Have you ever wondered what it's like to score music for games? We had the pleasure of speaking with British composer, Gareth Coker, on how he approached creating the incredible music behind Moon Studios' Ori series.

Gareth, who is currently based in Los Angeles, is known for his melodically driven scores, unique soundscapes, and attention to detail. His scores have garnered numerous awards and you can also hear his music on games such as, Ark: Survival Evolved, Minecraft: Norse Mythology, The Unspoken and more!

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Can you share your musical journey with us? When did you first start scoring to picture?

The idea of music as a career wasn’t something I thought about until it was recommended to me by a teacher at school that I apply to music university - the Royal Academy of Music being where I ended up. At the time they had a Media and Applied Music course (which has since been amalgamated into the composition program) that I studied on for 4 years. I then worked and travelled for 3 years, teaching English in Japan before going to the University of Southern California’s film scoring program in 2009.

It was from that point I started building the groundwork necessary to being a composer, doing as many projects as I could whether it be library music, commercials, games or films.

Where do you find your inspiration? Can you share any particular music or artists that influence you?

YouTube - Related Videos, and Spotify - Related Artists! These two features alone are incredibly useful for finding inspiration. I often start with an artist I like and then just see where the algorithm takes me. One can often end up in YouTube/Spotify black holes but you find some interesting things along the way. I’m generally not listening to other soundtracks when searching for inspiration for my own work, just on the lookout for things that grab my attention, it can be a cool rhythm, a new instrument, even in genres of music I wouldn’t normally choose to listen to. I just think it’s important to try and keep an open mind.

That said, I do have some go to artists that I like listening to in downtime. In no particular order, Mychael Danna, Jesper Kyd, James Horner, Hybrid, Yoko Kanno, Led Zeppelin, Alan Silvestri, M83, Jóhann Jóhannsson. We’ll be here all day if I go through my record collection!


On a big project, the template gets built as I go and so while it takes longer to get started, when it gets to the end, I can really put my foot down without having to hunt through hundreds of patches because I know everything I want.

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What is your studio set up like?

My setup is fairly modest. I’m running one PC, using either a customised version of Reaper, or for legacy reasons, Cakewalk Sonar. I’m in the process of transitioning everything over to M2 drives, but currently my samples are spread out over 3 M2 drives, and 4 SSDs, with an additional drive for system only, an additional drive for projects, and an additional drive for cloud storage, for which I’m primarily using Box, and Dropbox. I stopped using multiple screens years ago. I have one 42” 4K monitor which might sound nuts, but at that size, you’re able to take full advantage of the screen without having to use resolution scaling. Anything smaller and you need the magnifying glass. I just found that having multiple screens on left and right was not good ergonomically for me. I do have one small (and portable) 15” screen that I really just use for video playback (or internet!). My monitor speakers are by ATC. I don’t run a standard generic template with hundreds of tracks on startup, I personally find that very intimidating.

On a big project, the template gets built as I go and so while it takes longer to get started, when it gets to the end, I can really put my foot down without having to hunt through hundreds of patches because I know everything I want is probably going to be close by. I definitely admire the people who have massive setups with everything at the ready from the get go. Whatever works best for you!

I am setup to record from home, but we’re in 2020 now, and most musicians have gotten up to speed with capabilities to record from their homes and have the setups exactly as they like them, so I take advantage of that, especially when conceptually it’s nice to be able to just drop in live stuff every now and then without having to wait for a player to come over. So, these days the only time I’m recording at home is if I’ve got a new instrument, such as the lyre I imported from Greece for a new project.

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Can you describe how you approach your workflow? Especially when it comes to scoring for games?

It depends per project because my workflow is based entirely on how much access I have, and the genre of game. An approach to score a multiplayer title is potentially very different to a single player narrative game. A scripted narrative game is very different from an open-world narrative game, and so on. As a general rule though I ask for as much access as I can be given (security varies highly between projects!) and then consult with the audio director / music supervisor, if there is one as to what is required.

