The hills of Virginia roll like giant, crashing waves as far as the eye can see, with highways slicing through like boardwalks across an ocean—a single strip of tamed civilization sitting above the sea of trees that flood the land. Driving became increasingly more perilous the deeper into Virginia I embarked. The hills cut further and sharper into the earth and I had problems keeping my eyes on the road—they would simply wander off into infinity. My car was a stone, skipping across the planet’s face, slowly making its way toward my destination—to speak with a man named Ryan Amon.
Ryan’s catalogue of work is one to marvel at, including a variety compositions for films and games such as Blackhat, Elysium, Assassin’s Creed: Unity, and most recently, Bloodborne—the video game equivalent of an abusive relationship. You’ll smash plates, blaspheme, feel misused and abused, but receive enough reassurance and satisfaction to keep you coming back. Like it’s forebears, Bloodborne is game about death; it’s laced throughout its Gothic inspired visuals, drives the narrative as a central theme and acts as a key design philosophy. It’s an incredible experience, and one that is impossible to forget. Suffice it to say, I was excited to finally put a face to the chilling sounds that left me haunted hours after I set the controller down.
Bloodborne’s soundtrack is menacing, dark, haunting, frightening, beautiful, and countless other adjectives, all at the same time. The game creates an atmosphere unlike anything I have ever played before it, and the score is just as responsible for the sensations I experienced as the visuals, the gameplay and the narrative. Bloodborne’s magic comes from the way these elements blend and morph into an entity with character that is both horrifying and wonderful, and begs for the player to continue further on, at their own risk, of course. Bloodborne is punishing to say the least, and the soundtrack helps to make the player feel exceptionally insignificant.
As I arrived at Ryan’s home, the sun was beating down, scorching those caught in its blaze and the pavement was dancing in warped mirages. Ryan greeted me with enthusiasm and hospitality, showing me his beautiful home and walked me down into his personal studio. To say I was surprised by his studio is an understatement—it was marvellously ornate and felt out of place in the United States. It radiated an undeniably African flare, with paintings of elephants and zebras adorning the walls, beautiful and mysterious artefacts lining the shelves, and various instruments scattered throughout. I later learned the reasoning behind the transcontinental decor; it was Ryan”s homage to a trip that he took in his youth, back-packing across Africa, it changed his life and set him on the path to where he is now—it inspired him to make music.
When Ryan and I sat down to talk, he seemed as nervous as I was, we both fed on this anxiety and I found that my “interview” immediately evaporated like rain in the summer heat. Ryan was intelligent, interesting, and easy to speak with. However, he isn’t a gamer, this came across as strange, yet fascinating, considering what he has worked on. ”I’m not really a gamer, and I never have been. When I was younger my mum would always tell me to go outside and find something to do, and I often found myself getting lost in the woods or something like that. I’m a little embarrassed when I hear about the fandom that a company like FromSoftware has, and I haven’t played a single one of their games.”
And Ryan isn’t wrong; the unbelievable fervour and hype that surrounds every one of FromSoftware’s recent releases is incredible, with players sinking hundreds or thousands of hours into a single title. FromSoft’s games are unique and the experience they provide is impossible to find anywhere else. I was most interested to see how Ryan became affiliated with such a distinctly Japanese studio, and to work on such a pivotal game in their line-up. Before Ryan worked on his larger projects, such as Elysium, he primarily created music for trailers. This is how Hidetaka Miyazaki, creative lead for Bloodborne, Dark Souls, and Demon”s Souls found his music. Someone took one of Ryan’s compositions and situated it behind a recorded boss fight, then uploaded it to YouTube.
Somehow, Miyazaki saw and loved this video, enough to reach out to Ryan and ask him to be a part of his new project, Bloodborne. At this point, Ryan wasn’t sure at all of what the game was, how big it would be within the games industry, it”s community and the internet as a whole.
I remember my personal reaction to the announcement, and it was a fairly vocalised “Oh shit”. I had recently completed Dark Souls II and my love for the developer had soared to new heights. Thanks to this reveal I already had a new IP by FromSoftware to look forward to. I was devilishly curious about what it would be like working so intimately with a culture so different from your own. Language barriers aside, Japanese music and game cultures are exceptionally different from American ones, but Ryan assured me that there was little to no friction whatsoever. ”We would have conference calls that I would be nervously listening to, while the people at FromSoftware discussed in Japanese, and the translator and I would just sit there and wait.
They were very direct and to the point — Miyazaki was there and was giving me direct feedback. What was most different was the way in which they would describe to me the sound they were seeking. I was given a list of adjectives, none of them pertaining to sound. For example, I was told to make something that sounded less like wet blood, and more like dry blood. There is no way to truly describe what wet or dry blood sounds like, but it worked. Somehow I understood what they were seeking.”
It’s amazing how vague feelings and emotions can crystallise into sound. From my own blood boiling, to having it gush from my character, Ryan’s orchestrations successfully deconstruct a player”s failures into an encrusted, scarlet stain on the floor, and in such an awe inspiring fashion. His music throughout Bloodborne is both empowering and foreboding; it’s the perfect mix for such a relentless and unforgiving experience. His fellow composers certainly thought so. While working on Bloodborne, Ryan was afforded the opportunity to fly out to London and record his compositions live at the legendary Air Studios, where he met Tsukasa Saitoh, Yuka Kitamura and Nobuyoshi Suzuki, his in house counterparts.
Speaking with Ryan about the game and some of the tracks he composed in particular, I realized that he hadn’t played Bloodborne himself, he didn’t understand just how difficult it was, or how challenging some of the bosses that he created themes for were. I explained what one fight in particular did to people, and how significant it was. Father Gascoigne, for many, determined whether they would complete Bloodborne or take a step back and re-evaluate themselves; maybe to go play Minecraft or something. Personally, I found the Cleric Beast to be much more difficult than Gascoigne, but I largely attribute that to the horrific camera collision I experienced on that slim bridge during combat. I explained Gascoigne to Ryan in a “Do you realize what you’ve done?!” sort of way—he created the music for the end of many-an-innocent-player.
After discussing Bloodborne, Ryan showed me his classical piano with sheets of music sitting loosely on top of it, all handwritten by himself. There is something to be said about someone who does things the hard way—the classic way. Ryan believes that being able to write good music is the key to his compositions, and he constantly presses himself to become a better composer. I wondered if Ryan was more willing to compose for future games considering his recent success with Bloodborne:
Five video game fans from South East London take a trip along the west coast of North America, visiting people and places connected to the medium.
From founding figures and academics, to journalists, museums and new frontiers, this issue looks at video games in their variety of manifestations and reaching influences.