Olivier Deriviere recording

Olivier Deriviere: Scoring Interactive Action

A composer wowing gamers with his evolving, textured score for zombie epic Dying Light 2, Olivier Deriviere explains how creating music for video games requires a wholly different philosophy than scoring for film and television. 

From a very young age, dual passions for both video gaming and music making have driven Olivier Deriviere. Now a renowned video game composer, Olivier has made considerable impact with his acclaimed scores for critically venerated games such as A Plague Tale, Streets of Rage 4 and, most recently, the zombie-ridden open world of Dying Light 2.

Committed to his role as one of the team’s crucial emotional architects, Deriviere explains to us how making compelling music for the interactive medium requires composers to get invested in the project from the get-go, and that an approach of simply layering on music to a finished product just doesn’t cut it when crafting the music that might be experienced entirely uniquely by different players. Olivier also detailed how working with the London Contemporary Orchestra remotely during lockdown resulted in a much more textural, impactful sound palette for Dying Light 2, and how the importance of quality scoring requires a collaborative effort. From talented mix engineers, to mastering professionals.

For those readers who have an interest in getting into professional video game scoring, or are curious about how the soundtracking process differs between mediums, Olivier’s experience and advice is certainly worth your time.


Olivier Deriviere recording
Pic taken from olivierderiviere.com

AMI: Hi Olivier, firstly how did your journey into the world of video game soundtracking begin?

Olivier Deriviere: Well, since I was 8, I’ve been a gamer. I was educated in music and math, and at a certain point I needed to choose whether to become a programmer or a composer. I thought I was a better composer than a programmer. So I chose the musical path. Basically, it was because of my background playing games, and understanding how to code music on the Commodore 64, that led me to understand how people make games, from a perspective that most composers don’t generally have because they’re not into that coding aspect. Now it’s much different of course because the tools are far easier

AMI: What are some of the major differences between conventional scoring for say film and TV, when compared to an interactive medium like gaming?

O: When you work on games there are no rules – let’s just say that we need to think about interactivity. It’s a very different world than the movies. The number one is the technology, which is less of a concern with film scoring. I’m not talking about producing the music, I’m talking about making the music work within the game. There’s a lot of tech you need to understand there. Next you need to interact with the developer and the creative team behind the game, as well as the audio director who is in charge of the audio. Then, you need to talk with maybe the level designers, lead programmers and people like that to really grasp what this game is. You need to prepare for everything and build toward the right vision.

I’m a composer that likes to go and develop ideas for how the music will work in the game long before it’s ready for release. Dying Light 2 for example was a three-year process. I worked very closely with the developer Techland, so the composer is really a big part of the team.

AMI: We’ve been reading about your work on Dying Light 2, and how the music evolves and shifts in simpatico with player actions. Can you explain a little about how this system works and how long it takes to map out your music to operate like this?

Olivier Deriviere: Well the parkour (environmental jumping and running) system is unique to the game. The first thing I asked the director, Adrian Ciszewski, was ‘what is this game about?’ and I don’t mean the story or anything like that, I mean the game from a playing perspective. Dying Light 2 is essentially about free parkour in an open world. So, we needed to focus on these core gameplay mechanics. My job is basically ask questions around the game. The answers to those questions then completely drive the music creation. Adrian said “I don’t want music to be on the street level, I want music to be on the rooftops” Players have free choice and can stop and look at their surroundings, but we really want them to get into the parkour – so the music has to grow and nudge them to do a certain thing.

We wanted players to be able to really flow into the parkour. We wanted it to be fluid, and therefore we created the momentum in the parkour music. What’s so funny is that players don’t seem to want to stop the parkour because it stops the music. The music follows your moves and will stop if you stop. Once the music was written it took almost three years to fine tune everything to work together the way it does.

I work with Cubase, but in terms of integration the main software we use is Wwise. That’s a third party piece of software made by Audiokinetic. Anyone can download this software to play with it, test it – they even give you a game that you can work with and link music to. People just starting out can dabble with the same tools that we used for Dying Light 2, and others have used for games like Cyberpunk 2077 and The Witcher 3 – everyone uses it.

It’s essentially a matrix of events/states – rather than a linear approach. It makes you think about music in a much more modular way. I’d definitely recommend aspiring video game composers download Wwise and learn it today. Mastering that software is fairly straightforward, but it’s more the shift in approach that is the most important aspect of it.

So different play parameters based on the player action is constantly being sent to Wwise, and then it will decide (based on our programming) what musical cues get triggered. We can provide players with immediate feedback, that is not passive but active and re-active. That’s amazing for a composer, it really is a new form of composition.

AMI: What are the major challenges with creating so much music, and then waiting for the player to trigger its launch – It’s possible that the player could miss some music by not carrying out certain actions, right?

