Greetings, Kanobu users! Today you have a unique opportunity to meet Dmitry Kuzmenko, creative director of Strategic Music. You will find out many interesting things about the studio, about dubbing video games and, of course, about Dota 2 ... So, let's go!
Hello, Dmitry! Please tell us a bit about your studio: when did it start working, why did you choose this name, and whose idea was it?
The story of our studio began in May 2003. Strategic Music or «Strategical music» means «music composed with the use of game theory». It sounds very suitable for our company, doesn't it? I found it in an English-Russian musical terminology dictionary. At first we were only two in SM - me and my then future wife Ekaterina. We were both second year students at the University specializing in «Sound engineering» when we thought to ourselves that we should try to write music for video games.
How did you assemble your team? What criteria did you have? How do you estimate how valuable a potential employee can be in such a difficult industry (dubbing games)?
A: After working for some time with Kate only, voicing a few dozen games and earning some reputation in the industry, we faced a situation where the number of orders began to increase, but the number of hours remaining in the day were still the same. Work became more and more difficult for just the two of us. So we began recruiting a team.
When recruiting new «strategists» we have to pay attention to many things: their CV, their e-mail communication skills, whether they have the required degree, and their behavior during the interview. We also ask them to do a test task. So we can say the candidates are being picked very carefully.
During your «round table» you have presented a lot of interesting info about dubbing video games. Could you briefly tell our users about the dubbing and the process of creating it, and about two different categories - music and sounds?
There are actually three categories - there is also voice dubbing.
Tell us briefly about the process of sound design for a game.
Typically, developers come to our studio when their game is already playable – so we can feel the dynamics, estimate the gaming world and get to know the characters.
We communicate with the developers and compile an approximate list of tracks and sound effects to be created for the game, and select the dubbing actors.
Then this list has to be approved several times, adapted and transformed into a specification.
And then the creation of the sound atmosphere for the game begins.
The composers create the music, the sound designers make different sounds. A dubbing director works with the actors.
We present the music, sounds and voice to the game developers and make adjustments if necessary. That's video game dubbing in a nutshell for you.
Your studio has dubbed more than 350 games. Which project was the biggest and the most memorable? And why?
Actually, we’ve already definitely done more than 500 projects. At the moment, the largest, the most serious and important project for us was War Thunder by Gaijin Entertainment.
We have written more than 2 hours of symphonic music for live recording, booked a huge studio in Saint-Petersburg, invited the orchestra with a choir ran by a great band master, and we spent two unforgettable weeks in that studio, that gave War Thunder, dare I say it, the best soundtrack in the Russian gaming industry, and it would be hard to beat that.
Work on the audio for War Thunder is still going: We are working on music and recording pilots' and tank crews' speeches in different languages, creating music for the trailers and other music or speech related tasks.
May I ask you a sensitive question: How much does your work cost? For example, for an average or small indie game for mobile devices.
The cost of the voiceover can range from about five hundred to five to seven thousand US dollars, if we are talking about a small project for iOS devices, and from ten to a few hundred thousand US dollars, if we're talking about major projects.
How do you organize the castings? Any interesting stories to tell?
We've been working in the voice dubbing industry for many years and we have a pool of actors we are constantly working with. Sometimes I do auditions and recording in other cities. For example, the Ukrainian voiceover for World of Tanks.
There aren’t many interesting things happening at the auditions, it's all quite casual. We invite an actor, give them the text and ask to read a few phrases in different voices.
The most interesting and sometimes funny stuff happens during the recording session when the actor gets used to their role. For example, an American actor trying to cope with Russian pronunciation.
What are you currently working on, if it's not a secret? Aside from Dota 2, of course.
At this moment we are working on more than 20 projects, for example, a game in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, a game based on a famous Marvel comic book, several projects for iOS devices, and of course a military aviation simulator and tank simulators from Gaijin and Mail.Ru: War Thunder and Ground War: Tanks.
What was your first project in the studio? What was your first personal project (maybe before the studio was founded)?
I remember the hot summer of 2003 and our first order - music for a platformer about the adventures of a white bear named Snowy. Actually, we now continue working with Aliasworlds Entertainment - the creators of the game Snowy: The Bear's Adventures, they are great guys - my best regards!
Working with sound means using advanced technologies. What is your «coolest» unit in the studio? :)
The «coolness» of the equipment does not necessarily depend on the price. We use professional microphones, sound cards, studio monitors (professional powerful speakers that can play the sound without distortions), various «iron» keyboards and libraries of software tools. The cost of some units may be up to two or three thousand dollars. If you sum up the cost of all our gadgets, you'll get an impressive number.
