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Just when you thought you wouldn’t see anything new come out with regard to Alien: Isolation (Creative Assembly’s 2014 survival horror video game), another presentation of the soundtrack has been fan-produced!
This time, it is called “Alien: Isolation | Chronological Soundtrack Suite,” made by a fan who goes by the online handle of Order of Apollo.
Today, I’m sharing his write-up about this interesting project, released today…
This fan edit of the in-game Alien: Isolation soundtrack was created only in the absence of an official soundtrack release so that fans of this cult-classic video game companion to Ridley Scott’s iconic 1979 thriller could experience the horror and brilliance of the terrifying original soundtrack developed by Joe and Christian Henson, Alexis Smith and audio engineers at Creative Assembly in a traditional linear album format. This is not a licensed commercial product; merely a fan “labour of love” hobby project born out of my obsession with this game and my interest in its amazing score and sound design.
Before I had even bought the game, I went in search of an official soundtrack to purchase or download from the internet having watched some clips of the gameplay on YouTube, but I was surprised to find there was no officially licensed album, only a handful of game-ripped tracks, often with unedited or misleading titles uploaded and scattered across the internet. Having researched more about the game and more specifically it’s music, I found that the game’s utilisation of an extensive adaptive soundtrack (which is some 7+ hours in total) may have been a factor in why the copyright holders decided not to publish a linear experience of the soundtrack in a linear album format (although it sounds as if legal issues may have also been an obstacle). In a 2015 interview for Den of Geek, composer Joe Henson explains;
“Apart from the scripted scenes and the cutscenes, you rarely hear a piece of music the same twice. Sometimes it’s seamless and brilliant and other times we would notice and we like that – we like hearing how the music pieces together.” Alexis Smith adds: “The end result is a score that each player ultimately hears and experiences differently, with the music being delivered in an entirely non-linear fashion – quite unlike the auditory experience associated with film or television scores.
Paul Weedon writes for the same article:
“Work on the Alien Isolation soundtrack has been completed, although ‘legal hurdles’ currently prevent it from being released commercially – something [the composers] aren’t particularly bothered by. “You do get a truer representation of what it was for by playing the game,” Smith concedes. “People aren’t going to play the game for the music. They’re playing it for the overall experience and the music is there to play a part in that and doing a job for that. The soundtrack we’ve done for the in game music, we’ve done one possibility of something you might hear, but that’s not actually how it was constructed to be heard… If you want to hear the music, play the game. It’s fine. That’s what it’s for.”
While it is true that the score was not constructed for a traditional audio-only experience, it has left avid fans of the game in a frustrating position between an unquenched thirst for stand alone music content and the risks and shame of appropriating copyrighted material.
Legal issues aside, there’s the added difficulty of condensing 7+ hours of adaptive, emergent music down to a digestible/linear listening experience. When I first decided to embark on this fan project, I knew it would be impossible to create an accurate chronological version of the score as I myself had replayed entire sections of the game with only the game’s music volume amplified and found major differences between play sessions. Playing the game in this way allowed me to study the soundtrack’s behaviour in relation to the gameplay as well as the game’s narrative structure.
Cross referencing my recorded play sessions against archives of the game’s audio files lead me to believe that a lot of the musical material hidden in the game’s files never actually plays at any moment during the game itself. The fact that some of these unused orchestral and electronic pieces were already fan favourites among the Alien Isolation community before I started further complicated my editing decisions when it came to building something that I thought the original composers would have created themselves had they released their own version of a chronological soundtrack.
Hopefully listeners will be able to enjoy and relate to this version of the soundtrack but to reiterate what the original composers have stated: no linear soundtrack suite could ever be 100% chronologically accurate to the gameplay as the gameplay itself is not linear. This mix is also by no means a ‘full soundtrack’ as there are still hours worth of musical material that exist in the game’s audio files; from downloadable add on pack music to the in-game cassette player music, unused samples, some variants of longer tracks and a variety of short stingers all of which were unincorporated in this mix in the interest of time and avoiding repetition. I have also decided not to include duplicates of tracks in instances where a narrative cue or ambient piece resurfaces multiple times throughout the game in order to cut down the total run time down to a reasonable, digestible size.
