'Farlands' Composer Explains How VR Is Changing How We Hear Games, Too


VR gaming is the new craze sweeping the industry, and fundamentally changes how games get made. Sure, it seems pretty obvious that a developer would have to account for using a VR headset instead of a controller, but there are other, less obvious changes as well, like the soundtrack.

Jason Graves, the composer behind such scores as the BAFTA-winning Dead Space and the acclaimed Tomb Raider reboot, is fresh off of his work on the Oculus interactive experience Farlands, and talked to iDigitalTimes about the differences a VR game has on a composer compared to a more traditional game.

“Whether you’re in a dive suit underwater or a space suit on another planet, there’s lots of observation going on in these VR games, and developers are really trying to showcase the 3D aspect of it and how it’s very, very immersive,” Graves told iDigi. “And the 3D audio too, very very immersive. So then you have this question of ‘what about the music?’ Many developers at the beginning were wondering if they needed music, if it would be more realistic to not have any music.”

Because of a game’s immersion, it doesn’t make sense for a player to be able to hear background music. “You gotta have a slight suspension of disbelief in there somewhere,” Graves said. This changed his approach to Farlands, putting the music deliberately into the background of any moment.

“It’s more about being in the background, and letting you soak in the experience and coming along for the ride,” he said. “In more action-oriented games, the music is telling a story. In this, the environment tells the story.”

Farlands isn’t so much a game as it is an experience. The main goal is for players to explore an alien planet and learn more about the different species of animals. This means the music is less demanding of the player’s attention and more something to zone out to.

“There’s electric guitar everywhere,” Graves said of the instruments he used to make the score. “If it sounds like an airy breathy synth, it’s actually a guitar with some effects on it.” He also utilized harps, steel drums, mandolin and even mixing bowls and wine glasses.

Graves said this decision on instrumentation came down to Oculus’ desire for Farlands to sound both futuristic and down-to-earth. “Oculus wanted the music to sound like organic sci-fi music, which in many ways is a contradiction on itself,” he said. “I figured organic to me meant real instruments, so I performed real instruments then used effects to change it to be more sci-fi.”

This all combines to something that blends seamlessly into the background while playing a game or getting work done. “It’s a breath of fresh air. The tempos are slow, it’s relaxing and makes you calm,” said Graves. “It is such a relaxing game, and it was a relaxing game to work on.”

As a composer, Graves finds himself working closest to the audio directors at the development studios. While he finds himself working for many different studios, it’s the directors he comes to know and want to work with again. In fact, Graves got the Farlands job because of work he had done previously with the audio director at Oculus.

“I worked on a game called Murdered: Soul Suspect and Tom Smurdon was the audio director there for about the first two-thirds of the game then left,” said Graves. “I was disappointed because he’s such a cool guy, but I wasn’t surprised. That’s just the way things work. So Tom called me up a year after that and said he was working at Oculus.”

This got Graves started working in VR. “I helped them with a few demos and things for what they would show on the floor at trade shows and then he called me again and wanted to talk about Farlands.”

If you want to listen to the entire score, or purchase a copy for yourself, be sure to check out Graves’ Bandcamp page, or you can get it on iTunes. If you want to check out Farlands, it can be found in the Oculus Store for free.

So what do you think? Are you interested in trying out Farlands if you haven’t already? Do you like your video game scores to be more relaxing or bombastic? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.

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