Interview with Rob King and Paul Romero 09/02/2014 | 67 comments

Since we announced Might & Magic Heroes VII, one of the most asked question has been: will the music be done by Rob King and Paul Anthony Romero? We are very happy to answer that today with a big YES :)

To celebrate the duo's return, we have asked them some questions about the past, the present, and the future!

1. 2015 will mark the 20th anniversary of the Heroes series. Can you tell us how you became involved with Might & Magic?

Rob King: I started working at New World Computing back in Feb. 1994 and was originally hired as “The Sound Guy” which then became the Audio Director. The idea of Heroes was spawned from an earlier title called King's Bounty that Jon Van Caneghem created back in his parent’s garage I believe. It was one of the first projects I worked on ay NWC. When I first saw the concept art I was quickly inspired to want to do a Baroque influenced Classical score. At this point my musical background was mostly writing Pop/Rock/Electronic music and I knew I needed a true classical guy to pull this off. About 6 months prior to getting my job at NWC I went to a party with a friend that just so happened to be at Paul Romero’s house. Paul was already kind of known to throw these great parties with good food, drinks and talented musicians getting together to perform various repertoires of music. I met Paul in his kitchen over a glass of wine an instantly loved the guy as we discussed music and recording. Flash forward to when we started the concept of Heroes 1, I always had Paul in the back of my mind from our first encounter and decided to give him a call. I told him my idea for the game and he was pretty thrilled with the idea and was up for the challenge of doing a score for a video game.

Paul Romero: Rob asked if I could make some tunes in a baroque feel that sounded like Vivaldi, Bach, or Handel.. Since I grew up learning the music of Bach, Scarlatti and Handel I felt like knew how the harmonic and melodic content was structured for that particular time period. And so I told Rob the types of instruments and orchestrations needed for that kind of baroque-era feeling and he put together a full arsenal of sounds for me. Hence, this is how be began our partnership 20 years ago. We had one week to create the score for this first Heroes game”. It was a fun fun time for me because I had never played a computer game and I had never created soundtrack music. I had only classical composed concerti, choral works, piano works, and chamber music for concert work. This was a whole new world for me: creating music to help make a fantasy world in a strategic computer game.

Paul Romero at work...

Rob King: As a side note, back in the early 90’s is when games really started having thematic scores. Games like Lands of Lore, Myst, King's Quest and others. Most of the music was still done as General MIDI using sound chips on a Soundblaster or Turtle beach card. I really wanted a full sounding score so we opted for streaming the music from the CD player as you played. For Heroes II we used mp3 technology for disk streaming to avoid taxing the CD player after I had met Karlheinz Brandenburg from the Fraunhofer Institue at the AES show in 1995-96 up in San Francisco and I am pretty sure it was the first game to ever use it! :) Not to many people really know that bit of tech history. Boy did that technology go a long way!

We started writing the score in the bedroom of my apartment back in South Pasadena, Ca. It was also completed there using a very limited amount of gear! I think I had a couple Roland JV Modules and a couple AKAI S-1100’s. Everything was programmed and mixed live straight to DAT. So happy about where technology is today! That pretty much was the beginning of our working relationship and friendship. Today I consider him my brother. A chance meeting that spawned a best friend 20 years later.

2. Even if it has retained the distinctive “King & Romero” touch that fans know and love, your music has evolved quite a bit during these 20 years. How would you describe this evolution?

Rob King: Obviously technology has played a big part in it and I’m a big tech nerd for sure. I purchased my first computer & sampler at age 17, the Roland S10 which had a whopping 256k of RAM and used these little 2,8 “Quick-Disks” that held 32k on each side and an Atari 1040ST running Master Tracks! 20 years later we use 3 computers that can stream the 400+ track Orchestral Template I have set up effortlessly with samples recorded in the finest rooms from around the world. It’s pretty crazy to think about it. On Heroes II we recorded all the live musicians on ADAT’s. Now we have unlimited tracks which really helps on the details of the music when you do it yourself.

