- Published on Sunday, 23 September 2012 23:18
- Written by Cypress
“There it was, the soundtrack to my life, and, for a few seconds, came harmony, finally.” - Max Payne
Welcome to a new article here on PayneReactor. Most of our readers should’ve finished Max Payne 3’s story mode by now and are probably trying to settle a score in multiplayer. Hopefully, while in our multiplayer crew! Either way, if you’ve played the game you’re familiar with its soundtrack. A true masterpiece, as I’ve stated before.
Most of the music was created by HEALTH, the L.A. based noise band whose non-symmetrical sounds have garnered critical acclaim from the music press and fans around the world. Mixing their signature percussive undertones and synth effects, HEALTH has created a dark and driving soundscape that perfectly reflect Max’s blurred and frayed mental state.
I still continue to enjoy the music from the game to this day and I’ve always wondered what inspired HEALTH to come up with the tunes they made. In this article I’ll try to find an answer and to explain the use of audio in Max Payne 3. It features previously unreleased Max Payne 3 music!
THE STEM AUDIO SYSTEM
Max Payne 3 shares the same engine as Red Dead Redemption, namely the Rockstar Advanced Game Engine or RAGE in short. The RAGE engine handles audio in a different way than most game engines. All music and sound effects for a RAGE powered game are recorded in so called “stems”. Stems are layers of music and/or effects that can be used by the engine to mix music on the fly. Through this, the music can evolve along with the action on screen.
To show you how this works, I’ll dissect the music “cemetery_song_03”. The song is used in the chapter “Ain’t No Reprievement Gonna Be Found” and consists of six stems in total. All six are recorded in stereo and are exactly 3:18 minutes in length:
Stem 1: Eerie violin
Stem 2: Heartbeat
Stem 3: Bass
Stem 4: Melody
Stem 5: Percussion
Stem 6: Ambient music (screaming Rose)
When all Stems are combined, “Dead” from the official Soundtrack is the result. To demonstrate how easy the engine can create music by using stems, I’ve made a video in which I combine all six. Each kicking in after about ten seconds. While the mix becomes noisy near the end, it does prove how well the audio system was engineered to avoid this.
The game also uses “one shots”, short high-volume effects (many of which are used in trailers for the game), that last no longer than seven seconds. Most of these are used for sudden pre-scripted events (like an enemy surprise encounter) or are blended within the music to add more suspense.
The in-game dialogue is handled in a similar way. Conversations between Max and Passos and Max’s inner monologue are cut into pieces with a duration of less than ten seconds. The main reason behind this might be to make it able for the engine to cut off dialogue whenever the player triggers a cut scene or scripted event.
Now we understand how the game handles audio we are able to delve deeper into the process of creating the music itself. What drove HEALTH to create this music? Well after doing some research, the answer is pretty obvious. The Max Payne heritage. HEALTH was mainly inspired by the previous two Max Payne games as well as the Brazilian culture.
In a quest to find a perfect blend between the two, It’s here when the band’s brilliance comes into play. HEALTH succeeds by staying true to the atmosphere and character, the dark and Scarface-like “Panama” tune for example fits perfectly with the drug dotted boat. Unexpectedly very familiar.
For those that have seen the movie “Inception” (score composed by the legendary Hans Zimmer) the video below will be interesting.
Inception features Édith Piaf’s “Non Regrette Rien” as main theme for the protagonists to awake from their dreams (the kick). Zimmer slowed this classical track to such extent, that the slowdown created a new track. The infamous Inception intro music.
Health has done something similar. As starting point they used the iconic Max Payne theme. After analysing the track I’m sure they began to mess around with it. Recreating it on various instruments to come up with new renditions for use in game. But, like Zimmer, they also played around with the song its tempo, tone height and speed. Rockstar Games already gave us a short insight in how one of HEALTH’s Max Payne themes was created by sending us a video straight from the recording booth weeks before the game was released.
However, in this case the theme was slowed down around 600% to result in the track “NY_BAR_SONG_02_1”. Watch the video’s below for a comparison.
First HEALTH's "NY_BAR_SONG_02_1":
Second, The Max Payne 2 theme slowed by 600%:
Start both videos again. Start HEALTH's song around the 20 second mark and the slowed down theme around the 2 minute mark. Now switch and forth. Amazing huh?!
But there’s more! HEALTH also re-used existing audio from the previous Max Payne titles. The video below demonstrates the re-use of the Funhouse theme from Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne.
And if you think it'd stop there you're dead wrong. Important, sentimental sound effects are also being re-used in songs.The next two videos demonstrate the re-use of the screaming Rose (Max’s daughter) sound effect from Max Payne 1.
First, the full sixth stem from "Cemetery_Song_03" (Pay attention around the 1 minute mark):
And compare it to the nightmare video from Max Payne 1 below (around the 4:10 minute mark):
[Update: Embedding disabled by YouTube, click here alternatively]
So there you have it. A deeper insight in the music of Max Payne 3. HEALTH deserves way more credit for the Soundtrack of Max Payne 3 than received. I’d like to help with this article. Months after the release of the game, the whole experience, the music, it all keeps me hooked. Thanks for reading. Better get back to my game, I’m in the mood to empty some clips!