Outcast Soundtrack, Lennie Moore, 1999
Being a pioneer is rarely easy – and your efforts might go initially unappreciated. Such was the fate that befell Outcast, a sci-fi action adventure game that was revolutionary in more than one way. Its concept of a three-dimensional open world that players were free to explore preceded other games of this ilk like Grand Theft Auto III by several years. Then there was Outcast’s voxel-based graphics engine, which produced a stunningly realistic extraterrestrial world – more successfully maybe than any other game before it. That visual splendor came at a cost though. Back in 1999, only the most powerful PCs were able to properly run the game. Of course, that limited any opportunities for financial success, and a Dreamcast port and planned sequel remained unreleased. However, Outcast created a legacy among gamers that was strong enough for a remake – Outcast: Second Contact – to be released in 2017.
Obviously a very bold title, Outcast benefited from what was still a rarity in 1999 – a fully live-orchestral game soundtrack. A professed fan of John Williams and Alan Silvestri, Outcast’s director Franck Sauer placed an ad in several film music magazines in 1996, looking for a “Hollywood film composer.” Ultimately, the job went to Lennie Moore, for whom Outcast would prove to be the beginning of a fruitful career in video game music. A graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, Moore had worked on several scores for film, television and commercials, with documentary Trinity & Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie being the standout. That movie had also seen Moore collaborating with the forces that would bring the Outcast soundtrack to life – conductor William Stromberg and the Moscow Symphony Orchestra.
The brief that Moore received for Outcast was certainly a challenging one. While using red book audio would allow the music to shine in all its fully orchestrated glory, it posed technological issues. How to make the music progress in tune with the player’s actions if the laser takes too long to move seamlessly from one composition to the next? On an artistic level, Outcast’s creators had high demands as well – each location was to be scored with a composition running for about seven minutes, non-looped. In 1999, that sort of running time was more or less unheard of for level themes and is unusual even today (interestingly enough, one of the few game scores to rival the breadth of Outcast’s compositions was also performed by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra: Age of Pirates: Caribbean Tales).
Moore rose to the challenge in magnificent fashion, crafting what at its peak is the best live orchestral music written for a video game up to this point (even though as a whole, the Outcast soundtrack isn’t quite as consistently strong as Michael Giacchino’s Medal of Honor). As one might guess from the above, Outcast is best viewed as a hugely ambitious attempt at world-building – and Moore’s music fits right into this artistic scheme. At the heart of his score are indeed those monumental, long-spun pieces which paint the game’s locations with an elegance, sophistication and scale that is immensely impressive. Without having to strain for effect or constantly crank up the volume, the effect that Moore achieves is at times biblical, sometimes deeply intimate – always creating surroundings that are a marvel to behold.
The sense of awe that runs through the entire Outcast soundtrack is quickly established on “Ranzaar”. Often enough, open world game scores struggle to establish a strong sense of melody, but Moore finds a comfortable balance between atmospheric and melodic elements. “Ranzaar”’s heart-rending, dignified brass melody kicks off a cue that makes full use of its extended running time to underscore its wintery world in mesmerising detail. The use of choir fits the cue’s location well and pushes the track’s scope into the realm of the operatic. However, Moore also injects a few surprises into his fantastic orchestrations – witness the cascading woodwinds underneath the melodic build up from 5:00, creating constant, almost intoxicating motion and colour.
This combination of epic scale and attention to minute details of timbre and melody is omnipresent. “Shamazaar” opens with the choir-heavy solemnity one would expect from a region full of temples. However, those glistening violins underneath the choral lines give the music a subtle twist, balancing grandiosity with a wondrousness that creates music of exceptional emotional complexity. “Shamazaar”’s overflowing warmth is countered by “Okaar”, Outcast’s most bracing composition – seven minutes of intricately layered percussion polyrhythms and what is probably an over reliance on the game’s enigmatic four-note main motif on quivering strings. Elsewhere, Moore’s sense of how to develop his pieces remains flawless. “Motazaar” is decidedly more fragmented than its brethren, using textural work to create a potently mournful, anxious mood. And then, amidst all the brooding, Moore drops a melancholic, stunning melody of truly classical proportions that slowly unfolds over two minutes, constantly building in stature and drama.
Painting Outcast’s locations in such vivid, varied detail, Moore was aware that he needed to connect the score’s colourful compositions with each other to convincingly depict a coherent world. Most composers would tackle this challenge using thematic material and Moore does introduce a main theme that is heard on almost all compositions. However, the theme is a curious one. It is much shorter than Moore’s other melodic ideas and refuses to resolve harmonically – a ambivalent creator of tension and unrest rather than an indicator of clearly identifiable emotions. What shapes the Outcast soundtrack more strongly than the main theme though is Moore’s decision to harmonically base the score on an unusual six-note, hexatonic scale (C, D#, E, G, Ab, B). His cues then modulate between the resulting tonalities.
The result are compositions that subtly and naturally form a consistent whole, without the need for more overt connectors like themes. Thanks to the peculiar nature of Moore’s hexatonic scale, the Outcast soundtrack creates a coherent, rarely explored sound world that organically ties together the compositions inhabiting it. At the same time, Outcast’s heavily chromatic nature is individualistic enough to set the music apart from other scores. In other words, Outcast’s harmonic complexity is another factor contributing to the music’s success at world building. The idiosyncratic harmonies Moore deploys are at times enough to carry a track on their own. Take “Talanzaar”, which consciously scales back the complexity of its orchestrations to let the string section perform thick unisono melodies, their harmonies aptly underscoring the oppressive headiness of the desert location.
The Outcast soundtrack’s other main component are the four (shorter) battle tracks. Out of the lot, “Daoka” is the undisputed star, a furious hornet’s nest of frantically whirring string and woodwind ostinati, while brass and percussion throw in brash accents to whip the music into even more of a frenzy. If “Daoka” is a showpiece for the orchestra performing at furious speeds, final cutscene track “Marion” allows the choir to shine. Moore cleverly repurposes his main theme to create a feeling of finality and import, bringing out the theme’s fatalistic undertones on an adagio composition that takes the soundtrack’s monumental tendencies to their logical conclusion. It’s another moment matched by very, very few other game scores.
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This playlist is a curated selection of music from the soundtrack album.
- 01 - Main Titles Moore, Lennie 1:05
- 02 - Ranzaar Moore, Lennie 7:42
- 03 - Daoka Moore, Lennie 2:05
- 04 - Shamazaar Moore, Lennie 6:59
- 05 - Talanzaar Moore, Lennie 7:04
- 06 - Okasankaar Moore, Lennie 3:44
- 07 - Motazaar Moore, Lennie 6:24
- 08 - Arma! Moore, Lennie 2:03
- 09 - Marion Moore, Lennie 5:03