Scarecrow. Riddler. Penguin. Two-Face. Poison Ivy. You’re familiar with so many of Arkham’s residents, and yet one of the strongest and most powerful forces to haunt the streets of Batman: Arkham Knight is never once seen on screen—but if you’ve played the game, you know it very well.
We’re talking, of course, about the game’s score. The Arkham videogame series has long been lauded for its dramatic, gripping music that really helps to bring the dark and dangerous world of Batman to life. Credit much of this to composer Nick Arundel, who has written music for all three of Rocksteady’s Arkham games. Now, with the trilogy’s final installment in stores, it seemed like the perfect time to talk with Nick about his latest score and whether composing music for blockbuster games leaves much time for playing them.
First and foremost, were you excited to return to the world of Batman and Arkham with the Batman: Arkham Knight score?
Absolutely. At the end of each project there’s always something you think you could have done better, or some type of music you think could have a much greater role in future projects. It’s great to be given a chance to have another crack at these areas and to try again to push the genre forward a little. For Dave , it was all new, and with that he brought a certain freshness to the music which would then inspire me to compose in new ways.
This is the final game in Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy. Does that impact what you do with the score?
I think this just made us both aware that everything we did had to be the best version of this type of music we could possibly create. I think more so than ever we became hyper-critical of the music we were creating, and this, coupled with a degree of confidence in the success of the other soundtracks, probably meant I was a bit more “surefooted” than on previous projects.
What’s it like scoring a new game in the series? How often do established themes get used versus entirely new music?
First, it is always more than a little daunting. During the planning phase I start to worry that we might not be able to pull off the scope and scale of the music required. As we have kept the same main theme, I start to doubt if the melody will hold up to more iterations, but as soon as we start getting in to the composition, and I start to hear the new music, things calm down a little. During the planning phase, it’s always tempting to water down the vision by including new themes, but so far we’ve remained true to the idea of having one piece of musical DNA (the main theme) and varying it in numerous ways as the drama of the game requires.
How many games have you scored at this point? How did you get into composing music for videogames?
I guess it was quite a traditional road. I went to Music College to study classical music and got post-grad degrees in music composition. At the same time, I had always been interested in computers and there was an explosion of computer “sequencers” (now called DAWs) such as Cubase and Notator that could run on an Atari ST (which had its own built in MIDI ports!) or early PCs/Macs. This meant that relatively cheaply you could set up a small home studio and start to make your own tracks. I was lucky enough to start to get a few commissions for TV shows and adverts. During this time PlayStation and N64 were taking up more of my time, so it wasn’t long before I started to think that there could be a future for me in games. I got my first break with Acclaim who had a studio just near where I was born.
"Dark Skies" by David Buckley, from Batman: Arkham Knight – Original Video Game Score, Vol. 1
Do you have a favorite song from the Batman: Arkham Knight soundtrack?
It changes every week. I think because I’m in a vacation mood, I need stuff that is a little less frenetic, so at the moment I’m really enjoying Dave’s “Dark Skies” track. It plays as the backdrop to the player exploring the city. I like how simply and effectively it creates a mood of foreboding and dread. There are lots of layers of textures all sort of hidden underneath the string and brass lines. I think if you heard this track without knowing the game and had to guess what city it was for, you would say Gotham straightaway.
Do you play videogames? Do you have a personal favorite videogame score?
Yes! I love playing games. I’ve got a huge pile to catch up on now that the game is realized. One of the first scores that stood out for me was Metal Gear Solid from the late 90s. I think it had a huge influence on a lot of the game scores for the next 10 years or so. A bit more recently, I was really moved with the score to Journey.
What about super heroes? Is Batman your favorite comic book hero? If not, who is?
Absolutely it’s got to be Batman!
Batman: Arkham Knight – Original Video Game Score, Vol. 1, featuring music by Nick Arundel and David Buckley, is now in stores. Download the soundtrack or any of its songs through iTunes here: http://smarturl.it/bak_i