Composer Mick Gordon and developer id Software have parted ways.
First-person shooter DOOM Eternal was supposed to launch alongside its soundtrack on 20th March but only the game made the release date. As the month of March arrived, publisher Bethesda Softworks announced that the soundtrack’s release would be postponed, but that owners of the collector’s edition of DOOM Eternal would be sent a lossless version of the digital soundtrack.
After the soundtrack was sent out on 19th April, fans noticed a drop in audio quality when comparing the DOOM Eternal soundtrack to that of its 2016 predecessor DOOM.
Twitter user thatACDCguy made a multi-tweet thread in which he highlighted the issue of a reduced dynamic range when taking a closer look at the tracks’ waveforms. The criticisms elicited a response from DOOM series composer Mick Gordon, who said: “I didn’t mix those and wouldn’t have done that.”
Aside from giving a couple of examples of tracks he did mix, Gordon didn’t elaborate on the situation, thus leaving room for speculation.
Now, executive producer at id Software Marty Stratton has written a lengthy open letter to the DOOM community (posted on the DOOM subreddit) in which he gives the studio’s side of the story and the events leading up to and after the game’s launch.
“What has become unacceptable to me are the direct and personal attacks on our Lead Audio Designer [Chad Mossholder] – particularly considering his outstanding contributions to the game – as well as the damage this mischaracterization is doing to the many talented people who have contributed to the game and continue to support it,” Stratton said. “I feel it is my responsibility to respond on their behalf.”
Stratton said it was “surprising to see” Gordon’s online statements expressing his doubts on whether he would continue to work on future DOOM projects – something that wasn’t discussed until now. Stratton went on to describe the relationship between Gordon and id Software as “complicated”.
“Our challenges have never been a matter of creative differences. Mick has had near limitless creative autonomy over music composition and mixing in our recent DOOM games, and I think the results have been tremendous,” he explained.
“Talent aside, we have struggled to connect on some of the more production-related realities of development, while communication around those issues have eroded trust. For id, this has created an unsustainable pattern of project uncertainty and risk.”
Following discussions that took place in January, id Software and Gordon agreed for the composer to deliver the soundtrack by early March so that it could be digitally included in the DOOM Eternal – Collector’s Edition at launch. The terms of the agreement required Gordon to provide a minimum of 12 tracks but also afforded him “complete creative control” over what would be delivered.
On 24th February, Gordon reached out to id Software and requested extra time as he found there was more work involved than he had anticipated.
“He apologized and asked that ‘ideally’ he be given an additional four weeks to get everything together,” Stratton said. “He offered that the extra time would allow him to provide upwards of 30 tracks and a run-time over two hours – including all music from the game… ”
Not only was Gordon’s request granted (the delivery date was pushed back to mid-April), his on-time delivery bonus payment was rearranged in order to align with the revised deadline.
“It’s important to note at this point that not only were we disappointed to not deliver the OST with the launch of the CE, we needed to be mindful of consumer protection laws in many countries that allow customers to demand a full refund for a product if a product is not delivered on or about its announced availability date,” Stratton explained. “Even with that, the mid-April delivery would allow us to meet our commitments to customers while also allowing Mick the time he had ideally requested.”
With the arrival of April, the studio was concerned that the soundtrack would not be delivered on time and id Software audio director Chad Mossholder was asked to start working on id versions of the tracks as a backup plan should Gordon fail to deliver. To complete this task, Mossholder had to take all of the music that Gordon had provided for the game, edit the pieces together into tracks and arrange those tracks into a cohesive soundtrack.
“It is important to understand that there is a difference between music mixed for inclusion in the game and music mixed for inclusion in the OST,” Stratton said. “Several people have noted this difference when looking at the waveforms but have misunderstood why there is a difference.
“When a track looks ‘bricked’ or like a bar, where the extreme highs and lows of the dynamic range are clipped, this is how we receive the music from Mick for inclusion in the game – in fragments pre-mixed and pre-compressed by him. Those music fragments he delivers then go into our audio system and are combined in real-time as you play through the game.
“Alternatively, when mixing and mastering for an OST, Mick starts with his source material (which we don’t typically have access to) and re-mixes for the OST to ensure the highs and lows are not clipped – as seen in his 12 OST tracks.”
Stratton explained that Mossholder only had those pre-mixed and pre-compressed fragments to work with when assembling the id Software versions of the tracks. “He simply edited the same music you hear in game to create a comprehensive OST – though some of the edits did require slight volume adjustments to prevent further clipping,” Stratton said.
