You’d have a hard time finding two games with as little in common as Skylanders SWAP Force and Beyond: Two Souls. Unless you pay attention to their music, since both feature the musical stylings of composer Lorne Balfe, who’s previously worked on 2009’s Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, 2011’s Crysis 2, and, last year, both Assassin’s Creed III and Skylanders: Giants. And yet, when it comes to Skylanders SWAP Force and Beyond: Two Souls, Balfe also thinks they have little in common, which is how he likes it.
photo credit: Peter Oso Snell
I assume I don’t have to ask how you got the Skylanders SWAP Force gig because this is the third Skylanders game you’ve scored. Or do I? Did you have to convince them to let you do it again?
Of course I did. Nothing is set in stone in life. A franchise changes these days very regularly, and sometimes they want the music to have a different voice, as seen in the Assassin’s Creed series [though he worked on 2011’s Assassin’s Creed: Revelations and 2012’s Assassin’s Creed III, Balfe is not involved in this year’s Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag]. I was very privileged to have been brought into the Skylanders family, but games and films evolve, and thus want a different musical voice.
Does doing this third game make things easier on you because you can repeat themes and whatnot, or does it make it harder because you can’t repeat themes and whatnot?
It is just as difficult as if you were starting on the very first game. There are new characters and new story lines, so the challenges are still there.
In 2011, when you started working on the first game, Skylanders: Spyro’s Adventure, did you sit down and watch a bunch of cartoons to get yourself in the right headspace?
No. I never thought of it as a cartoon. This was the Skylanders world. It is unique. There is nothing else like it. There was no need to watch cartoons because I didn’t want to write children’s music. The Skylanders world had to be original and quirky.
In fact, it wasn’t until recently that I listened to Stewart Copeland’s original score for [1998’s] Spyro The Dragon. Genius. Stewart was one of the reasons I wanted to write for films. His score for [1987’s] Wall Street was iconic, and I still listen to it to this day.
Is it safe to assume that you did not get the job scoring Beyond: Two Souls because of your work on the Skylanders games?
No. I got involved with Beyond because of my work in the world of film [Balfe has worked on such movies as 2008’s The Dark Knight and 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises, as well the two Sherlock Holmes flicks]. Obviously, I am known in the game world for Assassin’s Creed and Call Of Duty, but [Beyond: Two Souls developers Quantic Dream] wanted someone that could work in the film structure.
I would think, though I could be wrong, that doing those games so close together would be nice because they’re such polar opposites in terms of tone.
I need change. I think, as a composer, to constantly write in the same genre becomes repetitive. I love being able to write in different genres and styles. Change keeps it all alive and challenging.
Do you also use different instruments, or a different sound palette, when working on such different games?
In addition to writing an original theme, I try to always create a unique sound for every project. The colors, characters, story, and beat of every game is different from one another. The project is unique, and so should the music. The instrumentation in Skylanders wouldn’t work in Beyond.
What about the fact that Skylanders SWAP Force is primarily aimed and kids while Beyond: Two Souls is more for adults. Does this change anything?
No. This comes back to the question of watching cartoons. To write childish music for Skylanders SWAP Force would’ve been patronizing. I have always tried to write ageless music for the Skylanders world. There is a major contrast of musical types in Skylanders, whether it is operatic or a drum and bass. Anything goes.
Beyond: Two Souls, from a gameplay perspective, is almost more like an interactive movie than a game. Did this change your approach to doing its score?
It made it a massive challenge. The complexity of different plot outcomes from the player’s decisions meant that the music had to provide options reflective of their decisions, thus the need for so much music.
The Beyond guys are located in Paris. Did you get to go there while working on the game?
I went to Paris and they came to L.A. It is always important in the gaming world to see the team. They life and breathe the creation of the game for twenty-four hours a day. Creating the score for a game is a small percentage of the whole project. Hundreds of people create the end product.
Did the fact that the those guys live so far away from you cause any problems?
No. Both of us can fly. And also, due to the Internet video, conferencing is now very common. As a composer, being left to ones own devices can sometimes be dangerous. It is great to get constant feedback from the director and the audio team. I know that I definitely need it.
How about the fact that they spoke French?
I don’t think it made a difference. We may speak a different language but we all think the same.
Finally, does scoring a game make you want to play that game more, less, or does it not impact you that way?
It is just like a film. You live and breathe this world for months, if not years. You spend your time and pour your heart into it. And being able to see the end result is always satisfying.
And now, for your listening pleasure, we present “Jodie’s Suite” from Balfe’s Beyond: Two Souls score.
Lorne Balfe’s soundtrack for Skylanders SWAP Force is currently available from Amazon or iTunes.
You can read my review of Skylanders SWAP Force here.
Beyond: Two Souls is currently available for the PlayStation 3.
You can read my review of Beyond: Two Souls here.