Paul Romero: Rob always proposes that we try a new sonic and musical path for each new project. Rob is never about doing the same thing over and over. He wants to push our musical language and expression with each new opportunity. Hence, we go from basic baroque to full-on post-romanticism in the Heroes game series. Diversity that ranges from Aztec to Vietnamese, Armenian to Persian, Chinese to Appalachian cultures… We always try and push the envelope within our standard sound.

Rob King: Yes, we have always tried to do things a little different on every one of the Heroes scores over the years, usually integrating more world instruments and vocalists. Heroes II was also the first game to ever have Opera in it! I can’t think of many games to this day that have that :) I know I had to fight for that idea as everyone thought I was a little crazy for wanting to do that in a “Video Game”. Luckily I got my way and it turned out to be sort of a staple over the years throughout the various scores. Some of the best Opera yet is in the new Heroes VII score. Paul brought in Karin Mushegain at age 16 or 17 on Heroes II and she returns on Heroes VII. She is better than ever 18 years later. Her voice has become magnificent and it is fun to hear her progression over the years. To change things up a bit I am even singing on 2 of the songs on the Heroes VII soundtrack. I have been a singer from age 14 and finally decided to do something on one of our scores. I hope I didn’t blow it :)

Karin Mushegain sings opera once again for Heroes VII.

3. What gave you the idea to add opera to the music in the first place?

Paul Romero: Rob went with me to see La Bohème at the Los Angeles Opera and had a brainstorm: how would it be to incorporate operatic voices in a soundtrack? How could I say no to this proposal. I had been composing classical operatic music since I was a teenager and to now have an opportunity to write operatic-ish music for a computer game was a fantastic opportunity. I wanted to see if it was possible to make opera-sounding music listenable to a game-player. I was teaching piano lessons to the movie producer Howard Kazanjian’s (Star Wars) sons at the time. They had a young cousin names Karin Mushegain who was studying opera. And so I met her and asked if she would be willing to record some operatic-ish music for Heroes II. She was only 15 at the time and she and I and Rob had a great time working together. It was a first for all of us. My buddy Grant Youngblood, who is one of America’s best baritones, was in Los Angeles during an operatic tour and I asked if he could also join us to try and make some operatic music for Heroes II. So we all got together at Rob’s studio and tried to make some music that sounded as if it were from a nineteenth-century opera. I pulled out lyrics from the Roman Catholic requiem in both Latin and German.

Rob King: The idea for Heroes II pretty much came from that night after seeing La Bohème. I also knew Opera was never done in a video game before and that also had appeal to me. Opera is not for everyone and I totally acknowledged that when I was contemplating the idea of it. Paul was easy, he basically said ”Yeah, let’s do it” without blinking an eye. The New World Computing Dev team on the other hand had very mixed feelings :) I remember going into Jon’s office and he looked me straight in the face and said “uh, no”. Mark Caldwell who was the VP was also against it but was a little more receptive of trying the idea out. Jon just wasn’t a fan of Opera. After weeks of pleading with him and a lot of jokes in between he was up for the idea with one contingency. That we have mixes of the music without the vocal as an option for the user to switch between. One of the artists at NWC came up with a cute little icon/button of an Opera singer with her mouth open and closed in the sound option menu of the game and then this allowed the user to turn off the vocal in the track. We had both versions streaming so you could switch between the two. I remember being pretty nervous when that game released but it all worked out and the majority of the game fans really enjoyed it.

4. As composers, how did you approach the Heroes VII project? What was similar to past Heroes, and what was different?

Paul Romero: The approach was different because we wanted each piece to have it’s own sonic and musical style. Each theme was a world-unto-itself from a harmonic and melodic structural point of view. They range from neo-baroque to post-romanticism.

