Jan “Honza” Valta is our Music Composer for Kingdom Come: Delivernacce and works closely together with our Adaptive Music Designer Adam Sporka to create our unique adaptive music system, which reacts on your gameplay.
Do you have any questions to Jan “Honza” Valta? Please ask here.
You can find a Spanish translation of this interview here.
1) How did you hear about Warhorse?
I have been writing music for Warhorse since August 2014 (music for Alpha Teaser was the very first piece I composed for Kingdom Come).
But there’s a bit complicated story behind it. From the beginning, besides for me it also involved my colleague Adam Sporka.
In January 2014, we both spotted this game’s success at the Kickstarter. We checked the game, we said “wow!”. and we started working on a demo which we wanted to send to Warhorse, offering our services (me as a composer, Adam as an adaptive music designer).
This preliminary stage took 6 months. During that time, I collected all available information about Kingdom Come and - I totally fell in love with it. I was like: if there is one game in this universe I would love to score, it’s this one.
In July 2014, Adam’s friend who worked in Warhorse told us Daniel already has one particular composer in mind. That meant there isn’t any chance for us. Well… for me, it was just a dream - but yet, I was quite disappointed.
You may not believe in God or destiny, but here it is: literally THE NEXT DAY I got mail from Daniel Vávra, asking whether I would be interested in scoring his upcoming game called Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Dream come true!
If you ask how that is possible:
In 2007, I’ve done some of the orchestral arrangements for a Czech death metal band called Arakain. I guess you noticed this already (t-shirts?): Daniel is a big fan of death metal, so he found it somewhere, he liked it and he remembered it.
In 2011, during my family holiday I accidentaly met a nice young lady (well, accidentaly: there was only one pub in that village) who saw me working on some music on my laptop there (holiday, uhm). She said her boyfriend makes videogames, and she offered she can pass some demo of my work onto him. So, I gave her a CD with my symphony called “Fulcanelli”, saying - who knows?
That boyfriend of that nice young lady was Daniel Vávra.
That’s it - based on these two things, I’ve got that job offer. Thanks God for nice young ladies.
2) Ever worked on videogames before?
Kingdom Come is the very first game I’m scoring. But I am typing notes into scores since 2005. Originally, I am a violinist (studied at the Teplice Conservatory and Prague Academy, played in Czech Philharmonic for two seasons, proud member of the Herold Quartet since it was founded in 1998) but I never studied composition, instrumentation, orchestration etc.
There were two schools for me:
1. Listening to great works of the classic masters (Dvořák, Ravel etc.) and watching their music in the score (if you want to do the same - five letters: IMSLP). That gave me quite a lot of understanding how music works (and also, how to type it down - basic notation is easy but complex scores for a full orchestra do have many rules which you should obey - because they’re good).
2. Drinking beer with my fellows, Prague musicians. Many of my friends are excellent instrumentalists (winds, brass, strings, keyboards, percussion… you name it) and to have a couple of kegs with them gave me the opportunity to ask questions such as: when I write this, would it be comfortable to play on your instrument?, and if not, how shoud I write it then?, what’s the spot where you blow up to the upper register?, is it comfortable to play in the lowest register in pianissimo? etc.
3) So much for theory lessons. Now the real experience:
Before I started working on KC:D, I’ve done quite a lot of orchestral music, chamber music, songs, I scored two TV shows… And - I’ve done tons of arrangements. Really many of them (surely over a thousand, don’t know the exact figure), various genres, various line-ups…
I would say it’s a great thing to start with, if you want to be a composer: as an arranger, you don’t actually compose but you’re working with the music of someone else (usually someone good, otherwise people wouldn’t be willing to pay for a new arrangement of it). And you are asked to re-shape it, re-orchestrate it, fill-in some emptier sections… That can’t be done if you don’t understand that particular piece first. It’s a great training.
And once you start working with music and scores, it never stops: you go to cinema, you watch the film but 20% of your brain analyses the music (why this, why that way, why now, why here yes and there no); you play a piece of music yourself and you watch the combinations of instruments they create that wonderful color, you think about why that composer didn’t use the french horn here and put the bassoon intstead… You’re doomed forever!
So, as a game composer I was a virgin, but I had quite a lot of music experience before I joined Warhorse.
