With Darksiders II just a couple of months away from release, we can’t wait to hit the ground running with Death, battling new enemies while trying to vindicate fellow Horseman War from something that clearly wasn’t entirely his fault.
But part of the big picture for Darksiders II is its soundtrack, and that’s where Jesper Kyd comes in. He provides a stellar soundtrack for the game, right up there with his previous works in Borderlands, the Assassin’s Creed series and various Hitman games. And it looks like he’s just getting started.
We managed to sit down with Jesper and talk about the upcoming Darksiders II soundtrack, as well as what else he’s been working on.
You've been working on soundtracks for quite a while now. What would you say is the toughest part of putting together the right kind of video game soundtrack?
The main priority for me is usually to find out how much I can push the creativity, uniqueness and overall sonic atmosphere, then I come up with the themes and sounds. Other times there is a focus on the themes first and the sonic identity comes later.
What prompted you to sign on with the Darksiders II team? Was it something about the way Death came across?
Even though I have worked on a lot of games involving death such as the Hitman and Assassin’s Creed series, I am not specifically attracted by death and killing, though I always get a kick out of writing for stealth games.
I am attracted to a good story and an interesting setting. The story was still being fleshed out when I was signed on to score Darksiders II so in this case the setting is what really impressed me. The fantastical and supernatural is a subject of great interest to me and when you mix that with a story inspired by The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, I knew there was going to be an opportunity to write some really unusual music full of mysticism and mystery.
During the first conversation I had with Vigil Games’ audio director Jeremy Robins it became clear the team was looking for something that would sound uniquely different from other fantasy games. They wanted a score that would immediately create a strong unique identity for the sound of Darksiders 2 and not something that sounded like it could fit a number of Hollywood fantasy movies. While I love writing Hollywood sounding scores – especially when writing film scores, for video games I am often hired to write something less traditional, which I have done on franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Hitman, Borderlands etc.
What approach did you take? Did you go "well, I obviously need to have something dark and decadent" here?
Actually no. Vigil did not want to fill the game world with dark music. It’s not a horror game, it’s a very colorful and beautiful world and Vigil did not want the score to become atonal or somber, fearing it could become too depressing or annoying. Since it’s a massive game and may take at least 25 hours to complete they wanted music they could use again and again.
The challenge became how to write dark music that was still adventurous and encouraged exploration - something that would not alienate the player but make it exciting to explore the Darksiders world.
Where do you draw your composing inspiration from?
For this score I didn’t listen to any music for inspiration. I drew inspiration from the game itself, the story and the worlds the character Death explores. Also I worked with a lot of analog vintage equipment in ways I hadn’t done before – so the equipment I was using and the way I used it also became a means of inspiration.
Do you ever go back and listen to soundtracks from your older games, like Sub-Terrania and MDK 2?
Perhaps once in a while to check on something but I don’t sit back and listen to it - it’s kind of painful since I would do things very different today from the way I composed back then. I feel I am constantly learning with every score I write and always moving forward.
So if I go back 40 scores to one of my first scores such as Sub-Terrania, well I would do things very different today. When hearing the Sub-Terrania score it immediately takes me back to Copenhagen when I was 19 years old living with my friends (the founders of IO Interactive and Reto-Moto) making music and games 24 hours a day (until we crash, wake up and start again). It was not unusual for someone to be programming 24 hours per session – we just loved what we did.
These days I only compose the music but back then I was also responsible for designing the way the music worked and the music systems and later went on to do that for games such as the Hitman series and Freedom Fighters. I think that’s where my understanding of games comes from, having been a owner of a game company and being the only musician among a bunch of hardcore and very successful game makers.
You also do stuff for TV and movies. Tell us more about Metal Hurlant Chronicles, if you can.
Metal Hurlant is the magazine founded by the late Moebius and Philippe Druillet - also called Heavy Metal magazine outside of France.
Moebius has been my favorite comic book artist since I discovered his amazing comic books. Especially “The Incal” had a huge influence on me growing up – it’s still my favorite comic book series. Moebius has influenced many Hollywood directors and he was also directly involved with some of my favorite movies such as Alien, Tron and The Fifth Element. Ridley Scott based the Blade Runner world on one of his comics. To be part of bringing Metal Hurlant / Heavy Metal to life is a huge honor and a dream come true.
There have been two Hollywood movies made based on the comic books, Ivan Reitman’s 1981 Heavy Metal and Heavy Metal 2000, both of which are animated. This new series however is live action and features a great cast.
We noticed you aren't listed for Assassins Creed III's or Borderlands II's soundtrack. Was there just not enough time or...?
I have a big title to announce this summer – but at the moment I can only talk about Darksiders II.
Finally, is there a particular theme that really sums up the experience in the Darksiders II soundtrack? Something we absolutely "should not miss", so to speak?
Darksiders II consists of six very different realms, so there is music from each area in different music styles. Some of the music for the Angel Realm is really out there and I also particularly like the Demon Realm End Boss music and the music theme called “The Corruption” which mixes corruption themes into The Makers music style. None of these tracks have been released yet.