It was an incredible honour to have a collection like this made, and then to have people actually buy it […]
Supergiant Games is the studio behind some of our favourite games here at Vox Groovy. Ever since Transistor (2014) blew our minds with its beautiful aesthetic and unique setting, we’ve been looking forward to each new Supergiant game with great anticipation. After Pyre (2017) showed up on Steam, we noticed how the exiles’ stories are taken so much further through songs and the lyrics that we found in them.
This musical storytelling was the work of Darren Korb, an American composer who’s been with the studio since its inception. And it’s thanks to him that our experience with these games has been so memorable. As a publication with its own radio, our team is made up of highly musical people who look for great sound in their games. This is why we’re so happy to announce that our interview with Darren is already prepared for publishing.
In this interview, we focus on Hades (2018). This is the newest game coming out of the studio, and it’s one where Darren played the main character as well!
He tells us:
I had a lot of fun voicing Zagreus and Skelly!
They are each fun for different reasons […]
Of course, the biggest challenge that comes with working on a game designed for replayability is making sure that the players never get sick of listening to the same tracks. There’s hundreds of hours’ worth of gameplay in Hades, but the soundtrack was only two and a half hours long. When we asked him about this, he told us that,
We ended up using a combination of dynamic stem variations and section markers to achieve a level of variety and responsiveness that we were happy with.
So here it is – our newest exclusive interview with Darren, so if you want to find out more about the sound of Hades, Darren’s past and how it leads into his work at the studio, then look no further.
Tell us about your journey so far.
As a little kid, probably about five years old, I started singing and performing in musical theatre. I took some keyboard classes around this time, but it didn’t stick. I picked up guitar at around eleven years old and started writing songs and playing in bands. In high school, I became obsessed with multi-track recording and dove really deeply into experimenting with that. I ended up studying a combination of music production and music business in college, and I interned in a recording studio for a couple of years.
After school, I was trying to do any music job I could find. I produced some local artists, played some hired musician gigs, wrote a musical with my brother, and did a couple of little TV/Film spots. At that point (September 2009), my childhood friend and longtime bandmate had just quit his job at EA and was co-founding an independent game studio, and he asked me to do all the audio for their first game. I said “YES!” and I’m still working there now!
What is your musical background and what kind of influences do you bring to a project?
I grew up playing mostly rock music. I took some guitar lessons and singing lessons over the years, and I learned piano basics in college. My main experience before games was in songwriting, and I still consider that to be my particular speciality. As far as musical influences go, I grew up listening to everything from showtunes to Led Zeppelin. Some of my current and past favourites are: The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, They Might Be Giants, Ozma, Bjork, Imogen Heap, Jeff Buckley, Louis Cole, KNOWER, Vulfpeck, Pixies, Radiohead, David Bowie, the first couple Weezer albums, and on and on!
Lament Of Orpheus
How did you go about finding a personal style that’s unique to you?
A lot of what I do is based on trying to lean into my strengths. I had a background in music production and songwriting, so I lean heavily on that knowledge for my composing. Almost all of my pieces are structured like songs, and a big part of my creative process is the actual production itself. The way something sounds is as critical to me as the actual notes it plays. When I started working on Bastion, I had an initial goal of making a kind of music I’d never heard in a game before, so I set out to make something that felt specific to that game. I’ve tried to make music that is specific to the world of each game that I’ve worked on.
Another aspect of my approach to creating the sound of a game is focusing as much as possible on having that sound feel like it comes from the world of the game. At the start of a project, I ask myself: What sort of instruments would exist in this game world? What sort of music would people listen to? What kinds of songs would people write? What styles of music might fit here? Once I have the answers to those questions, I’ll see if there are some other sonic elements or styles I can juxtapose to that, and help enhance the tone of the game world.
Good Riddance (feat. Ashley Barrett)
Last year, we saw the release of “Supergiant: the 10th Anniversary Collection” (12xLP Set, limited to 1,000 copies). Can you tell us a little bit more about that? How did seeing your guys’ legacy make you feel?
