I Am Alive follows an everyman’s journey to find his wife and daughter, who were lost during the ‘Event.’ A year later, he finds Haventon, his hometown, in shambles. Buildings are destroyed, toxic ash fills the streets, and society has been torn, causing inhabitants to take all necessary actions to survive.
The I Am Alive original score combines sublime ambiance, emotional intensity and thematic compositions to immerse players in this post-apocalyptic survival experience.
How did you originally get into music and composing?
I had a passion for music at an early age, learning to play the piano and saxophone. I took an interest in music theory and composing shortly after, and obtained Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in composition at Brigham Young University. I later studied film scoring at UCLA. I have always loved video games and their soundtracks, and so composing for video games is a great fit for me.
Do you feel video games are a good new path for creative music?
Absolutely! Video games give you the opportunity to create an interactive score that changes based on game state and player actions. Film and television scoring is linear - always experienced by the audience the same each time. Whereas for game music, you are creating musical layers that blend and interact with each other.
Working with creative developers for a project like I Am Alive was a great experience as well. Scoring a game that pushes genre boundaries and is new in its concept and design allows for a lot of creativity and expression.
How did you come into composing for I Am Alive?
I was in contact with the audio director of Ubisoft Shanghai, Zhang Lei, towards the end of 2010. A couple of months later he asked me to prepare a composer demo for I Am Alive. The audio director, producer, and development team enjoyed my music demo, and based on this I was selected to compose for the game.
What was your favorite moment during creating the score, whether writing or the process of recording? Anything unusual or interesting during the production?
It’s hard to pick a favorite moment, but I’d have to say composing Mei’s Theme was very rewarding. Mei is the young girl the protagonist finds and protects throughout the game, eventually reuniting her with her lost mother. I Am Alive presents a bleak, harsh, and desolate post-apocalyptic environment, where brutality and depravity exist. The relationship between the protagonist and Mei was a reminder of the hope and connection that can exist in even dark circumstances like these. As such, Mei’s Theme is a gentle, poignant piece that represents the hope and connection that allow the Man to carry on in his difficult circumstances.
In addition, blurring the lines between music and sound design for the ambient sections of the score was very interesting. Audio director Zhang Lei had the idea that the music could contain sonic elements of the environment, so that the player would not only see, but also hear, the atmospheres and settings of the game. For one portion of the game, when the player is in an abandoned pier park, I used the sounds of creaking and bowed metal objects to give the impression of a crumbling park. These were blended with reverb-saturated ambiences and synthetic tones to create the sonic imagery of the level itself.
In a game that bases itself around the idea of isolation, how does the score aid in developing that sense. Do the scores allow for any silent moments to allow the player to dwell on truly being alone in this world Ubisoft have created or have you taken an alternate style?
Yes - while composing I was certainly mindful of wanting to create a sense of isolation and abandonment. The main theme of I Am Alive features a haunting solo piano melody, set against the backdrop of distant percussion and dark ambience. This use of a solo instrument represents the Man, alone, struggling against his environment.
The music for the exploration segments of the game is very subtle and ambient, so as to not distract the player from the environments and situations of the game. The few moments of theme and melody are used for emotional impact, such as the man’s relationship with the young girl Mei, and for their friend Henry, whose dwelling provides a safe haven. Overall, the score was composed as a backdrop for the dark, bleak world of isolation the Man finds himself in. We wanted the music to support these emotions and experiences as closely as possible.
As of late, games have had an ever increasing demand on musical pieces to accompany games, whilst it’s still relatively new within the last couple of years, is producing scores for video games harder than other mediums?
I would not say either medium is more difficult, as they each have their challenges. In video games, having a good sense of arrangement and orchestration is important, as you need to compose layers of music that interact with each other. For film and television, you must be able to score very specifically to the particular scene, following the emotion and interaction of the characters.
How does the production differ from that of Transformers Dark Side of The Moon to I Am Alive?
Transformers: Dark of the Moon was a video game accompanying the blockbuster film, so it was very action-oriented and epic in scope. The music was full orchestra, with occasional choir, large percussion, and some sound design elements. The intention of the score was to bring excitement and adrenaline to the player, as they engaged in the battle of Autobots versus Decepticons.
I Am Alive, on the other hand, centers on realism and survival in a believable, post-apocalyptic world. The music is subtle and ambient, and underscores the emotions of fear, struggle, and hope that are central to the game. I Am Alive used a blend of acoustic instruments (strings, piano, various percussion, and solo oboe), as well as the use of synthetic ambiences and tones. We wanted to create a unique score that would be well fitting to the environment and emotions of the game.
Which of your work was the most demanding to create?
That’s a difficult question, as each project has it’s own challenges! I’d say perhaps I Am Alive was the most difficult to date, as the developers wanted a unique score created that departs from the usual conventions. I spent a lot of care in creating the musical tones and colors that best represent the different environments of the game. Some of the music went through different versions in our process of experimenting with what would work best. At the same time, I really enjoyed the composing process for I Am Alive and the creative freedom I was given, so it was a great experience.
Do you know or work with other composers who have worked on video games?
I have several friends who are composers who work in the industry – the game audio industry is a closely-knit community with many fine composers and sound designers. As of yet I haven’t worked with other composers on projects, but I am currently working with a great orchestrator for an upcoming game project I’m composing the score to.
Have you played the game, if so, what’s your personal opinion regarding the game itself?
As I have a PS3, I’m still waiting for the game to come out on PSN to pick up a copy! You can be sure I’ll pick it up day one of the release to play through =) Nonetheless, I’ve watched a great deal of the gameplay footage, and think it’s a fantastic game. I really admire game developers who take a chance in creating a new game that pushes boundaries. If you think about it, this is how many great games were created, from interesting, unique ideas that were nurtured. I Am Alive presents a very realistic approach, which has believable circumstances and personal emotion woven into the story. This creates a gaming experience unlike the majority that’s out there.
Are there any games past or present which you would like to or have the opportunity to work on?
I really enjoy experimental scoring, so working on another unique or survival-horror type game would be great. I also compose a lot of action and epic music, in the Hollywood tradition (being a classically trained composer), so action games are a great fit for me. Beyond that, I love memorable themes and melodic scoring, so composing for an adventure game with these music needs would be very rewarding.
More from Jeff
"Creating the score for I Am Alive was an exciting undertaking. The unique nature of the game allowed for a very creative and experimental approach to scoring. After first hearing of Ubisoft’s concept and direction for this title, I knew it was a project that would allow for creative freedom and exploration."
"A sense of environmental desolation was essential in crafting the aural landscapes of I Am Alive. Because of this, the music often uses ethereal and sound-design inspired approaches, blending organic and synthetic elements to create the sonic imagery of devastation and abandonment within a crumbling city. The quest of our unnamed protagonist to survive and protect the young girl Mei allowed for the use of poignant emotional themes and motifs as well."
Thank You Jeff
I Am Alive is available now on Xbox Live Arcade.
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