VERY LIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD: This blog will discuss only plot points made clear from early reviews and trailers.
CHAPTER 1 – INTO MIDGARD
One rainy November afternoon, over three years ago, I walked into Sony PlayStation’s Santa Monica Studio to meet with acclaimed music producers Pete Scaturro and Keith Leary to discuss a new, secret project. Our conversation revolved around folk music, Northern European ethnic instruments, vocal writing, classical thematic development, bombastic percussion and, eventually, Greek and Norse mythology. “Wait a minute.” I said. “Is this… a new God of War?” Their hesitant facial expressions told me everything I needed to know. I realized I was about to tumble headfirst into a daunting and challenging dream project.
For the uninitiated, God of War is massively popular video game series for Sony PlayStation, PSP and mobile platforms that ran for seven games from 2005 to 2013. The games were famous (and somewhat infamous) for their visceral depictions of sex and violence, epitomized by the central revenge-seeking character, Kratos. The franchise had been dormant for years, leaving fans to speculate if we would ever again see a continuation of the character.
In my first meeting at Santa Monica Studio, I realized I was witnessing Kratos’ saga unfold in a surprising new direction, moving away from Greek to Norse mythology. I was brought on board so early that the game had not yet been officially greenlit. There existed only an early build of a prototype level and concept paintings. Yet, these assets showed me that Kratos had matured, that the story would explore deeper themes, and that there was a new central character by his side – his son, Atreus. I was intrigued, and excited to dive in.
I met game director Cory Barlog early in the process, and immediately recognized the famed franchise was in good hands. Cory is a natural storyteller. Hours flew by in our engrossing story sessions, where he shared with me his vision for the narrative. I almost felt like our meetings were held around a campfire!
The new Norse mythological setting provided a framework upon which Cory developed realistic characters, nuanced story arcs and complex relationships. It was a colossal narrative beast to wrap my brain around. As Cory walked me through his tale, I took detailed notes, frequently pausing to get a mini-lesson in a particular corner of Norse mythology. A fundamental understanding of the mythology and story was essential for me to start the score.
I first composed music for the prototype build of the game that existed. I spent several weeks researching and consuming Scandinavian folk music to prepare for this early round of sketching. I was struck by this music’s distinct instrumentation, uniquely melancholy melodies, and frequent mode mixtures. I familiarized myself with these musical building blocks so I could apply them to my writing for God of War.
My first step was to see how far into the realm of Nordic folk music I could push the score. It turns out… I could push it pretty far. I set out to completely deconstruct the musical world of God of War.
I stripped the ensemble down to a handful of players: a string quartet, a few percussionists, a woodwind player, and an ethnic ensemble of specialty instruments drawn from Nordic folk music, including nyckelharpa, Hardanger fiddle and hurdy gurdy. The sound was scratchy, raw and intimate, more in line with Black Sails or Outlander than the massive orchestral and choral bombast of the beloved and effective previous scores in the franchise. Tasked with scoring about five minutes of gameplay, I ended up writing over thirty-five minutes of music for the prototype. I was so inspired, I simply could not stop!
Though Cory and I experimented with reusing themes from the older games, we decided that the classic music really did not fit in the new game. With that in mind, I set out to compose a new theme for Kratos, one that could guide us through his journey. For the early prototype, I composed a melancholy lullaby in a lilting waltz, featuring nyckelharpa and a small string ensemble. The melody was disarmingly gorgeous, nothing like what one would expect from the main theme of God of War.
(Photo courtesy of Score: A Film Music Documentary)
The response from Cory and the creative team was overwhelmingly positive, though it was clear that my score would have to broaden its dynamic and emotional range moving forward. Though the Nordic influence was refreshing, we collectively felt it was not dynamic enough to communicate the more epic parts of the story, and it did not reflect enough Kratos’ past. In short, the score would have to get bigger to tell this epic story.
Sadly, I set aside my gorgeous waltzing theme, assuming it was gone for good. Moving forward, I knew I would retain the Nordic folk instrumentation, and the spirit of the small, scratchy folk ensemble, but I would also incorporate a massive orchestra, choir and percussion ensemble. Suddenly, I had a huge palette at my disposal, allowing my score to veer from a pensive solo nyckelharpa up to a massive orchestra and choir, and everything in between.
