My soundtrack for “Rise Of Nations” was the first game soundtrack album to be released in 5.1 surround sound on DVD. While I’m proud to have pioneered a first-of-its-kind product, surround sound never achieved its full potential with the mass audience. The DVD came and went fairly quickly and copies are now very rare. But the interesting part of this saga was how it was composed, how it even got released and who was responsible.
“Rise Of Nations” was developed by Big Huge Games (BHG) and published by Microsoft Game Studios (MGS). I was the audio lead for the game while I was still working for MGS. The original idea BHG had for the soundtrack was to license authentic World music. As I started to research the genre, I realized that while it was authentic, it didn’t seem to fit into the game. Soundtracks need to support the story line. When you have such diverse and sometimes very odd sounding music, it tends to overshadow the story instead of providing support.
So I went out on a limb and put together some musical sketches to pitch to the team. I was thankful when I was given the green light to create an original soundtrack. It could then be a single vision that wrangled different elements from world, cinematic and contemporary musical genres that supported the story line. I was also fortunate to have been given a budget that allowed me to hire some outstanding musicians from the Northwest Sinfonia.
Because the game was to be released on Windows for PCs, I mixed and mastered the music in stereo. After I delivered all the files, I had a few weeks before starting my next project and decided to do a surround mix. I thought that MGS might be interested in releasing that version as downloadable files to help market the game.
As I was looking for allies in the company to pursue that, I was invited to a meeting with Nile Rodgers, who had been pursuing a partnership with MGS to release soundtracks on his label Sumthing Else Records. For those who are unfamiliar with Nile’s work, he was a founding member, along with Bernard Edwards, of the legendary disco/funk band Chic, probably best known for the tune “Le Freak.” After achieving fame, in his own right, as a guitarist and songwriter, Nile went on to produce hits for artists ranging from Madonna and Mick Jagger to Duran Duran, Thompson Twins, B-52s and many more.
So I went to this meeting and I could scarcely believe that I was sitting across from this Hall of Fame-caliber musician and producer, pitching the release of my “Rise of Nations” soundtrack. As my portion of the meeting was winding up and my hopes were dwindling, a co-worker piped in and said, “What do you think we should do about the surround mix?” That comment was like someone lighting firecrackers on the table. Nile’s first reaction was – “Now, that’s cool!” After a burst of creative brainstorming, Nile was ready to release the first game soundtrack to ever be released in 5.1 surround sound on DVD. He executive-produced the album, was always supportive throughout the process and continues to be a friend to this day.
When something has never been done, you have no template to guide you. So I researched what was possible and not possible and what would enable people to play the soundtrack on their existing audio systems. We finally decided that a standard DVD format would allow both stereo and 5.1 surround mixes to be included on the soundtrack. Any standard DVD player could be used to hear the music without forcing people to have a DVD audio player or a full-blown 5.1 surround speaker system.
As I said, the album was short-lived. But it was an experience that I’ll never forget because it speaks volumes about the creative spirit of everyone who was involved. The game, as well as soundtrack, found a very devoted fan base that is still vibrant to this day. If you do a search on YouTube for the “Rise Of Nations” soundtrack, you will find a lot of music and very positive comments from gamers who really feel a connection to both the game and the soundtrack. Huge thanks to Nile Rodgers for backing “Rise of Nations” and to the loyal listeners who’ve kept this soundtrack alive.