Immortals of Aveum is an upcoming action game that mixes a fantasy world and its magic with first-person shooting. We’ve played a chunk of it and enjoyed it – read our full hands-on preview thoughts here – but now, we’ve heard a track from the game’s score. And you can too because we can exclusively reveal that track today.
It’s big, robust, and heroic, fitting if the full game is anything like what we’ve gone hands-on with. After listening to this track, we interviewed the game’s audio director Aubrey Hodges, composer Jamie K, and media composer Tom Hawk about the game’s score, how the team created a soundtrack that blends hip-hop with orchestral arrangements, and so much more.
Q&A With The Composers Of Immortals Of Aveum
How would you describe the score and/or soundtrack of Immortals of Aveum?
Aubrey Hodges: The score for Immortals of Aveum is a hybrid of several genres that have been fused together to create a very wide palette of sonic texture and style. Flavors of hip-hop, orchestral, electronic, chill, ambient, industrial, and a few others all come together to form a cohesive experience and immerse the player into a world that feels unique and, at times quite unexpected. We wanted to provide a soundscape that allowed all sorts of interesting and captivating sounds to fuel the imagination and excite your ears.
Jamie K: My goal was to create a new musical and sonic experience that would feel fresh to listeners. I easily get bored with the same old, same old score techniques and sounds, so Immortals of Aveum is an eclectic mix of modern sounds and experimental textures combined with classical elements used in interesting ways. One organic soundscape you will hear throughout the game is a variety of woodwind textures, especially in ambient exploration pieces. I was drawn to the deep richness of an instrument called a bass ocarina which has warm low earthy tones. Those tones are foundational to guide the player to feel grounded in Aveum as they explore and enjoy the mystery of this new world.
Tom Hawk: The way the vision for the score was described to me by Aubrey was fantasy orchestral music meets aggressive modern electronic/industrial music. That was the core focus of the score, but it certainly has other interesting elements to it. The music is a big combination of different styles and genres and lots of different instruments.
Where did you find inspiration for the game’s music?
Hodges: Honestly, the game itself was the primary inspiration for the score. Aveum is a breathtaking world with incredible vistas and locations to explore. Each level has a unique feeling and spurs imagination and creativity just by being there. Once we determined what sort of flavor and style we wanted for an area, we just got creative and let loose in the studio. At times this would be in more of an ambient flavor, and at other times this might be more melodic and structured.
JK: I honestly would have never composed this style of music if Aveum hadn’t been created so beautifully by the artists. The world of Aveum drew out new things from me as a composer. When I saw pictures and scenes of the spacious detailed landscapes, I felt drawn to create spacious captivating compositions. I also found connection and inspiration in the epic women warriors of the game; these are no run-of-the-mill video game girls. Zendara and Grand Magnus Kirkan are dare-you-to-mess-with-us, epic, and intelligent, you’re-lucky-to-kill-bad-guys-beside-us kind of ladies. Those are my kind of comrades, and they needed some hard-hitting fire combat music to go to war with. Iron sharpens iron and I enjoyed the challenge of developing the music experience of this new IP.
How did you meld the more fantastical sound typically associated with fantasy and magic with the more modern and industrial sound typically associated with shooters, if at all?
Hodges: This was one of the reasons I made the decision to specifically go after a more hybrid approach to the score. By incorporating a blend of the “Hollywood orchestra” with other genres, it allowed us to blur the lines between game genres and potential expectations based on other products out there. We used all sorts of musical elements and sounds in several different genres of music. This allowed us to have the sonic impact of the bombastic orchestral music usually associated with combat and still allowed us to do some more unique flavors as well. We didn’t want to get boxed into a specific set of rules per se. So, we just had fun and allowed the styles and genres to blend and blur however they materialized in each case. It was liberating to be creative and not have to worry so much about fitting into a rigid set of rules.
JK: From the beginning, Bret gave me freedom to experiment with sound [and] he wasn’t afraid of trying new things – like putting shooters and magic together. One of my favorite things was that when I brought in new elements, I was often met with, “That’s interesting, I like that.” I think the fantasy element was able to break us free of genre constraints other established titles might face during their scoring process.
Hawk: When I came on board, the overall vision for the score was well established but still allowed for a lot of experimentation and exploration, which was a lot of fun. Sometimes it needed soaring orchestral music, and often the orchestra was accompanied by the power of thundering percussion and analog synthesizers; while other times, there was more of a focus on modern aggressive sounds, particularly for combat music. We worked hard to make this fusion of musical styles seamlessly blend together rather than feeling like they were forced together. For example, the main theme for the game – written by Aubrey – has a strong orchestral presence, but in a combat track, which focuses more on aggressive modern sounds, the main theme might be hinted at in edgy synthesizer sounds, rather than orchestral instruments like French Horns or choir. Even with some of the most aggressive combat tracks, there is always some level of orchestral presence there to help combine the shooter and magic styles.
