Interview: Jesper Kyd on VERMINTIDE II Soundtrack
From the clarion call of the Warband’s horn to the thirteen echoing tolls of the Skaven bells, Vermintide 2 is a game that immediately assaults your senses with a symphony of awesome. As hectic and harrowing as the onslaught can become, you’re never completely lost as long as your ears are turned on. More than most any other game, Vermintide 2 is a game that sounds awesome with a purpose. Those crescendoing war drums aren’t just there to make your heart beat, they serve as warning of an impending Chaos horde. Its a game where form and function are married as one. Each chittering special Skaven has its own unique audio queue. The tide of the battle can be judged by the eb and flow of the score. It makes the audio far more than pleasant background noise. It sticks with you, conjuring emotion specific to the memories of your battles. Hell, I still hear the Rat Ogre horn from the first Vermintide in my nightmares.
I recently had the opportunity to ask the soundtrack creator, Jesper Kyd, some questions about his creative process.
Dread Central: Hey Jesper, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. Let’s start broad. You’ve been working n video game soundtracks for a seriously long time (your history of work is actually the same age as me). What draws you to video game work? Do you consider yourself a gamer? How does your perspective as a gamer/not a gamer give you a unique take on the music you create?
Jesper Kyd: I am very much a gamer and was introduced to video games and music making at the same time. So these 2 interests were a huge part of my childhood, and when I got my first computer at age 13 (C64) I really fell in love with the amazing soundtracks that accompanied these games. The main attraction about the C64 was that it had an internal analog sound chip; someone had actually designed an analog synth inside the C64. This meant that in addition to melody and arrangement, you could also experiment in mood and atmosphere. I think it helps me as a composer to know a lot about video games. It allows me to come up with a lot of suggestions and ideas in addition to the expectations the audio team has for the score.
DC: Looking at your credited works, I think I’ve played just about every game on the list except for Soldiers Inc. and MU Legend. You’ve created music for some wildly different games. Tell me, is there a genre you prefer to work on? What style of game do you think you’re best able to capture with your craft?
JK: I like to try new things and experiment with different platforms. The Sony VR game Robinson The Journey was a learning experience regarding writing for VR and now I feel I have a good handle on what composing for VR entails.
I also love working on music styles I haven’t written before. For example, the new Norsca Chaos tribe in Vermintide 2 allowed me to create a Viking-inspired soundtrack which I greatly enjoyed composing and tapping into my Scandinavian roots for this campaign.
DC: Listening to some of your previous works, your style has varied as much as the games you create for. What are some pivotal moments in your career that stand out as particularly challenging and important in your evolution as a musician?
JK: Well…that’s a good question. The orchestra score for Hitman 2 was my first entry into the world of symphonic music. That left a mark and I realized the live orchestra was something I had a lot of interest in pursuing more to incorporate into my music. It was also the first score where I could really apply interest in working with music styles from around the world, from Middle Eastern to Russian, from Japanese to Indian. There’s a lot of variation in that score.
With Freedom Fighters, Robotech Invasion and Hitman Blood Money I put a lot of focus on writing for live choir and so that became another milestone for me. For the Assassin’s Creed series I enjoyed writing historically inspired music and also got to tap into what Renaissance music could sound like with a modern perspective, and I continued my explorations in different world music such as Greek music for Assassin’s Creed: Revelations.
DC: Before we talk about Vermintide 2, I want to ask something about Vermintide 1. One of the most important aspects of Vermintide were the audio cues. Not only did they set the tone and enhance the atmosphere, but they gave you valuable gameplay information about what threats you were about to face. One of the great examples of this is when the horn blows before a swarm comes, or the voice lines of the various special rats. How do you approach creating a soundtrack that will enhance the atmosphere, but not clash with these very important audio cues?
JK: This is different for each project I work on. For Vermintide 1 it became very important that we have music that sets the tone when reaching different areas of each level. So I play the game a lot to find out what are the most impactful places to have music. The gamer traverses to these moments in the game so we look for the best place to trigger music without having it get in the way of the experience.
DC: In Vermintide 1, you had the challenge of creating music for a race of creatures with essentially no basis to what their music would sound like. With Vermintide 2, the Warriors of Chaos (or Norsca) have a very distinct similarity to an existing historical culture. How did you pull from that cultural background to create the feel and sound of Vermintide 2?
JK: Well, the Skaven still play a big part of the sound palette but new additions such as the Norsca warriors add a whole new sound to the proceedings. The Viking heritage of these warriors means we draw on instruments such as war drums, vocal throat singing in Scandinavian languages as well as all kinds of horn instruments. For the Skaven, this time around there is more focus on the dark magic of these creatures so that is something I have been adding to the score as well.
DC: Are you a fan of the Warhammer Fantasy world? What kind of research do you put into the lore/background while making your music? Do you draw inspiration from any of the currently existing Warhammer video game properties (such as Total War: Warhammer)?
JK: I have not paid any attention to other Warhammer video games or scores. It’s important that the music I write is original and unique to the Vermintide world and so all inspiration comes from the game and the Warhammer Skaven lore.
I am a huge fan of the Warhammer creatures and lore and have some of the sets, vehicles and creatures. Games Workshop’s inventions are super creative: Skaven vehicles such as the Plague Furnace or the Doomwheel with the tiny rats running inside to turn the big wheel around. In a world where most horror and sci-fi designs look similar, these designs are totally unique, and it became clear to me when starting work on Vermintide 1 why Warhammer remains so popular.
DC: Are there any tracks you are particularly excited for fans of the series to hear?
JK: The soundtrack functions as a whole and so each element makes up the score. I am excited for people to hear the music as part of a Warhammer experience brought to life.
DC: The Warhammer Fantasy world is full of distinct and interesting teams/cultures/races. Is there any particular faction you’re hoping to be able to bring to life with your soundtracks in the future?
JK: I enjoy all the different factions and races, from Mechanicus to the Kharadron Overlords, I love the creativity Games Workshop are putting into these models and figurines. The new Kharadron airships are amazing, it would certainly be to score this aeronautical race.
DC: A more goofy question, if Vermintide 3 were from the perspective of the Skaven, how would you change the music up to make the soldiers of the Empire the menacing threat?
JK: Well, Vermintide 1 and 2 are from the perspective of the Skaven and Norsca tribe, even though you don’t play as a Skaven. So if you are playing as Skaven, and are dropped into the world of the Empire, the first challenge I foresee is that music for the Empire might not be dark and scary enough to work. If we continue the musical blueprint of hyper realism that we are currently pursuing for the Vermintide games, I should only be able to use instruments played by humans in the middle ages kind of time line. So in general, perhaps bring a dark, evil Celtic vibe mixed with a militaristic marching sound. Could be an interesting direction.
DC: As broad and long an answer as you want, what franchise or title do you hope to work on in the future? Any horror titles you wish you could get your hands on?
JK: Honestly, I really don’t think about that. Once I am signed up for a project I pour everything I have into that project and try to come up with something unique that fits the project on a deep level. I prefer to write something that blends different music styles together. Usually I don’t realize how much I enjoy a certain music style until I am set loose in that style. That pretty much goes for all my soundtrack work.
If you want to get your hands on the soundtrack, head on over to Amazon or click the link here! If you’re interested in Jesper’s other works or video game soundtracks, check out Sumthing Else Music Works and its complete catalog at www.sumthing.com, or check them out at Facebook.com/SumthingElseMusic