Bajakian ended up leaving the company he had started, Bay Area Sound, to take a job at Sony after roughly two years of working with Jared, who ended up taking charge. It was at this point that his path crossed with Telltale.
“Shortly after that time was when Telltale was starting up, and Julian [Kwasneski], my business partner, was old friends with them, which led to us working together. They were looking for an out of house audio solution for them because at that time they were a very small eight or ten person operation back then, so we told them we were around and said we’d do whatever they needed and we’re happy to help. Now we cut to, like, thirteen, fourteen years later and they’re huge — it’s more like 450 people there now, and we’ve just been working with them ever since.”
“Another happenstance — a wonderful thing, but the most lucky thing about that is that the type of games that they make are the type that I was most drawn to. They’re the reason I wanted to get in to doing music for games in the first place. I liked other games fine, but the scores that were the most exciting to me were the adventure game scores, the kind of cinematic scores that were telling a story, accompanying those sorts of characters. So yeah, I’m the luckiest man in games apparently,” he joked.
WHY ADVENTURE GAMES?
Jared’s company, Bay Area Sound, has worked on a wide variety of games, working in sound design for BioWare on Star Wars: The Old Republic as well as on the critically acclaimed, six-time BAFTA nominated Firewatch but their, and Jared’s, most enduring relationship has been with Telltale, for whom he has scored many times, most recently for Guardians of the Galaxy and the third season of The Walking Dead. Since they specialize in adventure games, we discussed what it was about them that was particularly interesting to him, and just how much not just adventure games, but games in general have in common with film.
“I think it’s partly the type of music that I like to write, and that’s interesting to me,” he began. “There’s certainly action games and shooter games and you know…mobile games that are all interesting to score as well, and the variety is fun, but adventure games are pretty unique in that landscape, because you’re looking at a story first and foremost, so there’s a story to be told — there’s a certain cinematic element to it, but it’s also a game for sure.
The puzzles and things that come along in an adventure game are unique to games, so it’s an interesting balance, but I guess the main thing for me is that you’re usually looking at some kind of thematic element, so you’re looking at characters who have real personalities and who presumably have some kind of arc going through.”
He traces this desire for a tangible and continuous story thread back to films, arguing that adventure games are alike in a lot of ways, and perhaps the link from that medium to video games.
“For me, as a 35-year-old who grew up in the 80s and 90s, films were sort of king in those days, ” he explained. “Games were fun. We all had our Nintendos and they were great, but in terms of what was the kind of ideal entertainment platform at that time, for me at least, it was definitely film. That meant I grew up really admiring a lot of film scores and that was kind of my main focus. So, I guess in some ways adventure games are the natural gateway from that. There’s a cinematic element to them that I really admire and like, but they’re still definitely games so there’s still all of the interactivity, the branching, and the wagon wheel of knowing that the player’s choices could have different consequences. So it kind of appealed to both my cinematic sense and my love of interactive music scoring.”
The link with film appeals, but Jared also doesn’t want to leave behind that interactive element, preferring something non-linear to a linear format, like film, even if that medium is still “king,” which is obviously debatable.
“It’s funny,” he began, “when I talk with my parents or older generations who really often don’t get games, they’re always ask if I’m ever going to work on film, because that’s what makes the most sense to them. The answer is probably no, Never say never, but like, really, games are way more fun and there’s an inherent musical element to them. When you’re scoring something linear, it’s just moving ahead, it’s just horizontal, but in games there’s this vertical component where you’re going forward but you might jump up or down as you go forward and it’s just really exciting, especially musically, since there’s a lot of possibility there that I like playing around with.”
The diversity of games is also an interesting component, particularly when compared to film where no matter the genre, the medium itself stays the same. With games, the mechanics change, leading to a lot of differences.
“We talk about the games industry as though it’s a single thing, but it’s so much broader than that,” Jared said. “If you’re making a film it’s still fundamentally a film no matter what, but if you’re comparing a mobile game to an adventure game or a shooter game to a simulator game, what they even are is very different, and that’s kind of cool for me especially, with the variety I get from that it feels like every new project is kind of like a brand new job, even though technically I’m still doing the same thing every time. The problems I’m solving are very different from one of those to another.”
So what changes when you switch genres in games? RPGs, for example, are often festooned with grand orchestral scores in order to make the grand expanses in the game feel more epic, whereas an adventure game might feel more confined. As a result, perhaps the approaches taken to scoring these different kinds of games would be different. For Jared, there are many similarities, but also differences that come down to how the player is supposed to experience the different games.
“They tend to be those really big broad fantasy scores. It’s orchestral, it’s sweeping, it’s larger than life, and there are actually some adventure games where that is appropriate. I think for example the Guardians of the Galaxy game is a little closer to that than maybe the Walking Dead game.”
There are, perhaps, different emphases though, and Jared acknowledges that.
“The emphasis on dialogue, story, and conversation that there is in adventure games almost always means that there’s going to be a little bit more room for quieter stuff in them. That’s not always the case, though. Certainly in RPGs there are moments where if you’re exploring a space and there’s no action happening you’re going to have quieter moments, but in a lot of those cases in tends to be kind of one or the other where you’re either in a very ambient, moody space or it’s an action situation. I think the line between those two sometimes can be a little bit more blurry in an adventure game, because you might be in the middle of an action sequence, but then characters might be talking to each other, or you might be in the middle of just a dialogue scene but things are getting more intense. For me at least, I’m biased obviously, but I tend to think of adventure games as having a little more nuance some of the time and part of that is just because it’s so important. An adventure game won’t work if you don’t have that nuance, whereas an RPG maybe would and there isn’t necessarily the budget to have every possible shade of every possible emotional gradient in an RPG.”
“That said, there remains certainly a similarity,” he continued. “The actual process of writing the music, whatever music you’re writing, is the same. I’m using the same software programs, the same microphones to record live stuff — that stuff is always kind of the same. But the big picture stuff I think can tend to be pretty different in the way that you’re breaking it down. With the Telltale games, we break it down scene by scene, beat by beat. It’s much more linear in a cinematic sort of way, and then there might be a branch where you have to differentiate between what happens if certain choices are selected, so it all gets broken out that way. I think with RPGs and some of the bigger, broader games it tends to be that there isn’t as much intricacy. Of course, there are exceptions to that as well. I think there are some RPGs where that nuance is certainly in there a little bit more, but also, at the end of the day when it comes to RPGs, there’s a finite amount of resources. They’re hard for that reason, especially the MMOs because they’re so big, but you can’t have every possible thing in there so they have to make some judgement calls about what the most important beats and feelings are so that they can get the maximum impact.”