A heroic composer brought medieval and Celtic instruments to live music in the Apple arcade game
Los Angeles-based musician Phill Boucher collects a variety of instruments, despite his career path being oriented towards composing for entertainment properties. Most often, he spends his time writing using a keyboard, but tries to allow himself roles to play in a given score. “I love recording myself playing instruments and getting off the computer to get my hands on the real thing,” he said. For Heroican Apple Arcade game released on July 22, Boucher contributed more to its live music.
Heroic is a hero-based castle defense game where players choose between one of six characters and attempt to destroy their opponents with card-based units and attacks. While the game uses fantasy tropes seen in the classic Dungeons and Dragons campaigns, Boucher said Sunblink Entertainment wanted to maintain a “more modern, more fun” identity. Game Rant spoke to Boucher about mixing modern and classic sounds like real medieval instruments to help Heroicstand out.
Get into the groove
Boucher has had an interest in music since a young age, singing into a dinosaur tape recorder while growing up in Massachusetts. He competed while playing the trumpet in elementary school and performed at his local church, but by the time middle school came around, “I kind of realized that girls don’t care about a guy who plays the trumpet”. He switched to the guitar, which he considers his best instrument although he doesn’t play as much as he used to.
The guitar led Boucher to play in metal bands in high school, where he wrote songs that were more story-driven than introspective. “I was doing pseudo-concept albums,” he said, turning to other people’s stories. Realizing he couldn’t make a living with “a mediocre metal band”, he became interested in film music. Boucher joined the summer programs at Boston’s Berklee College of Music throughout high school and later studied film scoring and music production and engineering there.
Shortly after graduating, Boucher worked under composer Geoff Zanelli—another Berklee alumnus known for his award-winning work with just about every Hollywood studio—at Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions. Much of this work has touched on Disney films, including rango, The Lone RangerAnd two Pirates of the Caribbean films: as a technical musical assistant on the years 2011 About Stranger Tidesand additional composer on 2017 Dead men don’t tell tales.
From Fortnite to Heroish
Although Boucher’s contributions to pirate were in the background, this credit and work on games like Civilization 6 and Uncharted 4 caught the attention of Epic Games. The developer was preparing a pirate themed Fortnite Chapter 1, Season 8, and texted Boucher out of the blue — one of his few jobs not stemming from a mutual connection. It would be Boucher’s first time conducting an orchestra playing his own score, an experience “that I will never forget”.
“They hired me to write 10 minutes of music or something, but it was terrifying… I was also floored because we were in Los Angeles, and there are no better musicians in the world. I never went so quickly from nervous anxiety to a feeling of relief as soon as they started playing.”
Epic Games invited Boucher for Chapter 2, Season 6 (“Primal”) and Chapter 3, Season 1 (“Flipped”), among others. He said the game is a “great place to learn and grow” due to its sandbox mixing original stories and iconic franchise themes, though it’s not its only gig. In recent years, Boucher has also worked on games like ReadySet Heroesshows like the duck tales reboot, and movies like Maleficent: mistress of evil.
One day Boucher was asked to send a demo reel to Sunblink Entertainment based on the recommendation of Mark MacBride, whose company Injected Senses Audio worked on. Fortnite as well as insomniacs Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart. “It was one contractor recommending another,” Boucher said, but he immediately hit it off with Sunblink COO Nicky Britt. When he found Heroic the developers were also fans of his work on Robot Entertainment The orcs must die! 3Boucher felt that any work on the mobile game made sense.
Design the musical “puzzle” of Heroish
Sunblink Entertainment was founded by Julian Farrior in 2019, who also launched founding mobile developer Backflip Studios in 2009. Backflip’s success on early casual smartphone titles like DragonVale led Hasbro to buy a majority stake in 2013. The developer has worked on titles like Transformers: Earth Wars before it closed in 2019, two years after Farrior’s departure. Boucher got his foot in the door on Sunblink’s first venture.
“Sometimes when you’re putting a coil together, you can just tell it’s a good fit… For HeroicI said to myself “it’s in my wheelhouse, I’ve done it before, I have ideas”.
Heroic and The orcs must die! 3 have a lot of similarities, mixing elements of medieval fantasy with modern metal influences – and “they don’t take themselves too seriously”, said Boucher. However, he thinks audiences won’t necessarily hear this similarity in their scores. Whereas The orcs must die! had a more established palette when Boucher joined the third entry, Heroic was more of a blank page.
The mobile game score started modern to avoid soundscape comparisons with games like EverQuest and Skyrimcharacterized by the demonic Lord Marduke playing electric guitar in the game. While some orchestral sounds carry throughout Heroic, each faction – Imperial, Feral, and Cursed – has a unique “soundscape” that overlays instrumentation for the on-screen heroes. This sound design “puzzle” is complicated with four-person multiplayer balancing tracks that include Marduke’s guitar, Queen Lavinia’s violin, Flynn Diamond’s horns, and more.
In addition to keeping the musical loops recognizable as they flow together, Boucher also had the challenge of incorporating medieval and Celtic instruments like uilleann flutes or Irish flutes. Although Sunblink was worried about an “authentic” sound betraying his modern sensibilities, Boucher wanted a gritty, tactile feel by incorporating the flavor of old-school instruments.
“I didn’t know how to play these medieval instruments, so I’m not afraid that they will be authentic even if I start with this sound base.”
Much research was done to make these instruments sound natural, as many had limited ranges and keys. There was even a case where Boucher had to change a single note in a track because uilleann piper Eric Rigler was physically unable to reach it.
Although extensive research isn’t always necessary for traditional orchestras, Boucher spent time studying to “hone” himself in orchestral composition and compensate for his more rock-focused background. This has proven useful for Heroic, which was “pretty special” for a mobile game in that it recognized the importance of live music. A 64-piece orchestra and seven soloists contributed to Sunblink’s debut effort, which Boucher said not every game would warrant. “It was such a wide canvas, all I wanted to do, they were in. It was a fantastic experience.”
Heroic is available now through Apple Arcade.
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