Tracking Alien: Isolation; an interview with DarcsenHQ.

 

The last time I wrote about DarcsenHQ, the guy who assembled a soundtrack for Alien: Isolation, it was a bit hasty.

The point was simply to share the news about the soundtrack with those who enjoyed the game.

As time passed, I thought it would be interesting to talk with DarcsenHQ and this time around, to find out a little more about him and his soundtrack project. (Please note: there are minor Alien: Isolation spoilers later in the article.)

To prepare, I have been listening again to the Alien: Isolation soundtrack and it makes me want to re-play the game!  (To date, I’ve only played through it three times, and the last was in “Nightmare” mode.)

 

THE NOSTROMO FILES BLOG (TNFB): Hello, DarcsenHQ! Your username is unusual and made me curious to search “Darcsen”.  I came up with this from the Valkyria Wiki:

“The Darcsens are Europa’s oldest indigenous race, said to have lived across the continent since ancient times. They are characterized by their dark blue-black hair and shawls or various accessories bearing the traditional Darcsen pattern.”

Is that where your nickname comes from?

DARCSENHQ: That it does! When I created my channel, I wanted to have a proper, eye-catching name that fundamentally expressed my values, just in case I ever decided to make content one day. I settled on DarcsenOfLegend, which was my first channel name, and what I still address myself with.

TNFB: What significance does it hold for you?

DARCSENHQ: At the time, Valkyria Chronicles was my favorite game. I loved the Darcsen characters, because they depicted how ridiculous racism really is to the player, and represented the potential for everyone to rise above the mistakes of the past.

TNFB: So tell me a little more about yourself.

DARCSENHQ: I’m currently a part-time cashier/full-time college student studying for a Bachelor’s in English Education and a minor in Educational Technology. I’m also a massive fan of art.

TNFB: Your YouTube channel has scores of videos on topics ranging from Batman: Arkham Knight to Portal 2, from Rise of the Tomb Raider to LEGO Marvel Superheroes, and of course, Alien: Isolation. Tell me how you got started.

DARCSENHQ: Of course! I began with a channel named DarcsenOfLegend, uploading in February of 2013. I created Let’s Plays (Ed. note: a series of videos documenting the playthrough of a video game, usually including commentary by the gamer) for approximately two years lost control of my account. My channel had begun to explode in popularity—from 50 subs over two years to 1,000+ within a couple of months—due to my Ghostbusters (2009) LP. I began uploading to my new channel, DarcsenHQ, during the summer of 2015, having decided to pursue online entertainment seriously. My Plan A is still to get my college degree, but I’m pursuing Plan B with the same dedication and passion.

TNFB: What fires that dedication and passion?

DARCSENHQ: The deep desire to share my interests creatively with other people, and using YouTube as a way to make a positive impact on my audience by entertaining and  encouraging viewers to stay strong in tough times.

TNFB: A laudable goal. There is a lot of negativism out there, unfortunately. I’m new to modern gaming, so tell me: what do you look for in a new product?

DARCSENHQ: There are three main things:

From publishers: honesty. No false advertising, on-disc DLC , or channel strikes against legitimate content creators.

From developers: passion. Without it, the final product will likely be terrible or mediocre at best.

From the game: a wealth of content. It’s a byproduct of passionate game design.

TNFB: What platform do you use?

DARCSENHQ: PlayStation. I’ve stayed with them because of familiarity and the console exclusives they offer.

TNFB: I bought a PS3 to play Alien: Isolation, but I’m sure a lot of folks get started with a game that catches their interest. What is the last game you have played? What did you enjoy about it?

DARCSENHQ: My most recent game was Persona 5 (I’m working on releasing the LP soon), and I loved the wonderfully diverse characters.

TNFB: Soundtracks for video games have also gotten quite sophisticated since the 80s and 90s. Do you collect them? 

DARCSENHQ: You betcha! I’ve been collecting since the early 2000s. My current Top 5 are Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, Undertale, Furi, and, of course, Alien: Isolation.

TNFB:  Turning now to that, what drew you to the game? 

 

 

DARCSENHQ: I love the Alien films, and I had been wanting a good Alien game for a long time. I never had the chance to play the PC AVP games, and Colonial Marines was a slap to the face. So, when Isolation was announced, I was cautious initially, but, as time went on, the demos featuring different areas from the game made it clear that they weren’t built specifically for gaming conventions. Unlike CM, these demos were real. At that point, I was confident that Isolation would be at least decent, and my gamble paid off.

TNFB: What was the first Alien movie you saw?

DARCSENHQ: The original was my first one. My dad showed it (and The Thing) to me at age 12. I had nightmares for weeks…

TNFB: Those are two intense films to see at that age. I was just under the age limit to get in to see Alien when it first came out, so I talked my dad into taking me. I think that might be the last movie he let me talk him into seeing.  What was the last Alien movie you saw?

DARCSENHQ: I just saw Alien: Covenant about three weeks ago.

TNFB: Do you have a favorite? What appeals to you about it?

