Composing Emotions in Where Cards Fall
Uncovering the deeply personal music beneath this coming-of-age story.
Published on the Snowman blog.
Music can be such an integral part of developing a game’s tone, and that’s never been more true for Where Cards Fall. Given that Where Cards Fall was inspired by Radiohead’s “House of Cards”, it only makes sense that the game would call for a strong musical foundation to capture its essence.
LA-based composer Torin Borrowdale created a unique, alternative soundtrack that takes players on an introspective journey through the evolution of the game.
Curious about his process, we sat down with Torin to learn more about how he approached composing the music, and what he hopes players will experience while they spend time with Where Cards Fall.
What led you to compose music for games?
I never saw myself composing for games until I began scoring student videogames at USC (University of Southern California). The videogame program there harbours so many creatives bursting with novel gaming ideas and it was inspiring to write equally creative music for those games.
One of those game developers was Sam Rosenthal. He was working on a very interesting concept for a game that would eventually be called “Where Cards Fall”. His passion and detail for the project led me to sign on and it’s been so satisfying to see his creation out in the world today.
How did you approach composing music for a coming-of-age story like Where Cards Fall?
A score has to express ideas on several different layers for a game such as this. It has to represent the characters (who are heavily influenced by the alternative music from their formative years). It has to exist within a modern game (with modern gameplay and interactive cut scenes). It also has to help tell the story and elevate the emotion of the characters’ journeys.
To do all of this, we needed different musical layers that could be triggered to convey different emotions depending on where we were narratively. The musical layers (or stems) themselves needed to consist of modern synths to match the striking visual style of the game, but also incorporate guitars and musical ideas from the characters’ memories. Sam and I worked to craft the score at the same time the concepts for the game were solidifying, so the two things happened all at once, and the music was able to be seamlessly incorporated into the game world and gameplay.
What do you hope people feel while listening to your music as they play the game?
I hope players feel that the characters are real people and can find parallels to their own lives. A lot of the game is open to interpretation, so we wanted the music to fill in emotional gaps and hopefully the player is able to fill in their own lives into the music and story.
We hope that the music makes the player feel as though the game is about them in certain ways. The goal wasn’t to make people feel happy or sad but hopefully allows players to uncover something unexpected about themselves.
What are some of the software and hardware tools used to make the music?
We collaborated with musicians to perform a lot of the score and the rest was programmed with synths and software by me. The performance of live guitars can’t really be matched by fake guitars so it was important to add that human element to an otherwise non-acoustic score.
I specifically used Pro Tools, but plug-ins nowadays are so powerful, that any Digital Audio Workstation will do. It’s all about the combination of sounds that you can produce with synthesizers and how you process them. Because there’s really no limit to the musical possibilities, writing this soundtrack specifically was about refining the sound, making it specific to this game and adding meaning with the music. The guitar performance helped ground the score in the world of Where Cards Fall.
What have you been working on since the game and what’s next for you?
Since the game came out, I’ve been working on the show Locke & Key for Netflix and the Lionsgate thriller RUN for Hulu. It’s been really fun writing for so many different mediums lately. It never gets old.
After learning about the detail and care that went into creating the score for Where Cards Fall, each sound feels even more personal—not only to Torin and The Game Band’s Creative Director Sam but to the rest of us as players.
We can’t wait to revisit the game with this deeper appreciation in mind, and hope you’ll do the same. We’ll be curious to hear what kind of journey Torin’s soundtrack takes you on—after all, it will be as unique as the individual playing!