the first CRACKDOWN had mostly source music and some remixes.

KEVIN RIEPL: All licensed material.

CC: Yes, all licensed, but they went in a different direction this time.

KEVIN RIEPL: Yes, I think they wanted a more personal touch to the characters, especially for the main character in the storyline. It has more of an arcing storyline now, and they brought in a composer to handle that aspect of it. There's still the licensed stuff, and source pieces that are played when you go to different parts of the city. So I think the score is divided up into three sections, and I took care of the original score aspect.

CC: How did you happen to get connected to this particular project?

KEVIN RIEPL: Well last year at E3, they had this teaser trailer that they were playing on a huge Microsoft screen. I was just standing there and I didn't know they were going to have a CRACKDOWN 2. I loved the first one and I played that game to death. When I saw that they had CRACKDOWN 2 coming out, I said to myself, “I've got to get on this thing”. At the time, I had just started Soundelux. They started a new music model where they would become an agency, so they became my agent. GLORIA SOTO was there at the time, and they had connections with MICROSOFT because they've done a crapload of video work and sound design for MICROSOFT. So after finding out that MICROSOFT couldn't find the sound they were looking for in the game, I just kept on pushing and telling them “Let me try out”. So I was given the direction by Gloria that they want something that doesn't sound like anything else. They wanted something that sounds out-of -the-box. So I found that out on a Friday night. I wrote Friday and Saturday, and I created three pieces of music that were “out-of-the-box.” I knew CRACKDOWN, and all the new images of CRACKDOWN 2 that they were releasing, so I just took what I thought would fit the CRACKDOWN universe and wrote. I was lucky enough that it got into their hands and they loved it. They said I nailed it, so oddly enough and luckily enough on my part, one of the pieces I wrote ended up being the main title-menu music for the game. This is usually one of the hardest things to accomplish when you're writing music for a game- to come up with the main theme and have everybody be happy with it. That was a huge burden off my shoulders at the start of the project. That's how I got the gig and it's literally been a huge project.

CC: Well I've heard the music that's available for it, and it's pretty edgy electronic stuff, but it's more versatile than that. When I first started listening to it, I thought I knew what it was going to be about, but some tracks you've got this really nice violin solo looped in there, and there are some definitel layers there, so I was very impressed by that. But one of the things I noticed as I listened to the music a few times through, -and I know composers hate it when their music gets compared to anything else- but because the game is similar in that it's an open world, I think it has an INFAMOUS vibe to it. Did you ever play that game?

KEVIN RIEPL: No, I never did.

CC: The music for INFAMOUS was very interesting in that they recorded so many bizarre sounds and did so many crazy things to instruments. And that's what makes it interesting; the palette is so different from anything else. That's what was similar; this sort of the same eerie, twisted vibe.

KEVIN RIEPL: Well that's good, I take that entire sentiment as a compliment, because that's exactly the approach that I took. I like that for each project, I try to create a unique sound and style to it, but this one even more so because of the requirements to create something out-of-the-box, something that hasn't been heard before, and something that will definitely be remembered as “That's definitely the CRACKDOWN sound”. I'm happy because MICROSOFT told me that I did do that, and of course for a composer, that's an awesome feeling. So that was the goal, to create something new, and I would like to check out the INFAMOUS music now, not that I never wanted to, but I just never got around to it.

CC: Let's talk about some of the licensed music that they used. This time they've remixed stuff from BOB DYLAN, CREEDENCE CLEARWATER REVIVAL, TOKYO BLACK STAR, and ADAM FREELAND. Did knowing that that music was going to be in there affect you, and if yes, how so?

KEVIN RIEPL: Not at all. To be honest, I didn't even know the list of artists they were using to do remixes, and I don't even know the list of artists of the licensed material they were getting. I sort of think that they want it that way, just so I could be in the zone of writing, getting into the thematic/emotional style for the game. But just recently, now that the demo's out, I had heard some of the licensed remix stuff, and it's really cool. People are really going to dig it. I forget which song it was, probably the CREEDENCE song, but there was a time in the demo where it's playing in the Cell's big road-warrior trucks, and you can get into one of the trucks and just listen to the song from beginning to end, and it's just really cool because that's one of the aspects of the game that I like...I don't know if I'm allowed to say- [laughs]

CC: [laughs] Yeah, don't spoil it.

