John Broomhall talks with composer ace Gareth Coker about the iconic Abbey Road Studios and how scoring ARK: Survival Evolved became a unique production process
When Gareth Coker created a handful of cues with sample libraries for the original Early Access release of ARK: Survival Evolved, he could never have imagined what was to come. A full two years later, he’d be flying into London to record 140 minutes of music with a best of British orchestra at the UK’s legendary Abbey Road Studios for the game, which Coker reckons has now clocked up approximately 10 million sales.
Developing music onwards from that original offering has been a challenging though exciting proposition, as Coker explains: “When you change something millions of people have been living with for two years – any change in the aesthetic can affect some of the player-base and they’ll want to know what you’re playing at. Instead of the film scenario of a director who’s got used to a temp track, you’re dealing with the general public who’ve invested early into the game and might now love what you considered a temp track – there’s a gigantic ripple effect on social media and game forums.”
It’s incredibly useful, and unique to an Early Access title, to be able to see hours of players’ gameplay captures
SO HOW DO YOU NAVIGATE THAT CHALLENGE?
“Obviously you want to please everyone, but with millions of people, it’s impossible. I trained myself to look for consistent crossover between the game team’s feedback and public. I was wary of taking too much notice of negative stuff when the majority is really positive - but this is easier said than done. On the other hand, from the age of four years, I’ve played more games than I’ve watched movies or TV shows so I feel like I understand the medium and how music should works in it.
"This particular situation reinforced that I have to trust my own instincts, put it out there and see what people think, particularly on composition - though feedback on implementation can be very helpful. Plus it’s incredibly useful, and unique to an Early Access title, to be able to see hours of players’ gameplay captures on Twitch or YouTube.
“Studio Wildcard’s co-founders Jesse Rapczak and Jeremy Stieglitz had this crazy idea for a game and kind of caught lightning in a bottle. They trusted their instincts and in turn, I’m grateful they trusted mine. Especially when it came to Abbey Road. We met at GDC and discussed how a live recording would really elevate (especially) this kind of music, which needs real force behind it, notably in the brass. I asked do you want this to sound like the biggest thing ever and they were like – yeah, that sounds great - what do you need? I told them about Abbey Road Studio One being probably the biggest purpose-built recording room in the world and if we stuck 90 players in it, the results would sound enormous. They thought it over and said ‘let’s go’.
<“Top London players are the best in the world plus you have amazing crew and the secret sauce of Abbey Road engineering. I stepped out to introduce myself to the orchestra and for the first time ever I had imposter syndrome. I’ve got Simon Rhodes in the control room who’s worked extensively with James Horner, and in front of me, The Philharmonia Orchestra with their massive track record in films and games.
"Suddenly the crushing weight of the history of that room hit me in the face - I had to take a deep breath for sure and shake the nerves off. Then they started playing and it was exactly how I’d imagined. They were magnificent through 18 hours of recording plus six hours of percussion sessions. It was probably the best three days of my professional life and I really don’t have enough good things to say about the experience. It’s been quite a journey.”