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Genetic Haemochromatosis & Music Escapism by Steven Coltart

Across 2016-2017, I worked as Audio Lead on ‘Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier’.  A massive personal undertaking, and a project I am still especially proud of for a number of reasons.

I was individually responsible for not only composing the soundtrack, but also the implementation of these assets within Unreal.  This allowed me to really shape the music across a large number of choice based pathways, using a bespoke UE4 system.  Additionally, for the majority of the project I was sound designer too (Calum Grant later joining me who played a huge part, an ex-student of mine – more to come on my role in education later).

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The majority of my ambiences and score were recorded in Norfolk.

One of the most popular parts of the project turned out to be my original score, and here is an honest account of how being diagnosed with Genetic Haemochromatosis during this time was used creatively to shape the narrative of the game through music.

As explained here, “Genetic Haemochromatosis is the UK’s most common genetic condition, directly affecting over 380,000 people.  Although it is commonplace, the condition is significantly under-diagnosed in the UK. Genetic haemochromatosis (also known as “GH”) is a condition where a person absorbs too much iron from the diet.  The extra iron is stored in the organs and soft tissues”– which can lead to organ failure if not detected and treated early enough. I was/ am very lucky it was picked up early by my GP.

As I am sure many can relate to in the games industry, I was putting in long hours over an extended period – it was fun though, apart from rural Norfolk upload speeds at the time!  However, I started to get joint pains in my hands and fingers (a slight issue when playing instruments and on the computer all day!).  These turned out to be common symptoms of GH that ultimately led to my diagnosis.  Treatment followed, that I worked around my schedule to not affect the production of the game in any way.  In fact, it actually helped me write certain themes.  There were some especially emotional character scenes in ‘Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier’, including ‘Tom’s Burial’ scene, which I composed and recorded after having a Venesection when feeling reflective. Music escapism is a fantastic way of dealing with stressful situations and can inspire powerful creative content too.

“Scores like Tom’s Burial and Martial Law seemed to have elements of consciousness within them that made me relate these scores not just to a situation but to a passing thought of a character which I respected deeply” ~ Indiependent

You can hear this piece from 2 minutes, 30 seconds here.

After that project completed, and I finished an agreed film score, I decided to take a short family pause after becoming a Dad.  Once I took this work break from the games industry, it became more difficult to get back in.  Especially as a freelancer based in Norfolk, as studios I spoke with at the time were not keen on remote based working.  Slightly different now! I took the decision to not relocate my family to London, and instead stay in a countryside location.  A then very tough call game work-wise, but a decision that during the recent lockdowns has been one I have looked back on as massive positive towards our mental well-being.

External to Planets, here are a couple of my personal favourite game compositions I’ve written with mental health connections:

Just Breathe’ Selected by UK Games Fund 2019 and showcased at EGX.  Follow Loki as he learns to navigate his anxiety and his emotions through a gameplay based on mindfulness. Accompany him through his distress, panics, relief and peace.  All he can do to progress is to Just Breathe…

Into Light’ the project I always look back on as the one that really got me started in a technical, implementation sense.  That was such a great team.

In recent years, I have also started to further develop my compositions across other media platforms, including my music being used on 2020 Emporio Armani Advertising campaigns. Still with my characteristic emotionally driven, cinematic sound.

I have always had a strong interest in supporting education, and have worked part-time for a number of years at the University of Hertfordshire to continually develop/ deliver specialist game music and sound design content across their BSc provision.  Recent graduates are in audio roles at studios including Frontier Developments, Ubisoft, and PlayStation; it is an area I really enjoy. Safe In Our World is embedded within my delivery there, and such a great (and important) resource.

I hope this story has particularly helped to raise further awareness of Genetic Haemochromatosis.  Don’t be afraid to take a break out, it can re-energise.

You can contact Steven, and listen to his music at the links below

Email / Website / YouTube / Spotify / Twitter