Shortly after my experimental prototype music was completed, God of War was greenlit for full production, and my score went from theoretical to real overnight. It was now time to compose a new theme for Kratos.
CHAPTER 2 – WRITING THE SCORE
I find that themes in a score are an incredibly effective way to elicit an emotional response from an audience, and I felt strongly God of War would benefit from such an approach. I spent the first months of production in a liberated creative state, writing themes, free from the constraints of matching picture or satisfying gameplay requirements. This work resulted in a handful of essential themes that became the foundation of the score, four of which open the soundtrack album.
THE KRATOS THEME
After setting aside my melancholy first theme sketch, I composed a new theme for Kratos that would communicate vital, and often conflicting, character traits: strength and masculinity, wisdom and vulnerability. Bombastic, powerful instrumentation combines with beautiful melodies and harmonies to yield what I hope is a memorable and iconic theme that adapts and evolves to guide the player through Kratos’ emotional journey.
Kratos’ strength and masculinity are musically represented by assertive brass, pounding percussion and deep male vocals. After all, Kratos is still the same character from the classic games, retaining all that rage and power, simmering beneath his aged, stern exterior. In this new iteration, Kratos, has matured considerably. He is older, wiser and vulnerable. To communicate this other side of his character, I included harmonic and melodic components that are beautiful, even soaring. This approach explores the deeper layers to Kratos that the new game present.
Kratos’ Theme is layered, but not complex. In fact, it is arguably at its most effective in the span of only three notes. The first three notes of the melody (an ascending minor scale, for example C, D and Eb) play a pivotal role in the score, functioning both as the introduction to the melody, and a repeating pattern that motors through the entire game, becoming a foundation of the score.
I used these three notes so consistently that I hope they achieve a shorthand with the audience, a Pavlovian response that instantly recalls all the other moments they were heard. This simple figure contorts and twists to match the game’s narrative needs, ranging from stern and ominous, to devastatingly longing, to sentimental and brittle, being presented by massive low brass, delicate solo harp, and everything in between.
On the soundtrack album, Kratos’ Theme is featured on nearly every track, in one form or another, but is presented most obviously in the title track, “God of War.”
MEMORIES OF MOTHER
Whereas previous God of War games opened with action spectacle, the new game opens with an intimate and emotionally charged first hour, where Kratos burns the body of his recently deceased wife, and sets out on a journey with his son to spread her ashes from the highest peak in all the realms, per her dying wish. Though she never appears physically in the story, it was clear her presence would factor into the score.
When I began composing her theme, I instinctually returned to my first prototype cues and dug up that abandoned draft of the Kratos Theme. Listening again, the melancholy waltz had not lost any impact since I had put it away nearly a year earlier. It felt as bittersweet and tragic as ever. I realized I had already written the Mother Theme!
The influence of Atreus’ mother looms large over the relationship between Kratos and Atreus. Giving her a memorable musical theme could theoretically supply her a musical voice to reinforce her narrative influence. Inspired by the notion of giving her a voice, I frequently featured her theme with female choir, and for even more impact, in the stirring voice of Faroese singer Eivør Pálsdóttir.
(Eivør performing with us at E3 2016)
Eivør brought a personal depth and humanity to my score, and in many ways became the voice of Atreus’ mother herself – an ethereal angel driving our protagonists forward. I was thrilled with the vast dynamic and emotional range her singing voice provided: from high, angelic tones to deep, guttural, percussive bursts. I was introduced to her music through a recommendation from Sony music producers Pete Scaturro and Keith Leary. We listened to her clips online and realized right away we had to reach out to her. Thankfully, she was generous with her time and energy, and became an integral part of what makes this score special.
When Cory Barlog first told me this epic tale, “Memories of Mother” was the melody that immediately sprang forth from my imagination. It was, in essence, my first impression of God of War. Though the tune ended up not being the main theme, it is arguably more important to the story.
