Jason Graves | UNTIL DAWN

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Jason Graves is a BAFTA-winning composer for film and video games. He is more recently known for his musical scores for DEAD SPACE, a survival horror-action video game, the 2013 reboot of the TOMB RAIDER franchise, and THE ORDER: 1886. His latest project was creating the soundtrack for the PlayStation 4 adventure survival horror game, UNTIL DAWN. STARBURST caught up with him to find out more.

STARBURST: What challenges did you face writing the music for Until Dawn?
Jason Graves: Normally I would go into interactivity, mixing and all this crazy stuff we do in video game to make the music really adaptive as the game progresses. Until Dawn was actually very different. It has an extremely cinematic approach, both in the way they did the motion capture, wrote the story and implemented the music. This was scored more in the way you’d score a film or TV show; in a more linear way. That’s not to say the music doesn’t change, it changes it all the time. There are so many decisions you can make in the game that will change the course of the plot. Every single one of those decisions has been scored to fit. Each one is custom crafted to go with the scenes. It’s almost like a ten or twelve-hour movie. It was fantastic to work on the score.

How different is it from other scores you’ve written?
You can get lost really easily in the different points of interest and sides of the story. I find the easiest thing is to focus on the characters. It’s the same as if I was scoring a film. With Tomb Raider you had a single character point that was the purpose of the game; to focus on a single characters journey and reimagine it. In Until Dawn, you’ve got multiple characters who are important to the plot and you can play these characters. Some of the decisions that you make can determine whether they’ll live through the night so it was a lot more character driven. The focus of the music is more about your decisions. We were able to fit in themes for the locations, the mountains and cabin and so on. What I love is if you make certain decisions you won’t hear certain scores. You could literally play through the game ten times and get ten different game play experiences, including the music.

Do you have preferred order for the Until Dawn score?
It’s not like that. I want you to play it ten times to get different experiences. That’s the beauty of it and the inherent difference between video games and TV. What it boils down to is the replay ability and interactivity. You are involved in the story.

Video games are certainly unique in that regard. What started you on this path?
I’ve been in games for about 15 years now and I’ve watched as the technology has allowed us to do branching scenarios with the score. In the beginning it was just start and stop, you could add a stinger here and there. Now we have the RAM and processors to do more. The technology has really enabled us as games designers to really do anything we want. We’re really only limited by time now; how much time it takes for us to craft these experiences and release them into the world.  It’s really been more about making that decision and maximising the time.

Is the future of musical composition in video games?
There is definitely a future in composing music for video games. They say that if the composers of the past were alive today, they’d be working in games. I think they probably would, there’s a lot of opportunity and variety in games, because of the sheer amount of music we get to write. A movie might be three hours, a game is at least ten. If you wanted to do a movie soundtrack that long, you’re looking at something like The Lord of The Rings trilogy, which took years to make. 

You tend to write music for darker games, what draws you to that sort of work?
It’s nothing to do with my last name. I think it’s just as a composer you are a sum of the titles you have worked on. I did a lot of stuff that was not dark and was uplifting. It’s just that the darker games were more popular. That’s what people associate my name with. They realise that one composer has written the music for all these dark game and say ‘maybe we should hire him’. Now I listen to my work and think ‘maybe it should be darker’.

What’s your ideal project?
Probably one that’s completely different from the last one. I like to be enthusiastically elated at discovering new things and trying something different. That’s why games like Until Dawn tick all the boxes for me. They want to try something new, that’s what I really like about the industry. My next challenge is trying out new things.

Until Dawn is available on PlayStation 4 from late August 2015.

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