Rob King: We kinda approach it the same way as we did on Heroes 1. Paul and I get together and discuss the overall “vibe” of what we would like do and set it in motion. I first build the Orchestral Sound Template I want to use for the score and that usually takes a couple weeks to fine tune and Paul starts working from home on his Steinway around the same time. We knew we wanted Opera again as well as other vocal numbers. We decided early on that the language we wanted to use this time around was Greek and Armenian. We choose the language on every game and try to stay the course on beautiful emotional melodies and god knows we could do without any more damn Evil Latin Choir Chants in these so called “Epic” scores these days. Blah… :) Heroes II was German and Latin, Heroes IV was all Latin, Heroes V started in English then we redid it in Latin and a few made up words :) Heroes V had all original lyrics and the previous games we used passages from the Bible, lot’s of good story telling there huh? We did a game called RIFT a few year back and that game had Persian and Ancient Aztec languages in the score. Maybe something from Eastern Europe next time around? Perhaps something as obscure as Mongolian? It has to be slightly unusual these days for me to get excited. Ha! Again, technology and the advancement in Sound Design and samples also played a role in the evolution of our sound.

5. As you mentioned before, Heroes VII marks the return of opera singer Karin Mushegain. How was it to work with Karin again?

Rob King: Karin is so easy to work with. We have all been friends for so long now and know each other so well it just flows effortlessly. We are also consistently joking around in the studio and all love hanging out together. No Autotune there folks! The girl has some seriously skills now. I also used my 1955 AKG C12 mic this time around on her vocal and the recording just sounds stunning. No doubt her best performance on a Heroes score to date.

Paul Romero: Karin Mushegain has a voice that is reaching a zenith of power and control and beauty. I don’t think there is another mezzo-soprano in the world that could have sung more beautifully on these tracks. It was a pure pleasure and a fortunate moment to be able and work with her once again. To be able and capture her voice at this stage of her career is a fantastic and magnificent opportunity. Plus she is a wonderfully funny and charming woman on a personal level. So it’s a win-win-win situation for everyone.

6. We often receive fan e-mails asking for transcriptions of the lyrics of the opera parts :) How do you write these lyrics?

Rob King: Basically start with what we want to say, then find the right phrases to suit the melodic flow. Heroes VII was about eternal Heroism and the old “Good vs. Evil”. Coming up with phrases relating to “Good vs. Evil” , like one liners and random other phrases, then translating them into the language. From there, whatever phrases best fit the melody and flow of the song get used.

Paul Romero: We always try and express ourselves through different means. Which means not only expanding our musical and harmonic and technological language, but also our actual language of choice. Rob and I have used German, Latin, Nahuatl (Aztec), French, Farsi, in the past. I thought that Greek would be nice because the idea of the Hero is so closely linked to Greek mythology. So why not use the Greek language to express heroic thoughts? Plus I wanted to use a bit of Armenian as a tribute to Karin Mushegain’s ancestral past.

7. Could you describe the process of composing a specific track: Hope for Green Falls (used in the game as the Haven faction theme)? From the first melodies to the final, mixed track.

Rob King: Everything usually starts with a mood. This particular track I knew I wanted the mid section to have all the ethnic flutes playing under Karin’s vocal. So the sound palette started pretty early. I also like to listen to a lot of different musical scores to gain inspiration and mood. There is one song on the Heroes VII score called Requiem For a King. I remember listening to the Seven Years in Tibet Score by John Williams and Yo Yo Ma. I just loved the sound of that record and the music is brilliant. I wanted to capture that sound from that score on this tune especially the cello solo. Our good friend Fang Fang Xu played the beautiful cello on this particular song and it is one of my favorites on the score.

Fang Fang Xu plays the cello on Heroes VII's soundtrack.

Paul Romero: I was listening to Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs for Soprano and Orchestra. That particular score tells the story of the last seasons of ones life with lyrics from Herman Hesse. That gave me an inspiration for this particular track. I started writing on the piano at home and then brought it into the studio for Rob and myself to program. We started with the Strings and Harp and built the orchestration around those performances.

The opening woodwinds are ethnically ambiguous so that you can feel “far away”, emotionally… Karin’s voice comes in to sooth you and gives you hope. The orchestra sweeps away and takes you to new heights of hopes of heroism.

