Win­tory’s com­ing

The Grammy-nom­i­nated com­poser on be­com­ing the busiest mu­si­cian in games


Five years later, the emails, Face­book mes­sages and In­sta­gram posts are still ar­riv­ing on a daily ba­sis; Austin Win­tory hap­pily ac­knowl­edges that his work on Thatgame­com­pany’s Jour­ney was a ca­reer turn­ing point. “I feel ex­traor­di­nar­ily grate­ful,” he tells us. “I’ve had com­poser friends and col­leagues who’ve had very suc­cess­ful ca­reers but have never had an ex­pe­ri­ence like that, where some­thing be­came so per­sonal to peo­ple that it’s some­thing they’re ex­cited about years later, that they’ve built into the fab­ric of their lives.”

Win­tory was 24 when he signed up to score Jour­ney, and 27 when it came out. Af­ter the fact, it dawned on him that he’d spent more than ten per cent of his life so far work­ing on the game, and he sug­gests he got “freak­ishly lucky” with the way cir­cum­stances led his own mu­si­cal jour­ney to closely mir­ror the game’s own nar­ra­tive. “You are prob­a­bly go­ing to change as a per­son con­sid­er­ably in that span,” he says. “Hope­fully, you’re a deeper thinker or a more ma­ture per­son; hope­fully there’s pos­i­tive growth. I cer­tainly as­pire to that.”

Win­tory wrote Jour­ney’s score in se­quence, so the themes you hear at the begin­ning of the game were com­posed much ear­lier than those at the end. “And it re­ally was, sig­nif­i­cantly, an ear­lier part of my life. I mean, I was re­cently out of col­lege, and my ca­reer was very much in its em­bry­onic stages.” As Jour­ney be­gan to take shape, Win­tory’s mu­sic be­came a re­flec­tion of his own per­sonal de­vel­op­ment. “The end-cred­its aria, I Was Born For This, is re­flec­tive of the very dif­fer­ent place I was at in my life. I was very lucky that, metaphor­i­cally, the game is sup­posed to feel like one’s early life and then one’s later life. And I was liv­ing a mi­cro­cosm of that in par­al­lel.” As such, he was able to draw on his own life ex­pe­ri­ence for in­spi­ra­tion. “That,” he says, “is just in­sane, dumb luck.”

The process was a trans­for­ma­tive one for Win­tory, teach­ing him that liv­ing a full and var­ied life would give him a greater range of ex­pe­ri­ences from which to draw. As a re­sult, his work since has seen him cap­i­talise on Jour­ney’s suc­cess not by try­ing to re­peat the for­mula but by pur­su­ing more di­verse projects. The years since have been an eclec­tic ride for Win­tory, from the brassy, big-band themes of Leisure Suit Larry Reloaded to the earthy, mourn­ful tones of The Ban­ner Saga via the play­ful, pi­ano-led rag­time of Monaco: What’s Yours Is Mine. Now, he’s work­ing on strik­ing mul­ti­player brawler Ab­solver, about which he’s pal­pa­bly ex­cited (see Mar­tial artist).

“Clearly I try to turn my­self into a kind of gelati­nous blob and let peo­ple thrash me around for a bit”

This, to put it mildly, is a com­poser will­ing to take any op­por­tu­nity to step out­side his com­fort zone, the chal­lenge of try­ing new styles is clearly im­por­tant to him. That stems, in part, from a life­long pas­sion for the work of Jerry Gold­smith. “He scored hun­dreds of films and thou­sands of episodes of tele­vi­sion, and the thing I al­ways found so in­cred­i­ble about his work was that through all of th­ese shifts in genre, and sur­face-level sto­ry­telling, he never stopped be­ing Jerry Gold­smith,” Win­tory says. “His canon of mu­sic is ex­tremely stylis­ti­cally di­verse, and yet it’s never mis­take­able as any­one but him.”

Where then, we won­der, does he find in­spi­ra­tion when scor­ing games that might be less di­rectly anal­o­gous to re­al­life ex­pe­ri­ences, like Ready At Dawn’s car­toon­ish arena brawler De­form­ers? ”Well, clearly I try to turn my­self into a kind of gelati­nous blob and let peo­ple thrash me around for a bit. I’m all about method com­pos­ing!” he laughs, be­fore ex­plain­ing that there’s al­ways a raw source of in­spi­ra­tion. Some­times, it can be just a sin­gle word. “In the case of

Monaco, I re­mem­ber the di­rec­tor Andy Schatz said, ‘I want the game to feel naughty,’” he re­calls. “That was the ex­act word he used, and I loved that, be­cause ‘naughty’ is like a cousin of mis­chievous, [rather than] cun­ning and sub­ver­sive. This isn’t a heist game about mas­ter thieves who would step over the dead body of their own grand­mother. ‘Naughty’ sug­gests a far lighter tone, al­most like kids get­ting away with a lit­tle petty crime. And I’m not a thief, but I can channel ex­pe­ri­ences like that from when I was a kid for a [sim­i­lar] emo­tional take­away.”

Though he’s be­come close friends with some of the stu­dios he’s worked with (he claims The Ban­ner Saga de­vel­op­ers could ask him to work on “a Words With

Friends knock-off” and he’d hap­pily agree) it’s the pur­suit of new cre­ative av­enues that drives him most. “The sim­plest way to put it is: will this let me write mu­sic that I feel like I’ve never re­ally writ­ten be­fore?” he says. “Will this let me ex­plore ideas I haven’t pre­vi­ously had oc­ca­sion to?” Whether that means the mu­sic play­ing the role of nar­ra­tor or tak­ing more of a back­seat to the ac­tion matters lit­tle to him. “I’m not try­ing to make games or films this ‘ve­hi­cle for my mu­si­cal ex­pres­sion’,” he says, self-mock­ingly. “Be­ing a par­tic­i­pant in the process is ul­ti­mately my core pas­sion.”

When he’s not com­pos­ing, Austin Win­tory stud­ies evo­lu­tion­ary bi­ol­ogy and astro­physics. For fun, ob­vi­ously

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