Not for advertising, but as a piece of advice: In your opinion, which company makes the best sound equipment? For example, any microphone you can recommend for recording fan music or podcasts?
I've always liked Yamaha, RME, KRK and Roland products. A good podcast can be recorded on a hundred bucks-dictaphone, it's more important to ensure silence in the room. Because people will evaluate your work primarily on the ideas, how interesting and fresh they are. There's no need to stick to the equipment.
Speaking of podcasts. That «round table» gave us a lot of useful information, and the YouTube video blog is also exciting to follow. But don't you think about recording your own podcast (talking about musical and technological novelties, games, work process, and answering the questions from your fans)?
Without a doubt, we have something to tell people, and it will be useful not only for professionals, but also for everyone interested in music and games. The problem is, who's going to host this podcast. It would be better if the host is not a member of SM, so we won't know the questions we'll have to answer in advance. That's how you get a really cool, laid-back and useful conversation.
In other words - please invite.
Please tell us a bit about the sound libraries. Where can one find them? Is it possible to predict their quality before purchasing? And, finally, do you have your own Strategic Music Library? What kind of library?
There are loads of sound libraries, they are very easy to find on the Internet, for example, if you type in the search engine «boom library» or «sound ideas». As for our own library, we are thinking about it, so the chances of Strategic Music having a sound library are quite high.
I would like to move on to the questions about the Dota 2 voiceover.
Many players have learned about Strategic Music after first watching videos with Russian voices for the characters of this game. And a lot of our users are Dota fans. Please tell me, how did you decide to work on this project?
Firstly, as a gamer, I like DOTA, and secondly, I like the developers’ approach to the sound in this game very much, especially for the dubbing, and thirdly, Dota 2 has no Russian voiceover.
Ok, the 1st and the 3rd reasons are clear, so let's talk about the second one a little.
Dota has interactive dubbing, which means the characters react differently to the same game situations. They may argue, or even talk back to the players – thus knocking them dead laughing. For example, when you give the Bounty Hunter a direction, he says: «There? Anything good there?»
The advantage of this voiceover is that the players won't get tired of it. The disadvantage is its complexity.
Take one character and try to come up with twenty different short phrases for them, for example, for «killing a creep» event? Done? Now come up with twenty phrases for each of the forty-game events for that character. The phrases should be short, different and suit the character. That's more difficult isn't it? And now, do it all for each of the more than one hundred characters in Dota 2.
Yes, it's not an easy task, but it’s incredibly interesting. The original dubbing is rich in quotations, references, allusions to various cultural aspects only the English-speaking players understand. For the Russian voiceover, we try to use mostly Russian memes, references and allusions to the things only a Russian-speaking player would understand. Simple translation just won't do the job, you have to almost create the character from scratch in our culture.
Here is another short example. The original Admiral Kunkka cites a poem by English poet S. Coleridge, «The Rime of the Ancient Mariner», and it's hardly known here. In the Russian version he cites Pushkin, Akhmatova, and of course that Coleridge poem, but in translation by a great Russian poet Nikolai Gumilev.
An actor dubbing the character Kunkka.
As we know, Strategic Music has no contract with Valve. Why didn't you contact them directly? And how are you going to promote your work for the masses?
We had no contract with Wargaming.net, but the voiceover we released for World of Tanks was head and shoulders above compared to the original.
Don't forget that a contract always means a lot of obligations and prohibitions, a non-disclosure agreement, and corporate ethics that must be followed, and many many things that can affect the final result negatively.
So having a contract or not doesn't matter.
How are we going to promote our voiceover? As strange as it sounds - we are not going to, because it promotes itself. We only show the result of our work, without PR, or self-advertising. As soon as I post another video about a new character being dubbed, it instantly spreads throughout the Internet, and it shows that people need our work. So, within a month we scored more than two million views on YouTube.
I always contact the representatives of various companies with offers to sponsor the dubbing of a character or a series of characters.
We are just trying to do our job as well as possible, and to present it to the players without forgetting to consult with them in our Vkontakte group on tricky issues, that's all.
Regular visitors of your vkontakte group know the answer to this question. But let's dot the «i»s here, in this interview. Tell us about «колдуньё», who was the author of the word that became a popular Internet meme?Phoenix
As you know, in the original Dota, each character has two phrases - «shitty wizard» and «crummy wizard». They are not used in the game, but they are there. It's not hard to translate these phrases, but I wanted to find a word even more dismissive to the representatives of that oldest profession. In other words, I needed something juicy and purely Russian. And I came up with «колдуньё».
Image made by one of vkontakte group members
How many characters are completely voiced by now? Which one was the most difficult? Any character you're saving for later? How do you choose which character will be dubbed next?
