New Interview with Alexander Brandon

While OCR was interviewing Alexander Brandon for their joint remix with BigGiantCircles, I was searching for some credit information on some of the Unreal and Unreal Tournament tracks on behalf of, and Alex graciously agreed to an interview. It got pretty in-depth at times, with questions about individual U/UT songs and Alex’s experiences composing the game.
Authorship Identification (AB’s notes in parentheses)

UNREAL 1995 TECH DEMO – “UNREAL.S3M”, also used as “Undrwrld.umx” in the Unreal 1998 beta version (myself and Michiel, first iteration) – “UNREALS.S3M” (me) – “UNREALT.S3M” (me, yuck… not bad for the time I guess J)

“”, Commencement, has same beginning with “Escape from Na
Pali” from RTNP but gets really different (yeah this was mine, too
“happy” at first so I edited it a bit)
“”, Vantage Point (me, this was one of my favs, but never got
in, don’t even think the level made it into Na Pali either) “”, Secret Area (guessing it’s Alex from the name/style) You guessed right!

UNREAL “WarLord.s3m”, Warlord Theme (Michiel) “”, ALF (me, borrowing Michiel’s style liberally)

“Starseek.s3m”, Star Seeker (DAMN I haven’t heard this in ages! Yep,
mine… thank heavens for you people for keeping this stuff alive) “”, Return to Na Pali (Michiel and myself)

UNREAL TOURNAMENT BETA VERSION “”, “” (ugh, this was mine)

UNREAL TOURNAMENT “Cannon.s3m”, Cannonade (me again) “Lock.s3m”, Lock (me) “Nether.s3m”, Nether Animal (cmon dude, this is clearly Michiel working serious electronic magic. J)

General Q&A

1. How did you first get contacted to work on Unreal? Were you noticed because of your involvement in the MOD community?

I actually approached Tim Sweeney with Michiel Van Den Bos on one of
his visits while his team was working on Age of Wonders. We said we
wanted to do the music for Unreal, it looked like it was going to be
big. He’d worked with us both before and liked our stuff, so he simply
said “ok”. Ah, the good old days.

2. Unreal had a medium-long development process, spanning 1995-1998. In
what period did you compose most of your songs? Did the development
time give you a lot of time for revision, or did it force you to wait
for developer input on what you should compose?

I’d say it was off and on throughout that period of time. Not much
revision took place at all. We just kept writing music. Around an hour
of ambient music at least, but the total including combat and other
segments probably goes well over two hours.

Sometimes we would get specific requests, but most of the time we’d look at levels and just write based on what we saw.

3. A lot of people in the community love how your style meshed with
that of Michiel van den Bos. How’d your working relationship evolve
over the development period?

Michiel had a much more solid command of clean electronic, and he also
made more grand steps into using orchestral instrumentation. I was in
between, using synths in a sort of fantasy style derived from the
graphical inspiration. Sometimes we’d write different patterns and swap
the MOD back and forth and sometimes we’d collaborate on the entire
thing, adding bits and pieces here and there. It was fun, Michiel is a
great composer to work with.

4. A lot of Unreal and UT songs draw on the same samples/soundfont, and
this gives both titles a coherent musical aesthetic. Where did those
samples come from? (It was fun seeing Andrew Sega’s Orchard Street pop
up in the samples for Jazz Jackrabbit 3’s songs!)

The samples are literally from all over God’s green earth. Some from
old Korg synths, some from my Trinity synth, some from old movie
soundtracks, some from other MOD files. We unashamedly constructed our
sample set but didn’t make a point to rip too much, just here and
there. Yeah, I’ve used plenty of Necros samples over the years. I think
he MAY have used one of mine at one point. So we’re even. Hah!

5. What was the compositional process like? Were you told by the
developers what to make, and shown the level the song would be used
for? Or was it a more general process?

As mentioned earlier some level designers would be very specific with
their ideas. Inoxx was one (Cedric Fiorentino) and Myscha (T. Eliot
Cannon) were two of the most vocal of the designers, and Inoxx’s
requests led to one of the most interesting pieces, I think it
was called, though I’m not at all sure what level it was for or what
the final filename is. Myscha worked very closely with Michiel on the
crashed spaceship and it’s multiple levels, and I believe he was very
happy with it.

The scene everyone seems to remember from Unreal is when the lights go
out and the Skaarj emerges. Gotta give Cliff credit for that, he wanted
to increase tension through in-game cinematic sequences, which was
pretty advanced for the time. Obviously it was shot into the
stratosphere by Half Life’s techniques, but in those cases Cliff
requested sound effects, not so much music.

