HomeTech From IT Worker to Music God: The Unlikely Story of Baldur’s Gate 3 Composer Borislav Slavov

From IT Worker to Music God: The Unlikely Story of Baldur’s Gate 3 Composer Borislav Slavov

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From IT Worker to Music God: The Unlikely Story of Baldur's Gate 3 Composer Borislav Slavov

For Borislav “Bobby” Slavov, it is not enough to be a composer. The Bulgarian musician is considered a man who wears many hats: composer, musical director, arranger and mixer. However, in 2002 he had just finished a master’s degree in computer science and was working for the fourth largest software company in the world. Unlike other composers I’ve spoken to for this column, Slavov spends as much time as possible at the game studio he works with, immersed in narratives and mechanics “at a granular level” so that his music “is not butchered and chopped”.

“I remember the same day I came up with that theme song, Down By the River,” he tells me before the tickets sell out. Game Music Festival concert at the Southbank Center in London, where the Philharmonic Orchestra performed more than 80 minutes of music from their soundtrack for Baldur’s Gate 3. “I was taking one of my favorite walks along one of the canals in the city of Ghent, and the lyrics They swam in the back of my mind. There was a special moment when I started listening to this song. I stopped for a moment. I thought: This sounds exciting. I need to record this song right now!

Slavov tells me that he ran back to his office, grabbed his guitar, and immortalized that song right then and there. “I knew that if he didn’t do it right away, I would waste this moment. New composition means new emotion; Whenever I feel emotionally charged, I grab my guitar and start playing. “That’s how I capture that raw feeling.”

Slavov collects the award for best music at the 2024 Bafta Awards. Photograph: Stuart Wilson/Bafta/Getty Images for Bafta

Slavov, perhaps unusually for a composer in an industry as highly digital as video games, is quite old school when it comes to his process. He demonstrates everything. All. Whether it’s a vocal track with him singing or a simple aural sketch with a guitar and a drone that eventually swells and blooms with all the symphonic flowers behind it, Slavov’s phone is full of little audio notes that act as concept art for the final orchestrations of his music.

This is why Baldur’s Gate 3 sometimes sounds like a neoclassical suite, sometimes like a West End musical: it all started with lyrical and melodic pencil lines that were eventually written with sheet music for violins, violas, cellos, harps. , clarinets, woodwind instruments, etc. much more. From seed to flower, Slavov nurtures and grows his music every step of the way, harnessing the potential of each track.

Down By the River, or main theme, to give it its less romantic title, is at the heart of Baldur’s Gate 3. Between that and the final track, The Power, there is a helix of DNA that weaves through each extravagant fight against bosses. every heartbreaking beat of character development and every conspiratorial twist the massive story gives you. Two key themes, one reflective and hopeful and the other epic and inspiring, appear and reappear, and never feel out of place.

“The real reason this became the main theme of the game is because it is scalable,” says Slavov. “It can easily be expanded or reduced, left, right, developed in any given direction. Melancholic, romantic, epic, dramatic, youthful, playful, whatever you want it to be. That is the definition of a major theme in my book, a theme that has the power to develop in any given direction, that can wear the crown and bear the weight of history.”

Baldur’s Gate 3. Photography: Larian Studios

There is a parallel here for the player charting his course through this huge, labyrinthine game. As you dictate the story and steer the narrative down your chosen paths (are you going to be a pure, unsullied paladin? A vessel of the dark gods? A chaotic orc bard with nothing but sex on the brain?), the theme comes with you. This game didn’t win the Bafta award for best music for nothing.

There are surprisingly bold moments in Baldur’s Gate 3. Whether they’re Broadway-inspired boss fights with villains singing their own songs (yes, really), or cutscenes that are locked behind an incredible number of specific choices after more than 80 hours of gameplay, Larian’s work never fails to reward you for sticking to your roleplaying skills and playing the game the way you want. And, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, Slavov is always there at the end of the road, waiting with a smile on his face and a couple of melodic lines that are, seemingly, impossibly, unique to you and your experience of the game. game.

“In Larian Studios, there is no difference between the main quest and the side quests,” he enthuses. “That is Larian’s greatest strength; Whatever we do, we do it with all our hearts. We would never say, ‘You know what? Very few people would follow this path, so don’t pay too much attention to it.’ No. This is never going to happen. This contradicts the very essence and concept of player agency. It would be false to you – unfair to you! – divide game elements, story, music, whatever, into ‘more’ or ‘less’ important aspects.”

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It’s painfully clear that Slavov is proud of what he’s achieved with Baldur’s Gate 3. His eagerness to make you understand what he’s talking about, the sheer sincerity on his face when you ask him about the smallest moments of his music – he paints a picture of a Creative, lyrical soul with rock star energy who understands what makes gaming music so special to gamers.

Borislav Slavov answers questions from curious concert-goers. Photography: Game Music Festival

Baldur’s Gate is based on Dungeons and Dragons, which has been around since 1974, and there’s a bewildering amount of history behind that tabletop role-playing game. One of the underexplored parts of that tradition are the “minor deities,” and within that umbrella, are the “minor deities of song,” one of whom, Milil, appears in the game. As a sort of thank you to Slavov, the people of Larian surreptitiously created Milil in his image, immortalizing him in DnD lore as a god of music. Not bad for someone who, a couple of decades ago, was staring at a monitor at his IT job and wondering if he could ever make it in the music world.

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