DARCSENHQ: It’s tough for me to decide between Alien and Aliens, because they’re different genres, but they just do so many wonderful things with the story, characters, and lore. Alien was claustrophobic, scary, and believable. Aliens expanded upon the already genius Xenomorph lifecycle and asked a simple, but horrifying question: “What if there were more…?”. Alien 3 is a decent send-off, despite its development hell, and introduced the DNA Reflex ability (taking on characteristics of its host). And Alien: Resurrection is an abomination, though an admittedly fun one. As for Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, they have their fair share of problems, but, from a creative standpoint, I’m interested to see what Ridley Scott has in mind leading up to the beginning of the original film.

TNFB: I think the latter two have caused more stir than Resurrection. You released the Alien: Isolation Full Soundtrack on October 30, 2015, a little over a year after the game came out (October 7, 2014). Why so long?

DARCSENHQ: I decided to compile them once I realized that there was no official soundtrack available for purchase. The score for the original Alien is one of my favorite soundtracks, period; Isolation not only nailed the iconic musical cues from the film, but boldly expanded upon them. It’s half the reason the game was as atmospheric and terrifying as it was!

I waited a year, thinking, “There’s no way they would pass up an opportunity like this, right?” (The popularity of my compilation pretty much confirms that they would have made a pretty penny from an official release, I think.) But it never came.

TNFB: I guess it’s never to late for them to do it. It took 28 years for us to get a two-disc collection of Alien‘s soundtrack, the one from the movie and the one Jerry Goldsmith wrote for it. But back to your project: what gear did you use to produce the soundtrack? It’s pretty much magic to me.

DARCSENHQ: Nothing special. I pretty much used my laptop to scour YouTube for tracks, ripped them using KeepVid, and then converted them to audio files using Movie Studio Platinum 12, which is the program that I use for all my video editing.

TNFB: The sound quality certainly is consistent. You mention, on your channel, that you found tracks from the YouTube channels of Padawanmage71 and Brad Cypy. Did they actively collaborate with you, or was it a solo job? 

DARCSENHQ: It was a solo job (makes it sound like a heist haha).

TNFB: Maybe the interests in your project will give Sega reason to rethink an official release. How long did it take to put yours together?

DARCSENHQ: The overall work time—searching, compiling, and converting—was about 48 hours.

TNFB: With great results! Your channel, as of mid-June 2017, had over 137,000 views, 1,369 likes and only 22 dislikes. Pretty impressive! Any listener responses that stick out in your memory?

DARCSENHQ: Not really, but I appreciate all of the positive feedback. I read every comment that’s posted, and even respond to a few, every so often.

TNFB: This one, from a year ago, caught my eye:

“Hid in a locker for three hours. The Alien just wouldn’t go into hiding. I fell asleep and woke up controller still in hand, the Alien weren’t to be seen and I jumped out. BANG! It was in the vent in the ceiling directly above so I died in an instant. I almost got a heart attack when that happened so I quietly snuck into the bedroom, silently and went to bed.”

We have probably all had our share of moments like this. Care to share your most terrifying experience from the game?

DARCSENHQ: Fantastic question! Hopefully this doesn’t sound like cheating, but I’ve had two equally terrifying experiences: the Xenomorph Nest, and my trophy hunt for “Voices of Sevastopol”.

I had felt constant fear and stress throughout the entire game, but once I descended the elevator into the Nest, my heart plummeted. I wasn’t expecting it because Creative Assembly had been adamant that they only referenced the first film. I was giddy to be able to experience this in-game, but I also had foreboding flashbacks to the Nest sequence in Aliens. I was white-knuckled the entire time—dead bodies lining the thick, organic walls, large, ragged holes in their chests, surrounded by eggs, scurrying Facehuggers, and multiple hits on the Motion Tracker. Truthfully, I wanted to turn off the game and come back later, but I kept going, anyway…

As for the other experience, the trophy “Voices of Sevastopol” requires you to find 100 of the 151 Sevastolink emails and audio logs. I had checked every terminal that I could find, but they weren’t enough. I had to explore additional areas on the station, off the beaten path. At this point, I had beaten the game twice, and I was quite familiar with the map layouts and the various hiding places. But I was forced, once again, into the unknown—no knowledge of where to go or where to hide, hearing unfamiliar noises. I was left with nothing but the silent void of space and a deadly creature in an unfamiliar setting—for hours!

TNFB: That is one of the strengths of the game: you can play it, even beat it, but you can always go back for a new experience.. The psychological stress caused me to stop more often than being stumped by a gameplay goal. Have you had any contact with the owners of the intellectual property?

DARCSENHQ: Nope. If I’m remembering this correctly, I had emailed SEGA and Creative Assembly inquiring whether they would release the soundtrack before I began compiling it myself, but neither replied. I wouldn’t be surprised if it got buried under other junk mail or they were too busy.

TNFB: How did you compile the track titles?

DARCSENHQ: After ripping them, I made individual audio files for every track and rendered them. I used these files to create an album for personal use. As for the YouTube video, I took the rendered files and pasted them into a single file, separating each track by one second, and rendered the video.

Padawanmage71 had already named the tracks that he had uploaded, but Brad had not. I kept some titles and renamed others. I also named all of Brad’s tracks—I pretty much tried to link the track titles to certain events in-game, or at least capture the emotion that I felt each track embodied.

