Interview: Arkham Knight and Call of Duty Composer David Buckley On Game Soundtracks

Composing for video games is a unique beast. Few know this better than David Buckley, who in addition to working on Call of Duty: Ghosts and Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, has ample experience in other realms of entertainment. He’s responsible for the soundtrack to such films as The Town, From Paris with Love, and even writes music (including the main theme) for CBS’ hit series The Good Wife.

Recently, David has been collaborating with Nick Arundel (the composer for Rocksteady’s first two Arkham games) to bring the music for the third game, Batman: Arkham Knight, to life. Arundel has done a fantastic job thus far, and adding Buckley’s bombast and big-game knowhow only stands to make Arkham Knight’s soundtrack the best of the three.

David was kind enough to answer some of our questions, including what it’s like to collaborate, how to add on to a composers existing work, and why you don’t have to love game soundtracks to write video game music. Check out the interview below.

CraveOnline: How did you get involved with the Batman Arkham series for the third game? Did Rocksteady like your past work in the gaming industry and contact you, or are you an Arkham fan who reached out?

David Buckley: Nick Arundel was looking for a composer to help him score the game, and my name was given to him as an option. We met at my studio, and got on really well. I was offered the job shortly after that.

Nick Arundel composed the scores for the first two games, and did what I would consider to be an excellent job. How do you go about working on a franchise that has already established itself? Is it difficult to inject your own ideas without stepping on what Nick has already done?

Yes, Nick did a fantastic job on the previous games, as he did on this installment. I really see this as Nick’s baby, with me being a spare pair of hands! That’s not to say I don’t bring my personality to the writing process, but it was my job to fit into the sound world of the franchise and not the other way around.

Batman has a long history musically. Did you find yourself compelled to draw from, say, Danny Elfman’s work on the original cartoon, or Hans Zimmer’s work on the Warner Bros. films?

Neither of these scores were referenced as models to follow. I know the scores, of course, and appreciate them all!

You’ve worked on game soundtracks before, from Call of Duty to Metal Gear Solid. Thus far, which franchise has been your favorite to work on, and which game soundtrack of yours are you most proud of?

I’ve enjoyed them all for different reasons. The first game soundtrack I did was the final installment in the Shrek series. It was really fun to do as it was a great (and my first) opportunity to write larger-than-life orchestral music. CoD was fun too as it was all about big battle music and creepy ambience, and combining those two worlds. And of course to work on anything associated with the Batman franchise is a real honor, especially the hugely successful Arkham games.

Do you have a preference when it comes to composing for movies versus composing for games? How does your approach differ?

I don’t have a preference, and in fact I enjoy being able to vary my work between film, games and TV. As far as approach goes, my musical sensibilities remain the same whatever the medium I am working in. For example, there are certain harmonic progressions I like, or instrumentations I favor and that will likely be a constant in all my work. What does differ is how I implement this musical language into the different forms. There is an inherent structure offered to a composer of a film or tv score, namely the picture. Conversely, there are large parts in video games where the music has to loop or fade away without any synchronization to picture or hit points. This (to me) is a very different way of going about composing.

If you had to recommend one game composer and/or one game soundtrack to somebody right now, what would they be?

To be honest, I don’t really listen to game soundtracks! I only tend to listen to soundtracks, of any variety, if someone specifically mentions I should check something out.

Are your musical heroes soundtrack composers? If not, who are they?

My musical heroes are classical composers. There is very little music I do not like, but I was brought up studying Western classical music, and that stuff remains close to my heart.

Do you get to see Arkham Knight as it’s developed? I imagine it’d be important for you to be closely tied with the development process, so that your work matches up with the game’s visual presentation and story delivery.

With all the video games I have worked on, the developers have done their best to provide me with video capture of the game. It’s often far from finalized, but it gives me an idea of mood and context and really helps me focus in on the sound. It’s also been great to work closely with the developers and try to absorb as much of their world as possible – after all, they will likely have been working on the game for years before I get involved!

Arkham Knight is set to release on October 14, and like its predecessors, the soundtrack will likely be available for purchase around that time as well. Our thanks go to David for speaking with us. And if you’re still wondering what all the fuss is about, why not get acquainted with the scores to the previous games and see for yourself?


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