A sound strategy: Josh Whelchel on helping Mojang begin again

Josh Whelchel is a man of many talents. Some of you might know him as the CTO and co-founder of music distribution service, Loudr. Yes, the same Loudr that...

Josh Whelchel is a man of many talents. Some of you might know him as the CTO and co-founder of music distribution service, Loudr. Yes, the same Loudr that regularly treats gamers to impossibly good Game Music Bundles.

Some of you, on the other hand, might know him as the composer behind titles such The Spirit Engine 2, Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion, Wind-up Knight, and more recently Oblitus.

Then again, those with a more particular musical pallet might recognise him as the creator of some rather special Overclocked video game remixes.

As you can tell, Josh doesn’t do standing still, so it won’t surprise you to hear that he was recently snapped up by Minecraft creator Mojang to help write the music for their strategic card-battler, Scrolls.

How though, did Josh wind up collaborating with one of the industry’s biggest studios? We caught up with the man himself to ask just that.

Side One: Would you be able to tell us how you got involved with Scrolls? How did that come about?

Josh: My good buddy Mattias – who goes by the name of Another Soundscape, or AnoSou – and I went to GDC in 2011 or 2012, and he was actually quite close with the Mojang team at that point. He had worked on a game called Cobalt, which Mojang had just picked up, and he asked me if I wanted to work on Scrolls because I could do more of the orchestral stuff, while he could do these beautiful, blazing folk melodies. So, we decided to join forces to make Scrolls happen.

What was it like to be involved in that project? Did you, or anyone else on the team, feel any pressure coming off the back of Minecraft. I mean, ‘successful’ doesn’t even begin to describe that game.

There was definitely some unspoken pressure, but at the same time it was quite a relaxed environment. I think one of the benefits of coming out of a project like Minecraft was that everyone felt they could take their time and get things right.

Scrolls was actually pretty low pressure. I think the most pressure I felt was getting the music ready for the trailers. Overall though, it was a stress-free projects, and one I adored because it gave me the chance to hire an orchestra, which was really cool.

That sounds awesome!

Yeah, the main theme was a piece that I wrote over the span of about a month, and I worked with Dynamedion, who’re an orchestra service, to put together what is, in my opinion, this pretty kick-ass orchestration and get it recorded. That’s in the game, so it obviously worked.

Was your work on Scrolls inspired by anyone, or anything in particular?

Honesty, Mattias really inspired my work on Scrolls. He captured a mood with one of the main themes that he plays on the harp that just took the breath out of everything else we could do. His writing was so strong, so I spent most of my time arranging and orchestrating his work.

Were you given a lot of creative control? Could you take the score in whatever direction you wanted?

We worked closely with the Scrolls team, but they were very loose, so we had a lot of creative freedom.

I don’t think we ever wrote something that they didn’t like, and I think that’s because we had access to pretty much every single art asset in the game. That art really informed the score, so we didn’t have any contentions about what we were doing.

“We needed to ensure that players were being inspired and driven by the music that we made, rather than annoyed.”

That’s interesting, because I wanted to ask you about your creative process in general. Do you normally like to compose a score around art, or gameplay, or sometimes is it more interesting to just let your mind wander and see where it takes you?

It really depends on the game, I think. With Oblitus, for example, we had to play the game to understand what it felt like and to see all of the pieces in motion because the art couldn’t really tell us those things. On the other hand, the challenge with Scrolls, because there isn’t really a script or story per se, was to make sure that we weren’t writing repetitive music because this is a game that people are going sit down with for potentially hours on end. 

We needed to ensure that players were being inspired and driven by the music that we made, rather than annoyed.

I remember I spent a lot of time playing Minecraft, funnily enough, and that’s a game that doesn’t need its music changing. It’s so expansive and full of variety.

Yeah, In Minecraft the music seems to be ingrained in the world itself. It’s a part of the environment.

It is, but at the same time it’s also one of those games were you might play your own music over the top because you play so much of it, and I think Scrolls is like that. Die-hard fans are going to want to play a lot of it, and could potentially veer in any number of directions when it comes to music.

It’s also hard to match the dynamic of the game because of the strategy involved. So, if one player is losing and struggling, it’s going to be really intense, but the other player might be sure about what they’re doing and be quite calm. That fact alone means it’s hard to create any dynamic music based on player emotions or tension.

Because of that we wanted to steer clear and keep it simple, and hopefully that’s what we did.


Thanks to Josh for his time.

To find out more about Josh’s work, you can follow him on Twitter by clicking right here. Don’t forget to come back next week when we’ll be talking to Josh again about his work on Adult Swim’s action adventure title, Oblitus.