As many of these tracks are comprised of multiple short cues and long ambient tracks which are listed in the game’s audio files, often without easily recognisable or poetic titles, I took lines of dialogue from cutscenes, character conversations, terminal logs as well as names from rooms, missions and map screen objectives as inspiration for the original track titles so as to keep everything as authentic to the game as possible.
Very early on in the creative process I knew I wanted to present the soundtrack with a Sevastolink inspired UI that displayed the track information and a slideshow of images that would match the name and emotional tone of each track as well rejog the listeners memories of what part of the game the music is likely to be heard.
The cinematic in-game images used for the video thumbnails and slideshows were captured by Reddit user: Dakophyntix who used the track titles and a document of rough guidelines describing what type of images would work well with the music as inspiration for his cinematic compositions. Many of the images included in the final draft were experimental shots that I would never have even thought of taking had I worked on the images myself.
I used Audacity to mix most of the music together which was gathered from a combination of audio extracted from my own play footage captured using PS4 Share as well as audio files from an online archive. The first step in the mixing process was to separate the left and right channels in the OGG files, adjust some of the track layer volumes and repair some clipped/distorted audio before mixing these down to single layers and saving them to folders labelled by mission number.
Taking one mission at a time, I organised these sections into chronological order as accurately as possible and began blending each of them seamlessly into each other using faders and envelope tools making sure that it was difficult for listeners to notice when one cue ends and another begins. To avoid ear fatigue I would often change the pitch of the entire mix during playback to trick my ear into thinking I was hearing new music for the first time which helped me to identify any imperfections around the seams between each section. Taking long breaks from any kind of creative task is always a good way of removing unconscious biases from over exposure and refreshing enthusiasm on return.
Once I was happy with how these tracks sounded individually, I then had the tedious task of making sure each of the 60 tracks (extending 3 hours of music) was at the right comparative volume; the quiet parts had to match other quiet parts, the loud parts had to match other loud parts and balance nicely with everything in between. Some of the music (such as the cue that accompanies Axel’s death cutscene) was already auto ducked to the sfx and dialogue volume which I then had to compensate for by automating the volume using key frames.
Moving my work over to Adobe Premier Pro, I used a sample of Ripley’s theme that plays as you wake from hyper-sleep at the start of the game – as a reference point to compare the rest of the soundtrack’s volume to; dragging the short clip across my 3 hour timeline and listening to how it competed with the other tracks in terms of volume. This wasn’t the most pleasant thing to listen to as it often clashed horrendously in pitch and key signature to the other tracks, but listening to both simultaneously was a good way of gaging how loud the other tracks should be in comparison and by how many decibels I needed to increase or decrease each segment. The final step in audio mixing was to add a hard limiter which allowed me to boost the entire volume of the soundtrack at the expense of losing a small amount of dynamic range between the lowest parts and the highest peaks in the waveform.
The Sevastolink visuals were designed in Adobe premier pro too, and were relatively easy to create using simple rectangle shapes and the eye drop colour tool. Once I had paced the image slideshow to the music as desired, the finishing touch of VHS static and glitches were added to the overall image to make it feel as if you’re actually looking at one of the retro computer terminals from the game. Having exported all of the 60 tracks/videos separately, I began mixing them further into four distinct 4 suites in which the music would all seamlessly blend.
This was to mirror the 4 story acts of the game: the setup, the complicating action, the development and the climax, but also to imitate the style of a 4 disc box set album with an approximate 45 minute run time for each disc. I chose not to make a full 3 hour version including all of the music in one video as it was too inconvenient for uploading and was less likely to be recommended by YouTube as the overall average viewer retention time would be much lower than on shorter videos. Instead I have created 2 playlists for 2 different listening experiences: one for listening to the individual tracks in chronological order and another for listening to the 4 suites back to back.
I hope the overall mix doesn’t come as a disappointment to listeners who had a vastly different experience of the game than I had, but this is merely one fan’s edit of the score; inspired mostly from aggregating music that I heard in my own play sessions and based of my own emotional experience of the game.
An ambitious project, to say the least, but worthy on its own merits, as well as for a broader reason. Given the financial reasons for Alien: Isolation’s lack of a sequel game, I am ever hopeful that fan efforts like this one will demonstrate there is a market for more quality games in the “stealth-and-survival” vein.
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