Gaming Blend: Do you think it becomes easier or harder to engage listeners on the third time out for a game’s soundtrack like with stages such as the ship graveyard or the badlands, when gamers sometimes know what to listen for and what they expect from the musical score? And do you focus more on trying to implement memorable themes, such as Nate’s theme, to keep certain sounds recurrent throughout the score?
Greg: Not so much. In other words, I always try to write melodies but I don’t really write too many themes. I write songs that have to deal with the situations. In this case, we had themes that had to deal with the desert, but I never really write themes for people specifically. We called Nate’s theme “Nate’s theme” but originally it was just kind of a theme for Uncharted. And Naughty Dog felt strong in the first three games that we at least want to toss it in as a menu opener or when somebody boots up the game because they’re familiar with it.
I really don’t use that theme specifically in the game. I think we did use it in Uncharted 1 at the very end of the game. But we just record it because it’s something people are familiar with. But I do have themes for our situations. For me that kind of works without being so obvious or on the nose because you can almost play that theme anywhere and people will remember it and it has to do with our situation.
I’ll give you an example, you can take the Godfather theme and you could put that theme almost anywhere in the movie the Godfather and it would work. -- Because it was about our situation and not a theme specific to any character or a certain level of the game if that makes any sense.
And we did some things that were different in the third one. You mentioned the pirate ship graveyard…here we’ve got these Somali like pirates who capture commercial ships and after they’ve looted them they let them rot and rust in this ship cemetery. We were looking for a sound that kind of matched the rusty old grungy ships. For whatever reason we decided to use electric guitars, which we never ever used in Uncharted before. But, you know, it matched the look of the grungy ships, so that was some new territory and that was fun to play with.
When we got to the desert we really had to work and find our themes. That took a while but I’m really happy with what we came up with. I mean, I think its big and powerful. It’s a whole different sound than we’ve ever had in Uncharted before because we were just based on a whole different scale. The action cues are more energetic in this one than they ever have been. In all honesty it’s the best action music I’ve ever written. I don’t know how people will respond to it but I know personally I’m the most proud of it than any other action music I’ve written in my life.
Gaming Blend: Definitely, the music really stands out in Uncharted 3…the game as a whole is just some amazing stuff and the whole project is like a big cinematic blockbuster. My favorite part was running through the rooftops when Nate was just a kid with those agents chasing him…it was awesome.
Greg: Cool. I actually got to use nylon string guitars because we were in Cartagena, Colombia. Again, we experimented with lots of new colors and textures in Uncharted 3 that we did not use in the previous two games.
Now, we also revisited some of the same textures…the Uncharted series always has interesting ethnic woodwinds that are appropriate to the locale. Now in Uncharted 2 since we were in Tibet we used the giant Tibetan temple horns and the erhu, which is a weird-beautiful ancient Chinese violin that Karen Han played so beautifully, it’s so lyrical and gorgeous.
This time we were experimenting with our desert culture. So we had a lot of primitive desert woodwinds and desert stringed instruments. They just have a different sound to them, it’s a much dryer sound, as you would expect. Indigenous people always seem to find instruments that work really well where they live…because they’re just natural to the environment.
Gaming Blend: Supposedly the Uncharted movie is back in Hollywood’s sights after David O’Russell dropped out of the project. Would you consider scoring the movie if they asked you to?
Greg: In a heartbeat. (laughs) How’s that?
Gaming Blend: (laughs) Pretty cool. I was curious, though…would there be any reason not to score the movie? I’m not sure of the details but Jesper Kyd passed on doing the Hitman movie. I was really disappointed to find that out.
Greg: Well, I don’t know the answer to that, you know? I mean, I suppose there could be. But…I absolutely want to build on what I’m doing with Uncharted and one of the wonderful things about working in the video game business is that you actually have resources that do not exist in television and do not exist in independent film -- they only exist in larger films.
So it’s wonderful to have those resources and I want to continue to work with those resources, which means to keep working in video games, which I would be thrilled to do, or to work in films. Those are the two places where you’re going to have those resources.
Every project has things that you love about it, so its not like you always have to have those resources, it’s just a luxury to have them. And there’s nothing quite as lovely as an orchestra playing. But every film doesn’t need that…if it’s a small quirky film then do something small and quirky. So I don’t know, I can’t speak to why Jesper didn’t do that [film] but I would be thrilled to do the Uncharted movie.
Gaming Blend: Speaking of upcoming projects…is it too soon to ask about Uncharted 4?
Greg: You know, you can never talk about those things and it’s early days in all honesty. Listen, they just barely finished…it’s going to take them a while to recuperate. I mean, Naughty Dog worked itself to the edge of exhaustion like you’ve never seen, trying to make it all and get it done.
