Featured Interviews

Creating the Intriguing Soundtrack of ‘Deliver Us Mars’ – with Sander Van Zanten

In our in-depth talk with Deliver Us Mars’ co-creator Paul Deetman, who is also the co-founder and CEO of the trailer music brand Hunchback Music, we had the chance to learn a lot about creating the vision and concept for a compelling trailer and soundtrack. You can check out the full interview with Paul here!

This time, we got together with Sander Van Zanten, lead composer and sound designer for the eagerly awaited video game Deliver Us Mars. Sander was willing to let us take a peek under the hood of creating music and sound for both the game soundtrack and its trailer and was kind enough to share some of his techniques, workflows, and secret tools with us.

Let’s dive straight into it!

EPICOMPOSER: Hi Sander, great to meet you, and thanks for taking the time!

SVZ: Hi Martin! Thanks for your interest and for taking the time to formulate these questions. I really
appreciate them!

EPICOMPOSER: Let’s talk about the soundtrack for your upcoming video game “Deliver Us Mars”! I’m sure it wasn’t easy to come up with a convincing soundscape for places that exist in a vacuum or where sound rarely exists at all. What went into finding, creating, and processing unique sounds for the red planet (or the moon in the case of the first game “Deliver Us The Moon”?)

SVZ: It’s been a journey! Mars is in so many ways different from Earth, and the atmosphere is no exception. But unlike the moon, where the vibrations that make up a sound have to fight their way through near-vacuum conditions, Mars has an atmosphere sufficiently dense to carry sound. Through recordings and research published by ESA and NASA, we learned about Mars’s atmospheric composition and what that meant for amplitude and pitch across the frequency spectrum.
Equipped with a theoretical foundation, we went on to experiment with what felt right for the game. At KeokeN Interactive (the developing company behind Deliver Us Mars) we aspire to a high degree of realism, but we always balance that out with what makes the best gameplay experience. For the Martian soundscape, that meant that we experimented with filtering and pitch processing, dynamically applied to all in-game sound effects. The degree to which sounds are altered depends on how well the sound maintains its ability to communicate information after it’s been ‘routed’ through our virtual atmosphere. As a result, players will hear a very distinct difference between sections taking place on the red planet and sections that are pressurized to mimic Earth’s conditions!

EPICOMPOSER: Did you use parts of the original game’s soundtrack and sound effects in the new project or did you try to consciously separate the sound of the two games from each other?

SVZ: As the second ‘Deliver Us’ game, Deliver Us Mars carries with it the legacy of the first game. Various themes, instrumentation, and sound effects established in the first game made sense to revisit. But, at the same time, Deliver Us Mars introduces such a wealth of novelties that it would be remiss of us not to reflect that in the game’s soundtrack and sound effects. Players will find, in addition to familiar themes, there are quite some new motifs and themes to guide them on their journey to Mars!

Deliver Us Mars – Reveal Trailer

EPICOMPOSER: The trailer for „Deliver Us Mars“ follows the protagonist’s first steps right after her crash landing on the red planet. The music conveys a very moody and ominous feeling without ever resorting to trailer music’s standard weapons: huge drums, big bangs, and screeching risers. Which thought process went into creating the music?

SVZ: There’s a time and place for huge drums, big bangs, and screeching risers, and we felt like we needed something else for Deliver Us Mars’s reveal trailer! The story told in the trailer and the way in which it is told – called for something brooding and desolate, slowly evolving from its dire starting point to a place of majesty. We wanted to capture the protagonist’s grim situation and work our way toward a conclusion that’s both heroic and enigmatic. The protagonist survived her crash-landing, but looking over the endless Martian plains before her, she’s confronted with new dangers and new mysteries. This approach dictated our instrumentation as well as the transition from mostly textural music at the start to a more melodic progression toward the end.

EPICOMPOSER: Did you create all of the sound effects yourself or could you make use of existing, commercially available sounds? If so, do you have any particular favorites you can share with us?