KEVIN RIEPL: The remixes are used in certain “situations” to help you know what certain areas you're in, and such.

CC: Ok, well let me ask you, if you can say without spoiling anything. Did you also, in any way, define the Agency, or the Cells, or the Freaks?

KEVIN RIEPL: Yes. In my music there was a lot of stuff that covered the Freak...race, or Freaks in general. [laughs] Then there was a sound for the Agency, that was more of a relaxing type of sound. For the Agency, in the storyline, I believe they're trying to keep peace and calm, so when I wrote any Agency stuff, there's not a lot because there's source music that's done by a couple of New Age electronic artists. I did take that into consideration when I wrote my tracks for the Agency. It's less busy and more low-key and more synth-paddy, New-Age type of stuff.

CC: And the Freaks are just...freaky?

KEVIN RIEPL: Yeah, bizarre and freaky. For a couple of Freak pieces I tried to convey uneasiness. On one of them, I tried to convey the feeling of “bones trickling”, tapping on glass and sort of getting-under-your-skin type of feeling, which was conveyed to me by KRISTOFOR MELROTH, who's a director at MICROSOFT. So I did some odd-sounding recording techniques with chopsticks and little pieces of wood and stone. I sort of got a clitter-clattery effect, which can be heard in one of the Freak pieces. So I tried to aim for an unrecognizable vibe to it.

CC: I'd say you succeeded. What would you say your biggest challenge was on this project?

KEVIN RIEPL: I don't know if there was one. Like I said earlier, it was a dream project, and there are hiccups and trouble-spots in a lot of games that I've done, -and I don't want people to think, “Oh, he's just kissing the butt of the last publisher/developer he's worked for- but seriously, everyone on the whole audio team was such a blast to work with. They might have seen hiccups on their side with stuff they've dealt with, but I've never had an issue with anything. The only issue I had wasn't even a real issue, it was just one last piece I had to write. It was for the beginning of the game, which is sort of the introductory part, where you're getting introduced to your character. I think I had about 6 hours to write the piece, because we were waiting to hear back to find out if we were going to use a licensed piece of music, or not. And I really wanted to write a piece for it. They then got back to me with a definite answer when they could, and said “Go ahead, write it”. So I had a bout 6-7 hours to write the piece and put whatever instruments we could on it. Luckily the instruments I used on it that I wrote for, I was able to play and record here in my studio. But that was the only real challenge I had. I wrote, mixed and produced the track in that tiny frame of time. Actually it ended up being a little more than 6 hours because as I was getting towards the end of writing the piece, we were going back and forth on instant messengers saying things like “Can I get it to you at this time?” and they replied “Yeah, we're going to be here all night” because they were at the sound stage.

CC: Let me switch gears on you real quick, and just say four words to you. And not four-letter words, but four words. [laughs]

KEVIN RIEPL: [laughs] Ok.

CC: And that is...”Dude, Aliens, Colonial Marines.”

KEVIN RIEPL: [laughs] Oh man...can I say four words to you? “Dude, I don't know”. [laughs] The E3 floor plan said it was going to be on the floor at the SEGA booth, and I was all excited that people were going to see footage, and I would see it as well. I thought maybe people might hear some of the music I created in the game, but when I got to the show floor, it was nowhere to be found. I met with a producer of the game, who was actually there, and he had footage on his iPad. Again, it was another thing that got me excited to be working on the game. It wasn't fully rendered stuff, but what I saw made me think that this game was going to look good. But I was sad that SEGA didn't have it on the floor. I don't know if it would've benefited them if they had it on the floor, because I have no idea when it's going to be released. That's another thing, I have another decent chunk of music left to write on. I would love to be able to release the synth mock-up tracks since I have a lot of music written for it already, just to help with the...what's the word I'm looking for?

CC: Promotion?

KEVIN RIEPL: Yeah! [laughs] And just to keep people interested along the way. I'd love to just be able to share one of my music tracks.

CC: That seems to be happening a lot more now; you just released the whole score for the movie CLEMENCY on your FACEBOOK page for anyone who wants to hook up with you. It's a fanpage, right?

