Scaring Through the Score, Composers Matthew Carl Earl & Jason Walsh Discuss Working on the New Horror Video Game COLINA: Legacy
Thanks to hits such as Warner Bros’ IT, Blumhouse’s Halloween & Happy Death Day, Paramount’s A Quiet Place, Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House and Hulu’s Castle Rock the horror genre is very much alive and flourishing. Not only are we seeing more horror TV and film projects, but gaming companies have also jumped on the bandwagon. The latest horror video game to be released just in time for Halloween is Chance6’s COLINA: Legacy, which follows Alex as he wakes up in his grandmother's home. Alone and unsure of where everyone has gone, he begins escape, the feeling of someone… or something watching him lingering on his mind. Facing the unknown, Alex must make it through the night, and the house, before he loses more than just his mind. To get more of an inside glimpse into the game we got a chance to speak with the game’s composers Matthew Carl Earl and Jason Walsh in the interview below. The full score is released on iTunes this week at the following link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/colina-legacy-original-game-soundtrack/1442021520
HorrorTalk: Did you begin work on COLINA: Legacy after it was already complete or did you score from story board sketches?
Jason Walsh: We began working on Colina: Legacy back when the team at Chance6 was finishing up their first publicly released demo. We were fortunate to be doing sound design from early on in development, so we were able to see how the game evolved over the course of a year. Matthew and I took the last 3 months of the games development to write music.
Matthew Carl Earl: By the time it came time to start on the music the game was nearing completion, which was great. We were able to play through the whole game and experience everything before writing a single note. We were also working on the sound for the game for a few years, so we were pretty familiar with the project already.
HT: When Chance6 Studios approached you about working on COLINA: Legacy what sort of direction did they give you for the game’s score?
JW: Chance6 gave us a lot of insight into Colina’s lore and story, as well as the inspirations for the game. It really helped us pick apart the elements that can be represented by music, and make artistic decisions on the ‘how’ and ‘what’ of composing for the game. It was also a huge advantage that we could play test the game throughout its development in our studio. Having access like that helps you establish ways of integrating music interactively into the player’s inputs and events in the game.
MCE: Chance6 actually was super open to any weird ideas we had; Jason and I sat down in the beginning and talked about what everything should sound like. We threw around a lot of different references including Silent Hill, Resident Evil, Amnesia: The Dark Descent and talked about what we thought worked great in these games and what didn’t.
We ended up with the style you hear in the game now, where the score doesn’t sound quite electronic or acoustic. It’s a sort of weird middle ground where music and sound design becomes blurred and it is entirely about making the player receive emotional guidance without the music itself being the focus.
HT: Were there any specific challenges with scoring COLINA: Legacy?
JW: Colina: Legacy is a lore-heavy game that plays up the plot ambiguity you get from 90s videogames. Often the story isn’t laid bare for players to take in. It requires thought and attention to all the details going on throughout the game to understand the plot. With music we were tasked with making sure that lore and progression systems in the game have clear musical themes to reward the player in recognizable ways that connect the objectives within the story.
MCE: Absolutely, one of the biggest for me was the balance of keeping things in the background and unnoticeable, so the player doesn’t get distracted. Yet, still interesting and fresh so the player doesn’t become bored with the sonic soundscape.
HT: How long did you work on the game for?
JW: I worked on the game for about a year and a half as the lead sound designer. I was wrapping up creating sounds for the game around the time we got the go ahead from Chance6 to start writing music.
MCE: We at Hexany were working on the project for over 2 years, mostly on the sound side of things. But we didn’t start on the music until May or June 2018. From then we worked right up until the release.
HT: Were there any specific things you did that are considered odd in terms of mixing different sounds that don’t usually go together? Or playing a particular instrument in an unconventional way?
JW: Because of our discussions with Chance6, we knew it was going to be a game where themes were important and therefore needed to be musical and recognizable. In contrast, it’s a horror mystery game that has a lot of focus on supernatural elements, so a lot of time was spent creating sounds from organic sources, but manipulating them so they sound monstrous and haunting. When I was recording source material for our virtual instruments, I pretty much grabbed anything made of a resonant material in the studio and tried to play it with a violin bow. It resulted in a lot of eerie pads, weird rhythms and drones you hear all over the soundtrack!
MCE: The big theme in all the instrument choices were trying to make things sound “acoustic” yet unrecognizable. We didn’t want the player to think, “oh, that’s a guitar” or “that’s a violin” we wanted it to be completely ambiguous. We achieved that by starting with real world recordings of various instruments and voices and just random stuff we found around the office and then mangled them beyond recognition. At times the music composition process felt a lot more like sound design.
HT: In horror projects the score is used to let the audience know when danger is lurking or when something bad is about to happen. Does this add any extra pressure to your job?
JW: I think it’s one of the exciting differences in the music of horror games. In general, music in a game is supportive of the visuals or actions of the player, but in circumstances unique to horror, it gets to be the focus of attention and play a vital role in informing the audience of what’s to come. It gives us the opportunity to play up the emotion and experiment with ways to add tension to our music.
MCE: A bit. The game is definitely relying on the music to sell big scary moments like that. But, from a composer stand point; it’s actually super fun. It’s entirely up to you when and how you want the player to feel uneasy.
HT: What would you say are some of your favorite horror videogames?
JW: I really enjoy games that mislead you like Spooky’s Jump Scare Mansion. Bioshock, though maybe not outright horror, is one of my favorite games just for how moody and uneasy the game makes you feel.
MCE: I’ll just list off a couple names because I play a ton of horror games. Both Amnesia games are fantastic, The Outlast series, Layers of Fear, the Fear series... I could list a ton here, but those are the big ones that come to my mind.
HT: You also did the sounds for the game as well, what is the creepiest sound you created for the game?
JW: I think some of the very “normal” sounds are the creepiest. Things like gusts of wind rattling on the windows and old wooden creaks, or subtle things like when the constant room tone inside the house stops. Honestly you don’t even notice it until its not happening, and that sets up a strong atmosphere that I think puts players in the right mindset to become scared.
MCE: I’ll leave that one to Jason as he was the main sound designer on the project.