In most cases though we just wrote based on inspiration from the beta
levels. I submitted a piece for the first outdoor level and its
designer, Pancho, responded with “I don’t know but the music just keeps
getting better. is awesome.” And that was Dusk Horizon, to this
day one of my favorites, but not so much because of the music itself.
It fits the level in a way no game music has before or since. I think
that’s the most egotistical thing I’ve ever said, but I really believe
it’s true, even with its dated sound, it generated something really

6. What was the most frustrating thing about writing music for Unreal and Unreal Tournament?

Hm, tough one. The whole process was great really. I mean, we’d be up
against deadlines and since Epic was a newborn babe as far as product
development goes, things would get out of hand at times with
miscommunication and such. But overall I don’t remember being
frustrated. Just inspired with what everyone was doing as a team.

I was amused at one point when Cliff made a request for a piece that
was a combination of “Carmina Burana” and “White Zombie”. But that’s
part of his style. To this day he’s made bat**** crazy music requests,
but regardless he’s still one of the best designers in the business.
Jazz Jackrabbit blew the doors off the whole “find the colored key,
open the same color door” gameplay mechanic Apogee had driven into the
ground, for example, not to mention the cover tactic system in Gears of

7. How did the other guys (Andrew Sega, Dan GardopÈe, and the other
Scandinavian guys on UT, plus Paul Schultz on Return to Na Pali) get
involved? And was there any buzz or anticipation in the MOD community
of your work on Unreal?

I brought just about everyone in, except Paul Schultz. Maybe I’ve
forgotten but the name is unfamiliar to me. They’re all people I know,
except Tero, who Skaven brought aboard. And oddly enough MOD composers
really didn’t react much to Unreal, at least that I’m aware of at the

8. Did you ever get to play any beta builds of Unreal or Unreal Tournament as a perk?

Well, yeah! We saw builds of Unreal back when it was just a means of
displaying customized Silicon Graphics models that James Schmalz
created. From day one the window bar title said “Unreal”. It was
awesome that it never changed because we all thought it was a great
name, even if it also was the name of a PC demo.

9. Unreal has a very dark, mystical, and sometimes electronic feel to
it; it’s a very atmospheric game. Was this one of your strong-points
going in to the writing process, or did you work to build your skill in
this kind of music?

I had never written music like that before, and I guess for some reason
it came naturally, but again, the game generated most of the
inspiration, along with the concept art. Tim had books of Roger Dean
and Rodney Matthews in his office, and I’d never seen that artwork
before. It was incredible. Plans were under way to make levels that
looked like that, but design-wise it was ludicrous. Think of how far
you’d walk in quite a few Unreal levels. As something to gawk at its
great, but unless you’re planning on skiing like you do in Tribes, not
a good idea. Anyway the music was borne out of that style, which found
its way into the game.

10. Likewise, Unreal Tournament has a very sleek soundtrack; was this closer to home?

I’m not so sure UT is sleek as much as it is “appropriate”. Music
doesn’t match the levels in quite the same way. The music was more or
less designed to reflect the action packed nature of the gameplay, with
one or two exceptions by Michiel. His more trance-style Nether Animal
and Skyward Fire in the vast space-filled levels fit those environments
like a glove.

I branched out and desperately tried to make pieces with more guitar,
primarily because of how great Razorback was. It kinda worked but it
didn’t really approach that level of polish. I think Three Wheels
Turning is my favorite piece from that game that I did.

11. Did you have any new thoughts upon seeing the finished Unreal and
Unreal Tournament in action, or getting to play through the maps and
hear your music?

I didn’t expect UT to win the war with iD. Epic had thrown down the
gauntlet with those guys with Unreal vs. Quake 2, and Quake 2 still
took the top spot. Then when UT emerged somehow it bested Quake 3,
despite Quake 3’s better graphics engine. When I hear the songs I wrote
(and the other composers) I’m still pleased with how they sound.
They’re just unique. I mean nobody did that style before and really no
one’s done it since. Kind of a shame really.

12. What was your reaction when you heard that the Unreal multiplayer add-on was going to be released as a separate game, UT?

I thought it was cool and a good idea. In fact the original plan was to
have UT be like Madden, with one released every year. Problem is,
you’ve REALLY got to put a lot of people and time into that, and Epic
is more of a company that just builds something until its satisfied.
Like Valve, I suppose.

13. And how were you retained for Deus Ex?

I sent a demo to Warren Spector and started pestering him and Chris
Norden, the lead programmer. Eventually I got the gig. Bless ‘em.