On the soundtrack album, the Mother Theme appears in “A Giant’s Prayer,” “The Healing,” “Salvation,” and in particularly noteworthy variations in “Ashes,” “The Ninth Realm,” and “The Summit,”
WITCH OF THE WOODS
Along their journey, Kratos and Atreus encounter a mysterious woman, known as the Witch of the Woods, a character who plays an important role in the narrative, who is later revealed to be the Vanir goddess Freya. Freya is an intriguing character, and I wanted to lace her theme with elements of mystery, even danger.
The primary instrument for her melody is a renaissance and baroque instrument called a viola da gamba, an ancestor of the modern cello.
Freya lives deep in the woods, and her visual aesthetic draws from nature. I represented this connection to the forest by framing her melody with colors evoking nature. A pair of Celtic harps merge to form a rapid network of arpeggios, dripping like rain drops down spider silk. This texture is punctured by freely performed log drums, claves, sticks, and other wooden percussion. These sounds rattle gently like chimes in the breeze, connecting them to nature.
Freya’s theme is expressive and exotic, and it nudges gamers to wonder if there’s more to her than meets the eye. On the album, listen for variants of her theme in “The Healing” and “Salvation.”
LULLABY OF THE GIANTS
This theme is unique because it represents a race or even a realm, but not a character. As our story begins, the giants have long since been lost, but Cory and I wanted the audience to feel their memory lingering in the air. I wrote this beautiful lullaby, imagining it was a folk song that the giants sang in the ancient past, a song that still reverberates through ruins. The melody is performed gently by a male choir in their low register, accompanied by the sporadic chimes of ceremonial bells and bowls.
The Giants Theme plays a crucial role in “The Stone Mason,” a section of the game that takes place around the body of a fallen giant. For this intense combat variation of the theme, I scaled up the ceremonial bells to create a gargantuan blast that opens and closes the track. This explosive sound is built from layered bells and chimes, Alpine horns, and shofars, that have been digitally manipulated to lower their pitch and increase their mass. The sound is reverberant, medieval and intimidating.
The Giants Theme makes relatively few, but extremely significant, appearances throughout the game, and can be heard on the album in “Lullaby of the Giants,” “A Giant’s Prayer,” “Stone Mason,” and “The Ninth Realm.”
THE BALDUR THEME
The narrative jumps into high gear when Kratos is visited by a mysterious character known initially as The Stranger, who is later revealed to be Baldur. This character evolves into the story’s primary antagonist, and his scenes are underscored with his theme.
Baldur is a threat because he is fast, and immune to pain. Inspired by the character’s wiry build, I wrote a theme that was nimble, quick, and capable of rapid harmonic and melodic pivots. The harmonic structure jumps between distantly related minor chords (Ebm, Cm, Gm and Bm) as a boxer hops back and forth on two feet, and the melody doubles back on itself, repeating similar figures, but tweaking them to sustain tension. The harmonic language subconsciously heightens the weirdness and tension. These qualities, inspired by the character’s physicality, give the Baldur a frantic energy.
Baldur’s instrumentation evolves alongside his narrative importance. At first, his theme is played by a scratchy Hardanger fiddle, above a backdrop of chugging nycklharpa and hammered dulcimers. As the game progresses, and his menace increases, his theme graduates up to bigger and bigger orchestral phrases, ultimately arriving at a blasting fanfare in brass and choir.
For the soundtrack album, I compiled several of his most significant moments into a single track, “Deliverance,” encapsulating nearly his entire arc. Listen also for a powerful statement of his theme in “Salvation.”
ADDITIONAL CHARACTER THEMES
Other important themes are woven into the score, though they make fewer appearances.
Though Kratos begins his journey with only Atreus by his side, he eventually picks up another traveling companion, Mimir. In addition to providing vital narrative exposition and mythological context, his quirky personality also lightens the game’s tone.
I wanted Mimir’s theme to feel slightly comedic, a mood I achieved by imagining it performed by a troupe of wandering Renaissance minstrels. A frame drum and dulcimer provide a jaunty backdrop to the main melody, performed playfully on viola da gamba.
