Category Archives: video game

Music for Camping in Space, an Interview with Andrew Prahlow about ‘Outer Wilds’

Just the other day I had the privilege of interviewing composer Andrew Prahlow about his work on the Outer Wilds video game that released to great acclaim in 2019. This was the first time I’d ever interviewed a video game composer and I was very excited to talk with him and learn about how the score for this game came together.

Andrew Prahlow’s music focuses on emotive soundscapes with a core of chamber-ensemble minimalism, creating a sense of familiar nostalgia for the listener. He recently scored the captivating music for Mobius Digital / Annapurna Interactive’s video game ‘Outer Wilds’ (2019), which has received numerous Video Game Music of the Year accolades, as well as writing for ‘Atone: Heart of the Elder Tree’ (2019) and ‘Eclipse: Edge of Light’ (2017 Mobile Game of the Year). 

He began his career in music as an intern at John Powell’s studio while completing his studies at the Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television (SMPTV) Graduate Program at USC. From 2011-2014, he assisted on the music of ‘The Legend of Korra’ for Jeremy Zuckerman and also on ‘Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness’ for Zuckerman and Benjamin Wynn (Deru). 

How did you get started with being a composer?

I moved to L.A. in 2010 to attend USC’ grad program. My first job after that was being an assistant for Jeremy Zuckerman and also Benjamin Wynn on The Legend of Korra and the Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness shows on Nickelodeon. I worked with them until those shows ended and then I started working on my own. I was composing a lot with my friend Mark Petrie and we did a lot of trailer music, and things really escalated from there over the next five years.

Was this your first video game score? How did you get connected with Outer Wilds?

Yes and no. It was such a strange development cycle with funding that the project really started in 2012 [but didn’t release until 2019]. It was one of the first games I worked on since I had just finished up at USC. My friend Alex [Beachum] brought me onboard with the game. It was really a student prototype that turned into a full-fledged title. In between those times, though, I was working on other games that were shipped and completed before Outer Wilds was finished.

How is scoring a video game different from working on a film or TV series? Do you get to see the game when you record the score to give you an idea of what it will all look like?

There’s a lot of similarities that overlap of course, but I’d say one difference is, with several of the games I’ve worked on, that I’m brought in early on before any real artwork is done. So it’s really just talking about concepts and slowly trying to develop the music. Just like what some film composers do, I’ll write a suite of music beforehand to try and get some of the themes together. I’ll do that for the game at first to try and get some of the overall musical qualities and emotions that we’re looking for. Once we hone in on the sound of the game’s score, I’ll start to take the material from the suite and turn it into loops and figure out ways to make it interactive.

I’m paying more attention the ways music can be re-used, unlike film which is more linear. There will be times where you won’t want to write completely new music, you want it to all tie together so it doesn’t feel abrupt when you reach a new area of the game. In games you want the music to loop in and fade in and out and feel proper. That way you can make it as cinematic as possible.

One thing I focused on to make the music not turn into wallpaper was to create music that would give “clues” to the player. There’s no music playing for most of the game so when the music enters it’s really important.

How long did it take to put the score together? Because it sounds like it took a long time.

It did, it did. About halfway through production, about five years, I took it upon myself to go back and re-record the score. I had developed better recording techniques, figured out how to make more interesting textures and mix it better. I subsequently went back and revamped the score. From there they were still formulating the story and gameplay at the same time, so I would be writing new cues or rearranging old cues to fit how the game was slowly evolving over time. That part to me was very fun, where you’re having things change and sometimes music written for one area of the game turns out to work better in another area entirely.

How did the banjo come to be the center of the Outer Wilds score? It isn’t an instrument one typically thinks of for a story set on an alien planet with lots of space exploration.

Way, way back when Alex [Beachum] was prototyping, the idea of camping in space had always been a fundamental part of the game. Over time, it just became more and more influential on the storyline. The main title of the game was probably the second thing I ever wrote as a demo for this. From there, it really stuck and became the centerpiece of the entire score. We thought it would be cool because it’s sci-fi and I wanted to do something different, to combine this woodsy Americana sound with more sci-fi textures. Combining those took some time to figure out, but it turned out very unique and quirky in some ways, and really heartfelt in other ways.

We also approached it as, the game is difficult enough, I wanted to keep the music relaxing. We wanted to take at least some of the frustration off of the gamer.

Do you have a favorite part of the score? A favorite theme?

I’m really proud of “14.3 Billion Years” because that’s the end credits of the game and the final cue that plays. Also it’s this suite of music going through the Nomai theme, the other music and the Traveler’s tunes, and all of that happening at once. I was also able to bring strings in on that. I’m also really proud of the main theme, that one has really taken off and people have done covers of it or asked me for tips on how to play it. It’s really fun to be a part of the community and help people learn an instrument.