Has any of your previous work inspired some of the music in Immortals of Aveum?
Hodges: My ambient score techniques for the Doom and Quake series probably lent some inspiration to a few places in Immortals. Not so much directly since those products were far darker and the setting in those was terribly grim, but in a more general sense.
JK: I have an interesting background of growing up studying classical piano. Composers like Beethoven and Chopin are so ingrained in my fingers, I find classical techniques always influence my composing style, in a good way. But from a young age, I always was drawn to other genres of music as well. When I was in high school, I remember hearing Alicia Key’s album “Songs in A Minor” for the first time and was inspired by how she used her classical piano background but combined it with her soulful voice and R&B song structure, creating such a fresh sound for her generation. So, my interest and writing in different genres brings fresh perspective to the game industry because I’m never going to compose the status quo game score.
Do you find composing specifically for video games to be any different than composing for a different medium? Is there more pressure knowing how much some players associate a game with its music?
Hodges: One of the biggest differentiators in composing for games is the amount of exposure to the tracks. Gameplay sessions are often quite long, and the music is heard repeatedly during that time. Movies and other media are linear, and in most cases, the tracks will be heard only once in the exact context of a scripted scene. This just isn’t the case with a game score. Players can stay in an area for as long as they wish. Some players are in a hurry, and some take their time. In addition, we must ensure that musical transitions occur smoothly to many potential situations [like] combat, death, cutscenes, etcetera. It’s not a case of feeling pressure due to how much fans might enjoy the work; the pressure is more related to trying to ensure the music feels right in the context of gameplay and works well alongside all the other potential tracks.
JK: There is a powerful connection when you are in control of a character and experience playing a moment verses just watching a movie of a scene. That is the connection that stays with players long after they finish a game. And that is the moment a powerful score can bring them back to. There are moments in Bear McCreary’s God of War score that floored me emotionally, and I have listened to it many times. I want whatever I do to resonate inside me as an artist first. My first piano teacher taught me something that always stuck with me: “Play with your heart and they will listen with theirs.” That’s an old saying, but a true saying. We as listeners put a song on repeat because it makes us feel something words can’t always express, and as a music artist, I have the privilege of being able to touch those feelings in the sonic world and bring them to you to experience with me.
What has the process for composing Immortals of Aveum’s music been like? With this game being developed during the Covid-19 pandemic, was the music process affected at all?
Hodges: It’s been a lot of work but quite rewarding and very creative. The world of Aveum is unique and the types of scores we created cover a lot of style and sonic textures. There was pressure, of course, mostly because the game is pretty big, and we wanted every piece to feel great. But in the end, it felt wonderful to compose something and experience that track, helping the world of Aveum come alive. I don’t think the Pandemic affected the development much at all. Composing is typically a pretty lonely task, usually done in studios late into the night [he laughs].
JK: I did start composing for this game pre-pandemic. Luckily, us composers often spend endless hours alone due to the nature of our art, so my ability to write music continued. As the game was in the first stages of development, I was able to go back and forth with the dev team to create the music vision. Many of the signature sounds of the game took shape during 2020. I worked remotely with Los Angeles-based woodwind specialist Ashley Jarmack, and Miistro Freeyo, a St. Louis-based beat producer. Their expertise in their genres and instruments brought organic and raw sounds to the score that I feature frequently throughout. I also was able to have Jesus Florido, a world-renowned violinist, perform some violin solo lines only a true master could skillfully execute. So, during the pandemic our workflow slowed down, but luckily music is an unstoppable force, and creators never truly stop creating.
Hawk: The process sometimes called for collaboration between composers, and other times we worked on our own. We worked in the box mostly with virtual instruments as well as with instruments in our home studios, and there were a couple of live soloists on certain tracks; Jamie collaborated with an incredible woodwind player on her music. Most of the time, I used virtual orchestral instruments and recorded my own instruments, such as acoustic guitar, Saz, frame drums, and analog synthesizers, as well as working with a percussionist on a specific track. I also used guitar pedals for creative effects and used various audio plugins to mangle my recordings and make them more aggressive in combat tracks.
Where do you even start with creating the score for a game? Is it different from other mediums, or even just creating music for yourself on your own?
Hodges: Some aspects of creating a score are universal: melody, harmony, and rhythm simply are what they are. But creating the score for an IP is a combination of much more than that. Recurring motifs, mood, sonic texture, genre, and structure all play their part in establishing how a product feels. Choices as to what plays when and where, and how you are immersed factor in as well. For example, the volume mix relationship of the score with the ambiance track has a huge impact in how a score affects your emotion. As I mentioned previously, the interactive nature of a game score versus other mediums plays a huge role in how you develop the soundtrack. For example, I specifically created ambient pieces for Immortals of Aveum that automatically arrange themselves in real-time so that I could avoid obvious repetition in certain areas of the game. Although it’s much more time-consuming to do it this way, the result is much better for the player, especially if they are the type of player who take their time as they play. But yes, creating a game score is a far different beast than composing stuff for yourself.