These Renaissance instruments are framed by low woodwind chorales moving in parallel motion. Something about the combination of contrabassoons, contrabass clarinets and a viola da gamba is inherently charming. Besides, how could I resist writing a theme for a severed wise-cracking head?
Magni and Modi are sons of Thor that Kratos and Atreus face down. These two brothers are played by Nolan North and Troy Baker, in what I assume is a fun nod to the same duo playing brothers in Uncharted 4. (Random trivia: Nolan North has appeared in every single-player video game I have ever scored, having also appeared in Dark Void and SOCOM 4. Weird!)
I wrote a single theme for these two characters, built on an energetic 9/4 groove. The meter breaks down to a bar of 5/4 followed by a bar of 4/4, which gives the aggressive percussion a fun, off-kilter limp. In addition to this rhythmic asymmetry, the Magni and Modi Theme is also heightened by being harmonically schizophrenic, living mostly in E minor with an unexpected G# in the melody, kicking it momentarily into E major.
I wrote for the Valkyries a theme that is elegant, airy and exciting. Inspired by Nordic folk ballads, this chorale is introduced in breathy tones by a female choir against a backdrop of massively reverberated vocal clusters.
This melody undergoes increasingly muscular variations, building up to a huge, driving orchestral fanfare.
There is a final significant character theme, and it is only heard once. This theme can be found in the final track on the soundtrack album, “Epilogue,” blasting in fanfare from a full choir and huge brass section.
Anyone who gets to the game’s true conclusion will understand its thematic meaning. That’s all I’ll say about it at this point!*
With all my themes composed and approved, I set out to implement them into the score for the game, a process I found exhilarating and rewarding. Employing character themes may seem like an obvious approach, but it was more complex than I thought. The story is richly layered with nuance and twists, so I frequently found myself ditching surface level conflicts and digging into a scene’s subtext in search of a narrative thread to highlight with music. Sometimes, themes would be appropriate for a scene even when that character wasn’t in the scene. Atreus’ mother never appears in the game, but I frequently used her theme to tell the audience a scene revolved around her, even if she wasn’t referenced directly in any way.
One example of this would be a cinematic scene I scored that resides on the album in a track called “The Healing.” I encountered, on Twitter, an AP Music Theory class that analyzed themes from my score before the game had even been released, and I challenged them to dissect “The Healing” into its thematic components.
(Photo courtesy @ChrisPilsner)
I was thrilled to see that they nailed it, correctly identifying every thematic fragment and quotation in the track. Looking at their analysis of this relatively low-key cue made me realize just how thematically layered my own music was!
“The Healing” is a perfect representation of how thematic building blocks can form together to build a single piece of narrative music. In fact, every cinematic in God of War was scored with an eye toward thematic development like this. The music comments on conflicts, subtext, and narrative themes, nimbly shifting between ideas to reinforce the narrative, all without drawing attention to itself. Gamers with an ear for themes might even catch musical foreshadowing in certain scenes on their second play through that eluded them the first time!
In short, scoring the narrative cinematics of God of War was like scoring a complex movie, but it was far from the only task at hand. The bulk of my job was composing adaptive layers for gameplay. Even though these cues were developed with a traditional approach (using layers, stems and variations to generate music that adapts to the gamer’s input), I still kept my eye on the dramatic narrative, allowing the relationship between Kratos and Atreus to influence the gameplay music. I wanted the adaptive music to be more than just action and suspense. I wanted it to be another tool to reinforce dramatic arcs.
CHAPTER 3 – UNVEILING AT E3
When the decision was made to unveil God of War at E3 2016, the team at PlayStation came to me with a radical idea – to introduce the game to the world with a performance of my score with a full orchestra, alongside live gameplay for the press conference at the legendary Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. I was on board immediately and enthusiastically.
The logistics of conducting an orchestra live to picture are daunting enough. This event was further complicated by the fact that the picture would change every time because it was live gameplay, not a pre-rendered video. So, traditional sync techniques such as click tracks, prelays and streamers would be useless. I worked closely with the development team for several months as they engineered solutions that would allow our ensemble to follow the gameplay, and still give Cory the flexibility to play the game in real time. The challenge was terrifying and thrilling.
