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Feature Article

Borderlands 3 Has The "Most Varied Score" Yet For The Series, Composer Says

Guns and tunes.

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Borderlands 3 is almost here. Gearbox's next big looter-shooter arrives on September 13 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Like previous entries in the series, the music is one of its standout features. Music has been very important to the series from the beginning (the opening sequence in Borderlands 1 might have been the first time you heard "Ain't No Rest For The Wicked"), and this theme continues with Borderlands 3.

GameSpot recently had the opportunity to interview Borderlands 3 composer Jesper Kyd, who spoke to us about many different topics. Having already worked on Borderlands 1 and 2, as well as the Pre-Sequel and Claptastic Voyage, Kyd expanded on the challenges of making new music in a series he's familiar with, as well as what it was like working with Gearbox, how the music ties together with Borderlands 3, bringing players to multiple planets outside of Pandora this time around.

Kyd also told us more about how Borderlands 3 makes use of a "deep interactive music system" that, through some backend wizardry and randomness, allows the game's music to sound slightly different each time you play. Additionally, he explained that, at a high level, he wanted to try new things and break from some of the series tradition, while he also described the score as the "most varied" one he's ever made for the Borderlands series.

"I knew right away the last thing I wanted to do was add the predictable swampy slide guitar on all the music. It just felt too pedestrian for Borderlands 3, it wasn't out-there enough," he said.

You can see the full review below. Kyd also composed the music for games in the Hitman, Assassin's Creed, Darksiders, and State of Decay franchises.

For lots more on the upcoming Borderlands 3 launch, check out GameSpot's roundup that covers the pre-load details, region unlock times, PC specs, and more. If you're looking to pick up the game, you can check out GameSpot's extended pre-order guide to learn more about what's available.

GameSpot's Borderlands 3 review scored the looter-shooter an 8/10. "Borderlands 3 has a few stumbling blocks when it comes to bosses, but these fights are overshadowed by the game's rewarding gunplay and over-the-top humor," reviewer Jordan Ramee said.

Jesper Kyd
Jesper Kyd

Having worked on previous Borderlands games in the past, can you talk about the challenge of coming up with new ideas for a series you're already familiar with?

After working on Borderlands 1 and 2, the last Borderlands games I scored were The Pre-Sequel and Claptastic Voyage, which were both science fiction-inspired scores mixed with the distinct feel of Borderlands. With Borderlands 3 we are back to Pandora as well as visiting new worlds such as the Eden-6 planet, which is the planet I scored. Scoring a brand-new addition to the Borderlands universe has been very exciting to work on. Eden-6 is a planet covered in swamplands and thick vegetation, so it was a very different writing experience from scoring the previous four Borderlands games I worked on. It is also the most varied Borderlands score I have written.

"Eden-6 is a planet covered in swamplands and thick vegetation, so it was a very different writing experience from scoring the previous four Borderlands games I worked on." -- Jesper Kyd

What kind of notes did Gearbox give you as it relates to the music they wanted?

They were looking for the music to help make Eden-6 sound unique from the other planets, yet at the same time help define this new unexplored world as a location that belongs in the Borderlands universe. I remember writing one of the cues that opens with a slow atmospheric guitar solo, a la Pink Floyd, and when I talked about this to the Gearbox audio director Raison Varner he mentioned the team was 100% on board with such ideas. The score I wrote doesn't draw inspiration from any film or game soundtracks, the direction goes much further than that. Naturally the score also needed to support areas such as marshlands and wetlands and this is often mixed up with a high-tech mood, since advanced technology is ever-present.

How much collaboration was there between yourself and the team at Gearbox?

I worked closely with the audio department at Gearbox, specifically Raison Varner. We talked a lot about the different worlds I was working on and he really encouraged me to bring a lot of creativity to the writing. Borderlands is a perfect playground for me to let loose musically and after working on all the previous games and helping to establish the Borderlands sound, I was able to use a lot of my knowledge of the universe and creative energy to help push things much further this time around. That's the great thing about returning to franchises; since you have already established the sound you can now invest time in pushing that sound further into new territories.

