As­sas­sin’s Creed tunes up

Jes­per Kyd and The Flight tell us what it takes to cre­ate mu­sic for As­sas­sin’s Creed

PlayStation Official Magazine (UK) - - THE OPM INTERVIEW -

As part of this is­sue’s big As­sas­sin’s Creed blowout, we couldn’t for­get the ex­cel­lent mu­si­cal scores the games have had over the years. As the se­ries cov­ers dif­fer­ent his­tor­i­cal eras, the mu­sic has had to evolve and change with each in­stal­ment, while at the same time con­tin­u­ously build­ing on the main themes of the fran­chise. To dig deeper into how the mu­sic is made, we sit down to speak with com­poser Jes­per Kyd, who worked on As­sas­sin’s Creed all the way through to Rev­e­la­tions, and with Joe Hen­son and Alexis Smith from The Flight, who per­formed As­sas­sin’s Creed Odyssey’s main theme, ‘Leg­end Of The Ea­gle Bearer’. OPM: How do you in­clude the As­sas­sin’s Creed se­ries’ his­tor­i­cal in­flu­ences in your re­spec­tive sound­tracks? The Flight: The his­tor­i­cal set­tings of the As­sas­sin’s Creed games are one of the things that make them spe­cial, but it is also a game with a sci­ence fic­tion sto­ry­line. Our aim was to take flavours and in­flu­ence from the time pe­riod in which Odyssey is set, while still pro­duc­ing a con­tem­po­rary score. One of the first things we did was look at the in­stru­ments that were in­vented by the an­cient Greeks, and try to find their near­est descen­dants that we could use in our mu­sic. Jes­per Kyd: Re­search­ing the time pe­riod is as im­por­tant as the lo­ca­tions for a game.

This is a good place to start when com­ing up with ideas for what kind of sound will ben­e­fit the game world. The nar­ra­tive is also im­por­tant and will de­ter­mine the di­rec­tion of the score and what type of moods and themes are to be cre­ated within the game en­vi­ron­ment. Then I find it’s im­por­tant to es­tab­lish how au­then­tic the score should sound. For the Ezio Tril­ogy of As­sas­sin’s Creed games Ubisoft was look­ing for a con­tem­po­rary ver­sion of Re­nais­sance-in­spired mu­sic to fit the time pe­riod and lo­ca­tion. Out­side of that I had a lot of cre­ative free­dom to come up with my own take on what that should sound like. OPM: What mu­si­cal knowl­edge from the set­tings of your re­spec­tive games did you have be­fore start­ing – Greece and Italy? TF: Very lit­tle, al­though as soon as we were given the pitch we started to do a lot of re­search: mu­seum vis­its, his­tory books, and lis­ten­ing to the recre­ations of some of the an­cient mu­sic that still ex­ists, as well as more con­tem­po­rary Greek folk mu­sic. As we’ve just men­tioned pre­vi­ously, we also went shopping and pur­chased as many in­stru­ments where we could trace a lin­eage back to the in­stru­ments of the time. JK: None, I mean I don’t think I ever heard Re­nais­sance mu­sic be­fore. I was aware of folk mu­sic played in pubs and eater­ies but I had never at­tempted to cre­ate any­thing close to Re­nais­sance in feel and mood. This made the project es­pe­cially en­joy­able since I love work­ing on new styles of mu­sic I have never worked with be­fore. I think this is clear if you look at the other scores I have worked on such as Rus­sian choral mu­sic for Free­dom Fighters, 1980s synth mu­sic for Border­lands: The Pre-Se­quel, sci-fi jun­gle for Robin­son: The Jour­ney, Mid­dle Ages mu­sic with a twist for the Warham­mer: Ver­mintide se­ries, for ex­am­ple. I al­ways try to ex­plore and cre­ate orig­i­nal sounds when work­ing in new ter­ri­tory. OPM: What are some of the dif­fer­ences be­tween work­ing on a piece of mu­sic for a videogame, ver­sus per­haps scor­ing a film, or just work­ing on a gen­eral re­lease song? TF: There are some big dif­fer­ences, but at the end of the day they are all just pieces of mu­sic. With games there are usu­ally more com­pli­cated de­liv­er­ables, so that the piece can fit into the mu­sic sys­tem, but then the cin­e­mat­ics are the same as scor­ing for film. How­ever it is be­ing used, we al­ways start each piece as a cre­ative mu­si­cal com­po­si­tion, not as some kind of tech­ni­cal chal­lenge; keep­ing the in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ment in mind but not let­ting it take over.

