Exclusive Interview: Bloodborne Composer Cris Velasco

For their new action game for Bloodborne (PlayStation 4), the good people at FromGames didn’t just ask three of their in-house music people to score the game, they also hired three outside people as well, including Cris Velasco, who’s done music for such games as Enemy Front, ZombiU, and Clive Barker’s Jericho, and is also doing for a series of motion comics based on Barker’s Books Of Blood stories. Though in talking to Velasco about his work on both Bloodborne and Books Of Blood, it’s clear the FromGames may not have needed those other five guys.

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How did you get the gig, doing some music for Bloodborne?

I pitched for this project about two years ago. There was only a bit of concept art available to see, but I instantly fell in love with how everything looked. Dirty, scary, and with a slight Lovecraftian feel to it. I heard that they decided to mostly keep the work in-house though. I was very excited to then get a call much later asking if I’d like to write music for some of the bosses.

When they first approached you about doing the music for Bloodborne, were they clear about exactly what they wanted you to do, or were they vague?

They were extremely clear on what they wanted the music to sound like. After seeing some gameplay they sent, I completely agreed with the style of music. I think it fits the setting perfectly.

You are one of six composers who worked on this game: besides yourself, the game also features music by Yuka Kitamura (Dark Souls II), Tsukasa Saitoh, Nobuyoshi Suzuki — all three of whom work at FromSoftware — Ryan Amon (Elysium), and Michael Wandmacher (Twisted Metal). How familiar were you with the other guys’ work?

Before I got started I did some iTunes research on everyone. I thought it was important to know a bit about everyone’s style before I got started.

Did you know they were working on the game as well when you started, or did you find out later?

Yes, I knew about all the other guys working on the game. They had mostly finished their work before I got started.

So did they play you any of the music those guys had made before you started?

I was given a couple of cues to hear before I got started. Not only to demonstrate the style they were going after, but the form the music needed to take. The cues were constructed in a very specific way: Intro + loop A (for when the fight first starts) + loop B (kicks in after the monster “changes” in some way) + outro. These were all written as self-contained units that then also worked as a whole piece.

Did the fact that you were just doing music for some boss battles, as opposed to a whole game, make this easier for you, or was it harder because you’re used to composing a whole theme for a game?

As far as I know, almost all the music in Bloodborne is for boss battles. At first, I thought it’d be a mistake to not have at least a bit of ambient music for the different locations, but I’m glad they chose to do it this way. You can really get immersed in the sounds of the world. When the music does kick in, it really adds an extra layer of tension. I think it’s very effective.

How familiar were you with…I guess we’ll call them the spiritual cousins to Bloodborne, the Demon Souls, Dark Souls, and Dark Souls II games? And does your familiarity with a series or type of game matter to you when deciding if you’ll take a job?

I tried Dark Souls when it first came out, but it was way too hard for me. I was busy at the time so I couldn’t really devote much time to getting better. I never tried the other games because I anticipated a similar experience.

None of that really had any bearing on wanting to work on Bloodborne, though. I absolutely love the aesthetics of this game and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.

Bloodborne has a rather interesting setting. How did that influence what you did?

Everything about this game is scary. It’s all so beautifully rendered though. The music needed to reflect both of these things. A normal horror score wouldn’t work for this setting. It needed to incorporate some big, strong driven melodies. Adding in a chromatic note here and there in the melodies is pretty effective in creating something beautiful that also has a nod towards some looming horror.

I would assume that you were also influenced by the fact that the game’s steep difficulty means people will be hearing the same music over and over and over, right?

I wasn’t sure if this game was going to have the level of difficulty that its predecessors did. The boss tracks were all long enough, three to four minutes, that I think they overcome that ear fatigue syndrome that looped music can cause. The music has a natural ebb and flow to it as well, which really helps to break things up.

The music you did for Bloodborne is now available on a digital soundtrack album [there’s also a CD version, but with none of Velasco’s music]. Did you edit or change or do anything to your contribution for this release?

I’m not sure if anything was done to edit the tracks for the soundtrack. In the case of my cues, they are presented exactly as I wrote them. Like I mentioned earlier, the music was all written with an intro and ending built in. That formula worked great in game, and also turned out to make a great listening experience for the soundtrack.

So having done this, would you ever take a similar job again, one where you’re just writing a handful of music cues, as opposed to a whole score?

I typically like to be more involved in a score. But I’ve had plenty of scores where there were a handful of composers. Mass Effect 3 and God Of War III are perfect examples of this. However, games like Bloodborne are such a treat to work on that I’d absolutely do it again.

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Now, along with Bloodborne, you’ve also recently done the music for Clive Barker’s Books Of Blood, which — unless I’m mistaken — is an interactive comic book version of Barker’s short stories. Is this correct?

Yes, they’re called motion comics. It’s a digital only format where the images move and the story is slowly unfolded as you progress.

Did you get this gig because you had worked with Barker before on his Jericho game?

I’m sure that didn’t hurt. I had recently taken a meeting at Clive’s house and expressed my interest in working with him again. It just happened that this project was in the works and he thought I’d be a good fit. It’s especially exciting for me because it’s a long-term project. I’ll get to work with Clive over the course of many years on this. I’m also feeling fortunate about this project because I’ve really got to meet Clive’s team. Guys like Mark Miller, the VP of Seraphim Films; Ben Meares, the creative director on this Books Of Blood series; and Sam Shearon, our amazing artist. They’re all so talented and passionate. It’s a wonderful group of people to work with.

Had you read his Books Of Blood stories before?

Many times. I probably first read them when I was around fifteen. I go back and revisit the series every few years.

So when you started working on the music for this, did you go back and read the original stories, or did you instead read these new comic versions?

Before I start on each new episode I go back and read the full story. I do this before I ever see the art for the motion comic. I like to get a sense of what the music might be as I’m reading. It allows me to only be influenced by Clive’s story. I then tailor that to how I’m experiencing the comic. To make things interesting, we’re going to try to incorporate a different style of music for each one. I’ll keep the same Main Theme consistent across all the stories though, only presented each time in the style of music from that issue.

As with Bloodborne, people will read Barker’s stories at different rates; some will tear through them at a good clip, others will linger on the pages for a while. How did this impact what you wrote?

It’s a bit tricky, actually. These comics lie somewhere between movies and games. As you said, the reader will experience these at their own pace. The music will generally loop until a new page is triggered. It’s impossible for me to sync the music up exactly to the movement of the comic, but with some experimentation, I can do a pretty good job of creating a cinematic experience. I’ve had two issues to experiment on so far and I think I’m getting a handle on how to gracefully handle the music.

Were you doing the Bloodborne and Books Of Blood music at the same time?

I was working on the “Midnight Meat Train” issue of Books Of Blood around the same time. That score is so different from Bloodborne — it’s a mostly synth, John Carpenter style score —that there was no way either one would get confused. Some people don’t like to work on more than one project at a time, but I actually quite enjoy it. Especially if the two scores are so contrasting. For me, it helps keep my creativity sharp.

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Finally, if someone liked the music you did for Bloodborne or Books Of Blood and wanted to check out your other work, which of your soundtrack albums would you suggest they check out and why?

Those are both pretty dark scores. If that’s what you’re in the mood for I’d probably suggest Assassin’s Creed: Dead Kings, ZombiU, and Clive Barker’s Jericho. They all have that “dark” thread running through them, but are all very different scores.

 

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