4) Please describe one of your colleagues or your department:
Our Music Department is very small, there’s only two of us. That gives me the chance to answer this question without hurting anyone’s feelings. So, I present to you: Adam Sporka, our adaptive music designer and additional music composer. He designed many features of our adaptive music system, he wrote the Sequence Music Engine which rules our music in the game and he also composed some of the tracks (i.e. that Gregorian Chant you’re gonna hear in the monastery and music for armed combat).
First, I’ll copy/paste what I have written about him elsewhere already (because it’s 100% true):
“There are gifted programmers and gifted musicians. And then, there is Adam Sporka. He is both, in one person. Creating adaptive game music is a highly challenging task, and I am very grateful I could collaborate with Adam on the soundtrack for Kingdom Come: Deliverance. Provided with 10 minutes and pen & paper, Adam is able to find the most suitable and effective solution for a complex technological problem. But even as a composer, he is able to deliver a catchy tune or an enchanting atmosphere, both fitting the situation perfectly. Such a combination of technological and artistic abilities is extremely rare. To me, it makes Adam one of a kind.”
And, as we’re among friends here on this community forum, I can add: Adam is always willing to work harder if that may raise the quality for even 0.00001%, has a wonderful sense of humour, he writes fantastic chiptunes, he drinks coffe with milk… And after working with me for 3+ years, he became quite a skilled beer drunkar
(I mustn’t forget: Adam and I are cousins. He was born just 2 days after me. Obviously, our family is a good family. )
5) What are some of your notable accomplishments?
-watch it in complexity in one Adam’s lectures, around time 35:40:
Our seamless transitions solution for the exploration music. If you’re interested, you can:
-briefly see it working in our video update (Bohemian Symphony), around time 2:55:
6.1) Why we did what we did?
Kingdom Come is an epic story and it might as well be a fantastic Hollywood blockbuster. So we decided it deserves a soundtrack which would sound like a really good film music. But - it’s not film (so far) and being a game, it needs an adaptive soundtrack, too.
Nowadays music in almost every game changes when you move from one area to another - it helps the overall atmosphere of the location, it brings additional emotions… And when you come back from a wild adventure and the music for your village starts to play, you even feel like: so good to be home again.
In order to do this, you need to have a system which lets you switch from one track into another. In games, it is usually done through one of the following ways:
1. with just play / play something else (track A plays until its very end; track B starts after that)
2. with fade-out (track A fades out; when that happens, track B starts)
3. through crossfade (track A fades out whilst track B fades in - there is a short period of time where you hear both tracks playing together)
4. through an abrupt change (track A plays; track B starts playing abruptly, accompained with some loud hit on drum / cymbal to cover it).
These solutions are legal (everyone uses them, no one being arrested so far) and they are relatively easy to produce. But when you look at their descriptions in brackets whilst listening to our exploration music, you will see why we couldn’t use any of these:
1. means our music would react very slow (actually so slow that it would look as if it doesn’t react at all)
2. kills the natural flow of the music (it would kill the “film-like” feeling of our music in the game - and also, it’s way too cheap for something like KC:D)
3. would sound crap in our soundtrack (which is based of themes, melodies, quite complex chords etc. - simply, two tracks at the same time would quarrel each other badly)
4. would sound crap everwhere (with one exception which is Gothic 3, since it was scored by Kai Rosenkranz and I love that soundtrack!)
So - what to do?
6.2) Our big plan to rule the universe:
for every 10 seconds of every music track, there is a place for which we composed & produced an extra tiny little piece of music (usually 1 bar). That piece starts in 100% unison with the currently played part of the track, but it immediately starts to “cool down” the current music (finishing the phrase etc.), and within 5 seconds, it leads all its voices into one of the 3 exactly pre-defined chords (C, E, Ab - all of them with thirds omitted). These tiny little pieces are called BRANCHES.
for every track, we also composed & produced 3 openings (usually 2-4 bars). Each of these 3 openings starts with one of those 3 chords (C, E, Ab) - again, in the same exactly pre-defined shape -, but it immediately goes on with the overall mood of that track. And at its end, it lands into the “real” beginning of that track. (Same as BRANCHES start in unison with their track, these openings end in unison with their track). These openings are called INTROS.
Now, how the description of our transition from track A to track B would look like:
- track A plays, until it is valid. When the change is needed (i.e. you left one area and you entered another etc.), our music engine knows that.