In early April, Stratton let Gordon know that Mossholder had started work on the backup tracks and reiterated the studio’s “expectation and preference” was to release what Gordon would deliver. Gordon eventually suggested that he and Mossholder combine what they had separately worked on to come up with a more complete release.
Mossholder did as was requested and sent Gordon everything he had done so that the latter could “package everything up and balance it all for delivery,” Stratton said.
When it came to Gordon’s submission, the composer said he still needed to finish some things but that it would be at least “12 tracks and about 60 minutes of music and that it would come in late evening.”
It wasn’t until the next morning that Gordon informed the studio that due to issues on several tracks, extra time was needed to finish, though he understood the impending launch date was problematic. He was asked to send in the completed tracks and deliver the remaining ones as soon as possible.
“After listening to the 9 tracks he’d delivered, I wrote him that I didn’t think those tracks would meet the expectations of DOOM or Mick fans – there was only one track with the type of heavy-combat music people would expect, and most of the others were ambient in nature,” Stratton said.
“I let Mick know that we would move forward with the combined effort, to provide a more comprehensive collection of the music from the game. I let Mick know that Chad had ordered his edited tracks as a chronology of the game music and that to create the combined work, Chad would insert Mick’s delivered tracks into the OST chronology where appropriate and then delete his own tracks containing similar thematic material.
Stratton told Gordon if the remaining combat-themed tracks get delivered soon, they’d do as before and include them in the soundtrack or alternatively, offer them as bonus tracks at a later date.
“Mick delivered 2 final tracks, which we incorporated, and he wished us luck wrapping it up,” Stratton said. “I thanked him and let him know that we’d be happy to deliver his final track as a bonus later on and reminded him of our plans for distribution of the OST first to CE owners, then later on other distribution platforms.”
On 19th April, owners of the collector’s edition were sent the game soundtrack. Stratton felt the way Gordon distanced himself from the criticism levelled at certain tracks “generated unnecessary speculation and judgement – and led some to vilify and attack an id employee” who was only trying to help deliver a comprehensive soundtrack.
“Mick has shared with me that the attacks on Chad are distressing, but he’s done nothing to change the conversation,” Stratton said.
After emailing Gordon several times to understand his perspective, he replied to Stratton and revealed to him his issues.
“First, he said that he was surprised by the scope of what was released – the 59 tracks,” Stratton explained. “Chad had sent Mick everything more than a week before the final deadline, and I described to him our plan to combine the id-edited tracks with his own tracks (as he’d suggested doing).
“The tracks Mick delivered covered only a portion of the music in the game, so the only way to deliver a comprehensive OST was to combine the tracks Mick-delivered with the tracks id had edited from game music. If Mick is dissatisfied with the content of his delivery, we would certainly entertain distributing additional tracks.”
Gordon also felt some of the id-edited tracks were intended as work-in-progress or demos but Mossholder only used “music that was in-game or was part of a cinematic music construction kit.”
The composer apparently wasn’t happy with some of the id tracks, to which Stratton explained: “I understand this from an artist’s perspective and realize this opinion is what prompted him to distance from the work in the first place. That said, from our perspective, we didn’t want to be involved in the content of the OST and did absolutely nothing to prevent him from delivering on his commitments within the [time frame] he asked for, and we extended multiple times.”
There was also concern on Gordon’s part that Mossholder would be credited as co-composer on the soundtrack, something that Stratton said the studio did not and would not do.
“In the metadata, Mick is listed as the sole composer and sole album artist,” he said. “On tracks edited by id, Chad is listed as a contributing artist. That was the best option to clearly delineate for fans which tracks Mick delivered and which tracks id’s Lead Audio Designer had edited. It would have been misleading for us to attribute tracks solely to Mick that someone else had edited.”
We strongly advise readers to go through Stratton’s open letter in its entirety. The executive producer ended his post by thanking the fans and revealed id Software would not be working with Gordon on the DOOM Eternal downloadable content that’s currently in the works.
“As for the immediate future, we are at the point of moving on and won’t be working with Mick on the DLC we currently have in production,” Stratton said. “As I’ve mentioned, his music is incredible, he is a rare talent, and I hope he wins many awards for his contribution to DOOM Eternal at the end of the year.”
id Software has said the DOOM Eternal soundtrack will be releasing on digital platforms “in the coming weeks“.
DOOM Eternal is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, and Stadia. The game is also being ported to Nintendo Switch by Panic Button.