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Interview: Resistance Composers On Music’s Impact

One of the most anticipated PlayStation Vita titles thus far launches his week, and the name won't be unfamiliar to fans of the PS brand.

It's Resistance: Burning Skies , which excites us for several reasons: Firstly, because we finally get a portable FPS that lets us use analog sticks, and secondly, because we've always loved the almost unparalleled intensity and dramatic tone each and every Resistance title has featured.

Part of that intensity is due to the fantastic soundtracks in these games, and Burning Skies tapped composers Kevin Riepl and Jason Graves , who have delivered a stirring set of original compositions for Burning Skies . They were also good enough to answer a few questions.

PSXE: We've always said music in games is more important than ever. How do you feel music enhances the interactive experience?

Jason Graves: "I couldn't agree more! For me, it's always about the emotion. The music is underscoring the emotional experience of the player. At least that's what I'm thinking when I'm writing the music – 'What is the player feeling right now?'"

Kevin Riepl: "Very true. Music has had and continues to have a growing reputation of being an integral part of the gaming experience. Music is used in games as it is with film or television, to help the viewer/gamer be part of the world the story is set in. The ability to create music that will be used interactively in the game helps contour the player’s specific journey and choices throughout the game. This takes the gaming experience to another level."

PSXE: Resistance is one of PlayStation's most recognizable and critically acclaimed franchises. How does it feel to work with such a well-respected series?

Jason "It's quite an honor, to be sure. I'm always extremely flattered when asked to come on board an existing franchise. I think the previous composers have done an amazing job and it was a lot of fun exploring the Resistance universe in my own way."

Kevin: "It really feels great and is an honor to be chosen for such a notable franchise. At first it felt a bit overwhelming, thinking I’d be following in the footsteps of Boris Salchow, composer of Resistance 3. However, the more and more I talked with Sony, the more they conveyed that this new installment would have its own voice among the series."

PSXE: Resistance is known for its epic, intense adventures. How do you go about creating a score for a game that involves such intensity and wide ranges of emotion?

Jason: "Sony made it easy. Their only real requirement was emotional, sweeping themes in the score. They really let the reigns go with this one and it was wonderfully liberating to dive in and compose without any inhibitions. I really love this genre and especially love composing for live orchestra, so this title ticked both boxes at the same time for me, personally."

Kevin: "The one thing, for me, that’s always helpful, is to have plot points and a good understanding of the story. Not to mention concept art and some gameplay footage. For this game Jason and I were given the liberty to just create, using traditional techniques without many guidelines or restraints. This is a huge factor in letting a composer not feel limited and freeing them up to convey the story in the best possible way that’s best for the game."

PSXE: Is it more difficult to write music for handheld productions like this one?

Jason: "Not at all. The were no additional technical limitations for Burning Skies. I approached this the same way I would scoring any console title."

Kevin: "Not at all. Not these days at least. Approaching and creating a score for handheld devices is in no way different than creating scores for console games."

PSXE: These days, more and more teams are using licensed music for their games, but we say original compositions must remain prominent. What do you think about licensed versus original scores for video games?

Jason: "I think it totally depends on the title and platform. Licensed music is perfect for some types of games. Others really shine when the gameplay is custom scored. I know that sounds cliche, but I really do think it's true! I've always been a huge believer in supporting the game, regardless of how it impacts me as the composer.

'What's the best choice for the best possible game experience?' That question always clears away any doubt or confusion I may have about a specific cue or method of implementation. I know if I'm serving the game to the best of my ability than I'm doing my job, which makes both me and the developer very happy!"

Kevin: "I think teams are going to use what they think fits best with their title. Some games do in fact benefit from licensed music and some do not. It has a lot to do with what kind of game is in question. Licensed tracks would definitely not work in a game like Resistance, unless maybe in key situations where it was warranted. But it would not be the meat of the score. I do think licensed music does have its place in games but will never replace an ‘original score’."

PSXE: Is there anything unique about creating music for games as opposed to other entertainment venues, like movies or TV shows?

