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Required listening: SimCity, Tomb Raider, and BioShock Infinite composer Garry Schyman

Music is just as important as visuals in setting the mood for BioShock games. Consider the moment in which you first look at Rapture: The orchestra swell that plays as you gaze on this Randian utopia-gone-wrong is powerful. It isn’t soothing — it fills us with dread and wonder. We wouldn’t have seen Rapture as such a broken paradise without the score helping to guide our emotions.

Video game music is a powerful tool, but it doesn’t always have to burst from our speakers or overpower events. Required Listening takes a look at three soundtracks from March that specialize in sedate music that keeps us playing or quietly creates a living world in our imaginations. I also spoke with BioShock Infinite composer Garry Schyman about capturing a character’s personality.


BioShock Infinite
Composer: Garry Schyman

BioShock Infinite’s soundtrack is a decadent swirl of haunting melodies. Schyman’s work on focused on the incidental and orchestral part of the score. Using a small number of string instruments and bursts of percussion, Schyman creates a ragtime feel for the floating city Colombia while still startling us to attention whenever an enemy appears. Infinite’s soundtrack proves that restraint matters when you’re hoping to create a wispy-yet-adventurous sound.

The tinny piano melody used in “Welcome to Columbia” invokes images of rural Southern churches and ancient upright pianos. I love the unpolished and traditional feel of Schyman’s music. It works well with other musical oddities scattered through BioShock Infinite, but I am not going to mention those directly because I don’t want to spoil all the clever incidentals hidden in the game.

SimCity
Composer: Chris Tilton

Music in the Sims games always has a sparkly and industrious quality to it. It’s never overstated, and it’s melodic enough that we can listen to it for hours on end without going insane. Chris Tilton’s spin on a classic simulation game score is full of bright brass instruments and energetic strings. I like turning this on when I’m cleaning or writing because it motivates me to make progress, just like it should drive you to make your city the best in its region.

Tomb Raider
Composer: Jason Graves

You can tell when Jason Graves works on a game. His love of dissonance and primitive percussion gives Tomb Raider’s wild island a savage character, one sprinkled with classical Japanese undertones but consumed by fear and survival. The grating sound of a cello bow on chicken wire and the sparkling clink of glass bells somehow blend together into a dynamic soundtrack. You won’t be able to stop listening to Tomb Raider, no matter how unsettling the dissonance becomes.

Gears of War: Judgment
Composers: Steve Jablonsky, Jacob Shea, with the “Gears of War Reprise”  by Kevin Riepl

Gears of War: Judgment’s score walks a fine line between gritty orchestral tones and over-the-top synthetic noise. Combining the two creates a soundtrack fit for any blockbuster action film. Where games like BioShock Infinite focus on the emotional depth of its characters, Judgment urges you along on the battlefield. While the score does have a few quiet melodies, you won’t be able to savor them because Gears of War is too busy shooting them.

Click on page 2 for the interview with BioShock Infinite composer Garry Schyman

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