I would love to do some other video game projects; we’ve had feelers from a couple and we’ll kind of have to see where it goes. But again, I think that the video game market is maybe the most exciting market that exists right now, for a couple of reasons. Film, we know…we know how to do film, it’s been around for a while. We know how to do television; it’s been around for a while. But video games are changing so fast they’re becoming more and more human, more and more emotional.
Every two years you look and you go ‘boy this is not anywhere close to where it was two years ago’. So I think that there is an excitement about the video game market because nobody really knows where it’s going. It’s just changing so quickly. And the engines are just becoming more and more sophisticated and the people making the games are becoming more and more sophisticated. So they’re telling stories they couldn’t tell a couple of years ago. So it’s an interesting place to be.
I would be happy, in all honesty, working on any project where I’m having a good time and where I’m working with people that I like and people that are creative and they make it fun…then I’m onboard with it and good to go.
Greg: Well it depends on the project. I just love a story that’s well told. I love stories that have emotion and I love stories that have clever writing. Where people don’t say what they mean and mean what they don’t say. I’ll give you an example -- I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the Firefly TV show -- there’s a scene in Firefly where Mal Reynolds, the Captain of the ship is introducing Inara, who in essence is a prostitute, but it’s a sanctioned form of work. And so he’s introducing her and he goes, “…and this is our whore.” But that’s not what he means. What he means is ‘I love her so much I wish she wouldn’t do this’. But he couldn’t say it because to say it made him vulnerable.
There’s a certain connection between Firefly and Uncharted…you have the same type of hero. You have a guy who will maybe brag about stuff but also he doesn’t want to be vulnerable but he is vulnerable. He’s going to do the wrong thing sometimes but he’s always going to do the right thing in the end. Those kinds of characters are so much fun to work with. They’re so much fun to write music for. It just makes it fun.
So if I could find a project with characters like that then we’re lucky with Firefly and Uncharted, because for years now I’ve been able to work with those kind of characters. They just make it so fun and if you have really good actors. They’re the ones who bring the characters to life and make you realize that what they’re saying is not what they mean.
Gaming Blend: It’s funny you should mention Firefly because a lot of people also mentioned the similarities between Nathan Drake and Nathan Fillion’s portrayal of the captain on Firefly. Is that one of the reasons you were attracted to the Uncharted series?
Greg: I can’t say that I didn’t find it attractive because I did find it attractive. I think what really drew me to the series was Amy Hennig who is such a genius. Because even when I started we didn’t know how that was going to play out. But Nolan North does such a good job of bringing Nathan Drake to life and Nathan Fillion did such a good job of bringing Mal Reynolds to life. I know that I find those type of characters really, really attractive and fun to write music to.
Gaming Blend: There are a couple of tracks by Azam Ali and Clint Bajakian (I don’t think I pronounced their names right)…how did those come about?
Greg: Yeah, well -- by the way it’s Azam (Az-ahm) Ali -- and I used her vocals in many of my cues, but for those cues it was basically when Nate was tripping and had to be completely deconstructed and sound warped.
Azam’s husband and Jonathan Mayer at Sony just went ahead and did those cues on their own, which was fine because my plate was very full. Clint Bajakian was one of the executives at Sony and he always writes these moods, so what he did was he took my themes and he rewrote some cues…but they were just to set the moods in the desert.
Gaming Blend: Yeah the Rub’ Al Khali was some great stuff but it sounded very different from the rest of the soundtrack.
Greg: It’s a whole different sound, especially Azam and her husband and Jonathan. It’s a whole different sound. It’s a lot closer to an ethnic sound. It’s smaller, but it’s more driven by ethnic instruments and Azam’s vocals so it was just more along those lines. And since my plate was full trying to do the big action stuff we thought the contrast might be interesting.
Gaming Blend: You mention the plate being full and that kind of reminds me of what Michael McCann mentioned about the Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack…that after he was done scoring it he just took some time off to recuperate from the experience. Would you hop right back into a new project if it presented itself or would you need a little time off to unwind?
Greg: I got to tell ya, it does take it out of you. When you’re finished it’s nice to say that if the phone doesn’t ring for a few weeks, that’ll be fine. But we’ll just have to see.
Once something lands on your plate it’s always fun to work. And you’re lucky in this business if you’re working. So you never want to turn it down. But it is exhausting…it just is. So it’s good to take some time off to recharge your batteries because it’s a lot of work writing all of that music for a big orchestra…it’s a lot of work.
Gaming Blend: Well, Uncharted 3 has already sold several million copies and it’s a huge success. It’s also a really great game. It’s more cinematic and engaging than most other summer blockbusters I’ve seen in the past couple of years. So thanks for taking the time out to answer the questions. Really appreciate it.
Greg: Well thank you, sir. Thanks for having me.