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Interview: Composer Austin Wintory On Journey and The Banner Saga Success

Austin Wintory carries his experience with composing Journey’s soundtrack to The Banner Saga and beyond.

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One quality that nearly every great game shares is a powerful soundtrack. Music has an impact on emotion whether or not you're consciously listening to it. Understandably, more emphasis has been put on musical composition during recent years than ever before.

Austin Wintory is a veteran in the world of composing and delivering impactful scores to video games. His works are numerous, with the recent The Banner Saga release and Game of the Year award winning Journey being highlights. He's had an impression on the experience of millions of gamers without them realizing it. So what's that like? We had a chance to ask Austin a few questions about his past work, and even get some insight into what's to come.

CraveOnline: What made you choose to work with Stoic Studios? Did you have any offers for big projects after Journey

Austin Wintory: Stoic approached me during their Kickstarter campaign, immediately after the release of Journey. I was astounded by what I saw, and instantly in love with the game they were pitching. Unsurprisingly their campaign was an enormous success, so we set off to work immediately. Beyond the game itself being so evocative, the number one thing which drew me to them was the team themselves. Alex, Arnie and John (the core of Stoic) are wonderful guys, and deeply talented. They bet the farm on The Banner Saga and I  felt a strong need to support them in that.

Did you learn anything from your experience scoring Journey that you used in The Banner Saga?

AW: Every project builds on every other. It’s hard to pinpoint any one particular lesson but I can’t imagine doing The Banner Saga without having first done Journey

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How does being an award-winning composer change working in video games? Have you noticed more creative freedom on projects since the Grammy nomination or BAFTA award?

AW: I am never one to parade around past achievements. Sometimes those things help in certain ways but it’s not something I ever think to bring to the table. It’s all about music. Creative freedom, like everything else and including your paycheck, must be earned. If a person wants to hire me and then severely limit the potential of what I hope to bring to their project, I simply explain to them the path we’re heading down. And if they are digging in their heels it’s no problem to walk away. They always have good reason for behaving as they do and I can respect that. 

Which 2014 game would you most want to work on? Is there a game in 2013 that you wish you had been a part of?

AW: I feel very lucky to be very busily employed this year, as I was last year. I never really look at a game I didn’t work on and wish that I had. If I really loved the game it’s probably in part due to its score, and so replacing it with my own would actually take away from my love for it. So no, I’d rather focus on the jobs I do have and try to make those great! 

How did The Banner Saga's unique art style inspire your composition?

AW: Oh it was a huge part of my approach. The calm rhythm of the game is a big part of how I cracked what the music ought to be, and also the specific way in which this traditional animation moves. It’s a much lower-feeling framerate from high end visually-driven games. And there’s a spectacularly beautiful, earthy and organic feel as a result. The music needed to capture that. Hence recording this big oaky wind ensemble in Texas. Like the sound of tectonic plates moving!

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Will you continue to work with Stoic on all three chapters of The Banner Saga? How will the game's sound change as the campaign continues?

AW: Most definitely, I signed up for all three chapters. I won’t really know how the score will evolve until we dig into it. Right now we’re still focusing on supporting the release of Chapter one, including patching the game to fix things that players have found, etc. But it will definitely evolve in some way because the story definitely does!

How have fans reacted to your work on The Banner Saga? Do gamers follow your work and have some of the diehard Journey fans become supporters of The Banner Saga too?

AW: I honestly don’t know. I don’t believe I have any fans. I don’t like the idea because I don’t like my music being about me. If people are fans of the music itself, then in those cases I am deeply touched and immensely grateful. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t want people to think I’m unappreciative. But every piece, every effort, has to earn it. So there is no guarantee that someone who liked Journey will like The Banner Saga, or certainly something as different as Monaco. And that’s ok with me. My goal is to never repeat myself and I don’t expect people to always want to follow me down every path.

Where can we hear your compositions next? Do you have more films or more games in the works?

AW: Oh yes, lots coming out soon. I’ll leave it deliberately vague for now though (because I mostly can’t discuss the projects I’m working on)….