John Broomhall talks with multi-award winning composer Austin Wintory about his latest videogame music excursion
With eminent music scores for titles like Journey, The Banner Saga and Assassins Creed: Syndicate behind him, Austin Wintory has rapidly become known as a respected and serious player in the world of video game music. But Deformers sees him go ever so slightly bonkers with musical hijinks for an online multiplayer brawler in the grand tradition of Super Smash Bros and Rocket League.
“It’s pure mayhem and incredibly fun," says Wintory. "The music’s there to inject an enormous amount of energy into the gameplay, but also create this ‘epic and whimsical’ vocabulary (quoting our fantastic director, Andrea Pessino) - grand in scope, but in an ironic way, given the characters are little blobs smashing into each other!
“Style-wise, my first thought was a tongue-in-cheek tip-of-the-hat to Morricone’s legendary ‘spaghetti’ western scores - but in a clearly silly way. From there it evolved to encompass some turbocharged Flamenco-esque music and devilish circus waltzes.”
The fact the gameplay is so predictable in structure with no narrative to speak of was a departure for Wintory, more accustomed to story-driven material - though he still had to have music respond to gameplay: “Crafting an arc around a narrative which is purely implied was foreign to me but immensely enjoyable. There is also an ‘interactive’ aspect, though it’s relatively simple - the music has an awareness of many different changing situations that the player deals with during rounds and can react accordingly whilst never looping.”
Live recording involved a large cast of specialised soloists including classical accordionist Ksenija Sidorova. “I’d become a fan of Ksenija after discovering performances on YouTube, so I just cold-called her.
To my absolute thrill, she jumped right in. The score prominently features two additional stellar classical performers with whom I have a long history - violinist Sandy Cameron (star of my Assassins Creed: Syndicate score) and guitarist Scott Tennant with whom I’ve worked on some films, including the upcoming The Rendezvous. Other soloists include soprano Holly Sedillos, Kristin Naigus (on this she played penny whistle and recorder but was previously the featured oboist on my score to Abzu), Ross Garren on harmonica and guitarist Tom Strahle.
Tom is probably the musician I work most with, because he plays so many thousands of different instruments; in this game he plays various guitars, banjo, dobro and even electric sitar!
“We also recorded a brass session, almost like a military brass band, in London, and a string orchestra in Macedonia. The same fabulous orchestra I’ve worked with on games like Journey and the upcoming Tooth And Tail.”
Wintory collaborated with the dev team on integration: “Ready At Dawn has a wonderful internal audio guru, Eric Cappello, who did the final polish on implementation. We worked closely to really tighten everything. It’s also key that music and sound design live very naturally together - especially in this case because both are so constantly frenetic and crazy - I’m thrilled with the results.”
So how long did the music creation take? “The score isn’t gargantuan in scope, in terms of run-time. I’d say 45 minutes all told, but with a lot of meticulous editing and manipulation to ensure it can stretch further. I was on it for well over a year, but with the final six months being the most
focused stretch of work. And the thing that ultimately makes me happiest is how the featured musicians sound. It’s not about what I wrote as much as how they played it. And Ksenija in particular, the one person I’d never worked with before, just shines. She’s a total rock star. I can’t wait for people to hear her!”