Grammy-nominated videogame soundtrack composers discuss their work
December 22, 2023

Grammy-nominated videogame soundtrack composers discuss their work

In 2022, The Recording Academy announced a number of new categories to be awarded at their annual Grammy Awards, including “Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media.” The category recognizes excellence in score soundtrack albums comprised predominately of original scores and created specifically for - or as a companion to - a current video game or other interactive media released within the qualification period.  

Trevor Noah of The Daily Show returns to host the 2024 Grammys, which will broadcast live from Arena in Los Angeles on Sunday, February 4th.

This year’s nominees in the “Best Score Soundtrack For Video Games And Other Interactive Media” are:
- Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare II (Sarah Schachner, composer)
- God Of War Ragnarök (Bear McCreary, composer)
- Hogwarts Legacy (Peter Murray, J Scott Rakozy & Chuck E. Myers "Sea", composers)
- Star Wars Jedi: Survivor (Stephen Barton & Gordy Haab, composers)
- Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical (Jess Serro, Tripod & Austin Wintory, composers)

Composers Stephen Barton and Gordy Haab shared insight into their work on Star Wars Jedi: Survivor, calling it an “incredible game to get to score,” with a “huge canvas of eight hours of music.”

Aside from a huge symphony orchestra and choir, the duo went on an exhaustive hunt for new sounds that could fit into the Star Wars universe. This included everything from an instrument built out of an array of aluminum water bottles, three prepared pianos, using over 200 packs of Blu Tak (an adhesive putty that can safely stick to the strings to change the timbre in drastic ways), and oddball variations of standard orchestral instruments, including basset horns, Wagner tubas, euphoniums, bass trumpets, and a contrabass woodwind section. 

On the recording side, there was a lot of use of new microphone arrays at Abbey Road and Air, including Sennheiser’s Ambeo Cube and PCMA-3D. The pair employed a lot of techniques and ethos that they learned from early experiments on the first game in the series - Jedi Fallen Order - with ambisonics and the like, and a surround image that wraps around the gamer, courtesy of Alan Meyerson. 

Photo (L-R): Haab and Barton

“The idea was really to immerse the player and give you a music image that is as three dimensional as the amazing sound work by the Respawn team - led by Nick von Kaenel - and gives you all the feels.” They continue by saying the title offers a “really emotional gameplay experience that matches the intensity of the story.”

Austin Wintory, who collaborated on Stray Gods: The Roleplaying Musical, says branching into interactive music has posed major challenges on every soundtrack album he’s ever done, but nothing has compared to his work on Stray Gods. 

“How do you release a single version of something that's designed to have many, many versions at the discretion of the player?” he muses. “My number one concern was that an album would somehow 'canonize' a given choice, and make curious listeners think this was somehow the 'correct' version of Grace's story. So in my effort to escape this, I've gone ahead with four discrete albums.”

The first three correspond to the color-coded traits the player can choose: red (rambunctious, antagonistic and kickass); blue (conniving, intellectual and clever); and green (compassionate, empathetic and charming). 

“If you played the game by only ever choosing one of these colors, at every of the literally hundreds of decision points, you'd basically get these albums,” he explains. “The fourth album, which I called the ‘Pantheon Edition,’ is my personally-curated weaving amongst all three choices in an effort to one, minimally overlap with the other three; and two, sample a realistic result of a given player's approach.”

The truth, he continues, is that it would take thousands of albums to truly archive every viable play through.

“In the end, I hope some cross section of the four provides a listener with what they're looking for! We live in a world of custom playlists, and this is meant to embrace that. Best of all though, simply go play the game and experience yours!”