Interview with Lennie Moore and Franck Sauer about the OUTCAST Reboot!

This month our new Online Media Editor, Richard Savery, chatted with Lennie Moore and Fresh3d Creative Director Franck Sauer about the 1999 game Outcast and the new Outcast Reboot HD, currently on Kickstarter till the 7th of May.
For those who don’t know the original game what makes Outcast stand out and worthy of a reboot?
Franck: Outcast was a game that was, on many levels, way ahead of its time. It featured an open world with non-linear quests, a variety of interactions going from 1st and 3rd person combat to resource management and even some platforming elements. A mixture of genres that was at the time difficult to comprehend. It had incredible production values with things such as fully voiced NPCs (Non Player Characters), I mean you could talk to any of them and receive a voiced response. Now when you look back at it, it appears a lot of these things would go unnoticed at the time because it was running using a software renderer at a time when everyone wanted to play on their 3d accelerated graphics card. So to us it’s like a gem that still needs to be discovered, albeit with modern visuals. The story holds up very well, as well as the dialog and music.
Lennie: If I were to add anything, I’d say that this whole project was highly innovative at the time in many areas – The AI, graphics, story and the music were all groundbreaking in my opinion. I mean, we’re talking 1997 technology! And the kinds of solutions we all came up with to create an immersive experience at a time when games had some really severe resource limitations just astounds me when I look back upon it.
As an example, the music was red book audio (the 44.1KHz 16bit CD audio formatting that was the standard for commercial music CDs) so how do you seamlessly loop music when the CD laser has to physically move or jump from reading the end of a track back to the beginning? How do you transition from an ambient track to a battle track when the laser sometimes takes up to .5 seconds to skip from the middle of one track to the start of another? Well, you can’t! So what Franck, Yann, Yves and everyone working this problem came up with was in my estimation a series of pretty ingenious solutions:
1) All the sound design and dialog ran off your computer’s hard drive along with the game engine. The music would play off one of the CDs. For transitions from ambient to battle, they would fade out the ambient music and trigger a line of dialog (the female-voiced computer in your character’s headset feeding you information about your environment) saying something like, “Warning. High Level Energy Source Detected.” Then the battle music would begin. Such a simple way of hiding the delay involved by changing tracks but so effective at keeping you immersed in the game.
2) Red book audio formatting allows tracks to include markers or “indexes” which the developers used to start ambient tracks at alternate start points so the player wouldn’t always hear the ambient tracks start from the very beginning again. As a battle track faded out, there would be a little environmental sound design, a “breath” if you will, then the ambient track would softly fade in from the index point. Cool!
Regarding the Reboot, I do believe there’s a market for revisiting certain content when creators have something new to say, and to re-introduce a iconic experience to a new audience. I believe that’s why projects like Halo Anniversary have done well. What I’m most excited about is what new things will be discovered by revisiting Adelpha? It’s like we’re digging deeper into the substrate of this world and making entirely new discoveries.
How did you come to be involved in the original Outcast, and now the Reboot?
Lennie: I saw a notice on a newsgroup stating a Belgian game developer was looking for a “Hollywood” composer to score orchestral music for a new video game. At the time, I lived “near Hollywood” in South Pasadena, CA and figured that was close enough! I emailed them and expressed my interest. They asked for some examples of my music and I sent them some really dark live orchestra music which I had written for an atom bomb documentary called “Trinity & Beyond” and that seemed to win them over. They brought me over to their offices in Namur, Belgium and showed me the progress of the game and discussed what the music approach would be and fed me lots of coffee, chocolate and Belgian Ale. After that, all I remember is the contracts were signed and I was scoring my first game!