I want to give a big thank you to Andrew Prahlow for taking the time to talk with me about his score for Outer Wilds. The game is currently available for Microsoft Windows, Xbox One and Playstation 4. It will also be available on Steam starting June 18.

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Outer Wilds (2019)

Composer Interviews

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Soundtrack Review: Outer Wilds (2019)

Last year, composer Andrew Prahlow took us on a sonorous journey in Mobius Digital and Annapurna Interactive’s video game adventure through time and space – Outer Wilds. In the game, the player-character finds themselves on a planet with only 22 minutes before the local sun goes supernova and kills them. The player continually repeats this 22-minute cycle by learning details that can help alter the outcome on later playthroughs. Prahlow’s celebrated soundtrack accompanies players’ planetary expeditions with a tranquil mix of lulling synths and electronic reverie (and the catchiest banjo motif this side of the galaxy!).

 

Speaking about his approach to scoring the game, Prahlow had the following to say:

When asked to compose the music for ‘Outer Wilds’, I wanted to create a sense of simplicity and nostalgia as the player slowly becomes familiar with the world of the Hearthians. I immediately thought of an old beat up banjo that I had received as a gift a few years prior.

This main theme contrasted the melancholic textures of the Nomai [a technologically advanced alien race in the game] – where I crafted ambient soundscapes with guitar and synthesizers, heavily influenced by post-rock. As the player explores the solar system and the story moves forward, these textures become more complex, along with the campfire tunes that are the center of the score.

Having listened to the soundtrack, I have to say that the Outer Wilds soundtrack is not what I expected given the story is about an astronaut exploring a planet and an extinct alien civilization. The banjo dominates a large portion of the score, giving the music a very rustic sound that is, again, unexpected for the genre, but also comforting because it is familiar. And indeed, the main banjo theme for this score is very catchy, I really liked it. It’s subtle enough that you could listen to it during a long period of gameplay and not get tired of it.

I also feel it’s very interesting that Prahlow makes the score more complex the farther along you go in the story. It’s almost like musically rewarding the player by giving them new music as they explore new portions of the game. This is something I don’t recall seeing in other video games and I think it’s an interesting detail that sets this game apart in a good way.

Outside of the Main Theme, the score possesses a wide range of soundscapes, all cleverly executed and that give the impression of various places. For instance, “Space” and “The Sun Station” give off the vibe of being in the void of outer space. By contrast, “The Nomai” and “Nomai Ruins” are among the most melancholy in the entire score, echoing the demise of a long-dead civilization. Those last two are actually some of my favorite pieces in the score, they provide a great contrast to “Timber Hearth” and the game’s main theme. And finally, I have to give a mention to “Let There Be Light”, an all too short cue that fairly explodes (pun fully intended if you think about it) with sound and imagined light. It’s unlike anything heard in the score to date and was a very pleasant surprise given the overall tone of the score. I really liked that moment and it was a lot of fun to imagine what was happening in the game to create that kind of music.

All in all, you should definitely check out the score for Outer Wilds as it is very beautiful. In fact, for his work on this score, Andrew Prahlow has been nominated by both BAFTA and G.A.N.G. (Game Audio Network Guild) in multiple categories for his dynamic score for Outer Wilds. Prahlow’s score for Outer Wilds has previously won “Best Original Score” at Only Single Player’s Best of 2019 Awards.

Let me know what you think of Outer Wilds (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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Soundtrack Review: Death Stranding (2019)

From Sony Music, the soundtrack for the video game Death Stranding is available now. The soundtrack for Death Stranding was composed by Swedish composer Ludvig Forssell and Joel Corelitz. Forssell’s previous contributions to video game soundtracks include composing the music for Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes and Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain.

The summary of Death Stranding is as follows:

After the collapse of civilization, Sam Bridges must journey across a ravaged landscape crawling with otherworldly threats to save mankind from the brink of extinction.  In the near future, mysterious explosions have rocked the planet, setting off a series of supernatural events known as the Death Stranding. With spectral creatures plaguing the landscape, and the planet on the verge of a mass extinction, it’s up to Bridges to journey across the ravaged wasteland and save mankind from impending annihilation. 


Corelitz, according to this interview with Paste Magazine, had several contributions of his own to make to the soundtrack:

My contribution was broken up into chunks that were similar to sprints. Initially I created 10 one-minute tracks using all original sounds (both synth patches and sampled material mostly created from found objects) that were edited down into their components and turned into sample libraries. So the tracks themselves weren’t designed to be used or heard as music, just to house the raw materials that Ludvig could then use in his own compositions.