(Technical rehearsal leading up to E3)
In an amazing feat of secrecy, the news of God of War had not leaked to the press or fans. Unlike most press conferences, this one did not begin with speeches or visuals. Instead, the orchestra tuned up, and I emerged from behind the red curtain and took my place at the front of the orchestra. The crowd hushed. Before giving that first downbeat, with my arms raised in anticipation, I took a deep, long breath. I reminded myself to enjoy every second of what was about to unfold: the revelation to the world that Kratos would to return.
As we performed my main theme, I could feel fan curiosity reaching a fever pitch. This was music they had never heard before, with no visual clues as to what they were about to see. When the melody reached its climactic notes, the audience erupted into cheers. Words fail to describe how I felt in that moment.
At last, the gameplay began, fading up on Atreus playing with toys in the snow. After he is called into his cabin, Kratos emerges from the shadows, announced with the assertive three low notes of his theme that would come to dominate his adventure. The reaction from the crowd was thunderous, threatening to shake the walls.
I doubt any other video game press conference has announced a new game with such literal fanfare. I was honored and thrilled that the teams at PlayStation and Santa Monica Studio felt my orchestral score deserved a crucial place on that stage.
(Backstage at E3 with Sony music team and director Cory Barlog)
After E3 2016, fan excitement and curiosity began to grow exponentially. However, there was still much to do. I focused my attention on finishing my score, in preparation for the final round of recording.
CHAPTER 4 – RECORDING THE SCORE
The score to God of War was recorded practically around the globe, over the course of several years, with sessions taking place in Los Angeles, Nashville, London, Iceland, Germany, and Prague. It was a truly international effort, and I’m grateful to all the music teams, translators, music historians, consultants, and performers, who came together to make this score a reality. One of the primary motivators for embarking on such a global production was to bring a level of authenticity to the music beyond that which could be achieved by recording only with experienced studio ensembles in scoring hubs like Los Angeles and London.
Our quest for authenticity began with the text for the choirs and solo singers. The producers and I always knew that vocals would be an essential component to the score. Our goal was ambitious – to have the choir sing text that had meaning relevant to the story at every single point in which it was used. The game’s writers, especially Matt Sophos, provided the text for every choral moment in the score, ensuring consistency with the game’s narrative. The text was then translated by our Icelandic consultant, Björn Thorarensen, into Old Norse, the language we felt was most appropriate for the game’s setting.
Icelandic is the closest modern language to Old Norse, meaning that a choir of Icelandic singers would be able to simply read the text instead of learning it phonetically. As a result, we ended up at a studio in Reykjavik, on the frigid coast of Iceland, where we recorded the renowned vocal ensemble, Schola Cantorum.
Working with this choir was a delight. Though they had never before recorded for a media score, they adapted quickly to our work flow, working tirelessly to ensure powerful performances, under the baton of conductor Hördur Áskelsson, who innately understood my emotional intention with every passage. Gamers playing God of War are the first audiences to hear the voices of Schola Cantorum in a score, and I am grateful for that unique musical identity they brought to my music.
Traveling to Iceland to record the choir was an experience I will never foget. I wish I could have stayed longer, but in a brief visit I got a sense of the place, the people, their hospitality and their culture. I am grateful to everyone who helped make our stay a memorable one, especially composer Veigar Margeirsson, who was instrumental in coordinating the whole endeavor.
I have fond memories of lounging a geothermal spa, wandering a continental divide, feeling miniscule at the sight of a massive waterfall, and shrinking back at the sudden burst of a geyser. I am not always the most adventurous eater, but I enjoyed going to restaurants and just asking to be surprised by whatever the chef recommended.
Every morning, I wandered Reykjavik with my earbuds blasting Icelandic metal. Perhaps my greatest discovery of the entire trip was a band called HAM. Their bombastic power-chords and epic vocals welcomed me as I wandered their home turf. I was star-struck when I later realized that HAM and Björk had both recorded at the Stúdio Sýrland, the studio where we were recording choir!
