Too often in the games industry and as gamers I feel we forget or don’t know enough about the incredibly talented people behind video game soundtracks. Which is ridiculous, considering music and sound design are such integral elements in video games. Whether it is pumping you up to face the terrors of hell in Doom, a crowd roaring in FIFA when you score a goal or the subtle music playing and noises in the background of a horror game, building tension which adds to the atmosphere in a scene.
One of these maestros working diligently to compose these scores and enhancing player’s experiences, is the American composer Austin Wintory. The brains behind such soundtracks for games as the beautiful and elegant Journey, the visually striking strategy Banner Saga series, or Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, and many many more games you’ve likely played.
In the lead up to the release of his latest project Absolver from French studio Sloclap and publisher Devolver Digital, we chatted to him not only about his own work on, but about his favourite video game composers and their soundtracks too. Grab a set of headphones or crank up your speakers, because we have some stunning soundtracks for you to have a listen to.
Peter McConnell – LucasArts, Double Fine, Various
An American video game composer and musician, Peter McConnell is best known for his work at LucasArts and on the Sly Cooper series. Peter has worked on and composed soundtracks for a ridiculous amount of games and similar to Austin, has worked with a variety of developers and publishers, often composing for different genres and tones for each project he has worked on.
Games scored for:Grim Fandango, Sly Cooper Series, Full Throttle, Star Wars Battlefront, Brutal Legend, Costume Quest, Broken Age
“My original hero in a manner of speaking, he remains both a hero and to my immense happiness a dear friend, Peter McConnell. One of three composers who were staffed at LucasArts throughout the 90s, and worked on all the Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert adventure titles, (such as) Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle. Then Pete’s kind of masterpiece is Grim Fandango, which is probably my favourite game of all time, and one of my favourite scores of all time.
Pete continues to compose phenomenal music still to this day. (He) Recently wrote music on HearthStone for Blizzard, he also did (the music for) Double Fine’s adventure title Broken Age, and he continues to write absolutely superb music.”
It is impossible to ignore the effect LucasArts had on the games industry, for who they inspired such as Austin, for the influence they had at raising the bar for quality, but more importantly for creating exceptional and genre defining games. Which is similar to Double Fine and the numerous other developers Peter composed for.
An English composer, Jessica Curry co founded The Chinese Room with her husband in 2007 and is known for her scores of Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, which she won a Bafta for her score of the PS4 console exclusive.
Games scored for:Dear Esther, Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture
“Another very close friend and composer, who I just admire endlessly is Jessica Curry. Dear Esther, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture are both tremendous scores. She works with her husband who runs the developer the Chinese Room and the two of them just make the most incredible pair.
I love their games. I’m a huge fan of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture so much on every level, and so to me she is one of the compositional leaders of the games industry. I have such endless admiration for her writing.”
Although studio Fulbright and their breakout hit Gone Home are often recognised as one of the genre setters for more story driven experiences with less gameplay than the mainstream is use to, or more often referred to as ‘walking simulators, The Chinese Room were one of the pioneers for this now widely played genre and style of game. With Jessica’s scores being an integral part to these experiences.
Unfortunately, shortly after the release of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture Jessica announced she was leaving her role as co head and the developer due to various factors. Including a degenerative condition, stress from working with a commercial publisher, and the treatment she has received as a female in the games industry. However she is still involved in video game composition, having been on radio recently for a video game music specific program. We can only hope she returns to game development eventually. But until then, we have her fantastic soundtracks to appreciate, including from the recently Dear Esther: Landmark Edition.
Darren Korb is an American songwriter and composer, best known for creating the music featured in Bastion and Transistor and is the Audio Director at SuperGiant Games. His work on both games have received numerous nominations and awards, for what are some of the best soundtracks in recent years and personal favourites of my own.
Games scored for:Bastion, Transistor, Pyre
“From a very different end of the spectrum. A friend of mine who again we became friends because I was so drawn to his writing, to the point I wanted to get to know him and discovered he is not only a great composer, but a great guy too, is Darren Korb. And Darren, I absolutely adore Darren.
I liked Transistor far more than even Bastion musically and I like the game more too I think. But particularly (for Transistor) the score as both a composer but also as a more traditional a songwriter, he is just tremendous.”
Korb’s work in Bastion and particularly in Transistor, feature vocals heavily which are entwined with the game to add to the depth of the experience. It is also kinda of cool to see a composer stick with a developer, especially an indie developer and be so intertwined with the team and projects. With Super Giants’ next game Pyre coming out next month, I think it is a safe bet we are in for another tremendous soundtrack. And maybe even a usurper to Austin’s favourite from Darren.
Transistor’s soundtrack is truly a work of art, and being Austin’s favourite of Darren’s (for the time being at least), it was only right we provided some of the music from it here. But, I couldn’t help including Bastion’s soundtrack too. As personally, it is one of my favourites. I adored Bastion, but somehow never finished it. However, I’ve listened to the entire soundtrack dozens of times and it was the first video game soundtrack which compelled me to listen to it so much outside of playing the game.
Grab Darren Korb’s work on Bandcamp and listen to his soundtracks in full on Spotify too, as well as follow him at @DarrenKorb for updates about his next soundtrack in the lead up to the release of Pyre!
Now, some final words from Austin about the current lay of the land in video game composition.
“It is a good and diverse time right now in games. There is still a dominant orchestral sensibility throughout a lot of games, particularly in the triple A space. But I am happy that it is really not just solely that, it is not this monolithic style guide. There are many things going on musically which I am inspired by and I just love because it benefits the musical ecosystem. Developers and players are not just hearing the same three gestures, over over over and over again. It is not just giant orchestral Han Zimmer scores under every rock.
Which I am grateful for, because to me every single idiom and vocabulary has the potential to be really great and really evocative. But you need diversity, you don’t want every score to feel like the same thing over and over.”
Listening to these soundtracks, I think it is fair to say there is plenty of variety to them, and hence why they are recognised and remembered so fondly by many gamers. Although these are some of Austin’s favourite soundtracks, we’d love to know what yours are and how they made your experience better or more immersive in games. Let us know in the comments!