This took maybe three to four months. It went well, particularly the found object samples so we decided to dedicate three days just to sampling, with all of us (including Sony’s audio department) in the same room. That’s when we did the piano. Then, I was asked to create 40 more minutes of additional music to accompany the rest of the score, so I actually got to use the instruments we created on my own cues. That was a huge surprise and a lot of fun. This part took maybe five months total.

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Having sampled the soundtrack, I can say that it is hauntingly beautiful, not at all what I expected for a game like Death Stranding. The music puts me in mind of a number of science-fiction epics, but it particularly reminded me of the scores for both Blade Runner and Blade Runner 2049 (and that’s a good thing). In some places, I was even reminded of the music for God of War (the most recent game) in a few places. If you get a chance to listen to the soundtrack, I would especially recommend listening to “The Face of Our New Hope,” that track is especially beautiful.  I know music doesn’t really indicate the quality of a video game overall, but if Death Stranding does have any problems, the soundtrack is definitely not one of them.

Track Listing

1 Once, There Was an Explosion

2. Alone We Have No Future

3. BRIDGES

4. Soulless Meat Puppet

5. Beached Things

6. Chiral Carcass Culling

7. The Face of Our New Hope

8. John

9. An Endless Beach

10. Heartman

11. The Severed Bond

12. Claws of the Dead

13. Fragile

14. Stick vs Rope

15. A Final Waltz

16. Strands

17. Lou

18. BB’s Theme (From Death Stranding)-Jenny Plant

19. Flower of Fingers

20. Cargo High- Joel Corelitz

21. Demens- Joel Corelitz

22. Decentralized by Nature

23. Mules

24. Porter Syndrome

25. Chiralium

26. Spatial Awareness

27. Stepping Stones

28. Frozen Space

29. The Timefall

Let me know what you think about Death Stranding (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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Rik Schaffer (briefly) talks Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines, Soundtrack to release in October

Milan Records, an imprint of Sony Music Masterworks, has announced an original soundtrack recording from Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines will be released on October 25th, 2019 with music by composer Rik Schaffer (Elder Scrolls Online, Dark Age of Camelot). Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines is the 2004 cult classic roleplaying game from Troika Games. Based on the White Wolf tabletop roleplaying game Vampire: The Masquerade, Bloodlines follows a character who is killed and subsequently revived as a fledgling vampire. The game depicts the fledgling’s journey through early 21st-century Los Angeles as they navigate the grimy underworld of vampire politics in the City of Angels.

The soundtrack features previously unreleased music from the first installment of the role-playing video game, which will return for its much-anticipated second installment in 2020. It should be noted that the soundtrack for Bloodlines 2 will also feature music composed by Schaffer.  The vinyl edition of the album will include a digital download card that includes both the entire album as well as eight special bonus tracks not available anywhere else.

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Of the soundtrack for the original Bloodlines, composer Rik Schaffer had this to say:

Of all the games I have scored over my career, Vampire: The Masquerade – Bloodlines was the best because I was given free rein to write music without censor, and drawing from my own life experiences. This is where the best music comes from for an artist.

Fans of Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines, should have plenty to look forward to when the soundtrack releases on October 25th, 2019.

VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE – BLOODLINES (ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACK)
CD / Vinyl Tracklisting –
1. Bloodlines Main Theme
2. Hollywood Main Theme
3. Wolf Spirit Map
4. Disturbed Combat
5. Santa Monica Theme
6. Chinatown Theme
7. China Boss Battle
8. Nosferatu Warrens
9. Downtown Theme
10. Disturbed and Twisted
11. Disturbed and Twisted Combat
12. Edward’s Theme
13. Crypts Combat
14. Moldy Old World
15. Dark Asia
16. The Prince’s Dream
17. All That Could Ever Be

Digital Tracklisting –
1. Bloodlines Main Theme
2. Hollywood Main Theme
3. Wolf Spirit Map
4. Disturbed Combat
5. Santa Monica Theme
6. Chinatown Theme
7. China Boss Battle
8. Nosferatu Warrens
9. Downtown Theme
10. Disturbed and Twisted
11. Disturbed and Twisted Combat
12. Edward’s Theme
13. Crypts Combat
14. Moldy Old World
15. Dark Asia
16. The Prince’s Dream
17. All That Could Ever Be
18. Main Theme Aggro Mix
19. Mission Impossible
20. Creepy Ambiance 2
21. Mission Impossible Combat
22. Crypts
23. Sewer Enter Lair

Let me know what you think about the news that a soundtrack for Vampire: The Masquerade-Bloodlines will be releasing this fall, and have a great day!

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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My Thoughts on: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

*note: very minor spoilers, but otherwise I did my best to avoid them.