JK: I find creating music for games is often a simpler workflow than creating music in other genres or for myself. Something happens when I see the visual artists work that I feel in my soul, then that feeling, whether it be an expansive beautiful forest or terrifying anticipation of battle, starts to meet with sounds and melodies and eventually becomes what listeners hear as a finished product. I internalize what I am presented with visually, and it guides the music direction very clearly. When writing one of my songs as a singer-songwriter, it is usually led solely by emotional direction, so the collaboration with visual artists is a refreshing steady guide as a composer.
Hawk: When a composer works on a video game score, or music for film, TV, or documentaries, there will be differences in how certain aspects of music writing will be approached. However, they all have one thing in common: story. No matter what media project a composer writes for, it’s always about serving the story with the music. There will always be discussions about how the music should feel in certain sections of the story, and oftentimes the cinematics and scenes themselves will often give you a good idea of what the music should be doing. Then it’s a matter of working with the sound palette that’s required for the project and trying to create something that resonates with others, which can be tricky!
Only 13% of composers are women. I hope, like with other fields, that’s on the rise. Jamie, do you see that changing around you? How do you feel being one of the composers for this big AAA game as a woman in a male-dominated field?
JK: You are correct, and I have seen incredible movement in the industry, especially in the past year. One memorable moment that I celebrated at home watching live on TV was seeing [Stephanie Economou] get the first ever Grammy for the new category of Best Soundtrack for Video Games and Interactive Media [for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla]. My jaw dropped at the depth of what that meant for women composers. Ascendant Studios was always supportive of me as an artist, and it was always about the music with [studio founder Bret Robbins]. He gave me the opportunity to demo music for the first initial level of Immortals of Aveum early on, and his ear was drawn to the different vibes and style I was bringing him. Me being a woman was never a factor, as it should never be. It all came down to the music, and that is now becoming more and more common across the industry. I hope the generations following us will find inspiration and opportunity as a result of our journey.
And for you, Aubrey and Tom, what’s it been like working with Jamie?
Hodges: Jamie has a style that lends a fresh and unique flavor to the game. There was quite a bit of collaboration and blending of styles that had a very positive impact overall. As the game development continued, she branched out further into new and exciting directions for even wider sonic textures.
Hawk: It was awesome hearing Jamie’s combination of modern electronic music styles, solo woodwinds, and musical sound design. I really enjoyed her ambient exploration music; she’s created some very interesting textures and overall has a unique way of approaching that kind of music. It grounds the game in this very hybrid style and provides a change in sonic palette, contrasting nicely with the intensity of the combat music.
Are there any moments where the music is timed to gunshots in cutscenes or set pieces? Is that a thing composers really like doing, or just something popular with marketing in movie trailers?
Hodges: Well, the cutscenes are linear and scored precisely to the action. So, I suppose there are quite a few moments where the action drives the score directly. The biggest impact in those cases is making sure your tempo and bpm work to hit those markers. I don’t necessarily feel one way or another about that aspect of composing. It’s just a part of the job, although sometimes it can be tricky to get that right, depending on the timing of the cutscene.
JK: Well, yes [she laughs], interactive music is all about timing. The first one that comes to mind for Immortals of Aveum is the Howler battle; that timing had to be right on with pre-and-post-triggers after this epic unwanted ride on a creature who is trying to kill you. When playing games, I always notice when music is timed to battles and important moments, which is obviously always easier to achieve in cutscenes, but takes a team effort to achieve in interactive gameplay. The more well-timed, the more memorable the feeling of the moment for players.
Hawk: This happens a lot more in trailers, and when it’s done well, it’s really satisfying to experience. When it comes to writing music for movies, video games, TV, etcetera, you do get a bit of this happening but usually on a bigger, broader scale. For example, the music in a scene might gradually build up to a huge crescendo at the reveal of a grand location, or when a character finds a magical object. In that sort of scenario, the music will be constructed in a way so that it hits those major points where it’s necessary. But what doesn’t happen too often is making the music hit every single cut or every single little moment; instead, we usually aim for the key moments that are important to emphasize.
When players play Immortals of Aveum, what do you hope they feel and take away from the music?
Hodges: The goal of the score is to immerse the player into the world of Aveum. Hopefully, the players feel an emotional connection to the story and the characters. While it’s always nice when people like your music, it’s far better when they connect with the story.
JK: I hope they feel surprised by some interesting sounds they haven’t heard before. I hope they feel the beauty of Aveum as they explore the lands and the mystery of new enemies when they find themselves in the unknown. Above all, I hope the music helps immerse them into the fun of the adventure of being Jak and saving Aveum.
Hawk: Whether it’s during adrenaline-filled combat, solving puzzles, or experiencing the emotional weight of the story, I hope players have a great time playing the game and find the music enjoyable as they embark on this epic adventure.