14. Did you get to meet any of the Epic team, or share any good times? (Like a release celebration, maybe)

I lived close to Epic so we spent a good deal of time at the offices.
At first it was this little 6 or 7 room space in Rockville with Cliff,
Tim, Arjan (programmer for Jazz) all in one room. Cliff was a really
funny guy, a lot more humble than he is now that he’s posed for
Entertainment Weekly .
Tim was quiet and very very intelligent (well, still is of course), not
just with engineering but with business. And when he had busy time he’d
simply close his door with a sign saying “**** off”. It was
appropriate. When you’re a lead engineer as well as the head of a
business it’s hard to find time to do both.

I didn’t participate in a release party, but I did see someone at Ion
Storm wearing a leather Unreal Tournament jacket which was really,
REALLY nice. So I asked Cliff and Tim if I could have one and they said
“sure”. I got it, then at GDC that year in an elevator a woman was
looking at me suspiciously. She finally asked “where did you get that
jacket?” She might as well have had her hands on her hips scolding a
thieving teenager. When I responded it turns out the woman was Anne,
Epic’s accountant / office manager. We shared a good laugh with that

15. Sort of obligatory, but if you can remember, what’s your favorite
song from Unreal? From UT? What about your favorite Michiel song from
Unreal & UT?

Hoo boy. Favorite Unreal song would be Crypt, even if it’s mine I gotta
be honest. UT would be tough. Mech 8 and / or Razorback and / or
Skyward Fire. Michiel’s best in Unreal would be the Chizra piece. I
worked on it with him but he did like 90% of it. His UT tune would be
Skyward Fire.

16. If you’re still gaming, what kind of games are you into lately?

Still gaming, but when you’ve got a wife and three kids and a full time
job (even in gaming), it gets harder to find the time. Halo 3 is still
played, along with Mario Galaxy, Metroid Prime 3, Splosion Man. Half
Life 2 is probably my favorite game of all time, and the music is
stupidly sparse in it. Go figure.

17. Did you hear the reinterpretations of UT songs on Unreal Tournament III, and what did you think? (the Go Down remix is at in case you need a refresher)

I did hear them, and nearly collaborated on it. However I ended up
getting way too busy at Midway. I do regret not being able to at least
get one song on there. But I was on the phone with Mike Larson at Epic
quite a bit. He would wax lyrical for quite some time about the goals
of the music, some of which ended up getting used. Overall I like the
soundtrack and with utmost respect to Kevin Riepl I think it’s better
than UT2003 and UT2004, but all of them since the original lack some of
that unique quality that made the originals what they were. I admire
Rom and Jespyr for taking the time to remix all those pieces and not
turn them into hash.

18. As time goes on, a lot of people feel nostalgia over their first
communities. What do you feel looking back on the MOD scene? (I get
this awesome sense sometimes when I see all the shout-outs in the
sample comments for songs…) Did most of its most competent musicians
get in to professional music-making like you did?

I’d say so. The MOD community was a great starting point for learning
to write music. It involves far more complexity with understanding
composition than using notation. What it doesn’t do is teach instrument
skill, and that’s something I’m working on now. I have a huge amount of
nostalgic thoughts often about the Amiga world, MODs, and just older
gaming in general.

20. Were there any random chance happenings or other fond memories for the Unreal/UT days?

Eh, a ton of stories but those are best told over a beer J I could go
on for quite awhile about Mark Rein. Funny stories (“I think Jazz
should be a squirrel!”) but that he can also kick ass when it comes to
protecting people. A guy was accusing Andy Sega of ripping off
Mechanism 8. He had a website that claimed he wrote it and everything.
Total fraud. Mark (professionally of course) ripped him a new one.
Great to know he had our back.

21. Have you kept up with Michiel, Andrew Sega, Dan, and the others since those days?

Yep, though more with Michiel and Andy than with Dan. Dan is at Kush
games I believe working on sports titles for 2K. Michiel is still
working with the AoW team on games like Overlord 2. Andy has his own
company, Diffusion Games, and is making Flash games for the web.

Song Q&A

22. Organic.umx — what was it originally intended for in Unreal
Tournament? Was it an influence in making “Conspiravision” for Deus Ex
and “Jack of Spades” for Jazz Jackrabbit 3?

Good ear, there. It’s influence was in all three and in all three I was
still finding footing with this style, stumbling through using similar
samples and such. And yeah Organic was written specifically for UT.

23. Who composed the Unreal Euro Dance Mix for the tech demo video/OST?

I did this with Bryan Rudge (Sirrus, in the MOD community).

1. I plan on asking Dan this, but in case you know, what was Cyrene (or
Moros – Dark Presence) going to be used for in the Unreal beta? (It’s

No clue, several pieces would be submitted and then matched to a level.
Several would be custom written based on early versions of the level.

