Volume, the new game from Thomas Was Alone creator Mike Bithell, is released tomorrow (August 18), and here VICE Gaming has a neat little preview of its music, composed by the BAFTA-nominated David Housden.
The 2012-released puzzle-platformer Thomas Was Alone was a huge breakthrough for British developer Bithell, winning plaudits aplenty and a BAFTA award in 2013 for Danny Wallace's performance as its narrator. Housden's score for the game attracted praise, too, and he's reconnected with Bithell for Volume, a stealth game that mixes the mythology of Robin Hood—you play as Robert Locksley, against Guy Gisborne—with a high-tech, near-future aesthetic. Wallace again stars, as do Andy Serkis and YouTuber Charlie McDonnell.
"(The contrast of old and new influences) had a huge influence and was something I went to great lengths to capture, sonically," Housden tells me when I ask him about the modernized Robin Hood theme at play. "I really wanted to play with this idea of an old story being told in a new way, so to that end I decided to invest in a range of period instrumentation to include in the score. Not necessarily medieval instruments themselves, but they had to have that sort of tone to them. I used a mandolin, a dulcimer, an Irish harp, an erhu, and many other elements to create various textures, and a feel of something written in the past."
Video game soundtracks are far from the proverbial poorer cousins of scores for the film world, as outstanding arrangements in titles like Journey, the Halo series and BioWare's Dragon Age saga (and many more—you'll certainly have your favorites) prove. BAFTA winners in the category of Best Original Music have included BioShock Infinite (2014) and Heavy Rain (2011), while Austin Wintory's work for Journey bagged itself a Grammy nomination for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media at the 2013 awards, the first time a game had been included in a category beside movies. Housden believes that working in games, versus films, provides composers with greater freedom to get creative.
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"The game soundtrack world is fantastic. It offers artists opportunities to take risks and create music that you simply wouldn't hear in other mediums. Films need to make money. You have the odd niche success, but by and large the major studios are all looking for their next financial hit or franchise. As such there's very little scope to be exploratory with the music or to break away from tried-and-tested formulas. Whilst that's perhaps true of some triple-A game titles as well, generally the game industry encourages and rewards innovation and creativity in all aspects of development, not least the music.
"I do think there's a problem with the term 'game music,' though. It's music which is used for games, sure, but you're talking about the same world-class musicians being recorded in the same studios, engineered by the same mixers—who are the best at what they do—as you find in the film world. There are a wealth of Hollywood composers whose credits now include game works as well, so there's really nothing to choose between a top game score and a top film score anymore.
"Journey breaking through into the mainstream was certainly a step in the right direction, but it hasn't brought the wall down and game scores deserve far more recognition than they currently receive. That being said, the landscape has improved significantly over the past few years and I believe it will only continue to do so as time passes and more and more exemplary scores are created."
Listen to three tracks from Housden's Volume score below—and order the full soundtrack via iTunes here.
Over on Noisey: Video Game Music Demystified
Volume is available on August 18, 2015 for PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, PC, and Mac. More information at the game's official website. Housden's soundtrack is released today through Laced Records.
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