Olivier Deriviere: I have a sort of PTSD from the previous game I worked on, which was called Remember Me. The idea was the more you do, the more music the game reveals. Once the game came out I realised that very few people were getting to the required level to hear the full blown score that I’d created. For Dying Light 2, I’m sure that some players don’t get the exact flow that I imagined from the beginning – it’s something that you need to work towards. There’s a lot of special parkour moves that players can learn, then it becomes very easy for the music to grow. As they get through the game, they start hearing it (particularly the main theme, Run, Jump, Fight)


Dying Light 2
Dying Light 2 is a terrifying zombie apocalypse-action pulse pounder


AMI: How was the experience of working with the London Contemporary Orchestra – and working with the wonky, imaginative sonics they can produce?

Olivier Deriviere: It’s a blessing that the LCO exists. I’ve been so used to going to London, but my regular orchestra is a regular classical orchestra. This time I wanted something a little different, something singular. I wanted to modernise some of the techniques and articulation, to improve and enhance our ideas. With the Dying Light 2 score I wanted to make bridges between the electronic world, the classical world and the real world. The LCO are super advanced, and when they agreed to work with me I really couldn’t have been happier.

I wrote the music but I couldn’t write the articulations because that was entirely their domain. Hugh Brunt, who is the musical director and the conductor of the LCO showed me how to score in a way that made sense to him, but for me I wasn’t sure how it worked. On the day of recording I discovered what the sound would be. But the attitude was very open, very much ‘let’s see how it sounds’. It was an interesting thing to do.

AMI: How did you navigate the pandemic to record the players to build the score? Did you use remote recording software?

Olivier Deriviere: I’d previously worked at Abbey Road for a range of projects, but this time with the pandemic I couldn’t go. I usually gathered the whole orchestra together. Because I’m somebody that likes to make sure the whole orchestra knows what’s going on and they can build around the sound. I felt very frustrated when the restrictions came into play and we weren’t able to do that. It wasn’t my style. But then I started writing stuff that kind of leaned into that – that if the orchestra had all been together it would have been a little bit harder to do perhaps.

So we had separate groups recording remotely all working on shorter, sharper pieces. We used the AudioMovers software to record at a distance. I have to applaud Hugh Brunt the conductor, because you really wouldn’t know the players were recording separately.

That was the first project I used AudioMovers remote software for. The pandemic really changed the whole industry. I normally don’t like remote recording that much in the sense that I like to be physically there and I like to interact with the musicians. But AudioMovers is a great technology and it allows me to hear exactly what they’re doing.

AMI: What tech is central to how you create music these days?

O: A lot of my fellow composers have studios rammed with gear. But, in my studio it’s very minimal. I have one PC (due to the fact that I need to play a lot of games) running Cubase. Aside from an RME sound card, everything else is software. Maybe what makes it this way is that I’m usually out and about, recording live. I’m all about the location. AIR Studios, Abbey Road, Avatar,  these are my go-to environments. I’m working on the sequel to A Plague Tale right now, and that’s actually fine to record here at home, as it’s a much smaller scale game. I don’t need a big room. For that, I have an engineer that gets me the right mics for the job.

I believe when it comes to engineering, mixing and mastering, we need to recognise the true value of professionals. Too often composers are forced or think that they can or should do it all. Maybe some of them are good enough to do it, but I always think it’s better to bring in third party ears to listen and add their sensitivities. I’ve always worked with the best engineers I can, as well as the best musicians I can. I think it elevates everything and gives to players a quality. Too often the quality these days just isn’t there any more. I don’t know who is to blame and I know budget plays a role, but I think you need to fight for this budget.

It’s very important to show. I invite clients to come to the studio to discover how we make music, and how complex the process is. Many others outside of the soundtracking industry don’t know, and need to be educated. Techland, though, are great listeners.

AMI: Do you think the more personal relationship between player action and music within interactive entertainment can foster a deeper connection to the score than say the score to a film or TV show?

O: I think it’s true for lots of mediums. If you are in the business of creating memories for players or viewers then it either succeeds or it fails. There’s a great bit in Dying Light 2 where players have to go up a tower, and the music rises as the player rises. Everything makes sense and comes together – the gameplay, the music, the player goals. People really cherish those moments. These days it’s kind of rare that you notice the music in modern filmmaking. In games, I think that composers have more to say than in the movies.

AMI: What advice would you give to those looking to embark on a career composing music for video games?

Olivier Deriviere: I think you need to love games. It may sound trivial but it’s very hard to make games. You need to understand the language and how to communicate with people around a game – understanding gameplay mechanics, unique features and things that games do, stands you in better stead of getting noticed. Developers know then, that you’re talking their language.