Diablo 3

Interview with Matt Uelmen

diablo5 - Interview with Matt Uelmen

Hi all! At
www.diablo3 esp - Interview with Matt UelmenDiablo 3 ESP (a spanish Diablo fansite) we had the pleasure to interview Matt Uelmen and I wanted to share our interview with all the Diablo community here. Enjoy!

Very recommended to play




or Hob soundtracks while reading!

Diablo is one of those games that sticks in your mind. It introduced many new concepts like itemization, endless grinding or random maps and encounters. One of the key components that helped to establish its atmosphere was its soundtrack. Today, we have the honor to talk with Matt Uelmen, composer of the iconic soundtracks of Diablo and Torchlight, among others.

First of all, we are extremely grateful to be able to ask you a couple questions. As a Diablo fansite, we love many things about the games, but music has a special place. The soundtrack for the first two Diablo games is quite unforgettable and made these games to stand out.

Diablo 3 ESP: Let’s start from the beginning. How was working during the early days at Condor? At that point, we have never heard something like the OST that you were about to compose, what were your original inspirations?

Matt Uelmen: Condor was a dream job, even if the initial pay was fairly low by the standards of the Valley at that time. I knew that the team had the kind of long-term talent I wanted to be a part of, and that showed itself fairly quickly in the history.

I think the town part of the original Diablo and the action material really come from two different universes; the town more from the Peruvian waltzes, older US country sounds and the folkier side of the early 70s acoustic sound immortalized by Page, Buckingham, and the Geffen acts. The dungeon stuff was a little more influenced by 80s sounds like Bauhaus, where that noisy post-punk sound experimented with the kind of things dub reggae was doing around that period. The way I lean on delay as an effect a bunch can obviously be heard in things like “

”, but the more subtle influence is from eighties acts a little later that really used echo as a rhythmic effect.

D3ESP: Of course, the most known melody is the Tristram song. Why does it sound so unusual? What techniques (less known instruments, post-production,…) did you use to make it sound so… oppressive?

Matt: The recording itself was super low budget, I just went directly from an AKG directional mike which was nice but not a huge upgrade on a sm-57 into my old Ensoniq 16-bit sampler, then stitched the phrases together blind before I saw the waves, much later in the process when they went through the DAT and then finally into my first generation of Sound Forge. My ensoniq was a nice piece of gear in terms of being fairly clean and bright, so it was still “red book” audio before I dumped the whole thing down to 22Khz in one brutal pass. I think Diablo accidentally had extra originality to it just because my whole approach was so low budget, structuring everything around that ASR-10, it gave me a distinctive sound compared to what someone much more pro would have been doing with the standard LA soundtrack hack Akai libraries of the time.

D3ESP: With Diablo II you brought many new things to the table. New environments needed new styles, places like

and the

have their own personality. How did you devise the music for these new areas?

Matt: I tried to be very literal minded, and physically bought a bunch of Asian, Central American and African instruments around that time, and ended up using them quite a bit. The wind gong that Lut Gholein is structured around is a real wind gong made in Wuhan probably thirty years ago. Folks in general, twenty years later, are much more intellectualized about trying to use instrumental sounds which are also cultural signifiers, but I don’t really think that’s the right approach; I just tried to enjoy the sounds themselves on a sensual, fun level divorced from specific cultural baggage, and I don’t regret that approach at all.

D3ESP: On the other hand, some other melodies had a new vibe but always keeping that oppressive wall of sound (those drums!). What do you think was the major improvement of Diablo II’s OST with respect to Diablo I’s?

Matt: It was a very different project, in that I had four specific things I had to do, repackage the old Tristram material, make a new town base which referenced it but wasn’t too derivative, give a ‘round-the-world’ experience with the different areas, and finally, give a climactic feel to the final fighting. All of that is much different than one town and four dungeon types.

D3ESP: With the extraordinary success of Diablo I, did you feel more freedom to explore new things or more restricted when doing the music for the sequel?

Matt: Absolutely, I felt that I had to deliver on what the promise of the original game was; in that I was a true nerd/fan of the genre in regards to really enjoy landmarks like ‘Ultima III’ that were all about exploring a large, somewhat open world. Folks like to play up the rivalry between the Bay Area and main studio of Blizzard in that era, but, in retrospect, D2 was an iterative design step towards WoW, which finally captured the scale of those Ultima games, at least IMO.


