If you’ve spent time playing Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, you might feel like you’re playing a blockbuster family action movie – and that’s not just because of the game’s many perfectly timed set pieces. Rift apart is also supported by a radical score composed by legendary musician Mark Mothersbaugh.
You might recognize Mothersbaugh as the co-founder of the Devo group or as the songwriter of Nickelodeon Rugrats. But I also suggest you scroll through its IMDb page. He has been a breathtaking prolific songwriter with work dating back to the 1980s, and he has film credits (Lego movie, Thor: Ragnarok), TV shows (What we do in the shadows, Dawson’s Creek), and even other video games (Skating 3, The sims 2).
I recently had the opportunity to talk to him about his involvement with Rift apart and what it is for him to compose a video game. A key aspect, he says, is that the music in a game has to be “something you want to listen to for god knows how many hours.”
It makes sense – you can hear a song over and over again as you explore a level or world, and games can often last for tens of hours. “It has to be something that, if you go away and hear it in your head, pleases you, and it’s not something that is irritating,” he says. “Because if a piece of music is inferior or not great, and you listen to it long enough, you can really get mad at everything, including the game you heard it in.”
I’m only a few hours away Rift apart, but so far I’d say Mothersbaugh has managed to make music fun to listen to over and over again. Take the main theme of the game: the expansive orchestral anthem wouldn’t feel out of place in the last wonder epic, and I’m not fed up with hearing it yet.
The decision to use a full orchestra for the score was intentional, says Mothersbaugh, because it acted as a “glue” to keep the playing world cohesive. Throughout the soundtrack, however, he and the audio team added electronic elements and certain melodies to give different areas and planets unique identities.
I’m currently working in a mining themed world, for example, and there’s a lot of heavy percussion to evoke the sounds of an active mine. But when I jump into one of the game’s special ‘pocket sizes’, which are optional platformer rooms (much like the levels without FLUDD in Super Mario Sun), the music takes on a more ethereal tone as I jump onto disappearing platforms.
Mothersbaugh also has to think of game music differently due to the interactivity of the medium, as opposed to a static film. “You’re always going to see this movie in one shape or size,” he explains. Video games, on the other hand, can be “plastic, amoebic, and alive.” And suddenly, the music is “intimate to each one because it evolves with them, and they are part of it”.
Mothersbaugh’s music doesn’t just add color to a world the player is exploring, however. He says the way music is constructed in a video game may reflect the way it takes shape in his own head. “When you start level one – boom – the game starts and you hear the very first pass of a piece of music,” he says. As the characters advance through the levels and improve their abilities, the sounds become more layered and complex. This is intended to reflect a composer discovering and improving his music. “It’s kind of like a glimpse into your world,” Mothersbaugh says.
This concept of music that you can listen to over and over is especially difficult for Mothersbaugh, who has a low tolerance for music he doesn’t like. “If I listen to something I’ve written and an hour later I can’t take it anymore, then I’m like, ‘You know what? It doesn’t deserve to be anywhere. ‘ A day before our interview, he happened to hear the soundtrack again during a listening party. “I was like, ‘Oh, that’s good. It’s a good score, ”he said.
Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is available now on PS5. If you want to hear the Rift apart soundtrack for yourself, it is available on many streaming services.