It was about eight years ago that I really started digging into the world of Ori. The journey commenced with Blind Forest in 2015 and then this year in March, the Will of the Wisps. Who knows if and when another story in the Ori universe will come? And with that question it has allowed me to look back on Ori and ponder the entire experience, culminating in Will of the Wisps. Thank you for indulging me Gamemusic.net readers!
Ori and the Blind Forest to me, has a naïve charm which can be extremely inviting and welcoming.
The composer who wrote Ori music for Will of the Wisps is very different from the person who wrote the music for Blind Forest. I listen to the music from the first game and there’s so many decisions I made then that I likely would not make now. One of the things I feel strongly is that the game itself evolved from Blind Forest to Will of the Wisps, but also the studio and the people making the game – including myself!
As a result, the sequel feels very different. When you combine this with the fact that the story has a darker tone, and that the gameplay is more combat-focused, it’s pretty clear that we didn’t just try to make Ori 1.5. Ori and the Blind Forest to me, has a naïve charm which can be extremely inviting and welcoming. Will of the Wisps is heavier from the beginning, which reflects where Ori is in his life. Ori is not a new life in this game and the music overall was designed to reflect Ori having a greater sense of purpose, as opposed to the lighter and more reckless Ori from the first game.
One of the main challenges when commencing Will of the Wisps was finding a way to take what people liked about the first soundtrack, but also advance it in a way that didn’t feel like the same game. This was handled in a few different ways. Re-use of key themes, but interspersed with new additional secondary themes.
It was always going to be the case that we brought back music from the first game. However, I’d say that Ori’s main theme was used far more sparingly than in Blind Forest. One of the major benefits of Will of the Wisps was the additional characters brought into the game, Mora, Shriek, Kwolok and of course Ku. We spend some time with each character, much more than in the first game, and it allowed for the building of complimentary themes. This is best shown in the track “Ash and Bone” where Ori’s theme is mixed with Ku’s theme, and Shriek’s theme. The reason for this is based purely on gameplay, as Shriek is stalking Ori and Ku through the Silent Woodlands.
It’s well known at this point that Ori and the Blind Forest did not use any audio middleware such as Wwise or Fmod. It worked out for the first game but we wanted to expand on the implementation in the second game. But before implementation, one of the key things that I think can get overlooked in a soundtrack is the *placement* of where the music changes and when each cue happens. It’s not enough to have a good music system that reacts to what the player is doing, the timing and logic behind when the music changes is incredibly important as it affects the overall flow of the game.
Most environments have several music loops that play in them over the course of the game.
Every single piece of music in the game is based on a predetermined choice by me. This is the same as in Blind Forest, however, due to our use of Wwise, we were able to change the music within each environment more frequently, matched closely to whenever Ori did something significant in the environment. Most environments have several music loops that play in them over the course of the game. For example, the Ancient Wellspring has exterior music (“The Ancient Wellspring”), interior music (“Trouble Within”), puzzle room music (“Turn, Turn, Turn Again”), completion of puzzle room music (“Amelioration”) and it culminates in a chase sequence (“Escaping a Foul Presence”).
These different music cues play only when the player has completed certain actions within the environment. This is *not* a revolutionary approach at all, in fact it’s been around for decades. However, the timing and placement has been tested by myself over and over again, and gives me confidence that it will give the player a smooth experience with good flow when they play the game.
Flow is one of the most fundamental concepts in Ori, and it applies across the entire game, not just audio. But every department is taking it heavily into consideration. We test the game religiously. I believe it is a core part of my job, testing the game to get a feel for how the music flows. I don’t believe that in a narrative game you can purely rely on systems. The music needs to be hand-placed wherever possible for the best experience.
One of the core changes in Ori 2 was the size of the orchestra used. There is an intimacy to the first soundtrack that reflects Ori, a small fragile creature, finding his way. In Will of the Wisps, Ori has found his way and the overall story deals with Ori understanding that the world – and his role to play in it – is bigger than he is. I found that having a larger group gave the soundtrack a sense of gravitas which reflected what the story really needed.
It also gave us many benefits in the multi-phase boss fights. The music switches in the boss fights based on how much of the enemy HP has been taken. Having such a large group to work with gave a lot of compositional and orchestration flexibility but also really helped give the boss fights the weight and power they deserved. It’s rare to be able to get the chance to deliver long pieces of music that are dynamic and these were some of the most enjoyable tracks to write in the game. I guess my favorite would have to be “Shriek and Ori” as it was the last boss-fight of the game and I got to combine Shriek’s theme and present Ori’s theme in it’s most definitive form across the two games.
The thing that I spend the most time on is deciding what instruments are appropriate for each area. This is an incredibly time consuming task and requires not just a lot of experimentation, but a large amount of game testing time. On Will of the Wisps I was very fortunate to be able to work with sound design team Slate & Ash, who built me a custom musical instrument in Kontakt. Their sounds are across the entire soundtrack. Their skill is taking organic sounds and morphing them into something that blurs the line between electronic and acoustic, but also making sure those sounds are appropriate in the Ori universe. You can best hear their work in “In Wonderment of Winter” and “Willow’s End”.
The Philharmonia Orchestra were the glue that tied all of the disparate elements of the soundtrack together, and they were joined by the Pinewood Singers choir.
In addition to the sound design aspects of the score, we had tremendous contributions from all the real players involved. Kristin Naigus dazzled with her contribution on woodwind, playing 21 different instruments from around the world on the soundtrack. Aeralie Brighton returned from the first game to sing at the game’s key moments, and she is very much the alpha and omega of the game, in more ways than one. Kelsey Mira’s unique and highly precise tone gave ‘Luma Pools’ a magical quality befitting of that area. The Philharmonia Orchestra were the glue that tied all of the disparate elements of the soundtrack together, and they were joined by the Pinewood Singers choir. The addition of the choir was a particular highlight, as I’d never worked with live choir before. The choir is most prominent in all the key cutscenes and sequences during the game. It was tempting to use them all the time, but sometimes less is more.
The score could not have been recorded as efficiently as it was without my friends and partners in crime Alexander Rudd (conductor) and Zach Lemmon (supervising orchestrator), who have worked with me on every single one of my game scores. Orchestrators David Peacock and Eric Buchholz did a stellar job with the frankly ridiculous amount of orchestration work there was! Last, but not least, everyone at Air Lyndhurst Studios did a wonderful job removing me of any fear and nerves I might have had.
I have experienced many different kinds of projects now, from indie to AAA. The ‘light’ that revealed itself to me is that we should – no matter how much AI and computers and systems make our lives easier – never, ever lose sight of the human touch that is required to create an experience that reaches gamers beyond the surface experience. It can take longer, and be more frustrating, but it’s the personal, human quality that can give a game it’s moments.
When we play games, we all want a moment (or several) that we can take away with us forever. I hope that in the coming generation, greater focus will be put on enhancing the player’s experience with good musical flow, rather than just high amounts of high quality content. At the top level in games, there is an incredible amount of high quality music being produced. But… there is a difference between great music-in-games, and great-game-music. There is a subtle difference in how I word those two phrases.
I hope that in the coming generation, greater focus will be put on enhancing the player’s experience with good musical flow.
I believe that the differentiator in game soundtracks in the next generation will not so much be the quality of the music itself (though that is important too), but rather how well it plays back in the game, and the timing of when it plays back. I can’t wait to see what’s coming, because that last element is going to heavily emphasize the human element of game scoring, and allow us to enhance the experiences that we create hopefully for your enjoyment. Thank you for reading, and if you haven’t please check out Ori and the Blind Forest and Ori and the Will of the Wisps!