In the case of Ori, I have access to the game from early on. I learn about the gameplay mechanics, how Ori moves, the abilities, and the general level design. This informs how I’ll structure the music on both a macro and micro level as I’m generally looking for places where I can change the music. All of the music changes are tied to events, both large and small, that the game tracks while you are playing the game. So this process is kind of how I map out exactly what I’m going to write. Then gradually the visuals come online and this informs the instrumentation. I heavily associate colours with sounds so this is a very important part of the process. Alongside this I’m developing character themes. There were several more characters in Ori 2 so this was a chance to write some more melodies and then develop them further over the game.

Once all of this comes together and then the linear cutscenes are in, it all starts to go into the game and that mapping that was done in the early phases, you hope it all comes together but it never does. I discover what works and what doesn’t through extensive play-testing and then adjusting with the implementation team. I don’t do the technical side of implementation but I do explicitly layout exactly what is required, writing up notes in a PDF and giving the implementation team a video of gameplay with overlaid music and captions describing what is happening as Ori moves through the world. This helps the implementation team see clearly and exactly what is required.

On other games, it might simply be a case of handing over the stems for a completed track based on a brief and letting the implementation team do its thing. The granular level of control described above is definitely more labour intensive, but it can often show in the end result as it brings the composer extremely close to the game.

How long did you have to compose the soundtrack for Ori and the Will of the Wisps?

At the beginning it’s mostly concepts, learning, and information gathering, and then the accelerate pedal gets pushed in the last year of production right up to release. So, since 2017, but for most of 2019 I was writing constantly on the project.

When you came back to score the sequel, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, did you have more creative freedom for the soundscape?

I had pretty much unlimited creative freedom with the first game. The nice thing about sequels is that it usually means the first game was a success so it was simply a case of building on the core DNA from the first game, but not just to simply repeat it, but also expand upon it. My job there was made easier due to the incredibly diverse array of environments presented in the game.

How did you go about choosing the instrumentation that forms the mystical world of the Ori games?

I don’t really start work on instrumentation until the visuals are in. Once they are, I record video of the environment in-game and then import that into my DAW. Then I simply play the video on loop and try sounds that I feel work based on what I’m seeing. Some of the choices can be very obvious. For example, much of the game is set in a forest and thus there is a heavy association with wind instruments. Also, as the game is a 'platformer', there is a heavy emphasis on constant movement, thus you’ll almost hear some kind of a pulse in all the core gameplay tracks. These pulses are often tonal percussion, or plucked instruments. Not too transient-heavy, but just enough that you feel it.

I generally look for the non-orchestral instruments first, and then build the track with those instruments and piano, and then flesh things out beyond that with strings and brass as necessary. It’s worth pointing out that there is not a huge amount of non-tonal percussion in the game. We generally treat Ori’s sound effects as the percussion section and this is an approach that carried over from the first game and also allowed for a clean mix.

An extension of this philosophy is that we only have combat music when you *have* to kill something to progress. You’re in and out of combat so quickly that changing the music from ambient to combat music feels gimmicky / gamey, which in a game as immersive as Ori is actually something you want to avoid. We try to avoid anything that might take you out of the experience.


I heavily associate colours with sounds so this is a very important part of the process.

Can you talk in-depth about the instruments that make up the sound-world of Ori and the Will of the Wisps?

This could be an entire interview in itself given the scope of the game and the number of environments so I’ll pick out some highlights. A lot of the woodwind instruments in the game come in the form of solo lines or little flurries / textural devices. I used woodwind specialist Kristin Naigus for this, an oboe and english horn player who also owns a plethora of world wind instruments, 21 of which were included on this soundtrack. A variety of whistles, quena and quenacho, bansuri, pipes, pennywhistle, a variety of recorders, crystal flute, shinobue, and a few more that are escaping my memory! Not only did she record melodies that are featured in tracks such as In Wonderment of Winter, Separated by the Storm, and Ancient Wellspring, but she also recorded a vast library of flute swells and flourishes for me based on written out notation from me which she expanded on. She did this in multiple instruments. We used these for stingers in the game, but also for transitional bits (often with added reverb and delay) that kind of function as the classic cymbal roll, but…without the cymbal roll.

