Interview: Composer Jason Graves Speaks on Scoring Video Games
Jason Graves. Whether you’ve heard that name before or not, if you’re a fan of video games, chances are you’ve heard his work. Jason has contributed multiple critically acclaimed soundtracks for many popular titles such as Alpha Protocol, Dead Space and most recently, Resistance: Burning Skies.
In between crafting epic, ambient masterpieces and winning leagues of awards, Jason was able to spare some time to answer a few of our questions. Does a famed video game composer ever have time to actually play any of the games he’s scored?
Kenneth: You’ve created several soundtracks for several different projects. Which do you like best or were most happy with?
Jason: It really comes down to being creative and trying new things. I’ve found that the more freedom I have to experiment the happier I am. So those titles that really let me be free and try new things seem to be the ones that I remember more fondly. Currently, I think that would be the Dead Space franchise.
K: Do you consider yourself a big gamer? Which genres and titles do you enjoy playing most?
J: I’ve always been a sucker for first person shooters. I definitely would have called myself a big gamer a few years ago. However, the last few years have been more about composing music than playing games. But I do get a lot of time in playing with the developer. But I’m always invincible…does that count?
K: Sure it does! Do you ever have time to play any of the games you’ve scored? If so, do you really enjoy them?
J: There’s not really much time. Honestly, by the time the game is released I’ve probably played through it more than twenty times. Of course, it never worked the way it was supposed to when I was working on it, so sometimes it is fun to play through a bit of the beginning of the game. If not for anything else, just to hear how it was indented to sound!
K: Is Burning Skies your first work on the Resistance series? How are you approaching the soundtrack?
J: Yes, it is! Sony wanted a very emotional, thematically diverse score. I’ve written a few different themes, one for the “family search” of the main character and another for the alien invasion of the Chimera. There’s also a third minor character theme for Ellie.
K: Music has always been a passion of yours, but you’ve only began expressing this through video games fairly recently. How was the transition from films and television to video games?
J: Actually, I’ve been in games for more than ten years now. I was only working in film for about five. Regardless, the transition was pretty easy back then. It was really more of a creative direction – games simply allow for more creative freedom.
K: The Dead Space soundtrack was widely praised and critically acclaimed. How good did that feel to hear its reception?
J: To say it felt good was an extreme understatement! Obviously, there are always a lot of people involved in audio for games and Dead Space was no exception. But it was wonderful to have all your hard work pay off!
K: You’ve scored games in several different genres, including first person shooters, third person shooters and action games. Which video game genres haven’t you scored for? And of these, which would you most like to work on?
J: I still haven’t had a chance to really score a big, epic fantasy game. For me, that would be the ultimate genre to work with.
K: What would you isolate as the biggest difference between scoring for films and scoring for games?
J: The sheer amount of music you need to compose, plus the interactive aspect of the music. A typical film may have sixty to ninety minutes of music. AAA games these days can require up to three hours of interactive music.
K: The music in the games you’ve worked on usually do a great job of contributing to the atmosphere and general mood of the game, such as in Dead Space. What things do you consider when preparing to craft an immersive soundtrack like this?
J: Wow, thanks for saying that! Yes, a lot of time and effort goes into complementing the atmosphere of the game. Much of it boils down to a simple bit of logic I try and apply to ever game I work on – what is the main character feeling at this point in the game? I try and pinpoint the character’s perspective and explore it through music.
K: You’re welcome! What advice would you give to aspiring composers?
J: Never stop listening, never stop studying scores, and most importantly never stop composing!
Check out DualShockers’ review of Resistance: Burning Skies here.