Jason: "A lot of composers mention the interactive aspect of game music, which is completely true. However, a lot of times people overlook the sheer amount of music composers for games need to deliver in a short period of time. Big titles are usually more than two hours of music and the bulk of that is combat music. In film or TV the exact opposite is true. Not only is there less music, but most of it is background music that plays behind dialog.

In games, the action is the dialog! We have so much more space and freedom to compose. Dialog mostly occurs in cutscenes and in-game music probably occupies 75% or more of the score. That means a two hour game score could have up to an hour and a half of dialog free music. And most of that would be combat music. That's a LOT of incredibly fun, creatively freeing music to compose, regardless of the genre. And it's also the biggest reason I love composing music for games so much!"

Kevin: "The one thing that I feel separates games from the other media is how it is approached. Just as in film and TV, a composer is still writing to support story, visuals, and emotion but in video games a composer also has to keep in mind, when writing, the possibility of how certain layers in a piece of music will work alone and in addition to other musical layers stacked on top of or faded in and out of each other. With more and more teams requesting that the music be as interactive as possible, in order to give the illusion that it was written to the player’s in-game choices, it has become the one unique factor that separates creating music for games from other media."

We'd like to thank Jason and Kevin for taking the time to answer our questions, and we definitely look forward to playing Burning Skies . …oh wait, we already are…scratch that, we look forward to bringing you our review very soon. 😉

And if you want to snag the awesome soundtrack, it'll launch alongside the game on May 29. iTunes is the place to go, if you didn't already know.

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11 years ago

Great interview. But I'm starting to fear for this game, no reviews are out and the game is releasing soon which is a bad sign

11 years ago

It's not a bad sign…it's called a review embargo.


11 years ago

I know that, but why is it so close to the games release and not a week or two before like Gravity Rush? It almost seems that Sony (who also publishes Gravity Rush) isn't confident enough in the game to let reviewers publish there reviews earlier. I hope the games good, it's just a bad sign when game embargoes are left this late

11 years ago

This happens all the time and it's not for just bad games. Don't worry, I am sure the game will score a 7 or 8 IMHO. A 9 would absolutely amaze me and be very welcome. I have heard it's going to be around 6 hours for the campaign. Remember it's only a $40 game so that's fine. It will be great to play some FPS SP and MP on the Vita! I cannot wait and hope RBS will be my first Vita Platinum!

Ben Dutka PSXE
Ben Dutka PSXE
11 years ago

Nobody understands embargo dates. As far as I can tell, they have absolutely nothing to do with the game's quality.

For most, the embargo is simply launch day (or the day before). Gravity Rush was an oddball; usually, embargoes aren't up a couple of weeks before a game releases.

11 years ago

its a shame how underestimated a games soundtrack is these days!
it can change so much about a game!
can you really imagine playing mario without the original 8 bit tones?
could you imagine playing GOW without its epic theme song?
perfect example the sound track, mainly the song thats played over the main menu just felt so perfect for the game!

not only sound tracks either, sound design this gen is really pathetic!
one thing thats always really pissed me off about current gen games is they sound so crap!
go watch a movie any movie than play a game.
the sound quality difference between the 2 is just disgusting!
thats the ONE thing i really want improved on next gen systems!
the inconsistency needs to be changed too.
some sound crap and some sound down right awful!
we need to get game sound effects much closer to movies, and also the effects from game to game much more consistent!

11 years ago

Nice interview, they seem like very professional composers.

I have always liked original music within games, I just never like when the music is trying to tell me how to feel. I love the games that gives you an important moment and the music kicks in right after, essentially allowing me to feel shocked by the moment and then the music is just the icing on the cake. I hate when the music starts and the moment hasn't happened, yet more or less telling you this is coming.

I am also a huge fan of being able to play my own music from my HDD in games as my music tastes are almost always different from the majority of composers. Nier was an exception I thought that soundtrack was great, though towards the end of the 4th playthrough I started playing music of the HDD as I couldn't listen to the soundtrack anymore. It had evrything to do with farming items and hearing the same songs over and over, rather than not liking the songs.

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