Back in 2009/2010 when I was working with Wall of Sound on BioWare’s epic Sci-Fi action/RPG Mass Effect 2, there were a number of tracks that came about to various degrees of completion. Since Jack Wall was the lead composer, everything went by him first and then he’d provide feedback and then if it passed his approval, it was submitted to BioWare. Thus, I ended up with a handful of tracks that either didn’t quite fit the tone of what I wrote them for, or otherwise were merely just rough sketches of ideas. Some of these are ideas that I never even ran by Jack because it turned out that I was needed to work on other things or else maybe I just felt that they weren’t necessarily worth pursuing at the time.
At any rate, now that Mass Effect 3 is out, I felt it was time to unbury them from the lonely recesses of my hard drive and dust them off and share them with the Mass Effect fans of the world (or anyone else who likes electronic/orchestral music with a 80′s/sci-fi twist). And thus, the album Legacy exists. The fantastic artwork you see above was done by my friend and highly gifted artist Jessie “axl99″ Lam. A few people have asked me what these tracks were specifically written for. It’s been a while, and as I said, some were merely idea sketches, but I’ll do my best to provide a basic explanation here:
- “Shepard of the Galaxy” - This isn’t actually unused music at all. See below.
- “Cosmic Visions” – Jack told me that they were going to need music for a “new kind of space exploration” in the game. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant (though later I learned it meant the music for when you’re scanning the planets). Also at the time I didn’t know that BioWare planned on reusing Sam’s theme “Uncharted Worlds” (which I am VERY glad that they did) and thus, while I tried to write a piece in a similar style, I think Jack’s reprise of that theme (“New Worlds”) was exactly what the game needed.
- “Faster Than Light” – I had hoped that we’d be able to return to Noveria in Mass Effect 2, but alas that wasn’t the case. However, I still loved the synth line from that theme, so I incorporated it into this song, which I originally thought might be a nice extension to the credit music (which is “Suicide Mission”) seeing as the credits still rolled after the music stopped, and that kind of bugged me. I wrote this one in a similar-ish style to Faunts ME1 credit music “M4 Part 2“. I still think it might have been cool to hear during the credits, but oh well. :)
- “No One Believes Me” – just a sketch that portrays how Shepard might have felt when he’s’ trying to warn everyone about the Collectors/Reapers and the galaxy and Council remains blissfully defiant of his warnings.
- “March of Legions” – actually, this was the first thing I wrote as the final boss music for the Grunt Acquisition level. Jack felt that it was a bit too epic though, since Grunt isn’t necessarily what one might consider an Epic character (I suppose that’s debatable, but in the end I think I agree.) Maybe it’s the choir, I dunno, but I’m glad it ended up not getting used, because I personally like the actual Grunt boss level music better, to be honest. As for the title, I just thought “March of Legions” sounded cool. It actually doesn’t mean anything pertaining to the character Legion :)
- “Hold the Line” - After completing Samara’s level, I wrote this as just a general combat theme for whichever level I might be assigned next. I had just heard the combat music David Kates wrote for Garrus (which I thought was amazing) and I wanted to kind of imitate his style. In the end, Jack said it was a good piece, but he wasn’t quite sure it fit Grunt or Tali very well (who are the other characters whose music I wrote). Again, I think he was right. Yes, the title is in fact a shout-out to Captain Kirrahe’s famous speech on Virmire in ME1 :)
- “Lost Souls” – Before I officially started working on the game, Jack told me that BioWare wanted a much darker tone for ME2 than ME1 had. ”Almost like a horror movie at times” I recall him saying. So this is a very very very subtle version of the “Mass Effect Theme” in such a style, maybe good for some sort of dark exploration. If you listen very very carefully, you can hear the Mass Effect theme in the chimes.
- “This Place Feels Unnatural“ - another idea for some kind of scary exploration piece. Just an idea, never really finished it.
- “Nova Siberia” – Jack asked me if I’d ever considering remixing any music from Mass Effect when we first met. I sent him this a couple days later, a remix of Noveria’s music. He loved it and asked if he could send it to BioWare to see what they thought. This is long before the proper mood of the game had been established and conveyed to Jack. So while this piece never actually made it into the game, it’s ultimately one of the key reasons Jack and I became friends and he ended up hiring me.
