Exclusive: Jason Graves and Scoring Dead Space
Jason Graves is a British Academy Award-winning composer who has brought his passion for music to a TON of vg titles such as Area 51, Star Trek, Command and Conquer, and of course ... the reason for the season: Dead Space and Dead Space 2. Graves' scores are filled with unique, cinematic textures combined with modern aesthetics, and he is renowned worldwide for his cinematic, immersive and award-winning music.
Graves was solely responsible for creating the score for Dead Space, EA's best-selling original title, which has been deservedly dubbed "the scariest game ever made." Not only has Graves' work on Dead Space been hailed as a "truly original soundtrack" and "the best score of the year", but it has been widely praised by critics and fans alike - garnering MULTIPLE award nominations including two BAFTA award wins - Original Score and Use of Audio. For the latter, the Academy stated, "It's the music soundtrack that boasts horror and tension."
Ready to get to know Jason Graves before the Necromorphs eat your soul?
Crix Lee: Jason, I am totally honored that you're taking the time out to do this for us! LOVE LOVE LOVE Dead Space and the music in Dead Space 2 demo is what I like to call Amazeballs. Thank you SO much for doing this.
Jason: Wow, thanks. My pleasure!
Crix Lee: What is your professional/educational background? How did you become involved in game scoring?
Jason: I’m actually a classically-trained percussionist that ended up majoring in Music Composition. I’ve played drums and piano since I was in middle school and always loved music. It wasn’t until I decided to enroll in the University of Southern California’s Film Scoring program that I decided to try and make it a profession.
It was my experience in the film and television world in Los Angeles that actually got me into games in the first place. In 2002, I was referred to someone who needed music for the film-based game “King Arthur.” I scored the game’s trailer for free with an existing piece of music I had written for a music trailer library. I guess they liked it because they contacted me a few weeks later about scoring the whole game.
Crix Lee: Who tapped you for Dead Space?
Jason: That would be the audio director of the original Dead Space, Don Veca. I submitted four pieces of music based on his music requirements. Words like ‘creepy,’ ‘horror,’ ‘psychological fear’ and ‘extreme tension’ were used a lot. A few days after the submission, Don called and was going on about how perfect my music was and how it was exactly what he was looking for. The rest, as they say, is history!
Crix Lee: You've scored over ninety different titles (including one of my FAVES, Area 51). How hard do you work to make sure each game has its own unique sound, yet have your mark on it?
Jason: That’s my personal goal for every game I work on! And it’s also the most challenging. Most of the time I know I’m being my own worst critic. I’m the one listening to the music, day in and day out, and I need to keep it fresh and fun just for my own musical edification. Each title has different sets of musical rules and limitations, which can actually be very liberating when it comes to the score. It allows me to focus on trying to deliver a unique score for each title.
Crix Lee: How much primary research (i.e., game footage) do you receive in order to come up with the game's score?
Jason: My first step in researching a new game is to go and visit the developer. Those few days are where I really get a chance to soak it all in and get a really good feel for the project. Once I’m back home, the developer will send as much as they can to keep me up-to-date. Most of the time I get a little bit of everything. Scripts, artwork, backstories and walkthroughs (videos of gameplay) when different parts of the game are ready. The walkthroughs are always really helpful for me, because they usually have no music under them, which is my preference.
Whenever I’m working on a new track I can always pull up the movie and see how the music is playing underneath the game. It also helps me a lot with instrument choices; most of the time there are sound effects and dialog going on at the same time. I always carve some space out of the music to let all the other sound effects cut through.