The Touching Story Behind Killzone 3’s Beautiful Menu Music

Sometimes life is great.

And in May 2010 that’s the case for Joris De Man. The composer has just received the first ever Ivor Novello Award for game music for his work on Killzone 2. A couple of days later, the Malmö Symphony Orchestra plays the awarded soundtrack during a concert in Sweden. Accompanying him and his wife that night are his proud parents. De Man is unaware of the dramatic role his mother would play later that year in a tiny piece of music history. Game music history. After all, at that time, life was great.

“Two weeks after the concert in Sweden my mum suffered a heart attack. A very severe attack”, says Joris De Man when years later we sit down with him in Amsterdam. “That changed everything. At that time I was just planning the dates to record the new soundtrack for Killzone 3 in the Abbey Road Studio. Quite a hectic time because we were still figuring out how much music was needed. We didn’t even know what the full story for the cut scenes was.”

Real life events

The way Joris de Man works is as follows: he first composes the in-game music. He comes up with different themes for the different factions and main characters. That’s all done on a PC. The orchestra only comes into play for cut scenes and the menu theme.

“I do the music for the cut scenes at the very end. By then I have made so much music and so many melodies that I can use elements from some of those themes and make a coherent piece of music”, says De Man. “My mother died just as I started on the orchestral music. As a composer you always use emotions from real life events that somehow moved you in your work. Well, obviously this was one of those moments.”

The composer points out that the story of Killzone 3 was different to that of the previous game. In part two the game took the player on a frontal assault on the Helghan planet. In Killzone 3 events had taken a turn for the worst and the game’s heroes were now on the run. More defense than offense if you will. “I wanted to do something different from yet another variation on the Helghan March. Exhilarating music seemed out of place and context. And, most importantly, my Mum’s passing affected the way I wanted to write. That all came together.”

The result was an emotionally charged melody carried by a delicate violin. Very different to anything de Man ever did for the Killzone series. At Guerrilla Games’ headquarters in Amsterdam reactions were mixed. “I knew it would be a hard sell so I had a back-up plan. The second part of the song is a bit more heroic so they could always use that bit if necessary.”

Why bother playing?

Guerrilla Games decided to give the menu music sequence a try during the open beta multiplayer test that went live on February 3rd on PSN. De Man’s Killzone 3 opening theme proved to be a direct hit. An instant classic. Numerous movies appeared on YouTube showing only the menu of the game. Twitter, Facebook and hundreds of gamers forums explode with messages like:

The composer is humbled by the positive response to the song: “It’s really great to get all the great feedback. Especially when it’s such a personal piece of music. It just goes to show that you really can’t control everything. Sometimes things just happen.”

Matthijs Dierckx
Matthijs Dierckx
Dierckx is Composer and Marketing Lead on roguelite cult hit Unexplored and two undisclosed projects. He is co-creator of Android puzzle hit Sumico, the numbers game. Dierckx is the former Publisher and Founder of Control Magazine, Control Conference and and writes about games on an irregular basis.

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