- “8-bit Tali” (Hidden Bonus Track) – Uh, do I really need to say anything about this one? ;) Fine, it’s an 8-bit version of the first combat track I wrote for Tali’s level just for fun. :)
Concerning the flagship track of the album, “Shepard of the Galaxy“, there’s a bit of a story behind it I suppose, seeing as it’s the only track that wasn’t actually “unused” music written for Mass Effect 2 music, but is rather a tribute arrangement of the music of the entire Trilogy. Back when I found out that Wall of Sound would not be returning to score Mass Effect 3, naturally I was sad to hear the news for several reasons. I love the series, for one, and was honored to be a part of it. I really enjoyed writing this style of music, where you have the liberty to alternate between or combine various styles of music like ambient, synth-driven, 80′s-esque, and epic cinematic/orchestral. I felt that it was a fun way to write, not necessarily being restricted to the confines of any single style or genre–it allowed for more room for creativity and expressiveness. Further, working with Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, and David Kates was a true honor. I consider them all great friends and each was a mentor and a source of inspiration to me while working on the game. And finally, seeing as the series is so amazing and widely recognized as such (despite some recent feedback about the endings, which I don’t quite agree with–I thought the ending, while not *exactly* what I hoped for, was in fact appropriate and acceptable) I was naturally disappointed to not continue on in such a series.
To be brutally honest, I did not feel like I was up to the task of writing music for Mass Effect 2. I honestly didn’t feel like I had the skill to write music that would be heard as on-par with the rest of the guys on the Wall of Sound team. I was extremely nervous/intimidated when I was brought on board. One of the first tracks I heard after Jack hired me was one of Sam’s combat themes for the Legion acquisition level. As soon as I heard it, I remember saying out loud “I don’t know if I can do this…” Apparently I was able to harness that desire to succeed, because I’ve been blessed to receive (both directly and indirectly) a number of kind remarks commenting on how effective and emotionally gratifying the music I wrote was. I think the pinnacle of the music I scored is probably “The Normandy Reborn“, and when I see people remark things like “I cried when I heard this piece and saw the SR-2″ I am deeply moved every time. I constantly hear many of the cues I wrote used by BioWare in promotional videos, video casts, reviews, and trailers, which tells me they must be pretty happy with what I gave them. :) Despite most people not knowing who I am, because the soundtracks for ME2 only mention Jack’s name (we’re not sure why or how that happened, especially since ME1 and ME3 don’t have that oversight), I’m still highly pleased to see such kind remarks about the music I wrote.
So with that tangent out of the way, I noticed that after it was announced that Wall of Sound would not return for ME3 that there were a huge number of people who voiced sadness/disappointment at discovering this news. A lot of fans really wanted Jack Wall to finish the trilogy. I had an idea that maybe it might be cool if we at Wall of Sound put together a nice little tribute track for the series as both a thanks to BioWare for the opportunity to work on their fine game, and also a fan service of sorts to all the people who said such kind encouragement towards us as we stepped down from finishing the series. Jack thought it was a great idea, but in the end he was too busy with other projects, as was Sam. As someone who has roots in OverClocked ReMix (ocremix.org) I have a long history of remixing/rearranging amazing video game music–it’s just a thing I like to do (and in a way, it’s part of how I even became friends with Jack to begin with), so I figured I’d just give it a shot myself. Thus, I took what I thought were the most iconic pieces of the series and did my best to merge them into one story-recapping musical experience. ”Shepard of the Galaxy” consists of “Suicide Mission” (ME2, Jack Wall), “Illusive Man” (ME2, Jack Wall), “Uncharted Worlds” (ME1 – 3, Sam Hulick), “Mass Effect Theme (Shepard’s Theme)” (ME1, Jack Wall & Sam Hulick), “Saren’s Theme” (ME1, Jack Wall), “Collectors’ Theme” (ME2, Jack Wall), “Humans are Disappearing” (ME2, Jack Wall), “Leaving Earth” (ME3, Clint Mansell), and “Victory” (ME1, Sam Hulick). I really wanted to work “Vigil” from ME1 in there, but in the end, I just ran out of time and I couldn’t quite figure out where to put it.
At any rate, my hope is that when people hear the music, they can quickly and quietly reflect on the amazing experiences that they had throughout the Mass Effect trilogy. To me, the game was all about the journey. I cherish it, and I hope that the music only helps with that for all of you.
I want to thank my friends at Extra Credits for their amazing pimpage of Legacy, as well as Kotaku, Destructoid, and of course BioWare. Even though I’ve sadly never had the chance to meet him, I want to thank Casey Hudson for his vision on making the Mass Effect series what it is, as well as every single person who poured their heart into the series. And naturally, huge thanks to my friends Jack Wall, Sam Hulick, David Kates, and Brian DiDomenico. We made a great team, and I cherish the opportunity we had to work together on this project. Commander Shepard lives on in the music.
Thanks especially to you, yes you, the one who is reading this. Your support is priceless to me, I can’t convey that enough. I hold you each in the highest regard.