SVZ: Some sounds we create ourselves, and some sounds we take from commercially available resources, especially once they become too niche or too specific in their required recording conditions. For such sounds, we’ve always found a great platform in A Sound Effect, which has a very rich and diverse array of sound libraries. In particular, we’re very fond of Mattia Celloto’s work! Recently, we’ve also begun experimenting with Pro Sound Effect’s SoundQ service, which has yielded positive results thus far.

EPICOMPOSER: What do you find the most challenging parts of creating music and sound for trailers and especially with scoring a trailer for your own project?

SVZ: One of the most challenging (and fun) parts about scoring trailers is that they’re so different from gameplay music, which is where I originally come from as a composer. Gameplay music has the opportunity to meander, to gently and gradually create an auditive reflection of the world you’re playing through. A trailer, on the other hand, has but a moment to command and maintain someone’s attention. You have to be fast!
The sound effects for the trailer were laid down by Bas Bertrand, a fantastic audio designer who joined our team over the course of Deliver Us Mars’s development. By the time the trailer was shot, we’d already come a long way in establishing the sound of the game. We knew what the ambience was like, how we wanted the astronaut’s suit to sound, and what sounds the little drone would make. So in that sense, it was very convenient for us to handle the audio for a project of our own!

Deliver Us Mars – Story Trailer

EPICOMPOSER: How do you compose music at the moment? Do you work in a studio environment? If so, what are the tools you turn to the most?

SVZ: The previous game’s soundtrack was written on a two-octave Korg nanoKEY2, but for Deliver Us Mars we finally had the opportunity to upgrade to something with a few more octaves. We come from humble beginnings and are reminded of that on a daily basis, so I’m very proud to say that we now have a dedicated studio where we concoct and handle our music!

EPICOMPOSER: For the tech heads among us, could you give us a run-down of your equipment, the DAW, and the plugins you use most?

SVZ: Yeah! For the soundtrack, we’re working in Cubase 11 Pro on an NI Komplete Kontrol S61 and a Scarlett 18i20. Our templates include Heavyocity’s NOVO, FORZO, ASCEND, the Mosaic Series, and Symphonic Destruction, as well as NI’s Symphony Series Brass and String Ensembles. Orchestral Tools has created something really special in Time Macro and Time Micro, and I just can’t get enough of Spitfire’s Ólafur Arnalds Chamber Evolutions. These all combine into a web of textures and evolving musical soundscapes, especially when run through Eventide’s Blackhole!
On the sound design side of things, Kilohearts has proven to be an incredible asset. iZotope continues to provide excellent plugins for cleaning and mastering our recordings in RX and Ozone. Portal (Output) has yielded some awesome and interesting textures, and Soundtoys’s Crystallizer and AlterBoy never disappoint. And I didn’t think we’d be using BOOM ENRAGE to create ambiences, but it happened. The plugin’s warp pitch-shifting creates fantastic textures.

There’s a lot more that we use, but these are our bread and butter!

EPICOMPOSER: What is the number one tip you can give to aspiring trailer music composers and sound designers?

SVZ: Do not relent. Keep showing up. Put in the work. Remain consistent. But don’t take that as an excuse to work yourself to the bone! Take daily breaks and schedule time off for vacation. Rest is a formidable catalyst of creativity, so set boundaries for yourself. Take time for yourself, your family, your friends, and your pets – there’s more to life than the work that we do, even if that work is something as awesome as creating music or sounds. And finally, do not compare yourself to others; everybody’s on their own path!

EPICOMPOSER: Thank you very much for taking the time, Sander, and all the best for the upcoming release of Deliver Us Mars!

Deliver Us Mars will launch on February 2nd, 2023, and will be available for PlayStation® 5, PlayStation® 4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and on PC via Steam and the Epic Games Store.

Deliver Us Mars – Journey to the Red Planet

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