There’s no doubt that video game music has changed a lot over the past few decades. Simple Super Mario Bros. tunes from the austin wintory orchestra Journey score earning the first-ever Grammy nomination, the game’s musical evolution has been quite remarkable. Games such as Final Fantasy, The Legend of Zelda, Silent Hill, Grand Theft Auto, and Minecraft have contributed to this evolution and expanded the musical perimeters of what standard video game sheet music should sound like. Another attention-grabbing title in this area is Hypergryph’s anime-style strategy game, Arknights. Robert Wolf’s track, “Immutable” from the game, was recently nominated for a Game Audio Network Guild award for “Best Original Song” and has garnered hundreds of thousands of views on Youtube. We wanted to learn more about “Immutable” and what goes into creating a video game track like this, so we conducted the Q&A below with Robert.
VIDEO: Behind the scenes knights‘ “Immutable” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ywVRJ3Tx9Q
Can you first talk about how you got into video game rating? Why not other mediums too?
Looking back, I find it surprising that I didn’t devote myself entirely to video game music earlier. I’ve always been a big gamer, but despite that, I was working to become a film composer. I think it was mainly because I personally knew composers working in film and television, but not in games. It was attending the Hollywood Music Workshop in 2017 and the masterclass I had with Cris Velasco that really gave me a sense of the potential of songwriting for this medium. Cris is the composer of some of my favorite tracks of all time, including Mass Effect and company of heroes 2, and it was so exciting to learn more about his craft. Then, while at the University of Southern California, I had the good fortune to take courses in video game notation with Garry Schyman, and at that point I fully committed myself to composing for Games. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy writing for other mediums. I’ve written music for movies, theater, photo shows, and live events, but I feel I have a more intimate connection to video game music. After graduating from USC, a classmate of mine, Angela Little, who is now a very established film composer in Australia, was hired by Hexany. That’s when I first heard about the company and thought, “Wow, this would really be the perfect job for me.” Shortly after, Hexany had another job opening, so I went for it and was thrilled to get the job.
You wrote some songs for knights. How would you say Immutable is different from those previous tracks?
Yes, “Immutable” is quite different from most of my previous work for the game, especially those composed since the track was released. That being said, my previous track “Reconnect“shares stylistic similarities with”Immutable.” They both have ambient electronic elements, while “Reconnect » does not have a typical song or voice structure. These song elements made “Immutable” a unique project for me compared to the work I have done at Hexany so far. Overall, the soundtrack of knights is incredibly diverse, spanning many different genres, from rock and EDM to orchestral music and hip-hop. It’s always an exciting challenge to be assigned a new track for this game.
Immutable is meant to tell some of the stories behind the character, Kal’tsit. What did you do to familiarize yourself with the character?
For each new track, Hypergryph provides us with a design document that includes screenshots, musical references, detailed character background information, and many other things. In the case of Kal’tsit, she was described as a secretive and enigmatic figure who lived for thousands of years. She is a scientist and a doctor, but she has also taken on many other identities over her very long life. After reviewing the design document, I discussed the history of Kal’tsit and the concept of the track with Hexany Audio’s lead composer, Matthew Carl Earl.
At what point in the game would the player hear Immutable?
The release of the soundtrack of knights is quite different compared to other games. A new song is usually revealed and released as a single on streaming platforms like Bilibili, Youtube, Apple Music, etc. Thus, fans follow these channels closely and interact with new music releases on these platforms, which means they can listen to the music outside of the game. Hypergryph, the developer of knightsacts as a record label of sorts, releasing new music based on the rich history of the game’s characters.
How do you think music for video games has changed over the past 10 or even 20 years?
Oh that’s a great question! Over the past 20 years, music technology has undergone massive changes and video game music has of course changed along with it. For example, an important aspect is remote recording. Nowadays, many composers record orchestras abroad, without being present themselves. During the height of Covid travel restrictions, this remote option was a big help. But even today the work done with musicians who are not so far away, like my collaboration with Melissa, is still often done remotely. At the same time, as gaming continues to become the dominant form of entertainment in the world, appreciation for video game music has increased dramatically. It’s much more common now to include music as an important part of a video game review, which I don’t think was as central to the discussion 10 or 20 years ago.
Your CV indicates that you have worked on games such as Call of Duty: Mobile, Honor of Kings, Mobile Legends: Bang Bang and Kingdom Crafts. Which game on your resume would you say you learned the most musically from?
I love this question! It’s hard to choose. For honor of kingsI learned how to effectively combine Chinese and Japanese instruments with a Western orchestra to really capture the sound of this game. Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, I really got into hybrid tracks, combining electronic drums with a big orchestra. But in terms of expanding my production skills as a songwriter, I really think knights challenged me the most because his demands often involve combining different styles in new and challenging ways. At Hexany Audio, we write a lot of music for these games and many more. It’s great to have incredibly talented colleagues who are all specialists in their own way. For Richard Ludlow, the company’s founder, a major goal was to facilitate close collaboration between sound designers and composers. I’ve benefited a lot from this approach as it encourages us to swap tips and constantly learn from each other.
Congratulations on your nomination to the GANG for Immutable. What do you think sets this song apart from other video game tracks?
Thanks a lot! I think Melissa Kaplan’s voice makes a huge difference, it really makes the song stand out. Her voice fits so well into the track and gives it a lot of character. Another aspect could be that it has some intensity but is still relaxing to listen to. The drums often feel underplayed, and in the first chorus they drop out almost entirely. Also, I incorporated gear noises and other mechanical sounds into the beat, which I think makes it more unique.
What are you going to work on next?
i just finished a new one knights track, but unfortunately I can’t share any details yet. You can keep an eye on our site at https://hexanyaudio.com for the latest news on our work! In addition to our musical work, we also have an excellent sound design team led by Kellen Fenton. Kellen, Matthew and our founder Richard Ludlow have created a place where we have the opportunity to work on a wide range of video game projects, which is always fun and challenging.
Is there another video game composer you would like to collaborate with one day?
Oh, it’s difficult! There are so many fantastic composers in video game music that it would be hard to choose just one! I listened to the frostpunk a lot of soundtrack lately, so working with Piotr Musiał one day would be amazing! As I mentioned, Cris Velasco was also a huge influence, so I would love to work with him from time to time. Austin Wintory is another amazing composer that I would be very honored to work with. I also really like the Witcher 3 soundtrack, then working with Marcin Przybyłowicz or Mikołaj Stroiński would be crazy! In the past I’ve written lyrics for Garry Schyman on the game Metamorphosis, which also included music by Mikołaj Stroiński. Collaborating on a project with these two distinguished composers has been incredibly rewarding. I have long admired them both, and would love to work together again.
Learn more about Robert Wolf here, http://wolf-music.com/