It was an incredible honour to have a collection like this made, and then to have people actually buy it! It was a lot of fun to look back at the music for all of the games and to have an opportunity to release additional material on vinyl that wasn’t part of the initial physical releases for the soundtracks. I think the packaging turned out beautifully, and it’s really interesting to see this physical representation of a lot of the work I’ve done for the past ten years. It’s a big honkin’ box of vinyl!
In the beginning, when Supergiant Games had just decided to create Hades, what were some of the ideas that were thrown back and forth?
Originally, we had a different conceit for Hades when we first started development. We knew it would be Greek mythology focused, but it wasn’t about trying to escape the underworld, and Zagreus wasn’t a part of the equation. We knew it would be in some sort of a rogue-like format, and we wanted to incorporate an overarching narrative into it. That much stayed the same! From a musical standpoint, I knew I wanted some instruments that evoked a Mediterranean vibe, so I did some research and ordered a baglama, bouzouki, and lavta. Those ended up dictating a lot of the vibe of the game’s music.
We are currently experimenting with Radio Vox Groovy—our very own Internet radio. The RVG programmes include: Art Relax, VoxStream and VoxBox as of December 2020, but we will be introducing new ones in the foreseeable future.
Our new programme—Art Relax— (EN) will be launching soon. You’ll know that this is the go-to place for every art enthusiast as soon as you tune in!
Tell us about the biggest challenge you were met with when you worked on the OST for Hades. What was it, and how did you overcome it?
In a game designed for replayability, how do you make music that people won’t get sick of? There’s about two and a half hours of music in Hades, that has to last over potentially hundreds of hours of gameplay.
For me, finding a way to implement the music that would extend the life of it, and make it feel different from run to run, as well as feeling somewhat scored to your particular run, was really important. We ended up using a combination of dynamic stem variations and section markers to achieve a level of variety and responsiveness that we were happy with.
And what about your experiences with playing both Zagerus and Skelly? Did you grow to like these two characters as much as we did?
I had a lot of fun voicing Zagreus and Skelly! They are each fun for different reasons. Skelly was a blast because he allowed me to go for maximum ridiculousness. Subtlety is not really his thing. Zag was really different. My approach with him was to try and make everything feel as natural and believable as possible. He gets to be witty, and he has more emotional range than Skelly, but I think deep down he’s just a pretty caring guy. He cares deeply for all of the other characters in the game, and is concerned for their well-being, often going out of his way to help them resolve their troubles. He seems like a kind of brooding, arrogant person when you meet him, but he really opens up as the game goes on, and I think it’s really refreshing!
We especially enjoyed Pyre here at Vox Groovy, so we’re tempted to ask… can you tell us an interesting fact or two about that game’s development? One which other people might not know about yet~
Pyre was an interesting one from a development standpoint. We were interested in trying something really different. One of the main ideas early on was to have a game that dealt with failure in a non-traditional way. You could fail, and the game would keep on going. It would just change the outcome of the story. From a music standpoint, I went a little crazy with the multi-channel implementation.
For most of the pieces in the game, they are implemented as eight different stems playing simultaneously in any number of different combinations. This allowed us really granular control over what stems the player was hearing at any given time, and we developed a really elaborate reactive music system. My main takeaway from this approach is that this sort of reactivity has a sort of effectiveness bell curve, meaning after a certain point, there are diminishing returns. I found that only the more noticeable music changes contributed to the feeling of reactivity, and I refined this process a lot for Hades.
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What’s next for Darren Korb?
I’m looking forward to whatever we do next at Supergiant! I have no idea what that will be at the moment. I’m working on an album with my band, Control Group, which we’ve had sitting around for years. I hope to finish that up sometime in the next few months. “The Songs of Supergiant Games: 10th Anniversary Orchestral Collection” album comes out pretty soon, and I’m really excited for people to hear it! It was an incredible project to work on and I’m thrilled with how it turned out! Aside from that, hopefully, the world will recover from this pandemic and Ashley and I can play some more concerts someday…
Visit Darren Korb’s Website
By Vox Groovy staff writer;
All images used with permission by the artist
© Supergiant Games or respective copyright holders