The sounds of Ori and the Blind Forest

John Broomhall talks to composer Gareth Coker on creating the game’s unique music
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Ori and the Blind Forest is a side-scrolling ‘Metroidvania’ platformer, set in the 2D open world of the forest of Nibel. The player controls Ori who, after a cataclysmic event has ‘blinded’ the forest, sets off to restore it by recovering the light of the three main elements that support the balance of Nibel.

Composer Gareth Coker explains the role of music in the game: “We always knew we wanted the music to take Ori’s point of view. Additionally, after working with initial sound effects, we found music would paint the broad emotional brushstrokes, and sound would provide the finer detail through Ori’s attack audio and interactions with the creatures and objects throughout Nibel.”

With no dialogue in the game, the emotional impact of the game had to be delivered through the animation and visuals. Coker then used the music, which he says was “largely informed by the visuals”, to drive these emotions home.

“For example, the Forlorn Ruins are blue, cold, and icy so I used sounds to match that aesthetic, like lots of metallic bowed percussion,” he explains. “The Ginso Tree takes place inside a tree-trunk, so I used wooden percussion such as marimba, woodblocks and hollow logs. Valley Of The Wind makes use of wind instruments, notably bansuri. We tied all these esoteric sounds together with orchestra, piano, and vocals. There’s no focus on one culture. Instead, the score aims to make the player feel like they are in a ‘Nibellian’ culture.”

A distinct sound

The three featured soloists on the game – Aeralie Brighton for voice, Rachel Mellis for ethnic winds, and Tom Boyd on oboe – were recorded at Coker’s own LA studio, whilst the Nashville Music Scoring Orchestra tracked at Ocean Way Studios.

A 56-piece orchestra provided the ‘big moments’ whilst a 25-strong group covered the remaining 75 per cent or more intimate-sounding sections. Extensive triggers deploy the resulting cues as appropriate.

“The music for the Spirit Caverns is quite subtle at first,” Coker explains, by way of example, “but when you gain the Wall Jump ability, the score transitions via a stinger to a Spirit Caverns theme variation with way more momentum, because Ori has more freedom of movement than before.

“For the Ginso Tree, I composed a 12-minute ‘suite’ of music, which is broken down into several seamless cues which ebb and flow reflecting your progress or situation. Throughout the game, we gave extensive thought to how music flows and how we could encourage the player to always move forward. It meant relentless testing – I must have put well over 1,000 hours into the game at this point.”

Coker notes that the development process behind Ori and the Blind Forest was unusual as the studio is globally distributed. This created some logistical challenges, as departments on different continents attempted to co-ordinate. But the composer says the team gradually turned this into a strength.

“At any point in the day, there would be someone working on the game,” he says. “When we did our daily repository updates, we’d often have something new to play, see, or hear. Having such early ground floor access to the game’s development allowed me to give input not just as a composer, but also a gamer. This is one of the key reasons why not just music, but everything in the game feels very cohesive.

“It’s really rewarding – as both a composer and gamer – to be given the freedom to experiment and give feedback on the game’s design from such an early stage. This collaborative and almost democratic approach works in a small team such as Moon Studios, whose open-mindedness surely enabled the game to come together in such a wonderful way.”

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