"Adding lots of melodies to the exploration music is something I felt would fit very well with this gameplay type. This is what I feel ties all my music together." -- Jesper Kyd

Borderlands 3 is such a sprawling game with so many different locations, characters, and moments--is there a connective tissue of a kind that ties your music together?

That's a great observation. I feel my main menu music is a good example of the dynamic type of music I wrote for Borderlands 3. I really focused on adding a lot of melody to my writing. When playing games myself, my favorite musical moments are often those based on melody and this is something I talked a lot to Gearbox about and they loved that idea. Borderlands is such a high-octane experience, even when just exploring the maps, there is a ton of variation and entertainment throughout. So adding lots of melodies to the exploration music is something I felt would fit very well with this gameplay type. This is what I feel ties all my music together.

When you set out to make the music for Borderlands 3, what themes and tones did you want to highlight or accentuate? What kind of instrumentation were you looking to use?

I knew right away the last thing I wanted to do was add the predictable swampy slide guitar on all the music. It just felt too pedestrian for Borderlands 3, it wasn't out-there enough. We are on an alien planet after all! So I pursued other ideas. There is a track called "Exploring The Dormant Ship" where I play a big Russian zither as well as some really warped pianos through a space echo; this really helped us realize that we could move way beyond just slide guitars and other more traditional bayou instrumentations. I then recorded a lot of vocal parts for the action part of this cue, which helps give the world a more immersive depth and richness of life.

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I recently had the opportunity to play Borderlands 3 during a preview session. That dub-step boss was a musical treat; can you talk about how that all came together and what you were setting out to do with it? The way it uses music is so fascinating.

Great! I love that you noticed that. I wrote 10 minutes of end boss music to make all that come together like that. I had this idea of making the end boss music for Eden-6 something that really stands out with an atmosphere that lifts you up. I am a huge fan of boss battles and I'm fascinated with how games use boss music; Japanese games perform these types of gameplay moments especially well. Gearbox was onboard with this approach but when we put it in the game we all realized that we needed something different to set it up before we could give people this crazy melodic lift in spirits.

To make that transition work I wrote a track for the boss battle that's really heavy and bombastic before introducing such a shift in uplifting mood. So if you ace this epic boss battle right away you'll move on faster and the game will take you to the next world. But if you take longer in battle the game rewards you with a new level of atmosphere which gives you a feel of rising hope, that you can overcome this challenge. On the album, that track is called “Tranquility Achieved”.

"Borderlands 3 features a really deep interactive music system with many layers and modular pieces that are randomly put together in-game, so the music sounds a bit different every time you play the game." -- Jesper Kyd

I've read that you're challenging yourself to experiment with new sounds for Borderlands 3. What does this mean?

Well, I am always looking at new ways to break the mold of what is expected and then take things further or go in a totally different unexpected direction that really rewards the gamers as well as fitting the game perfectly. There are so many interesting things that can only be done in the games medium and following the path of scoring games more traditionally is a lost opportunity, since I feel we have an opportunity to create something unique or surprising.

For example, once you finally make it to the end part of Eden-6, the music track “Treasures Of The Vault” starts with a set of upbeat motivational combat cues, to get the fun factor going out in full force. It's like a reward for the game player while at the same time reminding you that you are finally here, that this is what you have been looking for, now fight and go claim your reward. These types of ideas are important to me as a gamer and I always think like a gamer when scoring video games. I really have to give credit to Gearbox and Raison Varner for allowing my creativity to run wild during the making of this score.

What else should people know about the soundtrack for Borderlands 3?

Borderlands 3 features a really deep interactive music system with many layers and modular pieces that are randomly put together in-game, so the music sounds a bit different every time you play the game. In addition to a more unique playing experience, this results in some really interesting soundtrack versions of the music. For example, there are exploration tracks on the soundtrack such as “Enter Floodmoor Basin” which are over nine minutes in duration as well as action music tracks such as “Treasures Of The Vault” which is an eight-minute piece. And these pieces of music never repeat any parts or themes but keep moving forward and developing. So it’s progressive in structure. The soundtrack, which also features music by co-composers Michael McCann, Finishing Move and Raison Varner, is almost six hours long and there’s a vinyl release on the way as well!

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