John Broomhall talks to The Chinese Room’s Jessica Curry about creating music for the end of the world
What have been the most interesting challenges working on Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture?
Rapture has been a steep learning curve for me. Dear Esther and A Machine for Pigs were much smaller both in terms of game length and overall scale – that’s had implications for me both as studio head and composer.
The challenges ranged from humongous spreadsheets that would make an accountant hysterical, planning huge recording sessions, learning about mic placement, making good quality demos for Sony, writing the sheer amount of music needed, implementation, casting actors, VO recording – the list goes on.
Very early on, I decided to be explicit that I hadn’t been through much of this before – and not be afraid to ask when I didn’t understand something. People were very generous.
What did you learn from your celebrated work on Dear Esther?
The core lesson is that people are hungry for a strong, authorial, deeply musical voice. The score had no interactivity whatsoever but that didn’t bother players: they responded to the music’s emotional pull. Sometimes so much is made of the importance of dynamic scores, but I’ve heard a lot of music that’s incredibly responsive but just so horribly bland.
My goal is to write music the player feels has been crafted just for them, but that also sounds like ‘real’ music not vanilla wallpaper. It’s interesting, if you ask what my favourite film soundtracks are, I can reel off a dozen but I struggle to do the same with game OSTs.
We’ve a long way to go as music creators, and I include myself in that. But I’d rather give the player an emotionally satisfying experience than a technically clever one.
Can you talk about the music/sound design relationship and how they combine to serve the game?
They sit very closely together, dancing with, and feeding one another – a wonderful fusion encasing the player in an incredibly knitted-together sound world.
As well as the scored music, I worked with our sound designer Adam Hay to create an amalgam of procedural music and audio giving each player a unique musical journey. The procedural music I call the ‘ghost echoes’. Carefully chosen music fragments are manipulated to provide a haunting, emotional experience.
I also loved working closely Dan [Pinchbeck, creative director] to weave narrative through the music. All six main characters have their own song and Dan wrote beautiful words that express the inner life of each protagonist.
What are you most pleased with from a purely personal viewpoint?
Many people that have heard the music in-game or the OST have started to cry a few seconds in. This is a game about what it is to be human, the connections that we form while we’re here, how real people tackle the end of the world. I wanted the music to touch people very deeply.
One of the main reasons I used a choir was that it is a central and powerful metaphor for the message in the game. When people with different political, social and religious views, of different ages and race come together in song, their differences are forgotten instantly. The ability of group singing to create unity from disparity is a universally emotive and powerful phenomenon and this sums up what we are trying to say with Rapture.