2. Dusk Horizon, the beta version, has a really upbeat combat subsong.
I’m guessing Epic asked you to make it a little more intense and
dangerous sounding, but just curious; which do you ultimately prefer?

I much prefer the ambient segment of Dusk Horizon. The action sequences
were intended for fights with Brutes that take place on approach to the
elevator to the top of the mesa.

3. Deep Chill, from the Unreal beta, is perfect for that cryogenic ship
level that was scrapped. Did you search out any new samples to try and
achieve that icy sound, or did the ones you have work well?

Good question, but unfortunately I can’t remember where I got those
samples. Makes it sound suspicious but in those days samples came from
other MODs more often than not, so technically I probably ripped ’em.
The piece was written on very specific requests from
Cedric (Inoxx).

4. What was Magnus, from the Unreal beta, going to be used for? ( if you need a refresher)

I even remember that it went into a level, but sadly can’t remember which one.

5. Ditto for Secret Area (New3.umx).

Once again you got me on this one. I just remember I was on a kick to
write tunes like Drew Neumann (Aeon Flux composer, who I eventually
exchanged emails with and nearly collaborated with). This got used in a
secret area but I don’t remember the level or where it was.

6. And the same question for Orchtest (Commencement) and Vantage Point
(Orch3). A couple people at BeyondUnreal got really curious about this
after they heard you were the composer.

These were VERY early pieces when we were feeling out the game
stylistically. Definitely more “Neverending Story” sounding and less
edgy. They never ended up going anywhere.

7. What was Skycity going to be used for? (Can’t find a youtube link for this, so let me know if I should upload it)

There was a level that was called Sky City and Michiel started writing
for it. I think there was a level that someone started designing but it
didn’t make it into beta.

8. Same question for Starship One (StarOne.umx).

I think that Michiel and I had a sort of competition for who would
write the theme for ISV-KRAN. Michiel won over Myscha. No bitterness,
Michiel did a whole slew of pieces all related to each other in a neat
little “Kran Pack” that sounded brilliant.

9. And again for Unreal Suspense (Suspense.umx;, sounds like it’s got some of the Bluff Eversmoking sound going on)

And here’s where I get mine.
Unreal Suspense was the second song ever written for Unreal. I still
like it a lot, but it was used EVERYWHERE. Cliff got so tired of
hearing it he asked for it to be replaced. Stupid in hindsight but it
kinda lived on in Bluff Eversmoking. Glad that Michiel got inspired in
that way. A lot of these samples are from my Korg Triton, so thankfully
not ripped.

10. Unbab.umx, Black Wind – Unreal ’96, shows up in RTNP as Bounds of
Foundry, but we’ve always been curious why the pitch is so much lower
for this Unreal beta version. Did you compose it with this pitch

Ho boy, wish I could answer that. No clue whatsoever why that is. Weird!

11. What was Underworld going to be used for?

I think it was used in some extremely early levels not even in any
videos or alpha versions. It got taken out because it really was kinda
random and didn’t work that well as a contiguous piece. We really
should have polished it, it had some great ideas and was a very
successful collaboration.

12. Unreal2.umx turned into the action subsong for Bounds of Foundry in RTNP, but was it always planned for this?

Yep, I’m pretty sure it was.


1. For Flightcastle, did they show you that beautiful introduction flyby and say, “compose something for this”?

Yep! Took a lot of cues from Michiel’s Age of Wonder comping style, but I timed it out fairly roughly.

2. IIRC, Nightvision was an original tracker scene composition of
yours, so was it easy to cut up the relevant parts for inclusion in

Yes. Inoxx liked it and it went well into one of his spaceship interior levels.

3. Did you compose Surfacing after getting to see the skybox used for
those sky levels? (Those amazing purple skies, the other Nali floating
islands in the distance…) Like Dusk Horizon, it’s one of Unreal’s
most awesome feelings to step out of the lift and see that atmosphere.

I’d say so but again this is a case where I wish I could remember what the inspiration was.

4. How did you and Michiel work together to make the main title?

I did that entirely, except as mentioned I remember taking a few
samples and stylistic cues from Michiel’s Age of Wonders title theme,
which was sweeeeet.


1. Twilight Horizon has a subsong called “Aftermath” that’s new. Did
you originally compose that with Dusk Horizon, and did you have to come
back and make it for RTNP? (it must have been cool adding something new
to one of your favorites)

David Kelvin, the designer on Na Pali, asked for this. It took several
revisions but I finally got it where he wanted it, and it worked out
great I think.

