A sad fact about videogame soundtracks is that, unlike their movie counterparts, they are often under-appreciated. It’s a shame because they take just as much skill and craftsmanship to compose and they’re perhaps more integral to the whole experience than that of a film score.
Due to the interactivity of videogames, it requires a unique skill to craft a soundscape that adapts to the players’ agency. One such composer that has this skill in spades is Jason Graves.
Perhaps better known for his excellent work on the Tomb Raider soundtrack (which he invented a new instrument for), Graves’ Dead Space 2 score is a masterclass in horror and tension. It offers a chilling accompaniment to an already terrifying game.
During the course of the game you take control of Isaac Clarke, a space engineer struggling with both physical and mental demons. There’s a little musical motif that accompanies Isaac throughout – a four note phrase comprised of the following notes:
D♭ E♭ A♭ D
It doesn’t take a Countdown champion to see the word “dead” hidden behind the flat notes.
This clever little Easter egg was revealed by Jason Graves himself during an interview with BBC Radio Three. If you’re at all interested in musical composition, I’d highly recommend listening to it. In it, Graves offers a fascinating insight into his creative process. He explains in detail how he used a string quartet to reflect Isaac’s mental turmoil because it’s a much more vulnerable sound than that of a full orchestra.
Isaac must be the unluckiest protagonist in gaming history. Not only does he grieve for the loss of his girlfriend from the first game, he keeps finding himself on derelict spaceships and stalked by unimaginable horrors. It’s no wonder his mental health takes a nose dive. Thanks to the ominous soundtrack, it’s easier for us to fully immerse ourselves into the game and share his feelings of impending doom.
Why do we put ourselves through it?!