Interview with Jack Wall, Black Ops 2 Composer
Michael Rougeau talks to Jack Wall, the composer of Black Ops 2’s phenomenal score.
Black Ops 2 is finally here, and while it may be difficult to stay your trigger finger during its adrenaline-fueled campaign, you might want to occasionally stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Actually, it's more like hearing the roses, since we're talking about Jack Wall's score.
Wall is an American composer who's created music for video games as diverse as Myst and Mass Effect, and we've no doubt he's brought a unique flavor to Black Ops 2. We got a chance to ask him some questions just before the game came out.
You've been composing game music for a very long time – how does Black Ops 2 compare to games you've composed for previously? How does the music you've created this time differ?
I’ve done a lot of story-based games – Myst, Jade Empire, the Mass Effect series. The story aspect and role playing/adventure aspects of those games allow some subtleties that shooters generally don’t. Call of Duty is such an adrenaline-filled experience from start to finish, however, we wanted to bring as much emotion as possible to the story for this one. The single-player campaign is of huge importance to Treyarch. My job was to help forward that story as much as possible.
How closely did you work with the devs at Treyarch in composing Black Ops 2?
Very closely. Brian Tuey was the audio director and he and I had almost daily conversations about the music and its role in the game. We would “spot” a video capture of a level and design how the music would work. In that way I would be able to understand the technical aspects of the music I was to compose for that level: which files would loop, how long a piece should be, where the transitions would happen and where the drama arcs or high points would be. We’d also discuss what palette we should use for a given level and what the tonality should be. This was also cleared with Dave Anthony and Jason Blundell – the Writer/Director and Exec. Producer.
Did you experiment with any new styles or sounds for Black Ops 2? Since the game is set in the near future, did you get to incorporate any futuristic-sounding elements?
Yes. I spent a good amount of time with my assistant doing some field recordings and sound design in the beginning to create some new sounds for the project. I have a Zoom H4n and we went out to source some sounds from dumpsters, pipes, cans, and other stuff to create some source material, adding synths and other effects to it to create some unique percussion. In general, I wanted to keep the grit but add the emotion of the orchestra for a hybrid sound. The future was more electronic and the ‘80s were more acoustic in general.
How do you approach composing for a game in an established series? Do you incorporate any existing themes or is it all new? Is that challenging?
It was pretty new. We were taking Black Ops to a new place. I really liked elements of the previous score – the darkness and starkness of it. But we did add more acoustic sources, solo instrumentation and unique singers to create a “few people taking on the world” approach.
Do you have a favorite type of game to compose for, like BioWare's games or more action-oriented experiences like Black Ops 2?
I like them all and enjoy the unique challenges of all of it. I also like to try new things every time out so I can expand my palette and abilities and challenge myself. Black Ops II was a great experience.
Were there any moments or specific types of scenes in Black Ops 2 that were your favorite to score? Can you go into any details?
Absolutely! I worked with a singer named Azam Ali. You’ll hear her beautiful and haunting voice on a really amazing level. I also particularly think the LA level came out pretty great. Since the world has seen that level, I can say that, but probably not more than that until the game is released!