10 questions for Jesper Kyd – the composer behind Assassin’s Creed, Hitman & Darksiders 2
1 What game from the past has had the biggest effect on how you make soundtracks today?
Hitman: Contracts was the first game where I was really able to fine-tune the exploration and ‘interior mindset’ music styles, and I’ve worked on developing this type ever since. Darksiders 2 is my first truly analogue-based score – not only is almost everything processed through analogue equipment, but I also wrote the music with analogue gear.
2 We’ve had motion control, 3D, cameras… what do you think will be the next big innovation for games?
I think that photorealism will be the next phase in helping to make games more emotional. There’s also still a lot of room for improvement with controllers and motion control. Controllers haven’t really changed that much since the beginning of the games industry and I’m curious to see where new developments such as the Oculus Rift will take the industry. Music-wise, we’ll get more RAM so we’ll have more room for better CD-quality music. Also, I’m sure we’ll have more computer power, so we can have more simultaneous streaming music channels for more sophisticated interactive music.
3 What have been the high and low points of your career so far?
Well, the overwhelming reception to the Assassin’s Creed 2 score was awesome. I was humbled to see everyone embrace this music. It was a unique and special game, and I think we created a memorable score that’s become very popular with the fans. It’s great to see how our ideas continue to be a part of the franchise.
Being recognised by Bafta for my Hitman: Contracts score was a surprise – particularly because the other nominees were big-budget, traditional-sounding orchestral scores, so it was really great to see people respond to this different type of score. I think it showed that you don’t just have to have a big orchestra to connect with people. Darksiders II has definitely been another great experience. I think it’s one of my most ambitious in terms of experimenting with unique sounds.
In terms of lows, I don’t focus on the negative. I’m always moving forward. I give it my best on each score I write, so I don’t tend to look back.
4 Which matters more to you, review scores or sales?
It is always very gratifying to read reviews where people have taken notice of the music. I think music in games is key to the player’s experience, as it helps you to be immersed in the world. I’ve always tried to make my music as original as possible and to make each soundtrack stand out. I think we achieved this with Darksiders 2, as the response so far has been very positive.
5 If you had to make one golden rule of composing a game soundtrack, what would it be?
Don’t always try to score exactly what’s on the screen. I try to score games from a perspective that might not be as immediately obvious, but from the perspective of the player makes complete sense. For example, Venice Rooftops from Assassin’s Creed 2 might not be the music you would expect to play during running scenes – but this music is intertwined with Ezio’s theme and gives a sense of vulnerability and realism instead of making everything predictably epic-sounding. I never looked at Ezio as an epic character, more of a man who has endured a profound loss that gives birth to a deeply rooted quest to destroy the Templars. Throughout the Assassin’s Creed games, I worked on reminding the player about his troubled past; the emotion that the music touches on reminds the player of what happened to Ezio and why he does what he does.
6 If you were to work with a star developer or composer from any team, who would it be and why?
I’ve been fortunate to work with so many great developers and publishers. However, I select projects based on if I find them interesting and feel it gives me the opportunity to create something original, not who’s developing it. Though I would love to work with Bioware again.
7 If you weren’t a score composer, what would you be doing instead?
Filmmaking. I always wanted to be a director, I still like to shoot with my cameras. Of course, as a composer for film, I’m involved in the filmmaking process since I’m working closely with the director to support their vision.
8 What’s your top tip for someone who wants to pursue a career in the games industry?
I always encourage young musicians to come up with their own unique music style and try to add as much creativity into their music as possible. In order to achieve this it’s important to write music every day and keep experimenting to develop your own sound. In this increasingly competitive industry, that’s helps you stand out from your peers.
9 You’re working with an unlimited team, unlimited time and an unlimited budget – what game do you most want to work on?
It would be a huge sci-fi epic where I can fire up all my analogue gear and experience of working with orchestras and choirs, and bring it all together in one massive musical explosion.
10 What do you think it will take for games to be accepted as part of mainstream culture?
I think videogames are already a part of mainstream culture. Hollywood is definitely paying attention to the games industry. It takes inspiration from games and applies it to movies all the time.