Interview: Composer Michael Bross talks Insomniac’s ‘Edge of Nowhere’

Michael Bross Edge of Nowhere

Composer Michael Bross has become somewhat of a veteran in the video game soundtrack world, scoring such titles as “Return of the Phantom,” “Ripper,” and the “Ratchet & Clank” & “Oddworld” series to name a few. Having been in the business for over 20 years now, his diverse palate of sounds has made him a valuable asset in the niche world. One of his most recent games being Insomniac Games’ action-adventure title “Edge of Nowhere.”

The game follows Victor Howard as he is searching for his fiancé, Ava Thorne, whom is part of a lost expedition in Antarctica. Victor’s rescue mission takes a sudden turn as he ventures deeper into a dark monstrous world where reality twists around him and desperate to find the one he loves, must encounter disturbing creatures as he further descends into madness.

With Michael’s soundtrack for the game getting released just a few weeks ago, we decided to speak with him about the creative process for scoring the game. Read the full interview below:

You scored Insomniac’s first VR title Edge of Nowhere. Were they more hands on with the score because it was a new venture for them or did they give you more creative freedom?

They did give high-level input and communicated some ideas for the direction of music, but they were also open to letting me explore ideas of my own. Since I’ve already worked with Insomniac on the Ratchet & Clank series, we’ve built enough rapport where they trusted me to do that and to find a unique musical voice for the game. It’s one of the many reasons why I appreciate working and collaborating with them.

Was there any difference in scoring a VR game versus a regular game? If so, what was it?

Yes, there are differences in how the music itself can be mixed and presented in the game. With VR, we have an opportunity to make the music more immersive in a way where it envelops the player, not just in a horizontal space but also in a vertical sense. A true surround format, really. We could think this might be distracting, but it’s not and can feel more natural when done right. It also allows for other audio elements, like voice and sound effects, to have more room in the sonic landscape.

Edge of Nowhere is based on H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 novel At the Mountains of Madness. Did you read the book before starting work on the game to get inspiration or were you familiar with the book already?

I wasn’t familiar with the story before beginning work and only got to know it at the start of the project. It was a source of inspiration obviously for the game and indirectly for the music, too.

But it was a springboard for me to also get inspiration from real-life stories of expeditions and shipwrecks in the 19th and 20th century that I researched. That period of human history is really fascinating, as it was still a time where there were parts of Earth that were still unexplored and unknown.

Did you begin scoring the Edge of Nowhere after it was fully done or did you get to look at storyboards/materials before?

No, the game was still in development. That’s how it works on all games I’ve been involved with. There’s not really much time for a team to finish and then wait for a composer to start working on music. I was creating the score as the game was being built. What I looked at initially was concept art, storyboards and also in-progress game levels, which I had the chance to play. There were also a number of meetings with the creative director and audio lead to discuss story and gameplay and how music was related to those. But the game was very much undergoing an iterative process for most of my composing timeline.

What is your favorite track on the Edge of Nowhere album and why?

I like various tracks for different reasons, but one that I feel turned out well was the Main Theme Ending, which is a variation on the Main Theme track itself. The end version is simplified and there’s a lingering, haunting element to it that I like.

What were some of the biggest differences in scoring Edge of Nowhere opposed to Ratchet & Clank?

The Ratchet & Clank series requires a score that is epic but also laced with humor. So, there’s a lot of play between those two sides. It also has this fairy tale influence, but futuristic. It covers a range of emotions but there’s lightness to it.

On the other hand, Edge of Nowhere is a game with a darker tone. There’s the loneliness of traversing through a hostile, unforgiving Antarctic landscape. There’s the unraveling sanity of Victor, the main character. There’s an intriguing mystery that the player is constantly wrapped in which is combined with horror. It’s a darker, serious story which coaxes the need for a music score that’s aligned to that.

You have been scoring video games for over 20 years now. How has the industry changed since you first began?

It’s changed quite a bit. Video games, when I started, were a niche. The technology was also limited in terms of expression from a music and sound standpoint. Today, those limits don’t exist for me, and for developers themselves, the tools are available so that anyone, even on a very small budget, can make a great experience if they have the talent and desire to do it. It’s a great time to be working on games.

What would be your dream game to score?

Probably a game like Journey. Or something along the lines of Limbo.

What’s next for you?

I’m working on projects with Oculus right now. Also, I’m exploring the idea of taking some of the music I’ve composed for games and performing it in a live setting. Stay tuned to see what comes out of that!

You can learn more about Michael Bross here.

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