|“||John Williams is to movies, as Marty O'Donnell is to video games.||”|
Martin "Marty" O'Donnell (aka Marty the Elder) (born May 1, 1955) is an American composer known for his work on musical pieces for video games from Bungie Studios such as the Myth series, Oni, and the Halo trilogy. O'Donnell collaborates with his musical companion Michael Salvatori for many of the scores. He has also directed voice talent and sound design for the Halo trilogy. He was terminated without cause on April 11, 2014, and has since founded his own studio, Highwire Games, with several other ex-Bungie friends.
- Jason Jones: "What did Marty do, Joe?"
- Joseph Staten: "Um, I know he wrote something. The music."
- Jason Jones: "The music. Some of the music."
- — Conversation on Marty O'Donnell's role on the Halo 3 Legendary Edition commentary.
O'Donnell began working in television/film. In his early career, O'Donnell wrote the jingles for Mr. Clean and Flintstones Vitamins. According to O'Donnell, after fifteen years of doing TV and radio commercials, he decided he wanted to do game soundtracks.
The composer's first foray into game-related work was working as a sound designer for the video game Riven, the sequel to Myst. His company, TotalAudio, also produced the music for Bungie Studios' Myth: The Fallen Lords in the same year. TotalAudio later composed the music for Valkyrie Studio's Septerra Core: Legacy of the Creator; O'Donnell met Steve Downes while working on the game, and the composer would later recommend the voice actor to Bungie for the role of the Master Chief.
Involvement in the Halo development
Soon after producing the music for Myth II, Bungie contracted O'Donnell for several of Bungie's other projects, including Oni and Halo: Combat Evolved (which at the time was code-named Blam!) In 1999, Bungie wanted to re-negotiate the contracts for Oni, and the negotiations resulted in O'Donnell joining the Bungie team, only ten days before the company was bought by Microsoft; he is one of only a handful of Bungie employees who remain working at the company since then. While O'Donnell worked at Bungie, Michael Salvatori handled the business side of TotalAudio. After producing the music for Oni, O'Donnell was tasked with composing the music for Bungie's next project, which would be unveiled at E3 2000. After talking with Joseph Staten, O'Donnell decided the music needed to be "big, exciting, and unusual with a classical orchestra touch to give it some weight and stature. We also wanted it to have some sort of 'ancient' feel to it." The music was recorded and sent to New York the same night the piece was finished; the resulting music became the basis for the Halo series' "highly recognizable" signature sound.
The music for Halo 3 contained refinements and revisions to previous themes heard in the series, as O'Donnell stressed the importance of using previous motifs in the final installment of the trilogy. O'Donnell also introduced a distinctive piano theme which had never been heard before, and first made its appearance in the Halo 3 announcement teaser. In an interview, O'Donnell stated that he has always approached music from the keyboard, and that at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (where the trailer would first be shown) he had a feeling that "no [other announcement] would start with a piano." In addition to composition, O'Donnell has also arranged his work; a special arrangement was used for a Halo 3 segment of Video Games Live in London, England, after which O'Donnell appeared.
When composing the score for Halo 3: ODST, Marty wanted to approach the film noir atmosphere of the game with a more dark and jazz-like feel and incorporated the saxophone into many pieces. In addition, he wanted to move away from the traditional musical style of Halo and try new methods. In an interview, Marty stated that the first thing he told himself when beginning work on the soundtrack was, "no monks." The final product was met with universal critical praise, and won the Spike Video Game Award for "Best Original Score".
Destiny and termination of employment
Following the release of Halo: Reach, Marty was involved in the development of Bungie's next title, Destiny. However, on April 11, 2014, he was terminated without cause by the company's board of directors. On May 1, 2014, O'Donnell filed a lawsuit against Bungie and its President, Harold Ryan, in Washington's King County Superior Court, alleging the company had failed to pay him for unused vacation time, paid time off, and other benefits. On July 21, 2014, the suit was settled for $95,019.13. A second separate but related lawsuit was decided by a court-appointed arbitrator on September 4, 2015. The arbitrator ruled that Bungie had violated its contract with O'Donnell, had unlawfully deprived him of the stock he held in the company, and had illegally excluded him from its profit-sharing plan; initial damages owed totalled $142,500.
A year after his departure from Bungie, Martin O'Donnell formed his own studio called Highwire Games, currently at work on their debut game Golem for the PlayStation VR. A musical prequel to Golem, Echoes of the First Dreamer, was successfully funded on Kickstarter with a budget of $55,705.
O'Donnell described his upbringing as "typical"; he received piano lessons and wanted to start a rock band when he reached junior high school. Despite his interest in progressive and fusion rock, O'Donnell studied the classical component of music and composition and received his Masters of Music Degree in composition with honors from the University of Southern California in the early 1980s. He has been married for 30 years to his wife, Marcie, and has two daughters, Alison and Christine. His children were part of a singing choir for the Flintstones Chewable Vitamins commercials, which O'Donnell wrote. O'Donnell is a self-described political conservative, and his fellow co-workers at Bungie described him as the most right-leaning employee at the company.
- Marty's sound studio at Bungie is called the "Ivory Towers", lending its nickname to the multiplayer map in Halo 2, Ivory Tower. In addition, this tower is noted to be owned by a character named Lance O'Donnell, another nickname for Marty.
- He appeared for an interview on the talk machinima "This Spartan Life".
- Whenever Marty is composing in his studio, he hangs a sign on his door that says "Email or Die."
- He is the oldest member of Bungie, hence his nickname, the Elder.
- His father is Bob O'Donnell, who voiced the Prophet of Objection in the opening cut scene of Halo 2.
- When G4 announced Halo 3 as 2008 Game of the Year, Marty was the one who appeared with flaming Recon armor and many other players (many possibly bots) in a video to thank G4. He also states that Bungie was working on something. He was possibly referring to the Mythic Map Pack, because they were standing in the map Sandbox. When he mentions this, someone tells him to "keep it clean", possibly referring to Halo 3: ODST, which also may have been what he was talking about.
- The ODST achievement Be Like Marty is a reference to him, who apparently hung back and let other people kill enemies in games of Firefight. This was explained in the Bungie Podcast.
As an Easter Egg
- In the Halo 3 Microsoft Sam Easter Egg, O' Donnell is referenced twice; "Happy Easter Marty", and "I am a monument to all of Marty's sins lololol".
- In Halo: Reach should the player die in a game of Firefight with Cortana's voice equipped, she may exclaim, "Marty, I'll always love you!"
- In Halo: Reach there is a Fireteam trooper named "M. O'Donnell" The Fireteam trooper's call sign is MRTY.
- Twitter: MartyTheElder (@MartyTheElder: "I'm saddened to say that Bungie's board of directors terminated me without cause on April 11, 2014.")
- Bungie.net: There are those who said this day would never come...
- Developer's commentary on the Halo 3 Legendary Edition bonus disk
- Halo: Reach VGA Interview
- VentureBeat: Former Halo music composer sues Bungie for unpaid benefits
- VentureBeat: Halo music creator wins legal settlement for unpaid wages from Bungie’s chief (exclusive)
- VentureBeat: Ex-Bungie composer Marty O’Donnell wins epic legal fight with former bosses
- Kickstarter, Echoes of the First Dreamer
- Halo 3 Essentials Disc:"Git Ta Werk" Documentary