More than twenty characters are already dubbed, but not all of them are shown. As I've already mentioned, I'm doing what I like, so it's easy to overcome any difficulties that may arise, and the community helps us a lot.
Will you dub the characters that don't have any speech lines? Like Phoenix or Io.
I have some ideas for those guys. I think they can be voiced and it will be cool. It's boring to play a silent character.
Why did your company decide to translate the original names of the characters? After all, Dota is an eSports discipline and understanding between teammates that might be speaking another language is very important. For example, if somebody shouts «Pudge, hook!» to a player, and he does not understand, because his character name sounds different in his language. And here's another question related: will the spell names be translated?
We are trying to adapt the names, not just translate. The character has his «official» name, for example «Pudge», which is known to all players from different countries. But he calls himself not only «Pudge». For example, he also says: «They call me the Butcher». These names and unofficial nicknames can and should be translated into Russian.
Or another example. How would you translate Phantom Assassin? There's no feminine form for «assassin» in Russian. Leaving it without translation would be even worse. After some discussions with the community, and voting, we took an excellent translation, «Фантом смерти» [lit. Phantom of death]. But the phrase «Я – фантом смерти» [lit. I am the Phantom of death] also sounds weird in Russian. So, our «Phantom» names herself: «Мортред» [Mortred], and adds: «Фантом смерти». So we killed two birds with one stone – we kept the spirit of the original and made an adequate Russian adaptation.
How often does user advice / comments on the Dota 2 dubbing come in handy?
Very often! Every comment is useful, even a negative one, even a super-negative one (and there are lots of them), because if our work makes people feel, no matter what, it means that they care about our work, they are not indifferent, and therefore we are doing the right thing.
Let's talk a little bit about you. How did you get involved in music? What is your favorite musical instrument? Do you play any instruments?
Sometime in my childhood, my parents would listen to Jean-Michel Jarre, and I liked his music. My favorite musical instrument is the analog keyboard. Unfortunately, recently I have no time to compose.
As we know, you dropped a military engineer career to get into the gaming sound industry. What was the turning point? How successful was your previous career?
My previous career never really started. I was in the 4th year of military school when I made a firm decision to drop everything and become a composer. One simple thought – it's now or never – was my turning point. And I have no regrets.
What are your favorite games? Do you have a big «gaming experience»?
I do have huge experience, indeed. I got my first computer, I think, in 1989, it was a ZX SPECTRUM. Then there was the «EC 1841», and in 1992 I was already hardcore on Wolfenstein 3D on an IBM PC 286. Then there were the Dune, the first Warcraft, which I would play with a friend via modem at 2400 (can't remember the measuring units). The game units would move very slowly: you could send a knight to the other end of the map and go grab some tea. Then there were Warcraft II, Command and Conquer on 40 (!) floppy disks.
Then the Fallout, great Allods and Silent Storm by our Nival. Then there was Morrowind, and World of Warcraft.
From relatively recent games, I played a lot of Company of Heroes, finished Fallout: New Vegas. Of course, I play every part of Civilization as they are released. I can enjoy Call of Duty too. So I assure you, the Russian Dota 2 voiceover is in good hands.
Is there a game (already published or soon to be released), that you'd like to dub?
What human qualities are the most important for success?
Self-control, kindness and a sense of humor.
What do you think of your work - is it a dream job? What profession did you want to have when you were a kid?
All my life I have loved two things: music and games. So it is safe to say that for me it's a dream job. As a child I wanted to become a doctor, but my brother became one instead of me.
What else do you like – aside from work and music?
I like long walks in unfamiliar cities, photography, and reading. I love to make up new words.
What kind of music do you like? Tell us about your favorite genres and musicians.
I love instrumental electronic music, especially by Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis, Mike Oldfield, Alan Parsons.
Of course, I like classical music: Bruckner's Violin Concerto No 1, Schumann's «Carnaval», Schubert's Unfinished Symphony, «Scheherazade» by Rimsky-Korsakov, «The Rite of Spring» by Stravinsky, Sviridov, Mussorgsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich.
I like the music of Soviet composers working in cinema, especially Andrei Petrov, «Taming of the Fire», Boris Mokrousov, «The Elusive Avengers», and much more.
Regarding the music industry, what job of yours do you consider being the best?
I hope that the best is ahead. For now, I am most proud of the music in «Soldiers: Heroes of World War II», the voiceover in World of Tanks, and my participation in War Thunder as a producer and composer.
And finally, a few words for the users of our web-site, and for everyone who follows your work.
Do not be afraid to go against the flow, do not be afraid to have your own opinion, do not be afraid to make mistakes and be sure to do sports. Swimming is the best.
Dmitry, thanks for the interview!