Interview with Austin Wintory
Abzû Soundtrack Composer
How did you first hear about the opportunity to work on the soundtrack for Abzû?
ABZÛ was created by the art director from thatgamecompany who had been in charge of the art for both FLOWER and JOURNEY and afterwards left to start his own studio called GiantSquid. Pretty much the moment he did that he reached out to me about collaborating on their first title and we more or less got to work on it straight away.
I hear that this project took three years of work. Is that correct?
Yes, I was involved during the entire development of the game.
Can you tell us about your process of playtesting levels in order to iterate on your music?
It was a lot like the process on JOURNEY. The music would get drafted in some basic way which I would then give to the team who would put it in game in a very rudimentary build of the game and from there we would discuss and play test and make changes and then sometimes they would change the gaming play to suit the music and then very often I would change the music to suit the game play but it was a very constant back and forth all the way to the very last second in the eleventh. Deeply iterative, deeply based around revisions.
What was one of your favorite moments working on Abzû?
The whole thing had a lot of high points but I have to say if only for the novelty of it, the recording sessions in London of seven harps was an absolute joy. That wasn't just a highlight of ABZÛ but that was probably a career highlight.
What was different about working on Abzû versus some of your other video game projects (ie: Journey, Assassin's Creed Syndicate)?
Ultimately every project is so different from the rest that it almost becomes easier to talk about what is similar. The types of games are so different and the personalities involved on the creative team are so varied that it's impossible to generalize. ABZÛ was a relatively small team, similar to JOURNEY but very different from ASSASIN'S CREED. But on the other hand because it's a smaller group I was able to interact with the majority of the team, whereas on ASSASIN'S CREED I almost exclusively dealt with the audio team. SO in a certain sense the collaboration was more intimate on a larger game rather than on a game like ABZÛ or JOURNEY.
Could you tell us a little about your background and how you began your 'obsession with composing'?
I was always into games and movies and even comic books and at one point I was really sure that I wanted to be a paleontologist, but around age 10 I discovered the film scores of Jerry Goldsmith and it revealed the idea of being a professional composer to me for the first time. And I was pretty much instantly hooked from that point forward. It really is that simple of a story.
What's your favorite instrument to compose for?
I honestly don't have a favorite instrument. I love the different challenges and textures that each present. I also love discovering brilliant performers of those instruments and very often when I am writing (particularly solos) it's not because I love the sound of the instruments but because I love the way musician plays it. For example the cellist who sits at the heart of JOUNREY is named Tina Guo and when I write for Tina it's definitely not the same thing as just generically writing for cello. Similarly the violinist who was featured all over ASSASIN'S CREED SYNDICATE is named Sandy Cameron and when I write for her it is solely for her. On ABZÛ it featured prominently oboe solos written for my great friend Kristin Naigus.
What other upcoming projects can should we be on the lookout for that feature your work?
I am currently finishing my work on a game called TOOTH AND TALE made by the same developer as another game I scored called MONACO. It's an arcade style real time strategy and the music is really rustic and folk like almost like drunken Russian pirate music. I'm having an absolute blast on it and I'm excited to have it released. I'm afraid the other things I'm working on I can't quite talk about it publicly.
Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us!
Official Website of Austin Wintory
Official ABZÛ Website
ABZÛ Soundtrack - Bandcamp