- within those 10 seconds, we leave the (now non-valid) track A and we play the closest BRANCH available - just like taking the closest exit on a highway. Through it we cool the music down and we lead it into one of those 3 chords (C, E, Ab)
- when BRANCH ends (within 5 seconds), we play one of the 3 INTROS (yeah, the one, the end of that previous BRANCH was leading to)
- when INTRO ends, we finally start playing track B (but for most of the tracks, you will not notice where that is)
That means: for every transition you’re gonna hear in the game, we use two transtional tracks. This way, we are able to change the mood within 15 seconds latest - and completely seamlessly.
Not a rocket science, but - well, it wasn’t as easy either Considering the amount of INTROS and - particularly - BRANCHES needed for every single track in the exploration music, it was around 1.000 tiny little pieces of music which we had to compose, produce, export, index, implement into the music engine, test, tweak, re-export, send for mastering, control, and finally implement into the game.
Also, we had to do all this manually: anything else except a PERFECT unison wouldn’t sound seamless at all (you would hear a bump, or some of the voices ending abruptly / acting strangely etc.); anything else than a nicely composed transition would sound odd.
(1.000 pieces… it was hell But from the very beginning our main rule was: nothing is too good for Kingdom Come!)
6.3) OK, and what’s the benefit of such a complicated solution?
When we switch from one track to another, you feel the change of the mood in music, but you can’t say when exactly that transition happened - because it sounds as if it was composed and produced exactly that way. Exactly for you, for your way of playing our game, all the way through.
And that leads to the point: in a good film music, there certainly are musical transitions between different moods, too. But they sound logical, nice, flowing… Seamless.
Simply put, they are not just some dumb joints. They’re music themselves, too. And that’s the right way how to do it.
7) How, when and with what platform or game did you first get acquainted with videogames?
First were the handhelds: I remember Sea Ranger (damn, those sharks and coconuts!) and particularly Sub Attack (that one even had a solar panel, no need of batteries). Then Atari 800XL - I played many fanastic games on it (perhaps Rescue on Fractalus was the most memorable). Later Commodore (one word: Turrican). After that, there was a gap until the first PC (I started with Duke Nukem, Magic Carpet, Quake…).
For quite a couple of years, I don’t play anymore - no time. Last game I finished was Gothic 3, and that’s years ago. But now, I ended up in the industry where I have to play the game in order to fulfill my professional duties. Now that’s cool.
8) What was your most touching video game moment?
I must say it. It’s one particular cutscene from Kingdom Come. As it is almost at the very end of the story, I can’t tell you more (when you gonna play it, remember: it’s a dream). I had tears in my eyes already when reading the script, then during the composing, then during the recording with the orchestra and finally when I saw it all put together in the game. My, it’s so strong!, and so much true!
(But in order to not mislead you: same as there are many really strong, moving moments in our game, there are also sooo many moments I was LOL! Wonderful script, epic lines. Really hope it’s gonna be a classic.)
9) Most hilarious bug you have ever encountered or worst video game experience?
Years ago. An RPG called Stonekeep. In one of the floors (75% of the game process done already) you could enter a fairy realm (those of you who laugh now: that’s just because you didn’t play it!) You could enter it through a portal, but I decided to go down into to the next floor first. And that was it: once you did that, you couldn’t enter that bloody fairy realm anymore and you couldn’t finish the game at all.
It was a major bug, many players complained and later I even downloaded some saves (prior this decision) on the Internet - but they weren’t my saves, it weren’t my magic wands, my carefully levelled character… For me, it pretty much spoiled everything.
10) Are there any videogames you repeat playing over and over again?
Downwell. I crashed 3 smartphones over last 2 years (certainly not because of that game - and certainly NOT because of our game!), and everytime, it was one of the first things I downloaded into my new phone. Simple at first glance, surprisingly complex when you know better what it is about. And that joke at the very end… Really love it.
11) How do you relax after a hard day at work?
I have the best wife I could ever have, I have fantastic daughter (10) and two incredible sons (2) - twins. And I truly love them all. Being with them is the best relax I know. (Even when both boys at the same time are crushing their metal toys against my aching head.)
Wanna hear something more adventurous, like free climbing, rafting or driving an F1 car, huh? OK, here it goes:
I love cooking (definitely my mother’s DNA), eating, even shopping groceries (which is weird, as I totally hate any other shopping) and even washing the dishes and cleaning up the kitchen. Anything around food makes me highly interested. I’m not a good cook, as that would need time which I don’t have, so I would say I am a bad cook but with a huge portion of a passion on the top of it.
Another passion? Spanish red wine - there’s nothing like a glass of Rioja (save for a glass of Cardenal Mendoza brandy, of course).
