If you haven’t checked out the video game version of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy yet, it’s far better than you think it’s going to be.
From the exciting combat to the gripping narrative and dialogue that’s way more emotionally powerful than pretty much anyone expected, Guardians is pretty much the full package as far as what one could want from an action-packed single-player linear title. Oh, and of course it has an absolutely incredible soundtrack to go along with it.
With tracks ranging from the orchestral to the electronic to the ‘80s tunes you’ve come to expect from Star-Lord and his crew, Richard Jacques (Mass Effect, James Bond 007: Blood Stone, Headhunter) shows why he’s been one of the United Kingdom’s most sought-after musical minds for the past quarter-century. Plus there’s a classic ‘80s-style “space metal band” called Star-Lord (created by developer Eidos-Montréal’s Senior Audio Director Steve Szczepkowski) whose entire album is also featured in the soundtrack.
SPIN spoke with Jacques about bringing the Guardians soundtrack to life outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and about his 26 years at the musical helm for some of the biggest names in video game history.
SPIN: Considering the popularity of the Guardians of the Galaxy characters, what was it like creating a score in a slightly different version of the universe compared to what people are used to?
Richard Jacques: The game’s developer, Eidos-Montréal, worked closely with the team at Marvel Games, taking a deep dive into 50 years of Guardians of the Galaxy history — including comics, movies, animated series and more — in order to create a fresh and unique take on this band of misfits. Therefore, when I began composing the score, it was clear that we had the opportunity to create all new themes and musical motifs to accompany the story we wanted to tell. Myself and Steve Szczepkowski shared the same creative vision from the outset. We wanted to create an epic intergalactic score that would be fitting for our Guardians experience, supporting the gameplay and narrative, whilst retaining the tone for the way the Guardians interact with one another. This gave me a huge amount of creative freedom where I was able to draw upon the incredibly detailed worlds that the player would visit during the game, as well as some familiar and not-so-familiar characters. It was indeed an honor and a pleasure from pre-production to completion.
In your opinion, what should people expect from the game and its soundtrack?
Firstly, we have a killer main theme for Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, providing a sense of heroism and togetherness, but also retaining a sense of fun and teamwork whilst exploring the galaxy. I utilized various leitmotifs which represent the story’s main characters and narrative beats. So, for example, when the player is doing well in combat they may hear our main “Guardians Hero Theme,” but if they are not doing so well, the music will be darker and more brooding. Whilst the main bulk of the score is orchestral, there are also some featured choral elements, as well as various electronic/synth elements and a few musical surprises that the player will experience along this wild ride. And of course, on top of all that, there are plenty of 1980’s licensed music hits as well as original songs from the Star-Lord band.
Seeing as you’ve worked on a lot of games that have been part of a larger series in the past, how does a project like this compare to something where you’re starting with a completely blank slate?
Firstly, for any composer working on a score that is part of a larger series or universe, I always want to be respectful and faithful to what has come before — and at the same time create a fresh approach to the story that I am supporting. Therefore, whilst one approach may be appropriate for one particular setting, it may not be appropriate for another. I have to look at the story, the characters, the worlds that are presented to me, and then make the right creative and musical choices that will best fit that particular experience. In a way, it is like starting from a blank slate, even though we may be familiar with characters and worlds that already exist. In our game, there are many elements that the players will not have seen before, particularly during this experience. I chose to create the score largely in an epic orchestral setting, but not limiting myself to that particular scoring palette. Music is such an intrinsic part of the game, and therefore everyone on the team was committed to realizing that fully from day one of the project.
With a name as big as Marvel involved in the game, what made working on this project unique?
There are so many things that make Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy so unique. Firstly, I think the story is absolutely terrific. The narrative team at Eidos-Montréal and Marvel Games have done an incredible job, and I was hooked from the moment I started reading the script. The job of a composer is to also be a storyteller and to support the narrative as the story unfolds. It was a dream to have such a rich tapestry of characters to create all-new musical themes for, as well as having such a diverse range of planets and locations that the player will visit during the game. There are also some more poignant conversations that the player may experience during the game, giving great depth to the story. And as I have previously mentioned, there will be some musical surprises along the way!
And of course, working during the pandemic threw in plenty of curveballs, with studios being closed and musicians being unable to record, then observing social distancing when the studios started to open up, as well as having to build a makeshift studio in my house when I couldn’t get to my studio during various lockdowns. I had to be creative and find solutions to ever-shifting goalposts without sacrificing quality or production, which wasn’t easy with such a huge amount of music to compose. But everything worked out incredibly well, and I’m delighted with the results.
Having worked on some huge titles over the past 26 years, are there any that stand out to you more than others?
Yes, I would definitely say that I enjoy scoring narrative-driven action-adventure games, so Mass Effect, James Bond 007: Blood Stone and, of course, Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy would be stand out titles from my perspective. I also had great fun when working on The Muppets expansion pack for LittleBigPlanet 2, where I was able to work with a full big band.
With the wide variety of titles you’ve worked on in the past, does your creative process change depending on the genre?
Whenever I begin scoring a new project, I always spend time thinking to myself ‘What is the sound of this score? What is the musical and emotional tone? What are the key narrative pillars?’ This process helps define what I am setting out to achieve musically and how I am going to support the narrative. Of course, there are many genres and titles that I have worked on that may present an obvious choice in terms of the sound of the score, but others may be an unusual combination of instruments, or musical ideas, or tone. It really depends on the project and what is the most appropriate and original musical setting. I try to make each project sound unique and give it its own musical identity and personality.