What does China’s biggest MOBA, Honor of Kings, sound like? Just ask Hexany Audio’s Matthew Carl Earl, he is one of the many elite composers that has contributed music to the game. Other names include Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Howard Shore. It’s Matthew’s recent Haiyue theme music that is currently garnering recognition for the Tencent Games/TiMi Studio Group title. Matthew’s “Haiyue Theme” took home the 2023 Game Audio Network Guild award for ‘Best Theme Music’. It tied with Bear McCreary’s God of War Ragnarök theme, which took home fourteen awards that night. Eight years after Honor of Kings was first released, the game is still going strong with 100 million daily players. Gamers and critics are excited to hear what music Matthew creates next for the MOBA.
Droid Journal spoke to Matthew below about his work on the game.
What was one of the first things you did when beginning work on the Haiyue Theme?
At the very beginning I spent a ton of time reading through her backstory and looking at her art. I opened big pages of the art on the TV in my studio and I kept it there the entire time I worked on her theme. I played around on the piano a lot to try to come up with a harmonic sound that embodies not only her beauty but also her inner anxiety and tension. The first concrete thing I came up with was that chord right at the beginning of the piece. I kinda used that chord’s emotion as a guide for the rest of the music. I took that chord and then voiced those descending arpeggios that are in the piano and flute. Once those were set against tremolo clusters in the strings with the horns supporting, I knew I was on the right track!
What kind of wording did Tencent give you about how they wanted Haiyue’s theme to sound like?
In addition to HaiYue’s backstory and her art, the team at TiMi came up with some vocabulary that we would try to use to influence the music and also some vocabulary that we wanted to avoid. For example, we knew we wanted her music to be beautiful, paranoid, powerful, lonely, and anxious. While at the same time avoiding anything dark, depressive, evil, happy, too soft or too sad.
For those that don’t know what goes on behind the scenes, is there a director for the game? Or who exactly is giving you directions?
Yes, there is absolutely a director for the game, but my main contacts from the development team are the Music Designer; Jing Zhang and the Music Director; Sean Zhao who have both been wonderful to work with over the years. They are always pushing unique ideas for the music while at the same time giving me a lot of creative freedom.
You also do sound design, did you work on the sound design for Honor of Kings too?
Haha, did sound design is probably a better term. I don’t do much of it these days. Our sound design team at Hexany Audio are all fantastic at what they do, much better than I ever was! But sound design has influenced my music writing in a few ways. Especially with the focus on timbre and frequency balance.
Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Howard Shore are just a few of the other composers that have contributed music to Honor of Kings. Can you talk about how this collaboration works and who does what?
Yeah, there have been a ton of great composers on the project! Occasionally there will be melodic themes that I will need to incorporate into my music written by some of the other composers but for the most part we all work independently. Our composers here at Hexany Audio however frequently collaborate by sharing ideas, feedback, and recording various instruments on each other’s music.
Honor of Kings first came out in 2015, but there have been a lot of expansions since. When did you first start working on the game?
I started work on the game in early 2016. It’s been a total blast growing with the game for these years and It’s influenced the way I write music in a big way. The game has also seen so much progress as far as story and character development. TiMi’s world building has been next-level recently with a lot of their cinematics and backstory they’ve been adding over the last few years.
Can you tell audiences something about your job that they might not know?
The non-composer audience might be surprised to hear that aside from anything that we record, almost all of the music we write is created inside of a computer. We play a piano which transmits note information called MIDI into our computer which we can then chose the sound that the ‘MIDI event’ will trigger. This is how we can still get huge orchestral sounds if we don’t have the budget to go out and record live orchestra.
The composer audience will probably be shocked to learn that I, and all the other composers here at Hexany Audio, sequence inside of… wait for it… Pro Tools. I’ve used it for about 16 years and It works great for my workflow of piano sketch, then mockup, then live recording, and then back into the session to mix it all together.
How does Hexany Audio fit into the puzzle with all this?
Hexany Audio is our company that provides Music Composition, Sound Design, and Audio Implementation services for a variety of different game developers. Richard Ludlow, my business partner and also the founder of the company runs the production team at Hexany, which handles most of the day-to-day client communication and receipt and delivery of assets freeing me and the rest of our music team to focus on what we do best; writing music!
What’s next for Matthew Carl Earl?
I’m going to continue doing what I’ve been doing, more game music! Honor of Kings always keeps me pretty busy and is always one of my favorites, our studio does a ton of the game Arknights as well, which is a totally different vibe, but I also have a few other fun projects in the pipeline that should come out soon, including an indie project I’ve worked on for years. Also, my wife and I recently had our first kid, so that’s been a whole adventure on its own!
You can find more information on Matthew Carl Earl’s website.
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