London calling: Jason Graves on abandoning clichés in The Order: 1886

Composers, like anyone creating games, are very busy people, and if they’re not tied-up writing a score, they’re usually off performing it. Imagine our surprise then,...
London The Order

Composers, like anyone creating games, are very busy people, and if they’re not tied-up writing a score, they’re usually off performing it. Imagine our surprise then, when we were asked if we’d like to speak to The Order: 1886’s music maestro, Jason Graves.

Having worked on over 70 titles throughout his career, most recently Tomb Raider, Evolve, DmC: Definitive Edition, and, of course, The Order: 1886, it’d be fair to say Graves has a fairly good understanding of what it takes to succeed in the industry. It’d also be fair to wonder how the hell he had time to answer any of our questions.

Answer them, however, he certainly did. So, because I can tell you’re getting restless, here’s what happened when we sat down with the man himself to learn how he brought Ready at Dawn’s steampunk shooter to life.

What attracted you to The Order? At what point did you know it was something you needed to be a part of?

Pretty much immediately. The world Ready At Dawn wanted to create was amazing. I definitely knew I wanted to be a part of it as soon as I saw their first bit of gameplay on my initial visit. It was still in its prototyping phase but it looked incredible. Our creative conversations that same day only convinced me further.

You’ve previously stated that you like to visit developers before agreeing to work with them. How did your first meeting with Ready at Dawn go?

Probably one of my favourite “first meetings”. A van load of the guys picked me up from the airport and it was like hanging out with long lost family members. We spent the day talking about travel, food, music – almost everything but the actual game until the end of the day. And they hired me right there, on the spot before the day ended, with a hand shake and “welcome to the team!”. Classy. Very classy.

How did you start building the score? Where did you look for inspiration?

A big word that we all agreed on was “weight.” My job was to bring a sense of weight and scope to the game through the music. The only requirement from Ready At Dawn was to bring something new to the musical table. They definitely didn’t want another “Hollywood” score that sounded like it was ripped from a summer blockbuster.

The combination of creativity and freedom and such an amazing game design and story were all I really needed for inspiration.

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There was a lot of excitement, as well as a little skepticism surrounding The Order before it hit shelves. Did that increase the pressure on you and the development team?

Honestly, I’m usually way too wrapped up in the creation of the score to keep up with anything else. I believe the phrase I’m thinking of is “blissfully ignorant.”

What was the most challenging aspect of scoring the game, and what was the most rewarding moment?

The instrumentation was quite a change and fairly unusual. So I’d say the most challenging aspect was working through the instrumentation and getting it “just right” for recording at Abbey Road. But the most rewarding moment was very similar – getting to hear the amazing musicians perform the score.

Andrea Pessino from Ready At Dawn attended the second set of recording sessions. He’s a composer himself and a huge music fan, so being able to share that experience with him was incredible.

“A big word that we all agreed on was “weight.” My job was to bring a sense of weight and scope to the game through the music.”

Game Director Dana Jan has previously mentioned that, with regards to the soundtrack, the team didn’t want to feel trapped or pinned in. How did you ensure that didn’t happen? It sounds like you were brought in to liberate the score.

That was definitely something that they had in mind from the start. They wanted a fresh sounding score that didn’t carry all the musical baggage and tropes of something cliché or expected.

What was it like recording at Abbey Road? Obviously it’s an incredibly prestigious studio, but why exactly did you decide to record there?

The Order and Abbey Road are both in London, but the common location was merely coincidence, I promise. It’s quite literally one of the best studios in the world. Match that with a pool of some of the best musicians on the planet and it’s a no brainer if you’re given a choice. And that’s exactly what Sony gave me – the choice to do whatever I wanted to with the score. So, of course, I suggested Abbey Road!

How does your experience working on The Order compare with the time you spent scoring games such as Tomb Raider and Dead Space?

It was really completely different. Although I did record with live orchestra for Dead Space, it was only textures and effects. I composed the actual score later on, using the orchestral recordings as individual instruments in the computer with Paul Taylor on music preparation and me working on the entire thing.

The Order was a team effort from the start. I had no less than four different people at Sony working with me at any given point, helping with all those important but often forgotten details that are essential to live recording.

Does your creative process change from game to game?

Most definitely. Every game is so different – it makes sense to approach each one as its own unique project.

You’ve been working on big, blockbuster titles for a while now, do you ever find yourself struggling to work up an appetite for those kind of projects?

Actually, it’s quite the contrary. Each one is so different and they all have their own essential worlds. Every new title is like a creative shot in the arm.

I know parents aren’t supposed to have favourites, but which track from The Order are you particularly fond of?

If I had to pick one it would be The Knighthood. I had dreamed of writing an a-cappella piece for The Order but wanted to save it for the appropriate moment. This specific scene provided the perfect opportunity to stretch out a bit and develop the main theme some more. Plus, the choir at Abbey Road was absolutely spectacular.

Finally, what does the future hold? Are you working on anything new at the moment?

Lots of exciting, unique things happening in the studio at the moment. Of course, I’m completely sworn to secrecy about every single one! Such is the life of anyone working in games.


Thanks to Jason for his time. Find out more about Jason’s work by heading to his official website, and don’t forget to follow Side One on Twitter if you want more articles like this.