In the area of the game Mouldwood Depths, this is an area where the game mechanic is a lack of light and if Ori stays in the darkness for too long, a shroud surrounds you and you die (this is signified visually and with SFX). So to navigate the environment you have to look for light sources, both static (flowers) and moving (fireflies) to progress. The whole environment is a foreshadowing of Ori’s encounter with Mora the Spider. I knew I wanted to do something string-based but I didn’t want to do it with dissonance. I came up with the idea to play some string pads that were constantly evolving and moving (similar to Spitfire’s Evos) but focusing on the core notes only being diatonic.

We used Vienna Synchron to record these strings, giving each string player an individual line to play (as opposed to Violin 1, 2, Viola, Cello, Bass). Additionally, every player had an individual mic. These were then mixed into both a ‘roomy’ mix and then a ‘close-mic only’ mix for easy usage for when I was writing. You can hear several of these string sounds in the track Shadows of Mouldwood, these are generally the creepier ones. There are some friendlier sounding ones that are great pads for scene-setting, an example of this can be heard right from the beginning of Seir.

A key component of Ori’s sound-world are the pulses. These do come from organic sources, blossom bells, gamelan, vibraphone, glockenspiels, thai gongs, crotales, pretty much any tonal percussion instrument that makes a pleasant sound! I also hired Slate & Ash to come up with some designed and processed ostinatos based on tonal percussion and plucked examples I’d given them that were used in the previous game. They made a Kontakt instrument based on my specs, nothing particularly special other than some basic loop playback control on the modwheel. Modwheel set to 0 played the loop forwards, set to 127 in reverse, and anything in between would crossfade and remain in sync. It creates a nice pulsing but also blurred effect that isn’t exclusively made up of transients, but also doesn’t have the ‘suck in’ sound that reverse content has. They also designed a large amount of pads that fit the 'Oriverse'.

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For some, writing the main title theme can come at the start or the end of the scoring process. How did you approach writing the Main Title for Ori and the Will of the Wisps?

I was fortunate with this one. The melody was taken care of as I had the theme from Blind Forest to use and I think not revisiting it would not have been a popular choice amongst our fans! The instrumentation choices and accompaniment / harmony for Will of the Wisps main title theme was born from the track Reunification on the soundtrack, that provided the foundation and then I added Aeralie Brighton’s vocals and finally the orchestra playing the melody to round things off. The theme is slightly more mellow than the version that’s in Blind Forest, but that’s reflective of the visuals that appear in the title screen (sunset, and Ori sitting down looking into the distance), but also the slightly more mature theme of this game.

How closely did you work with the game developers on both Ori games? Were you part of the early conversations regarding what the music could be?

I am very much a part of the core team at Moon working very closely with them, especially on key story moments but also the general tone and feel of the game. Even though the studio works entirely remotely (70+ people located all around the world), we are all in regular communication with each other, especially the leads of each department. I also worked closely with Formosa Interactive who provided complete audio services for the game from conceptualisation of SFX all the way through to final mix. The work- from-home model isn’t for everyone, and Moon is careful to find the right people as part of their core non-outsourced team who are able to stay self-motivated while not being in a traditional workplace. It results in a very free-flowing and agile team that allows us to make a game with the detail level of Ori, over the internet!

How is music implemented in games? Are you able to shed light on this for other composers out there who are looking to get into game music?

The answer to this question greatly depends on the budget of the game, and the technical aptitude and size of the team making it. Game music implementation can be very simple or incredibly complicated! A small project might just require simple jukebox-style playback (e.g. a strategy game), another project might just require basic setups that change the music based on certain triggers, and another project might be recomposing using a combo of vertical layers and triggers based on how much is going on from moment to moment.