Let me start this review by making one point clear: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is not a bad movie. In fact, there were times I quite enjoyed myself.  The first live-action Pokémon movie could have easily gone the way of so many other video game films and been so much worse.

But then again, it could have been a lot better too.

Sticking with the positive though, I have to say all of the Pokémon in the film are beautifully rendered. Each Pokémon looks real and believable, I’m not even upset there’s only 60 different species represented in the film (for context there are currently around 800 Pokémon). My particular favorites in the film are Charizard and especially Bulbasaur. I also surprisingly enjoyed Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Detective Pikachu. I wasn’t sure about that in the beginning but it works.

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The film’s story is also a minor positive. Once you have all the core components, the film’s premise is essentially sound. We have a setting, a protagonist, a villain, and the villain’s motivations for doing what they do. We also have some convenient twists along the way along with a boy meets girl sort-of-romance angle that felt slightly forced. The problem is, the execution of this plot left something to be desired. Certain plot points are presented in such a convoluted manner that I was left asking questions in my head until almost the end of the film. I understand the writers were trying to create a sense of mystery, but as a result so much time was spent on a winding path of plot points that the story lost something. And while I liked most of the characters, I feel like more time could have been spent with the villain and the villain’s motivations. More character development would have made certain key scenes that much more impactful.

The film’s biggest weakness, for me at least, is the sheer amount of awkwardness. Early on, it felt like the actors were each interpreting the script differently. Some were playing it more or less straight, some were acting over the top, and this is one of the first times I can remember being distinctly aware of a lack of onscreen chemistry between certain characters. I think some of the scenes were meant to be awkwardly funny on purpose, but that kind of humor has never gone over well with me and the film would have been better without it.

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*minor spoiler for this next paragraph*

However, above all else, the thing that bugs me the most comes mid-way through the film when two characters go exploring in a certain rather dangerous area. The way these characters enter this area demonstrates such a lack of common sense and thinking that I was dumbfounded as the scene played out. I know these characters aren’t experts in investigation, but come on, EVERYONE knows you’re supposed to at least try to be sneaky about these things.

To conclude, I did enjoy Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, even though it didn’t blow me away. There’s certainly ample potential for a sequel and I’m not against seeing one made. Let me know what you thought about Pokémon: Detective Pikachu in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Soundtrack Review: Pokémon: Detective Pikachu (2019)

Film Reviews

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Soundtrack Review: Days Gone (2019)

Just for fun, I decided to switch things up today and review the soundtrack for a video game instead of a movie. Days Gone, a survival horror video game, is currently available, as is its soundtrack, which was composed by Nathan Whitehead (The Purge, He’s Out There, Delirium). The game follows former outlaw Deacon St. John as he roams post-apocalyptic Oregon, fighting enemies and making his way in a world overrun by zombie-like creatures.

Regarding the soundtrack for Days Gone, Nathan Whitehead had this to say:

“The ideas that define the score are the tenacity of the human spirit and the value of relationships. Early in the process John Garvin, creative director at Sony’s Bend Studio, described to me how the game isn’t simply about surviving, it also examines why we want to survive. When I heard that, I was instantly excited about all the places the music could go. I found it really interesting to be navigating the survival aspect and also this introspective aspect at the same time. The Pacific Northwest setting is absolutely beautiful and it really felt like the score needed to connect to this environment as well. Deacon and the environment seemed to call for an organic, lived-in sound with a touch of Americana.”

Boy, does Nathan Whitehead ever succeed with this goal for the soundtrack. Considering this is a survival horror video game, the music is surprisingly normal and, well, not-horror. There are exceptions of course, particularly the track titled “The Rager Bear” which is clearly straight out of a horror film, with its harsh beats and tension-raising rhythms. But other tracks I liked, including “Days Gone” and “A Good Soldier” are very lyrical in nature, with flowing strings and almost relaxed melodies. This could be a way of offsetting any tension created by the gameplay. When you think about it, an ideal way to relax players after they’ve been fighting zombie-like monsters for who knows how long is to create relaxing music for any cutscenes or segments taking place inside settlements. Otherwise it would be hard for players to unwind.

Another detail I love is the range of this soundtrack. Video game soundtracks are now practically equal to their film counterparts in terms of musical quality. Whitehead’s melodies range from almost upbeat to straight horror. The music is dynamic, and if you didn’t know better, you might find it hard to believe this came from a video game.

Overall, I like the soundtrack for Days Gone. It’s not a game I would play personally, but I highly recommend checking the soundtrack out if you get the opportunity. Let men now what you think about Days Gone (and its soundtrack) in the comments below and have a great day!

See also:

Video Game Soundtracks

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