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Picture this: A family looking for a new start stops by an unassuming motel looking for a respite after an unfortunate car accident. A few moments later, three men, armed and masked, enter the premises. The tension is palpable, voices raised. It’s your choice that matters — your choice that decides the fate of two families whose trajectories fatefully collide in midwest Americana. This is the plot of INTERIOR/NIGHT’s latest video game, As Dusk Falls.
As Dusk Falls is not like any regular game though. This motion graphic style game was designed to “flow like a TV show,” says Caroline Marchal, CEO and Creative Director of INTERIOR/NIGHT, the studio behind the game. “Each shot is like a painting… every frame is hand-painted and there are 15,000 unique frames,” she continues.
The game itself is a choose-your-own-adventure, designed to be played by both non-gamers and gamers alike. There are seven endings available and you can choose to follow this adventure by yourself or try the multiplayer version with up to eight other people.
Marchal recommends trying the game out by yourself first though, to fully appreciate the storyline. “You play solo, it’s like super insightful and intimate for yourself. But then you play with people you love and it just creates this unique experience and exchange with them,” she explains.
Each choice you make branches into a different narrative storyline. It tests your reflexes and makes you act on your most basic instincts. The gameplay itself flows a bit like a book, with each frame coupled with dialogue. That’s why the in-game music plays such a big part in the storyline. “[The] animation is pared back. So you’ve got all this space for audio design,” Marchal explains. Knowing they wanted to push the music aspect in the game, Marchal and her team of developers brought on Matthew Barnes, to be the composer of the game and Barns Courtney, to be the featured musician.
The process of creating a gameplay soundtrack isn’t easy though and requires as much work as scoring a movie or TV show. “We literally sat in rooms for hours and hours years ago, creating audio mood boards, which is very much like a visual board where you tear off pieces of magazine,” says Hannah Charman, Co-Founder of Sister Music, INTERIOR/NIGHT’s music supervision agency. During this process, Marchal came across Courtney’s music and she knew she had to bring him on. “His voice was just brilliant,” she says.
For his part, Courtney says he felt extremely passionate about working on the project. “Video games are my love language, it’s how I bond with my brothers,” he says. He was also taken in with the story itself, calling it a “beautiful moment” when the opportunity was presented to him. Courtney’s song Sinners is first heard in the As Dusk Falls‘ trailer, setting the scene for the dramatic and sometimes tragic events that take place at the Desert Dreams motel. “The characters, they’re good people that have been dealt a rough hand by life and just can’t seem to get it right. And they’re trying so desperately to figure out their places in the world,” explains Courtney about why Sinners is so pivotal to the trailer. “There’s a lyric in the song that says ‘I must be good for something,’ and that really resonated with me and the context of the game.”
Courtney also mentions that co-writing Sinners was the first time he’s really collaborated with someone — Sinners was originally written with Carl Barât from The Libertines, someone Courtney himself grew up idolizing.
It’s not the only single featured in the game though. Courtney’s cover of God’s Gonna Cut You Down is first heard in chapter three of the game, heightening how entrapped both families are in their fates. Charman mentions they chose the song because of the lyrics. “It really talks about not being able to run away from your problems,” she says. “What’s meant for you will come.”
Courtney himself added his own spin while recording it. “Yeah, I mean, Johnny Cash, his cover is so seminal, you know, it was very exciting and daunting to put my voice to it,” he says. “I wanted to take it to a new place that wasn’t so somber really, like try and add some of that heightened wailing desperation to the end of the tune.”
Charman reiterates that using Courtney’s music and Barnes’ composition was designed to make the players “feel” every emotion the characters were going through. The idea was to make players act on gut instincts based off their relationship with a character. In the end, the developers wanted a musical score that aided a player’s decision — rather than swaying it one way or another.
“A lot of Matthew’s [Barnes’] score in the backend and development, it’s all labeled with adjectives,” Charman says. “There are tracks and songs but they’re all called ‘fear,’ ‘anticipation,’ ‘stress,’ ‘hope’ or even ‘death,'” she explains. “We just wanted to use it [the music] to reflect the fear and anticipation that the characters were feeling.”
Though Barnes has scored many projects in the past, including the award-winning Ghosts of Sugar Land documentary, scoring a project like As Dusk Falls was a completely new experience for him. “I didn’t really have any clue about what was going into it or how we would structure it,” he says. Unlike his previous experiences, scoring music to picture, this was an entirely new world for him. “I wasn’t working to gameplay. A lot of it was just like conjuring stuff up in your head from some of the visuals that we had, and the kind of storyline elements that I would read about,” he explains.
Together, the team created hours and hours of music just loosely based on the storyline and visuals Marchal had provided them. “The music had to feel like it was an extra character in the game,” adds Barnes.
Since the team created the score without ever seeing the actual gameplay, a lot of it was like fitting “puzzle pieces” in the end according to Charman. “We would get sent clips and we’d ask ourselves, what track do you think works here?” she elaborates. From there, different sections from Barnes’ music catalog would make it onto the final game.
As for what instruments inspired the sound, Charman mentions that a ‘harmonica sound’ stays pretty consistent throughout the game. The music easily switches in and out, staying almost neutral and consistent as you play but the core instruments (mainly guitar and harmonica) remain the same. “We wanted tracks to be able to switch very quickly without it being too jarring,” mentions Charman. “It has to be layered, to dip in and out of a mood into another type of mood and emotion, because suddenly the story has taken a turn because of a player’s choice,” adds Marchal.
The end product is an incredibly synchronous music score without which the gameplay almost feels less emotive and full of life. Playing the game and hearing each note doesn’t just make you feel like you’re off somewhere in the deserts of Arizona — it makes you feel like you could actually be living someone else’s life. Thanks to the music, you feel the fear, anticipation and hope at every scene — some players have even had to pause the game because they are so overwhelmed by their emotions.
Of course, every video game comes with its own score and soundtrack, and each one has a similar, long cathartic journey attached to it. But understanding the journey — like the eight-year path As Dusk Falls took to completion — helps you appreciate (and enjoy) the game that much more. Whether in your virtual life or in real life, as you choose your own adventure, it’s nice to have a little music guiding your way.