The bulk of the score was recorded with a large orchestra at Air Studios in London, my first experience recording a score in the city. Many of my favorite scores had been performed by these musicians, in that very room. The instant we began playing I was struck by a lightning bolt of nostalgia, as I recognized the timbre of the strings, and the particular decay of reverb against the stained glass chambers above me. I had heard this group countless times in my life, and now I heard them performing my own music. Momentarily lost in elation, I had to recalibrate my focus, and get to work dialing in the details of the score.
I was greatly impressed by the brilliant orchestral musicians in London, and am especially grateful to concertmaster Everton Nelson. Like the players in Los Angeles, their collective hive mind instincts have been honed by years of playing together. They innately understand the feel of “Hollywood” music in emotional passages. I felt instantly at home, though I did strive to adjust my language. In England, quarter notes and eighth notes are referred to as crotchets and quavers respectively, so I tried to fit in. It took me a few hours to get there, but by the end of the week, I felt natural saying “listen for the quaver click at bar 93, everyone.” (When I returned to Los Angeles, I had to readjust my brain back to “quarters and eighths” for my next session!)
The majority of recording took place during a two-week blitz, with sessions running literally twenty-four hours a day, due to geography. While the Sony music team and I traveled to Europe, recording teams in Los Angeles produced soloists locally, and supervised the large choir sessions taking place simultaneously in Prague. While we were in Iceland recording choir, we also remote-produced more chorale sessions back in London, sessions that had to take place after Icelandic the choir to ensure proper pronunciation. During this time, I was either conducting orchestra, or listening to audio clips from other sessions to offer input. Once in a while, I slept.
My hope is that the music to God of War feels natural and organic, as if it were all recorded together in one big room in a concert setting. Certainly, when I listen back to it on the album, I have that feeling. But, in fact, it was recorded in dozens of isolated sessions, ensuring isolation of instruments that could be used later to implement the music into the game. With the music split out on such a granular level, it could be rebuilt within the engine of the game, allowing it to adapt to and shape the player’s experience.
(L-R: Sony music producers Peter Scaturro, Keith Leary, with Sam Ewing in background.)
This music really is a technical achievement, vastly more complex from a logistical standpoint than a film score. Teams of music editors, producers and engineers worked on this score for years in order to integrate it into the game in an impactful way. God of War would have never made it to the finish line without the tireless efforts and technical contributions from dozens of individuals. I can’t even begin to thank them all, but special shout-outs must be reserved for Pete Scaturro, Keith Leary, Chuck Doud, and Joel Yarger from Sony, my entire music team at Sparks & Shadows, my engineer Steve Kaplan, and lead orchestrators Edward Trybek, Henri Wilkinson, and Jonathan Beard. I also want to thank Jason Akers, Omer Ben-Zvi, and Sam Ewing for contributing additional music, Ben Parry for conducting the London Voices, Hördur Áskelsson for conducting Schola Cantorum, Miriam Nemcova for conducting the City of Prague Philharmonic Choir, and all our contractors, including Isobel Griffiths, Thelma Hrönn Sigurdórsdóttir, James Fitzpatrick, and Alan Umstead. I’m grateful for the contributions of the whole team at Kraft Engel Management, especially Sarah Kovacs. Finally, I want to thank Cory Barlog, Shannon Studstill, Shawn Layden, and everyone at Santa Monica Studio and Sony PlayStation for inviting me to be a part of this epic experience.
CHAPTER 5 – BEYOND THE GAME
At the end of production, I had written and produced over six hours of original score for God of War, music that was then edited and implemented by Sony audio teams into a musical experience to underscore the entire gameplay experience with ever-evolving and adapting custom score. When I put my baton down, I thought I was done. In the months leading up to the game’s release, however, I was surprised at Sony’s enthusiasm (bordering on insistence) that the music in the game’s massive marketing campaign be consistent with the score for the game itself. Anyone who ever pays attention to music in trailers knows that it rarely directly reflects the score to the product being marketed. For God of War, the music in all trailers, promotional events, and BTS videos is almost entirely drawn from my score.
