This is the second part of our interview with Ori and the Blind Forest composer, Gareth Coker. To find out how the gorgeous platformer started life, rewind the clock and check out Part I.
Side One: At what point did you realise you were actually working on one of the Xbox One’s flagship titles?
Gareth: Just after E3 I think. It was great, actually, because E3 was one of the first times I’d met anyone from the team in person. It’s been reported in a few places, but Moon is a distributed studio. So the director Thomas is in Austria, the programmers are in Australia and Israel, and the art team is in England. Then, I’m in L.A., and sound is in Atlanta.
E3 was the first time we came together as a group, and most of the team came over to my place to watch it on the TV. We didn’t really know about the wristbands lighting up, and that was a nice touch by Microsoft. It was really nerve wracking but then the response we got from everyone, not just from press, was really overwhelming.
Once we started reading that and interacting with people, we began to think that we might actually be on to something. It also helped that we had the support of Phil Spencer, who championed the game for a long time. It doesn’t hurt when you have the boss of Xbox pushing the title.
In some ways, did that positive reception ramp up the pressure on the team?
Well, we were supposed to release at the end of 2014, but that didn’t happen because there were a lot of bugs in the game. If we did release, it would’ve been bad. Lets just leave it at that.
I think the game community was largely accepting of that, and gave us the time to polish the game and make it really solid. We didn’t feel too rushed, and of course there was pressure, but at the same time the marketing campaign wasn’t exactly huge, so I think Ori was always really ‘the little one that could’.
He, she, it – I’m not committing to what Ori is – is really punching above its weight, which is really nice to see.
Okay, now, I’ve also got some questions from Twitter, and one person asked if you were inspired by any composers in particular, and more specifically, what’s your favourite game soundtrack?
Oh my goodness. I mean, Austin Wintory helped me out towards the end. We had a long phone call two months before the recording session. It was approaching the final straight, and I needed to get my head in the game because finishing is hard. He also connected me with the mixing engineer Steve Kempster, who did an unbelievable job of mixing the score.
You know, Austin, for someone who’s had as much success has he has, I found it remarkable that he was willing to pick up the phone. He was just awesome, and his work speaks for itself.
The other composer, and it’s tough for me to pick anyone out, is Olivier Deriviere. His work on Remember Me is just incredible. I must’ve listened to that soundtrack at least 50 times. The way he uses the orchestra and the glitchy electronics, and the way it blends in with the game. I actually love that game. I think it’s heavily underrated, and I think that anyone who reads this interview should play Remember Me.
I’m also familiar with his work in Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry, and there’s just something so different about it. I feel something when I listen to it. A lot of love goes into the creation of his scores, I think.
As for my favourite game soundtrack, I’m going to go with Remember me, though I do want to give an honourable mention to the Michael McCann’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack and Jason Grave’s first Dead Space score. That’s an example of how to make atonal music work in a game. The opening four hours are a masterpiece of how to script horror in a game.
The next Twitter question is quite specific, so I’m not sure how easy it’ll be to answer, but another reader wants to know where you drew the inspiration for you track, The Blinded Forest?
Right, so this is basically after the forest has gone to hell. The track itself was really informed by the visuals. When Naru steps out of the cave, and there are twigs and broken branches everywhere, the music has to sound empty because the forest itself is empty. I’ve also got to give the audience some hope and nostalgia when Ori goes out to get the food, and then gets back to the cave to find she’s gone, which is a really intimate moment.
When you have something like that to work with, it’s like waking up on Christmas morning. I remember Michael Giacchino talking about the opening sequence in Up, and how the animation did a lot of the work for him. I think there’s something similar going on with Ori, because, yes they’re animated characters, but it’s a parent-child relationship and I think that’s something everyone can understand.
Adding on to that question a little bit, what’s your favourite track from the score?
Oh, that’s tough, but I’m going to commit to an answer and say that Completing the Circle is my favourite track. That’s the moment Ori gets all of his core abilities, and the music there is slightly more epic. It’s just regular gameplay music, and even though the rest of the game music doesn’t take a backseat, it does play a more supportive role, but at that moment I was allowed to go big. It’s one of the fewer moments in the soundtrack where there’s a little bit more joy.
It was also a really fun track to make because Rachel, who plays the flute on that track, was really just improvising the whole way though. She deserves a lot of credit.
Finally, and you might not be able to talk about this, but what’re you going to be working on next?
I haven’t signed any pieces of paper, but there is one small project. It hasn’t been announced yet, but the game is a really fun multiplayer game with a very unique look, and a completely different style of soundtrack. It’s going to be upbeat and a little bit funky, so it’s something totally different for me.
As for future projects with Moon, we don’t know right now because we’re still figuring things out post-Ori.
Thanks to Gareth for his time.
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