Beer - come on, we’re Czechs!, when one drinks beer here, we don’t even talk about it.
Certainly books, films, TV shows - see below. Besides for that… I’m interested in everything about the universe, actually. Speed of light, event horizon, correlation between energy and matter… (Don’t understand 1% of it, but that doesn’t bother me at all.)
Might sound strange but - I listen to music (outside my working hours) only rarely. But when that happens and I can listen & watch the score, I really enjoy it (probably I’m happy someone else did all the work and composed that already)
12) Your favorite music playlist
My family background is a bit classical, I would say (dad = conductor, mom = piano, sister = harpsichord; me = violin since the age of 5; no, we never played together on the same stage). So I love those really BIG composers (such as Dvořák, Brahms, Ravel, Debussy, Janáček, Martinů, but even some more contemporary ones - in case it makes sense to my senses).
Hard to say what’s the best: I love Mahler’s FIfth (it was the very first symphony I played in Czech Philharmonic, but I don’t think that’s the only reason) and I can’t tell whether Dvořák’s Eight is better than that.
(But it probably is.)
If one work only: Antonín Dvořák - Stabat Mater (no one can never, ever do it better)
If one more: John Williams - E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial OST (no one can never, ever do it better)
If one extra more: Alan Silvestri: Predator OST (this is just so cool!, love every second of this fantastic soundtrack)
(Btw., I am absolutely sure Williams, Goldsmith, Silvestri or Morricone already are true classics, fully comparable with those BIG composers I wrote about.)
Besides the classics? Beatles, Queen, Billy Joel, - fantastic tunes! Sometimes I’m sad, I feel as if no one composes such great melodies anymore. How did that happen? You might say I’m old, but - my taste in music didn’t change too much, over the years. (That means I was born old already.)
13) Your favorite movie or book?
I love everything Spielberg has done (though Artificial Intelligence: AI was so sad I’ll never watch it again; great film, though). Also, with my wife we are crazy fans of the MAS*H TV show - we’ve seen all 251 episodes about 20 times already - but we want it again and again. I am a passionate lover of House of Cards - purchased Netflix because of it, couldn’t stop watching it. (I want Kevin Spacey back!) And then there are some Czech films which I totally adore but I am afraid it wouldn’t make sense to name them here (save for one: Kolya - it even won the Academy Award, and it totally deserved it).
If one film only: E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (again) - to me it’s the very essence of what a film should look like. Not just in music, in everything.
Books? I love most of Umberto Eco’s novels, same for Márquez. Really not against a perfect thriller - Forsyth rules (everone knows The Day of the Jackal which is phenomenal but you should try i.e. The Negotiator - that is fantastic, too). Some years ago I fell in love with Jo Nesbo’s books about Harry Hole (I think I read them all - and then I went to bed, finally).
If one book only: Alejo Carpentier: Lost Steps. Quite hard to read, but absolutely impossible to forget. Strongest ending of all books I read.
14) Your travel tip?
Besides for Prague, you mean? Because honestly: I used to travel a lot whilst making my living as a freelance violinist, and I have seen some truly magnificent cities… but Prague is still the most beautiful place I know.
If not Prague, then Rio de Janeiro - an incredible city, in many ways.
15) Do you believe in Aliens?
Sure!, as universe is f*cking large. One of the sad things about my mortality: when someone finally breaks Einstein’s laws and humans will eventually reach for the other stars, I’ll be loooong dead to see it.
16) If you could say something to the fans of Kingdom Come: Deliverance, what would it be?
That I feel the utmost gratitude to them. Because without them, there would be no game at all.
To me personally, working on the soundtrack for Kingdom Come: Deliverance was undoubtedly the most difficult & challenging task I’ve ever done. (Century ago I would say that the most difficult thing in music is to compose an opera. No, it isn’t.) But also, it was the most beautiful, thrilling and exciting experience I ever had in my professional life. Also, I am extremely proud I became a part of the Warhorse team which is full of incredibly gifted professionals they give everything they can.
And all this wouldn’t happen without all the people they supported us (Kickstarter, our own community funding, but even on discussion forums or by posting under our Video Updates…). Over those years, it meant much more than you think, for all of us in Warhorse. Thank you for all this!
As I said, I loved the game from the very beginning. The end approaches and I love it even more. I hope you will have the same feeling about it. Thanks!
Do you have any questions to Jan “Honza” Valta? Please ask here.