Rob King: Once we had the tracked done in Cubase and Paul finished playing the last note of MIDI data I then go through every track individually and program keyswitch, breath and velocity data for all the instruments one by one making them sound as natural and organic as possible. After that tedious task is done, each individual instrument is tracked through my API sidecar into Protools. I just love what it does to the digital files. Once I have the arrangement all tracked in Protools I then go through and time adjust every .wav file so that the timing is spot on and sample accurate getting rid of any MIDI latency issues. BTW, we don’t quantize anything on these recordings. Every part is played by either Paul or myself and than edited for human timing. It takes a great amount of time but I feel it really makes everything sound incredibly organic. Then a few live elements were tracked and put in the mix.

After the music is all finished we then had Karin come in and lay down the vocals I think the final take was take 2 on this particular piece. Once the song was complete I then started mixing. I use a combination on Software plugins and analog outboard gear. The Vocal had a Retro 176 Comp for a bit of Mojo and to tame some of the peaks in Karin’s range. The reverbs used on the song for various ambiences are from my Bricasti M7 hardware reverbs. On the master Insert bus of Protools I have a Manley Backbone mastering console plugged in. The chain used on the master bus for the whole score was usually Burl DA converter – Shadow Hills Mastering Compressor – Amtec PEQ-10 (Pultec type) tube EQ’s – Maslec MPL2 peak and M/S High frequency limiter – GML 8200 Stereo EQ – Burl AD Converter. Everything is just doing a little bit of something to put a bit of glue on the mix.

Rob King's studio - where the magic happens.

8. Looking back on those 20 years of Heroes, which track are you the most proud of?

Rob King: I love the harpsichord piece from Heroes 1, Grass Theme in Heroes IV, Sylvan Theme in Heroes V, Most of the Tribes of the East expansion music came out pretty cool and on this new soundtrack I love most of it! (Maybe because it’s new?) :) My favorites being Hope for Green Falls, Requiem For a King, The Elven Coronation & The Wizard’s Waltz. Honestly we have done so much music on this series it is just crazy. Probably somewhere in the 6-8 hour range between all the titles and expansions over the past 2 decades. I can’t even remember most of it, LOL.

Paul Romero: I am most proud of Heroes VII because each tune is fully expressed to my musical satisfaction. If I never have an opportunity to compose another soundtrack, I would be happy that this would be my last. It is everything I want to say musically at this time in my life.

9. Paul, I think you’ll soon be in Poland for a music festival, with a special treat for Heroes fans… Can you tell us more?

Paul Romero: I have a friend who is arranging a full Might & Magic Heroes concert with orchestra, chorus and operatic soloists.. I am composing a Might & Magic Heroes piano concerto so that I can be the soloist with the orchestra and play a lot of the Heroes melodies in a piano-concerto format. The concert organizers will announce a date as soon as everything is in place! I hope that Heroes fans from across Europe can come to this event and hear their favorite tunes in a format that is different than what they hear on the game scores.

Rob King: Not much to add here but I did spend 2 weeks canoeing in the Northern part of Poland and spent a bit of time in the lovely city of Gdansk. Would love to go back there again some time.

10. Finally, do you have a message for Heroes fans?

Paul Romero: I really love and appreciate that Heroes game fans take the time to write and express how they enjoy the musical aspects of the Heroes games. It means a lot to me because Rob and I really try our best to make good music from a technical and musical point of view. It is rewarding and heartwarming that people will actually notice and then write us to thank us, so I want to thank them. It is pointless to try and create good music if no one is listening and the great Heroes fans let us know that someone out there Is listening!

Rob King: Thank You for being so supportive of the music. Hearing all the positive feedback and the countless cover versions on YouTube of the various themes over the past 2 decades is truly amazing, especially from all the Eastern European fans. Paul & I always have a blast working on these scores and it has become a big part of our musical existence. Thank you for letting us continue our role on Heroes.

Thank you , much love. - شكرا لك، الكثير من الحب. - Dziękuję, dużo miłości. - Спасибо, много любви. - Σας ευχαριστούμε, πολλή αγάπη. - Gracias, mucho amor. - با تشکر از شما، بیشتر عشق. - Merci, Much Love.

Paul Romero & Rob King

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