As players of Supermassive Games’ previous titles — like Until Dawn, Man of Medan, and Little Hope — know, there’s nothing quite like the horror movie-esque video games in The Dark Pictures Anthology. They’re equal parts narrative-driven video game and campy scary movie, and they’re generally perfect for their annual fall release dates.
This year’s addition of House of Ashes is no different, bringing in an actor or two that TV and film fans would recognize (primarily Ashley Tisdale this time around) and immediately putting the group of playable characters into a possibly deadly situation full of frights. As per usual, they also brought back veteran composer and horror expert Jason Graves (Dead Space, Tomb Raider, Moss) to complete his fifth terrifying soundtrack in the last six years for them.
SPIN spoke with the appropriately named composer about his musical contributions to The Dark Pictures Anthology (including his latest work in House of Ashes) and much more.
SPIN: As Supermassive’s clear preference for The Dark Pictures Anthology, what’s it like to score these “interactive horror movie” type of games?
Jason Graves: Needless to say, it’s been quite the treat. Every title is so different — it really is a lot of fun to dive into each of the title’s universes and see what fun and surprising things we can come up with to make each one unique and memorable. I still remember the initial conversation I had with the audio director, Barney Pratt, so many years ago now, and how exciting the possibilities were. It’s hard to believe we already have three complete titles that have been released.
Considering the variety of horror titles you’ve worked on in your career, how do you make a title like House of Ashes stand out from its predecessors?
It really comes down to the specific game. I always draw inspiration from each specific world. After all, so many people have spent what is probably years building the world that we, as players, live in while playing the game. So it makes a lot of sense to me to absorb as much of those details as possible and reflect them in the music.
With the Dark Pictures games obviously having different paths and scenes depending on player choices, how do you keep the score consistent, tense, and scary from one moment to the next?
That all comes down to the way the music is both written and — almost more importantly — implemented into the game. I work very closely with the audio team at Supermassive Games on every scene. We go over specific scenarios and determine how the music should support every choice the player makes. It’s a very back-and-forth process that is made considerably easier given the history and shorthand I have developed with Supermassive Games over the last 10 years.
Your work often contains such a variety of musical genres, both from one project to the next but sometimes also within a single project. Is that intentional to make sure you don’t get pigeonholed into one thing, or is it just based on whatever you’re feeling at that moment?
I would say it’s probably a bit of both. I definitely try to work in as many different genres and styles of music as possible. But not in a “fear of being pigeonholed” kind of way. More like in a “What can I work on that is both interesting to me and is something that is different from what I’ve been working on lately?” kind of way. It’s quite literally like a Venn diagram of intersecting points. Once I find the things that all intersect in terms of style, instrument choices, supporting the gameplay and keeping me creatively inspired, I know we are on the right path.
Are there any genres or types of games you would like to work on in the future that you haven’t been able to explore yet?
My go-to answer has always been fantasy, only because I’ve loved the idea of being able to write large, sweeping themes. However, recently I’ve been privileged to have the opportunity to work on a few fantasy-type projects. Most notably, the VR game Moss, which came out in 2018, as well as its in-progress sequel, which is essentially a dream come true for me.
Is there anything else you’d want people to know about your work on House of Ashes?
House of Ashes was composed during the lockdown. As a result, I performed everything on the score live on my own. So all of the string sections and bendy solo effects you hear in the soundtrack were the result of me recording myself performing 10-15 passes on each instrument, plus live percussion, hand drums, world flutes and distorted guitars. It was a bit of a challenge, but also a lot of fun.