If there’s one thing that the composers for the Assassin’s Creed series have done well over the years, it’s capturing the historical setting in their music. The Ezio entries that take place in Italy use the lower strings to evoke the sounds of the Italian Renaissance. Assassin’s Creed Unity had the delightful harpsichord. Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag had its sea shanties and the fiddle (not violins, it was the fiddle) to encapsulate that feeling of sailing the high seas. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey is no different. You may not know which instruments are at play, but you can’t listen to the soundtrack without instinctively knowing this is what ancient Greece sounds like. We’ve never been to ancient Greece (obviously), but you just know in your heart that this is what it would have sounded like.
I recently got the chance to speak with the Assassin’s Creed Odyssey composer duo, The Flight, about their experience composing Ubisoft’s latest epic. You may have heard of The Flight from other video games, like Horizon Zero Dawn and Alien: Isolation. They certainly have experience when it comes to composing for a setting, and I chatted with them about this particular composing experience.
PSLS: What were your influences for composing this soundtrack? Obviously you looked into what you’d expect the music of Ancient Greece to be, but what/who were your specific influences when fitting the music to the setting?
The Flight: On projects like this, one of the main things we like to see early on are images and videos, so we ask for as much visual information as we can from the developers. The smallest detail in a picture can impact massively on how we envisage the music to be. With Odyssey, there was one illustration that resonated with us straightaway; the hero standing in front of an Athenian city. There were mountains and sea, white buildings and dusty roads, and in the distance a giant statue of a god. In a way, this summed up the whole environment of the game, and influenced our musical direction in quite a profound way.
You also composed the soundtrack for Horizon Zero Dawn just last year. Even though one game takes place in Ancient Greece and the other in a dystopian future, the settings themselves have a lot of similarities. Did you focus on one particular aspect on each game to keep them from even sounding similar? Or did it not even come into the equation?
We didn’t consciously avoid the sound of our previous scores when working on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, we simply worked for the game at hand. Odyssey is a story of family betrayal, vengeance and war, a proper Greek tragedy. The majority of the music was much more emotionally led than the music on Horizon Zero Dawn, which was more a reflection on the environment and the world that Aloy is exploring.
Which pieces of a soundtrack do you generally start composing first? (Opening credits, ending credits, battle scenes, environmental, etc.)
It depends on the project. On Odyssey we started with character ‘suites’, writing the main themes of the player character, their family story, and the main antagonists featured in the game. We then moved on to ‘blueprinting’ each of the regions of the map, working out the musical palettes and feels of each location that the player spends time in. The cinematic cutscenes tend to get left until the end.
What was the most fun piece to compose in the score? How about the most daunting?
We loved writing all of this score so choosing one specific piece is difficult! The main theme, “The Legend of the Eagle Bearer” is definitely one of our favorites. This was only the second piece we wrote, and it came together very quickly, jamming in the studio one morning with Mike Georgiades. We also really enjoyed the bandit fight pieces, we wanted these to sound as live as possible. It was really intense, hard work playing them, much like the fights themselves!
Did you work with a live orchestra for the recording? Or was it just the two of you in your studio?
For Odyssey, the orchestra wasn’t live, but all the solo instruments, percussion, and vocalists were. Alongside ourselves we worked with Mike Georgiades (various stringed instruments), Renaud Ford (Rebec), Emma Rohan (vocals), and Rob Farrer/ Joby Burgess (percussion). We also worked with George Strezov and the Sofia Session Choir in Bulgaria. They were incredible.
Do you spend time playing the games before you compose for them? How much time do you spend?
We try to play as much of the game we are working on as possible. When we worked on Alien: Isolation, Creative Assembly would send us builds each month, which was great as we could really see the game coming together. On Odyssey this wasn’t possible, so apart from a session in Canada when we first signed on, we mostly relied on video captures from the music team at Ubisoft.
Who did you play the game as—Alexios or Kassandra?
Joe is playing as Kassandra, Alexis as Alexios for obvious reasons!
We’d like to thank Joe Henson and Alexis Smith of The Flight for taking the time to speak with us!