D3ESP: Diablo II’s OST last track (

) based on Frédéric Chopin – Prelude in C Minor, was never used in the game. What are the great masters of music that you use as a source of inspiration?

Matt: Chopin is definitely one! I have a very strange, idiosyncratic relationship with the classical canon. It’s an extremely long list, but I will say the musical personality that has affected me most in my past few years of research has been Mussorgsky. Of course, I’ve lifted from Mozart, Beethoven, Scriabin, Debussy, Bizet, Verdi, Wagner… it isn’t a short list.

D3ESP: For the expansion of Diablo II: Lord of Destruction, we explore new environments like the snowy

. One of my favorites is Harrogath’s music. What new ideas did you have for a cold, snowy area and how did you translate them without sounding like a Christmas song?

Matt: I was fairly conservative about not straying too hard from Holst, Debussy and Wagner in that score. I think I less wanted to capture snow, mountains, fortress per se, and more wanted to try to capture the sensibility behind the Barbarians who had the place as a homeland, and so wanted to do justice to the classic fantasy association with brass there, as expressed in stuff like old “Mars” and the great, original stuff Poledouris did for the Conan series.

D3ESP: When Diablo III was announced in 2008, it was enough with the initial chords of Tristram to make everyone go crazy about it. You had a small part on the Diablo III soundtrack. What can you tell us about Blizzard North’s take on the third installment of the franchise and how did it influence your music?

Matt: Well, 90% of what I intended to be used in Diablo III in a bigger 2005 session ended up being repurposed for WoW in that era, which was a reasonable call as the music generally fit the fantasy parameters and WoW was having explosive sub growth in that time. I had no creative control over the guitar part which was used for the install sequence, it was from my last month at Blizzard around January 2007. “Hydra” was the only track of that bunch which I left in condition which I would have been Ok with releasing, personally, the release of everything else did not involve me at all.

D3ESP: After leaving Blizzard, you and some of the Blizzard North members formed Runic Games and released Torchlight, Torchlight II and Hob. Torchlight is usually seen as the non-official sequel to Diablo, and a big part of this feeling comes from your soundtrack, which is heavily influenced by Diablo’s soundtrack, but it evolves its formula in a very interesting way. How was the experience of composing for a brand new ARPG in a smaller independent developer? What new challenges did you find?

Matt: No, that history is a little off. Runic was a splinter company formed from Flagship as it collapsed in that period and, even though me and the Schaefers were involved early, the star of that show was Travis Baldree, who didn’t come up through Blizzard. I took a two year break to focus on parenting in between leaving Irvine and starting work with that Seattle-based team. The TL design and world is obvious a closely-related descendant of the Diablo world, but Travis brought a significantly different flavor to that style of game. I really had fun with that team, especially in the first year or two when the Seattle economy was much quieter and I still had enough youth in me to drink with commitment.

D3ESP: With the closing of Runic Games a lot of talent was dispersed in different companies. What are you up to nowadays?

Matt: I was lucky in that Max was super-flexible about getting me directly on to his new team, which is Echtra, developing “
Torchlight Frontiers”. It was ideal in that I was able to get on board early enough to be (finally) getting ahead of content now as we get closer to letting the general public experience the game beyond tests with a few thousand, and also able to jump back and forth a bit with Runic as we wrapped up “Hob”. This team is very exciting in terms of our audio assets, I have an awesome producer and sound designer in Erika Escamez and one of the best audio programmers in the business with Guy Somberg. We’ve tried extremely hard to be very 2019 in our approach and the action music is truly dynamic and truly modular in a way which is totally new to me. That’s pretty cool to have as a team and a creative experience when you’re 25 years into a career.

D3ESP: Finally, this is something many fans are asking: would you like to come back as a composer or consultant for a future Diablo game?

Matt: I’m currently very happy on my team, but I plan to be doing this as long as Jerry Goldsmith did, so you never know what the future holds.

D3ESP: By the way, your music has also been playing in the Aquarium in Valencia (Spain) as background music, specifically Act 1’s music like Wilderness, Rogue and Sisters. It was a very cool surprise that made the experience much more immersive.

Matt: I love aquariums and I love the Spanish people, so that works for me!

D3ESP: Thank you very much for your time. We hope to listen more of your work soon!

Matt: Thanks very much! I enjoyed it.


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