Composer Steven Coltart on writing music for gaming… 
 
The way young people experience music is changing. October 2018 saw the publication of the findings of a YouGov survey in association with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which showed the increasing influence of video game music and its value as an access point for classical music. 
 
This access point is valuable both experientially and creatively, as opportunities open up for composers to work in sound design. 
 
In this month’s guest blog, The Music Workshop Company talks to composer Steven Coltart about his work writing and producing the score for Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier. 
Steven has worked extensively across film, games and television, but Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier provided a hitherto unique opportunity for him… 
 
So how did you approach writing the music for this game? 
 
Unlike with other games I had worked on, I treated this project as close to possible as a linear film score. From the off I was opposed to using any loops, menu theme aside, and instead all music was bespoke composed for the different pathway options. That became quite complex on the longer scenes, however the end result is far more filmic due to this approach. 
 
Crucially for this game I was involved across full production; not only composing the soundtrack, designing sound effects and ambiences, but also employed as audio lead. This included personally implementing all my music into Unreal too. 
 
Having this level of control and understanding allowed me to have attention to detail across both creative and technical areas. I believe the composer also implementing is quite unique on a project of this size, but in my opinion, is one of the strengths in the soundtrack’s success. 
 
I can see this process becoming more commonplace going forward. 
 
Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier is a narrative adventure game of conquest, betrayal and survival. When the fates of a tribe of apes and a band of human survivors intertwine, two worlds collide as their precarious existence hangs in the balance. It’s out now on PS4, XBOX ONE and PC. 
 
So how did you approach writing the music for this game? 
 
Unlike with other games I had worked on, I treated this project as close to possible as a linear film score. From the off I was opposed to using any loops, menu theme aside, and instead all music was bespoke composed for the different pathway options. That became quite complex on the longer scenes, however the end result is far more filmic due to this approach. 
 
Crucially for this game I was involved across full production; not only composing the soundtrack, designing sound effects and ambiences, but also employed as audio lead. This included personally implementing all my music into Unreal too. 
 
Having this level of control and understanding allowed me to have attention to detail across both creative and technical areas. I believe the composer also implementing is quite unique on a project of this size, but in my opinion, is one of the strengths in the soundtrack’s success. 
 
I can see this process becoming more commonplace going forward. 
 
How do you retain your artistic creativity and freshness when you’re working within an existing franchise? 
 
I have a signature “Coltart sound” that is consistent across all my video game, film and television work – an emotionally charged, cinematic sound – something that offers a standout, gives my music uniqueness, an identity in a crowded market. 
 
There are a couple of themes that I’m particularly happy with which recur in Planet of the Apes: Last Frontier: Toms Burial and We Go Home. 
 
Regarding the Toms Burial theme, a listener posted to my Twitter account: 
 
“There’s so much pain in it.” 
 
It’s a melancholy that’s ambient (so as not to distract from the storytelling) but has enough detail to give listeners enjoyment when playing the original soundtrack in isolation. That’s something I kept in the back of my mind across the full soundtrack: Does the music sound as good away from the game as it does supporting the game play in it? If so, I’ve done my job. 
 
When you’re recording your own sounds, can you tell us a bit about what goes on behind the scenes? 
 
The game was developed at Ealing Studios, but lots of the sound designs in game were actually recorded on location in Norfolk. This included getting access to record at Norwich Castle* capturing sound designs such as skull handling and hall/ dungeon ambiences. 
 
The game features several snowy scenes, and I headed out into rural south Norfolk countryside for the perfect snow recordings, both during daytime, and at night to ensure attention to detail, and immersion. Going above and beyond with these original audio recordings aided the cinematic storytelling. 
 
*Special thanks to John Holdaway, Anne Brown and Dr. David Waterhouse! 
 
Steven works across games, film and television. See/ hear what he is up to at his website, https://www.stevencoltart.com/ and on Twitter @ColtartMusic 
 
He has also personally developed highly current, specialist game audio content, which he currently delivers within the music department at The University of Hertfordshire. The course has ongoing graduate success due to the implementation of audio middleware and UE4/ Unity. 
 
If you or one of your students would like to know more about a career in game audio, check out the course specifications to find out more. 
 
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