Mick Gordon built DOOM Eternal's soundtrack upon the legacy of DOOM but without just repeating the past.
If you’ve played any of the recent Bethesda Softworks games, while you’ve been blasting demons, fighting nazis or exploring space stations you’ve been listening to music of Australian composer Mick Gordon and he returns to the world of the Doom Slayer in DOOM Eternal.
When composing the music for DOOM (2016) Gordon said it was important not to just mimic Bobby Prince’s music made for the original games, but to find a way the elements that made that music work and bring them to the modern context.
“Then we start sort of developing sounds that represent those qualities and inadvertently, that feels like DOOM straightaway... because you're trying to make the same sort of thing using and trying to find the same ingredients in a modern way”
Doom Eternal features a greater variety of settings to its predecessor as the Doom Slayer travels through portals to different planets and dimensions and that meant rethinking how the soundtrack would work in ancient non-human locations like the heavenly plane of Urdak or ancient ruined cathedral world of Sentinel Prime.
To give each new setting its distinctive personality, Gordon focused on writing different ambient music that plays when the player is out exploring the world.
“Very quickly, we figured out that we couldn't really do DOOM heavy, aggressive music in an ancient way, and we couldn't really do DOOM heavy aggressive music in a heavenly way, instead the character of each of those levels really came from the ambient music.”
A new addition to Doom Eternal’s soundtrack features heavy chanting from a demonic choir, featuring both male and female singers and a variety of singing styles sourced from 2000 applicants in an open audition and putting it together was a highlight of Gordon’s work.
“It was not like we could just call up an agency and say to them “Hey, can we get your metal choir for the weekend?”, there is no such thing - we had to build this thing from scratch.”
When recording in Austin, Texas the choir had to compete with one of the biggest events in the world, South by Southwest (SXSW) and adjacent hip hip neighbours putting down beats.
“These guys had this sound system [next door] that was just like otherworldly, it was humongous, so when I was working with all these metal-choir recording things, recording files afterwards, they've all got this 808 beat underneath.”
When it comes to arranging the music for Doom Eternal, Gordon says that the music must be punchy and not drawn out.
One of the design philosophies is to give short ‘energy bursts’ of syncopated music towards the player to propel them forward and this prevents other sound effects like explosions and gunfire from being drowned out in the audio mix.
“But if the machine gun is going ‘pop, pop, pop’ and the music underneath it is doing like ‘da da da’, it'll come through right and it sorts itself out in a way and the way we think about it is like throwing a lot of short energy bursts at the player."
"So we're not throwing like a long energy burst at the player, like a big [sustained droning note], whatever, that just it just disappears. It just disappears into the background. But if there's lots of like, ‘pop, pop, pop’ all happening all the time. That's what gives it the clarity.”
Gordon says that the music for Doom Eternal is broken down into 4 categories - ‘high-level combat’, ‘medium combat’, ‘incidental combat’, and ‘exploration’.
Once the music is written, it gets sent to the level-design team who then implement it in the game and control the gameplay pacing for the player.
Gordon likes to incorporate sounds not inherently musical into his work and in DOOM (2016) this was the sound of a chainsaw revving on the track ‘Hell Walker’ and for Doom Eternal, Gordon has expanded this idea by pairing the sound of a chainsaw idling with a kick drum to create a heavy, percussive beat.
“For Doom Eternal, I realized that we have these great sounds of [a chainsaw] idling… and then when it's just sitting there, it has this sort of rhythm going. And I took some of those and laid them over metal kick drums. And so a lot of the heavier tracks that are in Doom Eternal that have these kind of cool kick drum sounds there’s this like idle chainsaw stuff playing at the same time”
Being able to experience the game once production is over is a rewarding experience for Gordon, and being able to see the final work of the other teams at iD Software is something Gordon is proud of.
“It’s almost like I started my Doom Eternal experience in the middle and then from there it went out randomly in different different places.”
“The other thing is a lot throughout the game gets cut - you try 20 different ideas to nail something, and one of those ideas might work. So there's lots of different things that get cut, and some of those things I'm not even aware of so it’s good to be able to experience it all.”
Doom Eternal is out now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows.