The Soundtrack of B.ARK: Pressure, Excitement, and Creativity
A detail that made me even more eager to work on B.ARK than I already was, was knowing that this was a project destined for PAX, the TGS, and other similar conferences. For many this might seem like a small achievement, but for me, this was the first time in which a project I was involved in would be experienced on such a scale. Needless to say I was nervous, very nervous. But for that same reason, I felt that I couldn’t disappoint the people that believed in me for this project.
Now, we’ve already talked about the references and how finding common threads was like getting little light bulbs in my head turning on one by one. Yet this, by itself, is still an incomplete answer to the question of “What is the music of B.ARK?” The full answer requires another element. That element is the music itself and how it incorporates all of those references into itself.
In the previous article I mentioned some of these benchmarks as well as what I took from each of them. Specifically, I mentioned , Super Metroid, Final Fantasy 6, Gradius, and Star Wars. All of these properties have fantastic and very memorable soundtracks. One of them in particular however, was noteworthy for how different it was from the rest. That was of course, the soundtrack of Star Wars.
So then, why did they give me this specific soundtrack to analyze? Was it just because it felt like it was something that should be at least mentioned in any sci-fi project? No, that wasn’t it. What they were asking for, was for a symphonic and cinematic soundtrack that went out of its way to tell a story using the music by itself.
What John Williams did with Star Wars was making compositions that I was comfortable in calling the most iconic in any movie franchise. More importantly for my project, each of these melodies had the characteristic of immediately telling you what you are looking at while simultaneously elevating it from the mundane to the epic. Sound-wise, Heroes’ leitmotifs were not just heroic but HEROIC, propelled forward by an immutable desire to do good, and the opposite goes for villains.
Translating this to B.ARK, I had to ensure that every element both from the standpoint of the visuals as well as the story, was accompanied by a melody that exacerbated its individual qualities. In order to achieve this, there needed to be some form of anchor. If I could find something that unified all of these concepts into one, it would all be much easier after all. And eventually, the answer came to me by itself, I needed to focus on the individual characters.
Barker the dog, the main character, acted as a beacon of hope for the team in the story. Not only that, but the visuals had his owner, a Russian scientist, allow herself to be captured in order to let him, and the rest of the B.ARK team, escape. As a direct result of this, the melody in the stage where he is the highlight, Uranus, incorporates elements from traditional Soviet era music, and it is meant to propel the player forward.
I followed similar thematic threads with the rest of the characters. Lucio the bear was Italian, and as such, his stage has elements of Bel Canto—Something that I was glad to ask my mom about, as many of her musical studies were precisely of Bel Canto—as well as Baccai. And then there was Marv…
Marv had an interesting story behind him, and while I did include US-inspired melodies in his theme, there was also the fact that the level it played in, Saturn, was meant to be scary. For Saturn specifically I was told that while this was a kids game, this level in particular was meant to be unnerving. With this particular freedom in mind, Saturn is a stage that actually includes cacophonies and other noises that make for a very unique experience that leaves the player in a very uncomfortable spot.
Thinking about characters in this particular way, allowed me to give some much needed cohesion to the soundtrack. No longer was this just a list of batshit crazy ideas floating in space (pun very much intended), but there was an actual sense of thematic unity in the soundtrack as a whole. The last part was then implementation.
For this part in particular I have to thank the producer Abraham Morales. In order to fully realize the team’s vision, communication was paramount. Thankfully for me, the team at Tic Toc Games was absolutely phenomenal at it. Abraham in particular had near-daily meetings with me to help bridge the gap between the rest of the team and myself, conveying what needed to be improved every step along the way.
It was all a journey to be sure, but I can honestly say that I am tens of times better as a composer as a result of it all. With all of that behind, there’s only one thing remaining for me to say. I hope you enjoy playing B.ARK.