2. In my experiences discussing these soundtracks, a few people have
agreed that Foundry, and Bounds of Foundry sound the most like “new”
Alexander Brandon, ca. 1999 or 2000, compared to your other work on the
games. Is it true that these were composed later than most of your
work, or are we just sort of assuming they’re new since there are a few
similarities with the Deus Ex style?

Kind of. Foundry, which I believe is Black Wind, was written after
Andrew Sega (Necros) wrote Babylon, a piece that I took some samples
from to form the basis of this piece.

3. Interlude II and Intermission always come up in “favorite songs from the Unreal series” polls; any notes on these?

For Interlude II, I did this one and had no idea they put it in. At the
end of it you can hear a tribute to the Wing Commander theme (by Dave
Govett at Team Fat).


1. Credits.umx (Trophy, Room of Champions) was left unused; instead the
trophy sequence gets Ending.umx (Into the Darkness). Was this an
accident or just style change by Epic, who left in Credits.umx in the
music folder?

Good question, it was probably one of the designers. We just sent the songs in and they used ’em or didn’t.

2. Ending.umx is perfect for the trophy sequence; did you compose it
after first seeing that beautiful, dark trophy map, or before?

Cliff sent a lot of requests for this and it was a lot of back and
forth until they got something they liked. So no, we didn’t see the
trophy map as far as I can remember, it was written beforehand.

3. Go Down is one of the most enduring UT songs; did you compose it
with any map in mind, like DM-Hyperblast? And how did the hook come to

Cliff again specifically requested a song like the one in The Matrix
where Neo and Trinity bust in and rescue Morpheus. I wrote Go Down, and
Michiel wrote something that sounded SO MUCH like the Propellerhead
song that people laughed and said “BOY are we gonna get sued!”.

4. Lock and Phantom both have a sort of tribal feel from the samples; was this based on the maps or your own inspiration?

Own inspiration.

5. I plan on asking Andrew Sega a few questions about Mechanism Eight,
but damn, what a fantastic track; what was your reaction when you first
heard it?

“This ****ing rocks”.

6. Phantom.umx has been exposed to most players through its use in
CTF-Thornsv2, a really popular fan-made CTF map. What did you
originally compose it for, and what did you and Michiel have in mind?

Michiel threw it out there, we collaborated as we had before. People
compared it to the Macarena a lot, but really it stands well on its

7. In Phantom, at 3:55, the song breaks to this different part, with
that airy sample going in the background. Just curious; was this part
of Michiel’s basic track or your suggestion?

Michiel and I collaborated on that one. I believe he started it off and
I added the insane cacophony that starts at :50 or so, then he brings
it back to reality later in the piece J

8. The music folder has Save Me (used in DM-Morpheus) and Save Me G,
which has a different intro and doesn’t appear in the game. What was
Save Me G originally composed for?

Hah. Another stumper. Can’t remember.

9. Underworld II, your Egyptian track for UT, has a really awesome
transition when it’s looped. What kind of considerations go in to
deciding whether and how to loop certain songs, especially with tracker?

I did a lot of work to loop things in certain ways by using varied
pattern lengths as well as instruments that would continue playing in
an open channel when the song loops. You learn a lot of tricks in the
tracker trade.

10. UT Menu has probably been heard more than any other track in the game; what did you have in mind while composing it?

Just the visuals, the gameplay, the same kind of feel as the original
Unreal because originally it was written for something called the
Unreal Bot Pack, a glorified multiplayer version of the original game.
When it broke into UT, the music style just went with it.

11. How did you and Michiel mesh for the Unreal intro flyby?

The UT flyby? We just wrote it together before seeing anything, and the song was meshed into it fairly well timing-wise.

12. Three Wheels Turning was used in, IIRC, a volcano map in the
ChaosUT map, and it sounded perfect given that voice sample that sounds
like a Polynesian tribal yell. What did you have in mind while
composing it?

Can’t remember, but the breath was that of an ex-girlfriend’s. This remains one of my favorites.

13. This is more a question for Teque and Nitro, but it might be hard
to track them down and ask. Their original version of FireBr.umx has
this high-pitched synth going over the “chorus”, but this is missing in
the UT version. A few fans are just wondering if that was just a
judgment call by Epic.

It was. And Tero was rightfully very upset about it, but unfortunately
that’s the nature of the game biz. Your tunes go through revisions. The
difference here was that I took the synth out and told him after the
fact. I feel bad about it but lesson learned. He’s a great musician and
I hope he isn’t still fuming about it.


Huge, massive thanks to AB! As you can see, I asked a ton of questions, and it’s great Alex got to them (while doing an interview for another site at the same time, even!).