“Steve [Szczepkowski] and I had the same shared vision that we wanted an epic, intergalactic symphony, and that would be one of the big elements of music in the game,” Jacques tells WIRED. “We wanted it recorded live with some of the best musicians on the planet, many of which have performed in the MCU films, in one of the most famous studios in the world.”
Like Szczepkowski, Jacques didn’t want to emulate anything from the movies and instead set out to create something different that would still sound familiar to Guardians fans.
“From a musical point of view, I knew I wasn’t tied to anything specific,” he says, “but I wanted it to feel like Guardians, to have that sense of trepidation and adventure. This bunch of misfits is constantly bickering, and there’s a huge element of fun in it. I wanted to make sure all of these elements were reflected in the score.”
The result is over six hours of original music and a score that, when printed, is thicker than many books. Recording live with such a large orchestra of talented musicians made a massive difference to the way players hear that music within the game, Jacques says.
“It lifts the gaming experience tenfold,” he explains. Working with a large orchestra, you get so much more dynamic range, and that vital human input on the delivery of every note. When we go to the studio and the players look at the music and ask how we want it [played], we can still fine-tune things and make decisions right on the floor on the day. When [the musicians] give feedback about the writing, that’s something I take very seriously because I look up to those players so much.”
As well as creating an original score for the game, Jacques had to navigate the complexities of fitting his work around the mountains of character dialogue in the game while ensuring his pieces didn’t sound out of place alongside any licensed music or Star-Lord tracks. And moving tracks around meant Jacques might have to completely rework whatever he was composing.
“I can give you the perfect example of where that happened and when,” Szczepkowski laughs. One of the Star-Lord tracks, “Space Riders With No Name,” was initially the choice for the game’s opening scene. It’s in the key of E, but after Szczepkowski wrote the final song for the Star-Lord album, “Zero to Hero” took its place.
“For whatever reason, [the song] got everybody’s ear and attention. The creative director was like, ‘I really want it to be ‘Zero to Hero’ that plays in the bedroom. I said, ‘Well, I’m pretty sure that’s in drop D so that’s not gonna work, but let me ask Rich [Jacques] nicely if he’ll change the key of the opening … ’”
“That’s the fun of making games!” Szczepkowski continues. “As Rich said, and I can’t underline the importance of this enough: Flexibility is key.”
“If I remember rightly, it was pretty late when that change came in too,” Jacques jumps in. “But these little things make such a difference in terms of the flow of the game. All of these little things that take time and effort make a big difference in the way the game is presented and therefore the experience for the player. It was challenging but a fun challenge to have!”