INTERVIEW / Crossing Souls – Music Composer Chris Köbke

 

In February 2018, Fourattic‘s debut title Crossing Souls was released for PC, PlayStation Vita, and PlayStation 4. The 80s-referencing and visually nostalgic game, published by Devolver Digital, received a majority of positive reviews. Crossing Souls follows five young best friends on their two-dimensional adventure after a mysterious storm takes place in their Californian hometown, Tajunga. The game stood out for its smooth fusion of all things retro and Egyptian mythology.

 

Chris Köbke (left) and Sebastian Becker are the co-founders of Trite Games, a two person indie game development studio from Berlin, Germany.

 

A particular element within Crossing Souls, however, proceeds to receive praise up until today: the original soundtrack. While playing the game, we’ve listened to orchestral pieces reminiscent of film soundtracks from the 80s. We were genuinely surprised and impressed by the fact that a debut title from an indie developer managed to tell its story musically with that fine of a quality. As a result, we couldn’t help but reach out to the man behind the epic orchestration: German composer Chris Köbke.

 

 

TVGB: For Crossing Souls , what mesmerized us is how the score sounds so orchestral. How did you achieve that “epic” feeling?

Chris: Thank you, I really appreciate it! I tried to incorporate a lot of 80s style orchestration techniques. [That included] woodwind and string runs, and the heavy use of cartoonish percussion such as the xylophone, marimba, and triangle. The more epic moments [were built] on the full brass section, which is mixed very brightly on the soundtrack [and is] sometimes even distorted, as well as the Lydian scale, the brightest of all scales. The soundtrack also tries to [convey] the full color palette of the orchestra, including the solo tuba, the English horn, flutes, clarinets, and the harp.

 

Recently, video game soundtracks – like movie soundtracks before them – are being appreciated as separate entities, an entertainment experience in their own right. How do you feel the score for Crossing Souls stands on its own?

I love the fact that video game soundtracks get much more appreciation outside of their games, and that people are listening to them as separate albums on their own. For me, the best way of experiencing a game soundtrack is listening to it in the context of the game. Not only does a game soundtrack enhance gameplay, but it goes the other way around as well. As the color schemes, mood, and [game animation] were the biggest inspiration for the soundtrack, they also support it visually and therefore enhance it emotionally. It’s always difficult to judge my own creations, but I do hope it can still stand on its own feet and tell a story [outside] the context of the game.

 

 

Do you have a specific creative process that you follow in order to come up with musical pieces for video games? Does it differ when you’re creating music for film?

In my opinion, writing music for games differs a lot from writing music for films, because you can’t accurately predict when the player is approaching a certain key moment. A key moment in film scoring can be [triggered accurately at a specific frame]. Whereas game music requires much more thinking in terms of dynamic layers that can be activated and deactivated [depending] on specific player action.

In this case, [the approach of creating] the soundtrack was purposefully like a movie score would’ve been composed. Of course, it relied much less on Mickey Mousing, a technique common in 80s movies where the music would reflect movements on screen, such as an up and down arpeggio supporting the character jumping over a hill. [This is because], as I said, player motion can’t be accurately predicted, but the whole idea for my process on this soundtrack was to imagine a dialogue going off on top of the music.

 

 

How much did you know about the game’s content or story when you were approached for this project? Was it enough inspiration for your pieces? Or did you have to research the Eighties’ music as well?

I was very lucky that the lovely developers at Fourattic had planned out the full story and scene structure before approaching me. [Therefore], all of the content and story was available to me when I joined them. They also provided me with a detailed track list, so the overall development of themes and dramatic arc in the soundtrack could be done before writing specific location tracks.

Although I was born in the mid 90s, I weirdly watched way more films from the 80s than from the 90s in my childhood, and [I] pretty much grew up with the aesthetic of 80s movie soundtracks. I still did a lot of research analyzing composers like John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Danny Elfman, and Joe Hisaishi (Studio Ghibli). [That was in order] to find commonly used chord progressions, phrases, melody shapes and orchestration techniques I could ground the soundtrack on. There also are some obvious references in there as well, like referencing Darth Vader in “Oh Rus’ Theme” or E.T. in “Bikes!”, to pay homage to the great soundtracks I was inspired by.

 

If you could have one album from the 1980s be your life’s soundtrack, which one would it be?

Definitely the soundtrack album to E.T. I could live inside that soundtrack forever!

 

Aside from Crossing Souls , of course, which game are you most excited to play this year?

I’m really looking forward to play Ni No Kuni 2, as I was a huge fan of the first one. The combination of Studio Ghibli’s aesthetic, Joe Hisaishi’s soundtrack, and JRPG gameplay is a perfect marriage for me.

 

Crossing-Souls_Duat

 

It was an absolute pleasure getting a sneak peek at the making of Crossing Souls, as well as an intro to Music Composition 101 from Chris. After you’ve listened to the main theme embedded at the beginning of the interview, make sure to check out more of Chris Köbke’s work here. You can follow him on Twitter to keep an eye out for his future projects. Crossing Souls is available for $14.99 on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Microsoft Windows, Linux, and MacOS.

 

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