Franck: Yeah, after this ad went up I received a couple dozen demo tapes and CDs. Among them was Lennie’s. One thing I liked about his music was the scale of it, I could easily see it fit in the game’s universe, and he was also very classic in his writing. I’m no expert but you could hear he was a master at his craft. Not to mention the awesome sound of the orchestra.  Also he was among the very few to actually have any experience with a real orchestra. I was a bit in the unknown regarding the way to handle all the steps required to get to that final stage of actually having the audio delivered, and it was a relief when I saw Lennie had already all the required contacts with the orchestra, the conductor and all that stuff. He basically took charge of all of that process.
Lennie: Since the reacquisition of the Outcast IP (Intellectual Property) from Atari by the original creators Franck, Yann and Yves at the end of last year, we have been in communication with each other regarding what to do next with the franchise and I just offered to help out any way I could. One of the first things we did was re-master the original soundtrack and put it on iTunes! We’ve included all the Intro cinematic music and some alternate takes from the recording sessions. It feels so great to have this soundtrack available again. Outcast Original Game Soundtrack
For the Reboot, I think the guys felt it was important to have as many people from the original team as possible. I was happy to do whatever I could to help them succeed in this endeavor. This franchise and these talented guys all mean so much to me. The bonds and friendships that get forged when working on games like this are lifelong ones. I think that’s part of why I love the game industry the way I do. I was totally spoiled by my first experience in games with Franck, Yann, Yves and everyone who worked on the original team. It must have been the chocolate…
Franck: It’s important to notice most people in the current core team were there back in the day. The names of companies come and go, but the people here are the same and that shows how committed they are to bringing back an experience that is true to the original game.
Can you tell us anything about your original musical approach?  And with that in mind, how different (if at all) is your approach to the 30 minutes of new music that will be added if the project reaches all of it’s stretch goals?
LennieIn my initial discussions with Franck, Yann and Yves about the music, they indicated they wanted longer ambient/atmospheric pieces (generally around 7 minutes in length) for the adventure and exploring aspects of each of the various regions within the game. This was unheard of at that time. Most ambient music for games would loop at about 30 seconds or a minute in length! They also needed four two-minute looping battle cues with varying levels of intensity, Main Titles, End Credits, and a few short pieces for when you are killed, when you succeed in completing major game milestones, and a company logo.
In composing this material, I realized early on that I needed to find a way to connect the whole score together, both thematically and harmonically. I accomplished this in two ways. First, by using leitmotifs such as my central “Arma” theme which you can hear in the Main Title piece, I could weave these into the regional material, connecting all the cues with this central theme. Secondly, I specifically chose an unusual tonality – a six-note (hexatonic) scale (C, D#, E, G, Ab, B) for my harmonic base, as it allowed me to write in several tonalities (Cmaj, Cmin, Emaj, Emin, Abmaj, Abmin) that were built into the primary scale. By using different techniques such as creating polychords (Cmin/Emin, Emin/Abmin, etc.), I could create harmonic continuity from cue to cue, region to region, and situation to situation by having the player hear several related tonalities together. As the player moved around in the game from one area to another, over time these tonalities would blend together until all that the player would sense would be an underlying connectedness, that all the regions belonged together and were part of the whole. I felt this approach would help give the player the most immersive game experience.
If the project reaches it stretch goals involving the creation of new music, I’m going to be doing the Ulukai Dance around my house! The music approach will be the same at it’s essence but the guys at Fresh3d will be introducing some new content for the Shamazaar undergrounds and they’ll be having me compose material for this new area, more battle music, and (if we get the full funding) new music for the region of Kizaar – the mysterious island which safeguards the women and children of the Talan.
As a composer how similar or different are the challenges you’ll face now composing for the Reboot as opposed to composing for the original?
Lennie: I think if we can get the funding for live recordings the technical challenges will be to match the energy of the original recordings, the sound of the scoring stage and the mix. It has to feel as if it was all recorded at a similar time and place. “The LOST Outcast Music!” Like it was secretly recorded and left in a vault somewhere. This should be no problem.
On the composition side, my focus will be to get back into that head-space of the Outcast universe. I have all my notes and conceptual ideas from when I was working on the original game. It will be so joyful to explore and develop this material and see where it will lead me.