Immortals Fenyx Rising Composer Q&A – Telling A Story With Music
Immortals Fenyx Rising is a big, varied game, and its soundtrack provides beat-for-beat accompaniment for every onscreen action, changing to reflect whether Fenyx is running, gliding, riding, or fighting. Behind the tunes is award-winning composer Gareth Coker, whose credits include both Ori games, ARK: Survival Evolved, Minecraft, and Halo Infinite.
He’s since gone on to contribute music to a range of other games, but Immortals Fenyx Rising is Coker’s first time at the helm of a triple-A open-world game’s soundtrack. To find out more about how a project of this scope takes shape, we sat down with Coker to talk about the sounds of Greek mythology, the process of creating interactive music, and how a soundtrack can take shape around a standout character.
How did you begin work on Immortals Fenyx Rising, and what was the process like?
Gareth Coker: I started last year, and I think one of the first things I did – it might actually be the very first thing I did – ended up becoming the main theme for the game.
The sheer scope of this game requires such an insane amount of music to be written, and then it's all got to be interactive as well. Just one example of that is, we have exploration music that plays in each area of the game, and it changes whether you’re walking on the ground, on a horse, flying, or whether you're in combat, and it's all seamless.
I'm almost surprised that there are still people making lyres. It’s not an instrument you often see in the real world.
GC: There are not that many but I found one called Luthieros. The lyre is ever-present in the game as an accompaniment, and featured more strongly as part of Hermes’ music.
Let's talk about the title theme: It starts out ethereal, but then it builds to something more stirring. What is it trying to evoke? What do you want players to think when they hear it?
It's actually quite rare in games to be asked to do a piece of music that's longer than three minutes, so it’s a chance to stretch my legs musically. I wanted to try and get all of that into one piece of music, so it basically encapsulates everything that the player might go through.
The opening is pretty intimate and vulnerable, because when you start the game you’re not very powerful. It's a piece of music that the player should be able to listen to and think, “Yes, that is what Fenyx sounds like.” When people hear that melody right at the beginning, I want them to think, “Yes, this is only Fenyx’s [theme], you’ll never hear it again in any other game, it's just for Fenyx.”
Other than using the instruments themselves, do you find that there’s a musical sound or style people tend to associate with Greek myth? And how do you approximate that while still differentiating Immortals Fenyx Rising from other, thematically similar games?
What I love about Immortals is, because of the visual style, the world, and storytelling, it allows me to use these real-world instruments as a starting point, but then I can take it into a much more magical realm, which is a signature of some of my previous work as well, and bring that in.
So we’ve got the magical sounds, which are created in my studio with a combination of acoustic and synthetic elements, and then we combine those with real instruments, which gives us the sound of Immortals. Yes, there are a lot of featured orchestral sounds, but in contrast, when the player enters the Vaults of Tartaros, the music is as ethereal and almost as non-orchestral as you can get. I did put one Greek instrument in the Vaults – the aulos. But I gave it a very washed out, reverbed, and heavily effected sound, so the origin of the sound is from the aulos, but it sounds otherworldly.
When you're working with live instruments, say with an orchestra, how do you still compose music that can just change on the fly depending on whether you’re in exploration or combat?
GC: It doesn't really matter what instruments are used; the way I’ve ended up writing most of these, there’s a core piece of music that I sketch out on the piano, and then I'll assign certain instruments to only play when you're flying, for example. So when you're flying, you'll almost always hear a woodwind instrument. But you'll never hear the woodwind instrument while you're on a horse or in combat, as it's unique to the flying experience.
Each of the game’s regions is patterned after a different god, with a distinct feel; how did you express that feel in each region’s music? GC: Every region has its own musical theme and feel. For example, Hephaistos’ music utilizes a lot of metallic instruments as he’s the god of the forge. And Ares, the god of war – it doesn't really take much to imagine what the music sounds like for him. The music is written to match each god’s distinct personality.
Oct 30, 2020 at 17:36