State of Decay: The Sounds of Horror

As with any good horror tale worth its weight in scares, State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition for Xbox One has a very strong audio component to it. The just-released soundtrack is available for $5.99 on Xbox Music, iTunes, Spotify and Amazon.

Whether you’re delivering a zombie beatdown, running for your life, or just quietly exploring the post-zombie middle America wasteland, you’ll be treated to an amazing score courtesy of Jesper Kyd, a man whose work has graced everything from
Assassin’s Creed to Borderlands. We caught up with Kyd to discuss his music-making process, and his thoughts on what his work adds to State of Decay.

Xbox Wire: How did you initially get involved with State of Decay?

Jesper Kyd:
Undead Labs reached out to me, as they liked my music – especially the work I’d done on the Assassin’s Creed series. Once they showed me what they were working on, I knew this would be the perfect fit for us to work together.

Xbox Wire: You’ve added 30 minutes of new music to the game, on top of the 60 minutes that were already there. Was this created specifically for the Year-One Survival Edition, or was it music that had previously been composed for State of Decay’s original release?

Jesper Kyd:
It was brand-new music for Year-One Survival Edition. It was great fun to go back and revisit the zombie apocalypse and get a chance to further explore the music in this world!

Xbox Wire: At what point do you start work on the music? How much of the game was ready for you to compose to?

Jesper Kyd:
I was playing the game while I was scoring Year-One Survival Edition, so I had a really good sense of how we could enhance the experience with new music. On top of the environment score, some of the game features are now scored as well to heighten the intensity of the experience.

Xbox Wire: What was your approach to making the score for
State of Decay feel unique, amongst the glut of zombie games? What were some of your inspirations?

Jesper Kyd:
I don’t think that was ever something we were really concerned about, because State of Decay is very different from all other zombie games. State of Decay reminds me more of Grand Theft Auto with zombies, than other zombie games. What we focused on was scoring an open-world game with all the challenges that come with that. We also focused on the location of the story that unfolds, and that had a lot of influence on the music style – that is to say, rundown 1960s farms, rusty cars on the side of the road… the kinds of stuff you see when you go farther out, away from the big cities. We really wanted to capture that side of rural America, and so there are a lot of live performances in there.

Xbox Wire: What were the main instruments and sounds you relied on? Do you work mostly with physical instruments, or a digital audio workstation (DAW)?

Jesper Kyd:
In addition to the Dobro, slide, and acoustic guitars, I also recorded a broken fiddle to get some interesting sounds, as well as musique concrète. We tried to bring out the beauty of that rustic side. It’s not only decay, and it might not be an immediate beauty, but there is something beautiful about the way nature interacts with objects left or forgotten. We also worked on bringing out the small town feel in rural America; that was also an important element of the score.

I don’t rely on writing everything on a DAW. I think if you rely too heavily on computers, it can start to feel like programing. I have about 20 analog synths and modular synthesizers, lots of analog equipment from the 1970s and 1980s. I like to mix live instruments and process these sounds to create something new.

Xbox Wire: Players spend many hours in the world of
State of Decay, particularly with the addition of its add-on content packs (which are included with Year-One Survival Edition). How do you prevent the music from becoming repetitive?

Jesper Kyd:
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when trying to avoid repetitive music in games. First of all, the way the music is written is very different from the way you write for film or television.  In a sense, you could say it feels like writing themes or even concert works when working on in-game music; I’m describing the exploration aspect of the music where things are more open-ended. Once there is a specific event that happens in the game, it becomes more obvious what the music should do – whether it’s raising the tension, adding a pulse, or going for suspense or straight-up combat.

Another important factor is the music implementation and the length of the music you write – obviously, an exploration track that is one minute long and playing on an infinite loop will make everybody reach for the mute button. However, there is a way to capture the feel of the gameplay, and it’s key for the music implementation to support that. I find this balance by playing the game a lot, and it influences the music that I write.

Xbox Wire: How involved are you with incorporating the music into the game? There’s a reactive element to the score; are you involved with the technical implementation of this?

Jesper Kyd:
On a technical level, I find it’s usually best to let the audio department take care of that. But overall, I love being involved with implementing the music and coming up with ideas for the overarching musical requirements.

You can hear Jesper Kyd’s awesome score in
State of Decay: Year-One Survival Edition, available now for $29.99 on Xbox One and Windows PC.