Rebuilding Halo 2’s Soundtrack from the Ground Up

The shining star of the all-new Halo: The Master Chief Collection is Halo 2: Anniversary, a love letter to the franchise in the form of a totally remastered 10th anniversary edition of this incredible game. We’ve talked about the amazing visuals, but Halo 2: Anniversary got a lot more than updated textures and frame rates: The entire soundtrack has been redone, with remastered and new songs to bring Halo 2: Anniversary up to a higher level.

The music team – consisting of Paul Lipson, Lennie Moore, Tom Salta, Brian Trifon, and Brian White – has worked on Halo games in the past, and took that experience and love of the series into the process of updating
Halo 2’s soundtrack for a new generation of gaming.

“This is very beloved, iconic music, so we spent a long time in preproduction, crafting a plan that we felt honored the original material, but moved things forward both creatively and qualitatively,” Lipson said.

“This was probably our biggest challenge and balancing act, creating what we came to refer to as a ‘celebration and innovation.’  We wanted to make the ultimate love letter to our fans and to the game, so getting deep into the details made all the difference.”

So how does one go about recreating one of the most iconic and well-loved game soundtracks of all time? Note. By. Note.

The team spent two months transcribing the score, listening to every song, and writing the notes down by hand. Laborious? Sure, but Lipson and team used the challenge to their advantage.

“It’s a fascinating, almost anthropological process,” Lipson explained, “and it gave us the chance to make some very exciting creative decisions.”

After transcribing, Lipson and the team went about re-orchestrating the entire score – another three months of work in itself – to produce 198 minutes of musical arrangements.

From there, it was on to recording. But the team at 343 Industries didn’t pick just any recording studio. They teamed up with the Skywalker Symphony, a collection of world-renowned symphony orchestra musicians, led by orchestrator Wataru Hokoyama and recorded by Leslie Ann Jones. Steve Vai, known for his guitar tracks in the original
Halo 2, came back to recreate the iconic sounds that help define the Halo 2 soundtrack. And on top of that, 40 members of the San Francisco Opera Chorus and the San Francisco Boys Choir lent vocals.

The recording process took another eight days, and Lipson commended everyone involved for “how quickly they absorbed our artistic vision and intent for the music.”

In addition to the scores, 343 Industries brought in Misha Mansoor – amazing metal guitarist and avid gamer – to compose two unique tracks for the remastered soundtrack, replacing the tracks by Incubus and Breaking Benjamin featured in the original (though those tracks are still featured in the legacy version of the soundtrack). Lipson said Mansoor was at the top of the list, and was chosen for his current and pioneering sound.

“He can be both very heavy and very melodic at the same time, and after a few creative conversations we knew he would be the perfect partner. When you first jump into a Banshee and hear his cues kick in, it is immediately obvious that we made an innovative choice.”

After everything was recorded, it took another few months to master, edit, and work the soundtrack into the game. Lipson explained that the new soundtrack plays in multi-channel surround and features and expanded palette with stronger brass, woodwinds, percussion, and hybrid electronic elements that gives everything an “immersive warmth.”

“Technically, it really is state-of-the-art over what was achieved 10 years ago,” Lipson said.  “The recording quality from Skywalker Sound is breathtaking.”

Lipson’s favorite track? The new Main Halo Theme, featuring Steve Vai.

“From the very first notes, you know it’s
Halo 2 – and that is the definition of iconic.”

Psyched to check out the new
Halo 2: Anniversary music and the new… well, everything else? Grab your copy of Halo: The Master Chief Collection today, exclusively on Xbox One!