Pharaoh was one of those citybuilders I never really grasped how to play as a child, but hot damn if I didn't spend hour after hour constructing neat little rows of farms and carving out a warren of roads for my citizens to scuttle about in. It's a game I have very fond memories of, and publisher Dotemu's latest dev diary about the soundtrack for the upcoming remake has cast me right back to those glorious, if rather futile afternoons spent staring at my parent's living room computer. Musician Louis Godart is recreating the original game's music from scratch for Pharaoh: A New Era, but he's also adding some authentic touches of his own to help do those classic tunes justice.
You can watch the full dev diary below, in which Godart and developer Triskell Interactive's co-founder Théophile Noiré talk about their approach to making A New Era's music. It's a fascinating watch regardless of whether you're an old Pharaoh fan or are just interested in video game music more generally, as it raises interesting questions about authenticity while also staying true to what fans know and love.
For example, to make sure A New Era's music would stay faithful to Keith Zizza's 1999 source material, Godart describes how he ended up transcribing the entire soundtrack of the original Pharaoh game - and as someone who has feebly attempted to make violin melodies of my favourite video game tracks in the past, that is quite some feat of musical ear-wiggling. However, he then goes on to talk about his research into traditional instruments from Ancient Egyptian times, as well as how he worked with traditional instrumentalists to ensure the sound was as authentic and detailed as possible.
"It was important to me to find people who know well the musical tradition of the Middle East, and to add an authentic touch, which is hardly present in the original Pharaoh's music," says Godart. "The original music still is an Occidental artist's vision of the Oriental music. This music was made by people who are unware of all the nuances of the mystery of this musical tradition. For me, it was a way to go further to search for the details and to add some life."
If that sounds like a dunk on Zizza's largely synthesised score, worry not. Godart also talks about how he got in touch with Zizza to discuss his original Pharaoh music, and supposedly Zizza said that if he and his team had the means to create what Godart is doing now, he definitely would have gone down the traditional instrumental route. If only the sound cards of the late 90s were a bit more advanced, eh? But I guess that's part of the beauty of full-on remakes, isn't it? We get to see and hear these games in a new light, and often a little bit closer to what the developers originally intended.
Heck, I'm just enjoying seeing what all these instruments actually look like in the flesh.
Pharaoh: A New Era is still listed as "Coming Soon" on Steam, but I think we can comfortably take that to mean sometime next year now given we're already in December. You can still play the original Pharaoh + Cleopatra on Steam and GOG if you prefer, but personally I'm well up for waiting for A New Era and its revamped music and 4K artwork (not to mention its free build mode). Perhaps this time I'll finally learn how to play it properly.