I SCORED EV­ERY KEY MO­MENT OF EZIO’S LIFE FROM HIS BIRTH UP UN­TIL WHERE EZIO HAS BE­COME A MAS­TER AS­SAS­SIN.

JK: With ev­ery facet of the mu­sic in­dus­try and many dif­fer­ent mu­sic artists con­tribut­ing to game scores these days, there are a lot of mu­sic cre­ators scor­ing games that don’t ac­tu­ally play games or know much about games. That al­ways sur­prises me to hear since I feel that be­ing a gamer is a huge ben­e­fit when writ­ing mu­sic for games. I play the games I score a lot to cre­ate the right feel of the mu­sic that best fits the game.

Writ­ing good-sound­ing mu­sic for games is ex­pected, but writ­ing mu­sic that re­ally fits the game is where it be­comes more chal­leng­ing since you don’t al­ways have a nar­ra­tive to fol­low. OPM: So you guys [The Flight] also did some of the score for Hori­zon Zero Dawn. What was that like? TF: Yeah, we com­posed roughly half the score for Hori­zon Zero Dawn, and be­fore that Alien: Iso­la­tion. We were both gamers when younger, and so we were al­ways in­ter­ested in writ­ing mu­sic for games, but it is a hard in­dus­try to break into. Once we did, though, we were hooked. We love the length and depth of the projects, and the orig­i­nal­ity of the briefs. Most of the games we have worked on have taken years to make, and we’ve felt like in­te­gral mem­bers of the team. OPM: What are some of the things you get ini­tial in­spi­ra­tion from? TF:

The first thing we do is sit down and dis­cuss some broad strokes as to what we think it should sound like, in terms of in­stru­men­ta­tion, tempo, feel etc, and lis­ten to some other mu­sic that maybe has parts of the vibe we are imag­in­ing. Then, usu­ally, we grab some in­stru­ments and start play­ing! We worked with a friend of ours, Mike Ge­or­giades on this project, who is a very ac­com­plished stringed-in­stru­ment mu­si­cian, so we al­ways had a lit­tle band that we could knock out the main ideas out live. JK: I fo­cus on story el­e­ments that re­ally de­fine a char­ac­ter, like Ezio’s loss of his fa­ther and brother, or Hit­man’s stealth and quiet ap­proach (which makes for mu­sic scored with an in­te­rior mind­set, like we are in­side the head of Agent 47 ex­plor­ing ev­ery­thing with a very close con­nec­tion to our anti-hero). [Kyd worked on the Hit­man sound­tracks from the first game all the way through to Blood Money.] OPM: Jes­per, the track ‘Ezio’s Fam­ily’ has be­come iconic in the se­ries. How did that de­velop as it was used in later games in the se­ries? JK: It was a pleas­ant sur­prise when Ubisoft started us­ing this theme out­side the Ezio se­ries of games. I feel it has now evolved into a theme that sym­bol­ises the sac­ri­fice of be­com­ing an as­sas­sin and the emo­tional im­pact it has on the char­ac­ter’s life. For me, that theme has al­ways rep­re­sented fam­ily and sac­ri­fice. That is some­thing universal which can be ap­plied to other char­ac­ters and sto­ries within the As­sas­sin’s Creed uni­verse, as most of them too have ex­pe­ri­enced sac­ri­fice to be­come an as­sas­sin. OPM: Con­tin­u­ing on from that, Ezio’s life is mostly played out in full through the tril­ogy of Ezio games. What was it like mu­si­cally to re­flect his life through all of those dif­fer­ent points so sub­stan­tially? JK: That’s a great ques­tion. With As­sas­sin’s Creed II I scored ev­ery key mo­ment of Ezio’s life from his birth up un­til where Ezio has be­come a mas­ter as­sas­sin. That was a great jour­ney to score and I think mu­sic like ‘Home in Florence’ has a youth­ful, al­most naïve feel to it, with the way mod­ern and tra­di­tional mu­sic in­stru­ments are mixed to­gether. That feels very Ezio to me, like Ezio is a mix of youth and tra­di­tional, try­ing to find his iden­tity.

