Details on creating Sackboy’s theme and the joyful, musical-infused stages of the colorful platformer.
Greetings adventurers and Knitted Knights to-be! I’m Joe Thwaites, co-composer and co-audio lead on Sackboy: A Big Adventure, here with our music supervisor James Marshall. We’re thrilled to see Sackboy nominated for a BAFTA Games Award for Music and, now the game has been in the hands of fans new and old for a few months, hopefully you’ve all had a chance to hear all of the music we’ve packed in. It’s the biggest collection of music we’ve put together for a Sackboy title to date. The mix of composed and licensed music from a wildly eclectic selection of different artists and composers posed a unique challenge. How do we stitch all of the musical genres and styles together to give Sackboy a trademark sound? The answer: Sackboy needed a theme!
A Hero and A Friend
Sackboy is at the centre of the game and we were really keen to support his characteristic charm and humour with a piece of music that could be memorable, new and yet have a hint of nostalgia for longtime fans. This was a daunting task for such an iconic character with so much history and hours of excellent music already associated with the franchise, from The Gardens through to The Go! Team. The franchise has one of the most unpredictable collections of music ever and distilling that into one piece of music was quite a daunting task!
We also wanted the theme to give the game an overarching and unifying sound that would help pull together the narrative and gameplay elements. So at the start of the project Jay Waters and I collaborated on a short suite of melodies which could be integrated through-out the game, sewing together the seams of the musical patchwork we’d begun to piece together.
Worlds of Sound
The first version of the theme was a simple collection of melodies, inspired by previous Sackboy adventures, which we shared with the team of composers. We really wanted the theme to represent the cornucopia of musical sounds that were explored in the game, so we took elements from each of the worlds to help create a musical jamboree. We came up with a general music palette for each of the worlds, which also helped inspire our choice of composer that would look after that world . These included:
The Soaring Summit harks back to the folk, psychedelic songs that longtime fans might find familiar.We worked with George King (also known as Catching Flies) who brought a really contemporary, fresh sound with his compositions. Given the mountain-top setting, music in the world features Eastern elements and instrumentation appropriate to the sub-continent. “Once Upon a Time in the East” was a great showcase for the interactive approach to the music – the track develops not only as you explore areas of the level but will also change depending on how many keys you’ve collected. It’s also one of the first tracks in the game to use Sackboy’s theme, acting as a sprightly counter-melody. George also created “Snowballs, Please!” – a propulsive, energetic track with a hint of danger thanks to the wayward Yetis in Sackboy’s way. Finally, George’s take on “Move Your Feet” was a perfect fit for herding Scootles, complete with record-scratching, Indian percussion and that infectious melody.
The Colossal Canopy features authentic South American instrumentation, along with ethnotronica, gospel choir and organic woodwind. Brian D’Oliveira was the perfect fit for this world given his amazing work on games with lush jungles and mysterious temples. Brian has an astounding number of instruments at his disposal and you can hear them shine on his tracks. Levels in the world take place either in the leafy canopy or the darker banana factories, with brighter instruments in the former and wacky synths blending with tribal percussion in the latter. His version of Depeche Mode’s “Just Can’t Get Enough” is a self-described “tour of South America”, veering between the many traditional styles of Brazil, Venezuela and so forth.
The Kingdom of Crablantis revolves around new interpretations of older styles of music including classical, jazz, swing and more. The production design of the undersea world featured a lot of antique furniture and shiny valuables, so revisiting older genres of music felt appropriate. Winifred Phillips, a longtime collaborator on the music of the franchise, used lush strings, angelic vocals and bubble-like sounds to bring Crablantis to life as can be heard in “Waltz of the Bubbles”. Her interpretation of “Material Girl” is a standout moment in the game, the song reworked as an orchestral waltz that wouldn’t feel out of place in Vienna concert hall. We worked with Jim Fowler who created a toe-tapping jazz rendition of Grieg and there’s a joyous burst of electro swing courtesy of Glen Brown (including additional brass recordings of the Sackboy theme to really get you in the swing of things!)
The Interstellar Junction is a potted history of electronic music, from musique concrete through to the contemporary glitch-hop awesomeness of our composer Opiuo. We knew we wanted an electronic sound that was bouncy but a little more intense, given Sackboy’s journey has become rather more dangerous. Opiuo’s fantastic “Stutter Rut” kicks things off, before a quick detour into his classical remix of Holst’s Planets (well, this is Mars after all!). Both of these tracks respond to Sackboy’s location at times – listen out for the beat building to the drop depending on your location. FInally, Opiuo created the track “Clutch Rocket” for which Joe then wrote a string arrangement. It’s a massively fun track that features a nod towards Vex’s Theme at the start (perhaps hinting things aren’t entirely as they seem) and it dips in and out of an 8-bit version, keeping things tongue in cheek despite the imminent mortal peril!
We won’t spoil the other worlds – see if you can guess what their musical inspirations are!
As the composers for each world blended the motifs into their content we iterated on the theme, reincorporating sounds and instruments they’d used back into its many melodies. You can hear the gospel choir from the Colossal Canopy enter the mix, spacey synths during the bridge and a mandola from the Soaring Summit bolstering the main melody, to name just a few of the jumble of instruments.
Each of the motifs in the theme represent different aspects of our hessian hero and they are dotted through-out the score. The main melody represents Sackboy’s positive attitude and bravery in the face of danger and plays during triumphant moments, while the bridge serves to score his development on the path to becoming a heroic Knitted Knight.
Luckily for us, we worked with some absolutely amazing composers who took the theme and integrated it into their tracks in all sorts of different ways. From Lena Raine’s beautiful world map score where the melodies float in and out, to Nick Foster’s bombastic orchestral treatment in some of the cutscenes the theme is interwoven into the very fabric of the game.
So much so that we went to the trouble of creating a little musical stinger for every level that plays the Sackboy motif in the tempo, key and groove of the track that is playing in the level. Details like this really embed the music in the world and tie it all together.
So go and play the game, listen to the soundtrack and see if you can spot where we’ve referenced the theme throughout. Some are more obvious than others… Anyway, we hope Sackboy’s theme delivers an uplifting burst of joy you can hum along to as you run, jump and slap your way through Craftworld.