General:Eric Heberling Interview

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In 2011, the French Elder Scrolls site Wiwiland celebrated the 10th anniversary of its lore wiki by interviewing developers of Elder Scrolls games and organizing contests for forum members. Interviews were done by ELOdry and published translated in French. The following is a retranslation into English.

Among other Bethesda nineties productions, Eric Heberling composed the music for Arena and Daggerfall.

Tell me about your career in the world of video games.
I started working for different companies in 92-93, after reading an article on the subject in Keyboard magazine. I had never thought about contacting studios before that: I thought video games were a field for computer scientists only. But this article, written by Charles Deenan, a famous composer and sound engineer (editor's note: he worked on Another World, Fallout 1 & 2 & Tactics, Baldur's Gate 1 & 2, Planescape Torment, and so on) explained that the trend in game music at the time was to use General MIDI files, a technology I was perfectly comfortable with. As a result, I sent about 20 demos to video game companies, and it wasn't long before I landed my first contracts.

What was it like working with Bethesda?
Julian Lefay, the producer, would describe what he wanted as he went through the development process. It turned out that we had a common passion for certain film music composers, and we used their style as a reference. He would ask me for tavern music, and I would work on it for several days, after which I was put on leave while they tackled another area of the game. I worked several months on each of the games, sporadically.

It must have been complicated at times...
I probably should have asked for more focus, but at the time, even just getting Julian on the phone wasn't easy.

Did you take your inspiration from existing medieval music?
I mostly relied on my instinct. That, and years of listening to all kinds of music.

The soundtracks of Arena and Daggerfall distill ambiences, atmospheres, where a lot of games bet on more heroic or dramatic pieces...
Most of the time, I was asked for mood pieces. And for a good reason: the player had to be able to listen to the same songs over and over for hours without getting bored.

What did you record with ?
The TES used an "orchestral" palette. I mainly used the instruments offered by General MIDI. However, I did use a Roland Sound Canvas, even though few players had anything close to it at the time. Inevitably, I had to convert them to FM Sound Blasters, etc. All the songs suffered from this. Especially the arrangements that depended on the timbre of the GM samples. The ones that I had reinforced with counter melodies did better.

Are there some unreleased tracks that would sleep in your boxes?
Even when I didn't have anything special to do, I would compose a few of the same kind of tracks in my spare time, thinking that they could be used later. So yes, there's a little bunch of ideas I wrote for TES that were never published.

Unless I'm mistaken, your name doesn't appear in the credits of Daggerfall.
It's an oversight, obviously. Besides, I was not the only composer on Daggerfall. As far as I remember, Bethesda Softworks had also used another composer, who worked for a company they owned. We never had any contact, I don't even know his name. My compositions are usually the ones with a descriptive name ("sunny day", "dungeon", etc.), while his were just numbered.

Daggerfall was released in CD format. You could have used another format other than MIDI. Was there any question of this?
No. Because of the size and complexity of the game, it was unthinkable at that time.

There has been a Daggerfall "revival" for a few years now. Some people are planning to remake the game, others are re-recording its music... You've heard of such projects?
Thank you, I didn't know this site. The arrangements are interesting. I especially like the ones Tansel Coskuner did on guitar. He contacted me a few years ago, and he played on "Optimism", one of the arrangements excerpted on my site!

Do you play video games?
That's probably where your readers will start yelling "blasphemy!" because no, I'm not a gamer. The closest thing to it would be that time, in the 80's, when I was touring with different bands, in dance clubs. During the breaks, I played a lot of PacMan, Asteroids, that kind of thing. I could also try a bit of Arena, and I would have liked to play Daggerfall, but Bethesda never sent it to me! Some studios would send me working copies during development, but Bethesda didn't send me that much.

There's this great song on your website, "Dagerfall Suite" (sic). Where does it come from ?
It's a fan of the series who contacted me. Filippo Beck, a student at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. He was playing video game music in a club, and wanted to make an arrangement from different Daggerfall music. I offered him to do it myself, and this is the result.

Among all the pieces you composed, which one has your preference ?
"Oversnow" always seems very interesting to me. I composed a "B" section for the arrangement for Filippo. Another one I like very much is "Strategy", which I composed for "Fantasy Empires", the game of Strategic Simulations. There is an excerpt on my site.

Do you listen to what current composers are doing?
There are a lot of great composers out there, composers that I admire and who are friends.

You don't work for the video game industry anymore. Did you want to go elsewhere?
No, I certainly wasn't tired of the video game industry. Every opportunity to compose and record is good. For several years, it was my full-time job. But in the late 90's, opportunities started to get scarcer, and I started playing with bands again to make ends meet. I only played on weekends, unlike at the beginning of my career when I was on stage almost every night. But I got fewer and fewer contracts, and I had to look for a full-time job. This led me to be hired by Bally Technologies in Las Vegas in 2001 to write music and sounds for slot machines. It's kind of like composing for games, in that it's interactive.

Thanks for taking the time to answer me, and thanks for the great soundtracks of Arena and Daggerfall!
Thank you, I'm happy to have been part of this adventure.