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Austin Wintory Interview: Exploring Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded, The Banner Saga, Journey
Gaming Blend: Did Chen give you any specific directions on how the music would unfold or what sort of themes he wanted from you, musically?
Austin: Jenova never gave me any musical instructions, insofar as he didn't say things like 'It would be great if there was a solo cello here, or a harp there' or anything like that. We did speak extensively about musical intensity and dramatic arts, in respect to the full span of the game. Jenova and all of thatgamecompany had very clear ideas, especially as we went along, over what the emotional progression, from the beginning to the end, needed to be. So that, of course, was regularly discussed.
But the goals that [Jenova] laid out for [the project] were abstract emotional goals. So, for example, from the beginning he knew he wanted the game to be a sort of metaphor for the human life, but modeled on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. He also knew that he wanted the game to be about this multiplayer dynamic that could hope to foster a really genuine connection between two players. So, you know, digesting what that meant was the starting point and also what just drove the entire experience from beginning to end.
Gaming Blend: So how do you know how to adapt the music as you go along? Do you write it while looking at concept art or just feel your way through the process or is there extensive play-testing involved? Also, it was a real achievement for Journey, putting together that amazing track, Apotheosis, and how it lead up to the game's breathtaking climax.
Austin: Well, there's kind of a few different parts to the answer to that. First off, I play-test the game extensively while I'm composing, in the same way that while I'm scoring a film I watch the movie over and over and over again, while I'm in the process of putting together this score. No music is ever written – even something as abstract as a video capture or concept art or anything like that, it's always based around my experience actually playing the game and figuring out the music in a very moment-by-moment kind of way.
So, definitely, for Apotheosis, the music was written to wrap around the gameplay. Now, the other thing to bear in mind is that the end of the game evolved a lot through the course of those three years. The ending as everybody knows it, as shipped with the actual release of the game, only really came to being in the last couple of months. It really came sliding in, in the eleventh hour. So, the music likewise was essentially the very, very last thing I wrote in the game.
It wasn't so much 'Hey, go give it your all!', it was more like desperately trying to figure out what all the naunce of it was going to be. You know, we knew it needed to be a photo finish and be a strong ending because the game had built up pretty dramatically and we had all the moment-by-moment dramatic intensity figured out leading up to the snow and the mountains – so it was there to go from there, and it was hard to figure out.
The last thing to bear in mind also, is that when you listen to Apotheosis on the soundtrack album that is not how I originally composed it. The way it was originally composed was as interactive music within the game. So the act of putting together a soundtrack album is sort of a separate activity where I have to go in and take apart the music and put it back together again in a way that makes sense for a linear album.
It's funny because people think of Apotheosis as one piece of music, it's actually not. From my perspective it's like a dozen or more pieces of music, each of which are being dynamically controlled by the PlayStation while you're playing the game so that it feels nice and seamless. In hindsight, it feels like the experience that you had while playing the game, but the two are very different from each other.
Gaming Blend: And there was a lot of inter-linking with other tracks, sort of like Apotheosis linking directly into the end credits song in the game, I Was Born For This. (Editor's Note: These transitional techniques are sometimes called “cues” and Uncharted's Greg Edmonson also explains how they use various cues from a single song across the space of an entire game, which you can check out in this interview here.)
Austin: Yeah, I mean it certainly pretty smoothly transitions from one to the other [in the game].
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