KEVIN RIEPL: It is a fanpage, they can just search for KEVIN RIEPL MUSIC.

CC: You have it up there for free; you've streamed some of your tracks from CRACKDOWN 2 on there. \

KEVIN RIEPL: Yeah, some snippets.

CC: As a composer, are you just itching for more people to hear what you've done, most of the time?

KEVIN RIEPL: Yeah, that is part of it. I released CLEMENCY and that is making its festival rounds now, so people are hearing that in that aspect, but there's the indy feature that I did, which is the horror thriller NEW HOPE MANOR, which I also released on my page. I finished that back in September of '09, and it's really had no outlet. But I want to share the music; part of being a composer is sharing it. I mean, I can constantly be writing but part of it is sharing the music, as with anything in life, really. So I have 50 minutes of music sitting here, and no one's really hearing it, but I know that people out there really like that style of music. I love to write it, so instead of looking for an avenue to make money off of it, like trying to go through iTunes or CDBaby or whatever the avenue is, I'd just like to get it out there. The more people get it in their hands and get a kick out of listening to it, then that's fine. They can grab it if they want, and so be it. There's nobody telling me that I can't do that, or telling me “We own the rights to this”. It's my music and it's promotion for the film, for both releases. I just like sharing it. And who knows, no one knows who's hands it'll fall into and it can lead to something.

CC: Absolutely. DAMAGE VAULT. Your collaboration with Otto Cate. What's happening there?

KEVIN RIEPL: Oh, that. That's become a victim of trying to stay alive. [laughs] Each of us that are involved in DAMAGE VAULT are trying to maintain a steady living and keeping a roof over our heads. When DAMAGE VAULT started it was obviously for fun, and still is, but each of us got real busy with work, and it's not work that we want to turn away. And being that, DAMAGE VAULT is a labor of love. That's the term I'm looking for. There's no immediate income for it. We don't do it for income, we do it because we're all writing together, but when you have jobs to do and kids to feed, you have to set your priorities. You've got to do the work, and when there's time again, you go back to DAMAGE VAULT. It's sad because we have so many songs out. We've released 7-8 tracks worth of free and purchase-able songs, but there are about 10 tracks waiting to be polished up, mixed and mastered that we want to get out, so it's just a matter of everybody and anybody in the collaboration having the time to put towards that, and right now there isn't. I'm sad because DAMAGE VAULT had a nice momentum going, and we're still here. We hope people are still interested in what we do, but right now it's taken a back seat for more important reasons.

CC: Understandable. But what about making a license?

KEVIN RIEPL: That's definitely something we're looking into. A lot of the licensing stuff that have presented themselves to us for the DAMAGE VAULT material have been deals that really don't lean in the artists' favor. But just recently, we've gotten some offers with other licensing companies that are looking better and better. That's essentially what we'd love to do; get this stuff out there so it can be profitable. I mean, it can make money; who doesn't want to make money off of something they did just for fun? That would be the bonus. So that's what we're doing while we can't do the other creative stuff. Hopefully something will take off with that; that would be great.

CC: So July 6th we'll have CRACKDOWN 2. Is there any chance, hope or prayer that your music will get some sort of release?

KEVIN RIEPL: There are hopes, and I think there are plans, which I think would be awesome. I think if they do it, it'll be a mixture of everything that's going to be in the game. My music, the remixes and the source music. I believe that's the avenue they want to go. I don't know if it's definite, but I know there are intentions to get it out there.

CC: Wonderful to hear. Most of the time it's either “I can't really say” or “Nope”.

KEVIN RIEPL: Right. I don't think it's a definite no or yes, but I know that people on the team want it out there.

CC: Excellent. Well, we'll keep our eyes and ears open for that. Well, KEVIN, thanks as always for taking time out of your busy schedule and thanks for jumping on Skype and making this SoundCast interesting to listen to. We appreciate all the hard work that you've put into the games and projects you're on, and we look forward to experiencing what you've done exactly in CRACKDOWN 2 starting on July 6th.

KEVIN RIEPL: Thanks for having me, always a blast.
 

Crackdown 2 is now available at Amazon.com!


*Interview transcribed by Vince Chang and edited by Christopher Coleman

 

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