Also, due to popular demand, I will be uploading a playlist version of the soundtrack this October, so downloaders don’t have to painstakingly separate the tracks in their own editing programs. I sincerely apologize for not having the foresight to predict such a problem, but, I didn’t expect my video to become nearly as popular as it has.

TNFB:  I’ll be sure to keep watch on your channel for news on this. From a purely musical aesthetic, do you have a favorite track?

DARCSENHQ: I have two, actually: “Encounters” and “Desperation”. I don’t remember seeing any comments about “Encounters,” but “Desperation” is a fan favorite.

TNFB: Which track creeps you out the most?

DARCSENHQ: “Encounters”, all the way! Its strings have the subtlety of a creeping spider, with a consistent piano melody leveling out the track. And, as the track progresses, the strings are met with a sound that almost feels like the music is being bent or warped. To me, it sounds (and feels) like a descent into insanity, brought on by crippling fear…

TNFB: Right! So let’s talk about your other work. Your YouTube Playlists include Resident Evil 7, Legends of Cinema, and Sonic Generations. Can you tell us a little more about them?

DARCSENHQ: Sure thing! So, I decided to LP Resident Evil 7 because Alien: Isolation was my first deep dive into horror gaming, and I discovered that I liked being scared (at least when I know that it’s not real). I didn’t want to become a horror-exclusive channel, but I thought that the occasional horror game would spice things up.

I began doing Legends of Cinema because I’m just as passionate about movies as I am games, and I’ve had friends and professors alike tell me that I have a good critical eye. I named it LoC to keep with my channel’s theming. I would have liked to do more edit-heavy, skit-infused reviews, but the workload would have gotten in the way, so I opted to do vlog-style reviews instead. I was motivated to try it after discovering a YouTube film reviewer named Chris Stuckmann.

Sonic Generations was one of the first LPs that I did back in 2013. The original Sonic the Hedgehog was the first video game that I ever played, so the franchise has a special place in my heart. The one thing that has never faltered in the Sonic series is its amazing music. I wanted to combine my LP with a celebration of the franchise’s music. I swapped out the default stage music with tracks from other Sonic games for a change of pace. Hence: Sonic Generations Custom Music Playthrough. It’s an old LP, so the commentary sucks, but I’m still proud of it.

TNFB: That’s a very creative way of honoring a favorite series. What other projects, on-going or standalone, do you have planned for the future?

DARCSENHQ: Well, right now I need to finish editing the Boruto Story DLC from Storm 4, the bonus levels from LEGO Marvel, and I also have two Batman All Bosses videos in the works to round out the Arkham series (though they’re both far from completion). Finally, I’m working on getting Persona 5 ready for release, especially since the series will take close to a year to release on my upload schedule! As for the future, I have LPs lined up from now through 2018. Those plans will be outlined in my eventual E3 Impressions video, since I’ve already got my eyes locked on the games that most interest me.

TNFB: Wow! I’m amazed that you manage pack all of that into a full schedule of school and working part-time!  Let’s talk social media for a minute: you have established a presence on Twitter: DarcsenOfLegend. Do you interact much on social media?

DARCSENHQ: Not too much. I’m trying to be more present on Twitter, since I’m not much of a social media guy. I don’t have much online interaction with subs or other creators, but I’d like that to change. I’m just really uncomfortable with advertising myself: I don’t want to seem selfish, and, honestly, even now I have a hard time believing that I’m any good as a content creator.

TNFB: With the number of “likes” your channel gets, you must be doing something right. Any words of advice for someone out there interested in creating videos in a similar format?

DARCSENHQ: Yes. Be committed, remain independent, experiment to keep your content fresh, and don’t put all of your eggs into one basket (for example, I use YouTube and VidMe).

TNFB: Let’s back up for a minute, to when we touched briefly on Alien: Covenant. What did you think of it?

DARCSENHQ: I enjoyed it! It certainly had its fair share of problems, especially the terrible third act, but I thought it did a lot for the lore of the franchise. I loved the idea of the Neomorphs (they’re introduction in the film was brilliant), and David had some of the best character motivation—especially when considering the context surrounding his purpose—I’ve seen in any film in a long time. If you’d like to know more, I have a review of the film (and an Additional Thoughts video) on my channel. I wasn’t as concise as I would’ve preferred to be in my videos, so if you’re interested in watching them, I’d recommend listening to them while doing something else, like folding laundry haha.

TNFB: Ha! That’s a healthy attitude. I don’t know of many contemporary commentators who can laugh at themselves. We can easily forget the bottom line: have fun!  It’s been great getting to know you. Thanks again for taking time to talk about your Alien: Isolation soundtrack project, and your other work.

DARCSENHQ: The pleasure is all mine! It was an honor that someone would actually want to interview me, of all people! I’m very happy that so many people have enjoyed my efforts with Alien: Isolation, and I thank you for the opportunity for additional exposure.

 

Check out DarsenHQ at these links:

DarcsenHQ on YouTube

DarcsenOfLegend on YouTube

DarcsenOfLegend on VidMe

DarcsenOfLegend on Twitter

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