In gen­eral, re­flect­ing back on the As­sas­sin’s Creed scores they are writ­ten in a very pos­i­tive tone, full of hope and mys­tery, which re­ally makes ‘Ezio’s Fam­ily’ theme stand out with its sad­ness and re­flec­tive mood, but this is the mo­ment Ezio be­came an as­sas­sin.

The score for Brother­hood was fo­cused much more on the dark nar­ra­tive. That is, the dark his­tory of the Bor­gia fam­ily and the fore­bod­ing mood of an oc­cu­pied Rome. Once you free Rome the mu­sic in the dif­fer­ent oc­cu­pied ar­eas changes into a much more op­ti­mistic and pos­i­tive mood. This score still has its oper­atic mo­ments where hope and mys­tery are brought out in full.

Fi­nally, for Rev­e­la­tions, we fo­cused more on in-game mu­sic that fol­lows game­play states such as sus­pense, ac­tion, ten­sion, and mu­sic for ex­plor­ing the cities, fea­tur­ing Greek, Re­nais­sance, and Mid­dle Eastern mu­sic styles. OPM: What do you think about the spe­cial re­la­tion­ship videogame scores have with fans? Does this cre­ate ex­tra pres­sure? TF: We think it’s great that they are start­ing to be more recog­nised, and there have been some great scores over the past ten years. Hav­ing the mu­sic re­leased in par­al­lel with the game seems to bring so much to the fans; they can re­live their favourite mo­ments of the ex­pe­ri­ence through the mu­sic. The score is also one of the only el­e­ments of the game that you can ex­pe­ri­ence in day-to-day life, giv­ing peo­ple a new way to ex­plore the game. JK: This is not sur­pris­ing to me since I grew up lis­ten­ing to videogame mu­sic my­self. I had game mu­sic on cas­sette tapes and loved lis­ten­ing out­side of the game - it kept the ex­pe­ri­ence I had play­ing the game alive.

These days it has re­ally evolved into some­thing quite won­der­ful. Con­certs in sym­phony halls around the world reg­u­larly cel­e­brate games with per­for­mances of game sound­tracks. It’s a re­ally fes­tive en­vi­ron­ment and a great feel­ing to be to­gether with gamers who all ap­pre­ci­ate and love these games. That’s an im­por­tant part of it, shar­ing this ex­pe­ri­ence with other gamers who have played these games for 20, some­times hun­dreds of hours and know this mu­sic in­cred­i­bly well.

The re­ac­tion from fans dur­ing these con­certs can be very emo­tional. It opens up sym­phony halls to young peo­ple and I have re­peat­edly had peo­ple tell me Hit­man 2: Si­lent As­sas­sin opened up their eyes to clas­si­cal mu­sic. It’s re­ally a win-win for ev­ery­body and you know what, it makes com­plete sense.

The gen­er­a­tion that grew up with games keeps grow­ing. One day every­one will have grown up with games and game con­certs will be a nor­mal part of a suc­cess­ful sym­phony or­ches­tra’s con­cert schedule.

‘Leg­end Of The Ea­gle Bearer’ is Odyssey’s main theme, writ­ten by The Flight.

Mid­dle Hen­son and Smith also pro­vided mu­sic for As­sas­sin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. Left Kyd has scored Ezio’s life. Right The themes fol­low Ezio’s hopes and sor­rows.

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