This approach went beyond simply reusing tracks from the game. I was honored to work directly with the publicity teams to custom score two of the marketing campaign’s most ambitious projects. The first was this television spot that shows, in a clever use of montage, the evolution of Atreus learning to become a warrior.
The second project was unlike anything I have ever scored before: a floor projection at an NBA game! This was truly a new medium for me.
I also collaborated with Sony Classical to produce a soundtrack album to God of War, that was released the week before the game. The album is available now, on iTunes, Spotify, across all digital platforms, and available on CD.
1. God of War
2. Memories of Mother
3. Witch of the Woods
4. Lullaby of the Giants
6. Peaks Pass
7. A Giant’s Prayer
8. The Dragon
10. Magni and Modi
11. Echoes of an Old Life
13. The Healing
14. The Reach of Your Godhood
15. Stone Mason
19. The Ninth Realm
20. The Summit
I’m thrilled as well to collaborate once again with Mondo to release a vinyl edition of the score, available now for pre-order. The vinyl features stunning artwork from artist Jeff Langevin, and is probably the ideal way to experience this music in a stand-alone format.
I am consistently amazed when marketing teams consider including original score in their campaigns, and I would like to thank everyone in the Sony PlayStation marketing team for inviting me into the process, especially Aaron Kaufman. I would also like to recognize that the soundtrack album was made in part due to the tireless efforts of Joe Augustine and mastering engineer Pat Sullivan.
CHAPTER 6 – THE HIGHEST PEAK IN ALL THE REALMS
When I began scoring God of War, I had just become a father, and I was beginning to ask myself the existential questions of parenthood that are at the thematic core of the narrative. What influence do I have over what kind of person my child becomes? Should I use my own life’s mistakes as lessons to prevent my child from repeating them? How much should I protect my child from the world? These questions wore heavily on my mind as I wrote the score. My relationship with my own young daughter became a lens through which I viewed the relationship between Kratos and Atreus, a lens that was impossible to remove. My emotional connection to the story colored every musical decision I made, from the biggest structural concepts down to minute details. God of War is a very personal score to me, and I can only hope that translates to an emotional impact for its audience.
(With lead actor Christopher Judge and director Cory Barlog)
When the review embargo recently lifted on God of War and the raves began pouring in, it was a wildly emotional time for anyone who worked on this game. No one could summarize this feeling better than Cory Barlog, who posted an emotional reaction video of his first viewing the Metacritic score. It was a daring display of raw emotional honesty, but I would expect nothing less from the man who saw through Kratos’ tough exterior to the emotional being on the inside.
(Counting down to the game’s release at the livestream event)
Last week, I returned to Santa Monica Studio, honored to take part in the official livestream event, counting down to the game’s official release, sharing the stage with just a few of the people responsible for making the game, including lead actors Christopher Judge and Sunny Suljic, Cory Barlog, Santa Monica Studio’s Shannon Studstill, and Shawn Layden, CEO of Sony Interactive Entertainment America and Chairman of SIE Worldwide Studios, and other visionary developers. I was once again awed by the enthusiasm and generosity from everyone on the development team. They embraced me openly as one of the key contributors to God of War, and I truly felt like part of the family. It was the perfect way to close out my experience on this game.
Three years ago, as I stepped into Santa Monica Studio on that rainy afternoon, I had no idea I was about to begin a journey that would span years, take me across the globe, and allow me to collaborate with unique performers, musical scholars, the visionary Cory Barlog, and the brilliant teams at Sony PlayStation and Santa Monica Studio. Alas, it appears that my journey on God of War is finally at an end. I am sad it is over, but thrilled that the result of years of effort is now out in the world, being discovered and embraced by fans.
As I move into the future, I remind myself of what Kratos learned in this story: the past never stays in the past.
*[UPDATE, November 2022: I had originally intended this eight note theme to be the basis for a musical theme for Thor, as it occurs over his tease in the final cinematic of the game. However, as I set out to score the sequel to this game, God of War Ragnarök, I realized I needed a more expressive theme to represent Thor, and his father Odin. I then wrote a completely different theme. So, this eight-note theme does not recur anywhere else, and ended up an ambitious, but ultimately abandoned musical idea.]