Crispy Gamer

Behind the Music of Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3

It's been seven long years since the last installment of the Red Alert series, and the world of music in games has changed considerably in that time. These days, concerts of game music performed by orchestras and choirs have become almost commonplace worldwide; the barriers between game, film and television composers are becoming nonexistent, with many composers regularly working in all three arenas; and modern blockbuster games just don't seem complete without a live orchestra backing them up.

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Hard at work in the recording booth at Skywalker Sound

Command & Conquer: Red Alert 3 takes advantage of these modern trends with its ambitious score, but still maintains its signature attitude. Bringing back original Westwood composer Frank Klepacki to contribute some new material and update his "Hell March" and "Grinder" tracks from previous Red Alert games certainly adds authenticity to this latest title, but it's the work of Timothy Michael Wynn and James Hannigan, who wrote the bulk of Red Alert 3's nearly two hours of music, that brings the score to a new level.

Soldiers, sailors and spies

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Composer Tim Wynn studies the final score.

It was a quirk of fate that led Wynn -- who wrote about 65 minutes of music for the Allied and Soviet factions -- to the project. Having co-written the music for Warhawk and The Simpsons Game with Christopher Lennertz, Wynn noticed Red Alert 3 concept art on a wall while meeting with EA about another title. As a huge fan of the series who had played just about every game with "Command & Conquer" in the title, Wynn tracked down Music Supervisor Nick Laviers to talk about getting involved.

"We hit it off from the start, and we had the same vision for most aspects of the game," says Wynn. "We talked about the overall concept of each of the factions, and ? demoed out some of our ideas to hear how they would sound in the game." Once Wynn was attached to the project, Laviers kept him constantly supplied with gameplay footage and other material to help in the composing process as the game developed.

The Allied faction

While it was clear from the early stages that the Soviet faction would use a brutal mix of orchestra, male choir and heavy metal, the Allies were harder to nail down -- perhaps appropriate, given their agile nature in the game. In fact, it was the Allies' tricky style that suggested giving them a stealthy, espionage sound that ramps up to punk rock for the combat scenes.


"But every map has something different thrown in," Wynn points out. "Greek music for the Mykonos map, '80s-style hip-hop for New York City ? it's incredibly diverse." There's even some mid-20th-century English classical music for the Brighton Beach map.

All Your Base Are Belong To Us

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Seventy-six trombones lead the big parade.

Meanwhile, halfway across the world in his Pinewood Studios base in London, James Hannigan was hard at work writing music for Red Alert 3's Empire of the Rising Sun faction. Hannigan, who worked in-house at EA in the 1990s with Laviers on titles like Privateer 2: The Darkening, was a natural choice for the project. He has worked as a freelance composer for years -- contributing to titles like Brute Force and Freelancer, and more recently scoring games like Evil Genius and Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix -- but has also had a number of opportunities to work with EA and Laviers, and even won a British Academy award (BAFTA) with Laviers back in 2000 for the music to Sim Theme Park.

The Empire of the Rising Sun

Like the faction for which it was written, the Empire of the Rising Sun's unique sound may be entirely unexpected, but fits perfectly in context. The music ranges from a cold, futuristic and slightly weird style to things like the "Shogun Executioner" track, which leans more towards classic Japanese monster movie music. "The common thread is the use of Japanese-style percussion fused with the orchestra and 'folk choir,'" says Hannigan.

The folk choir is one of the most striking elements used for this faction, but even more striking is that vocalist Miriam Stockley was the entire ensemble. "We were after a Japanese 'folk choir' sound," explains Hannigan. "Being familiar with Miriam's work on "Adiemus," which had her tracking herself over and over to build up a choir-like texture, she seemed like the perfect choice to achieve this effect in the most practical way. Miriam has an incredible voice and is also extremely versatile, so I was thrilled that she agreed to do it. The extra challenge for her was singing in Japanese -- but I believe she managed it very well."

Bringing out the big guns

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The male choir brings the Soviet menace to life.

There were quite a number of cues to write for the various cinematics, menus and -- most of all -- the gameplay. In addition to the occasional scripted event calling for a more linear piece, the bulk of the Red Alert 3 gameplay music changes dynamically from exploration themes, to more threatening cues, to all-out combat tracks.

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The Skywalker Symphony Orchestra records the score to Red Alert 3.

Once the relevant music was finished in early August, Wynn and Laviers headed north to have the score recorded by a roughly 70-piece orchestra at Skywalker Sound's recording studios outside of San Francisco. "Ever since we did the Simpsons Game score, we have used the Skywalker Symphony," Wynn says. "The musicians are amazing and wonderful to work with."

The Soviet faction

A 12-member male choir was recorded the following day to complete the Soviet tracks, including Hannigan's grand "Soviet March." The vocals for both the Soviet and Rising Sun factions feature authentic Russian and Japanese lyrics, and though few players will probably understand them, this adds a subconscious authenticity to the music. Quite serendipitously, the choir had been performing a Russian opera the night before the recording session, so it had no difficulty with the lyrics for the Soviet cues.

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What better instrument to capture the franchise's offbeat humor than the accordion?

In addition to the orchestra and choir, there were inevitably other instruments -- bouzouki, solo cello, trumpet and accordion -- recorded for the wildly diverse locations and styles in the game. And of course, the three-piece rock band was the most important additional element, since all of the Allied and Soviet music came from it.

One more European invasion

Fittingly, for what has become quite the groundbreaking score for the franchise, music from Red Alert 3 will have its concert premiere shortly following the game's launch. On Nov. 15th in Utrecht, Netherlands, Frank Klepacki is scheduled to perform his "Hell March 3" with the Metropole Orchestra in the third annual concert organized by Dutch public broadcasting NCRV. Fans who can't make it to Europe for the show, however, should be consoled by the fact that a full CD of highlights from the game's score -- including "Hell March 3" -- will come with the premier edition of the game, and a separate soundtrack is planned for release in the near future.