With that, the most important thing in my opinion is to establish what the game needs in terms of implementation. On big projects there might be an audio director or music supervisor doing this and as a composer you might just be providing stems and letting them take care of the rest, but on smaller projects it will almost certainly be you the composer and you might have one programmer to help you get it in the game. So, at the very least you need to have an idea of what the game needs and how are you going to deliver it.

Beyond that, I think it’s essential that even if you don’t have interest in going all-in on implementation that you are familiar with basic terminology, what WWISE is, what FMOD is, vertical layering, branching, how to prepare a track to loop properly if you’re not using audio middleware, understanding gamestates. There are tons of resources on this, either in books or either on YouTube. We’re in 2020 now and the information is out there and easily accessible so there’s really no excuse for not being able to find it. I will say though that if you’re not into the nitty-gritty of the technical and code side of music implementation and hooking it into the game you absolutely must be able to communicate your intentions clearly to whoever might be setting it up for you.

On Ori and the Will of the Wisps I was extremely fortunate to be able to work with Guy Whitmore. Guy is a brilliant composer and implementer so he could both speak my language as a composer but also get it to playback how I would want. I would send him my recordings of the game overlaid with music how I wanted it to playback. The video would also have captions on how the music changed, which were also referenced in a PDF, which fully described how I wanted music to playback. Ori’s music is largely horizontal but changes sometimes on a granular level according to whatever actions Ori has completed in the game. In theory, it sounds fairly simple but there are so many variables to consider, especially in a game like Ori which is completely open and thus the player can often do things in a different order.

For example, we have a platforming puzzle room in the game that each time you make it through to the end of the room, you pull a lever and the entire environment rotates 90 degrees, and you have to go through again. There are 4 lever pulls in total. Each time you pull the lever, a new music cue plays that is an arrangement of the original platforming puzzle room music, but at a higher pitch, higher tempo, and with a few more instruments and more intensity. When you pull the last lever, music plays that tells the player that they’ve completed the puzzle room and can move on. Sounds simple enough? Just hook up the pieces of music using the lever as a trigger. Sure, but what happens when the player presses pause. What happens if the player dies at the 2nd rotation. What happens when the player leaves the area and goes to complete a bunch of other actions in the game (that might change the music elsewhere) and then return? Will the music still be the same? There’s a lot of tracking and variables that have to be considered, and a quality music implementer will build those so that they don’t break, but also so that they follow the narrative the way you intend as a composer.

It is possible to have quality music implementation even if you don’t do it all, but you had better make sure your music is in the hands of someone who is highly capable of 1) understanding your music, and 2) has not just the technical ability but the emotional capability to know where it will be placed in the game. There are some fabulous audio directors who really know how to place a composer’s music, but I always feel that you can never be certain if you are not at least a little bit hands on with the implementation yourself.

I regard music implementation in the same way as I regard music theory. You can have a career without knowing it, but it absolutely will not hurt to know it.

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Can you share any tips on writing music for the fantasy genre? 

Melodies, leitmotifs! But most of all you are transporting your player to a new world, so try to make that world immersive so they want to stay in it, but also make it sound a little different and unfamiliar. That doesn’t mean it has to be wacky, it just has to feel different. That’s a different thing to quantify, but if you understand your game/film on a deep level, you’ll know what it requires and it will come out in your music. I’m a big believer in trying to solve as many problems before you start writing (as I think this interview shows!).

I’m traditionally a slow starter on my projects but it really allows me to accelerate at the end because I always know exactly what the game I’m working on requires, because I know the project inside-out.

Lastly, what can we expect to see next from you, if you're allowed to share!

I can’t share the exact title name and it’s release date is obviously up in the air at the moment due to the coronavirus situation, however it’s a major existing IP that I’m extremely excited to be a part of, as well as it being very different to my work on the Ori franchise.