With the imminent commercial release of Dear Esther I thought it’s about time we wrote about its composer Jessica Curry and why her game compositions are so effective in comparison to the more conventional competition.
Music in games is normally grandiose, fully orchestrated, and primarily inspired by the likes of James Newton Howard and John Williams. It’s understandable, a lot of the big budget games are emulating the big blockbuster films, so aiming to capture that experience designers take the music as well as the character archetypes and silly plots. Jake’s already written about the grand video game soundtracks in the past, so I’ll try not to cover the same ground.
It was whilst playing the original Dear Esther that I first heard Curry’s music; its lonely – often solo – instruments, its measured pace, and simple repeating constructions, made it stand out as something special. Rather than being bombastic it was seditious, it slipped into a scene, subtly enhancing the themes without introducing them.
Taking her pieces out of the game and viewing them in isolation is the wrong way to hear them; they stand up, but they’re written to be heard in context. Working as an element within a larger piece, not as a piece in itself. For example, one of my favourite tracks from the game is the haunting ‘Always’, yet if you hear it out of context it becomes a little dull, seeming overly simple. However, within the game it’s heard in a deep subterranean cave; the music draws you in, you forget you’re playing a game. The caves become this vast unknown space, the setting becomes sublime, quietly horrifying.
Compare it to its use in the trailer. Here we can at least see the setting in which its used, giving us some idea of what it’s like to play the game. But if you are struck by the beauty of the trailer please try out the game, the video doesn’t compare to that experience. The original is free and can be found here, the new release should be within the next few months.
If you would like to find out more about this game and the people behind it, PC Gamer produced an interview earlier this year. You can find it here: Dear Esther revealed: an indie Source Engine game