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Assassin’s Creed composer on the franchise’s evolution, and scoring larger, more adventurous worlds

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Assassin’s Creed composer on the franchise’s evolution, and scoring larger, more adventurous worlds

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Listen carefully to the finale of last week’s Assassin’s Creed Shadows trailer, and a familiar musical theme can be heard. Originally titled ‘Earth’ but best known to fans of the franchise as ‘Ezio’s Family’, you may as well at this point just call it The Assassin’s Creed Series Theme.


Unfortunately, when I speak to the brains behind it, veteran composer Jesper Kyd, he says he can’t say more about Assassin’s Creed Shadows at all – or at least, not yet. That’s despite his work scoring numerous games across the franchise to date – and despite his iconic theme being used within Shadows once again.


Whether he’s involved more deeply in the upcoming feudal Japan-set Shadows is a closely-guarded secret, it seems. But presumably he can confirm he has at least heard Shadows’ version of his theme that’s now out in the public domain? “I have,” he nods, smiling. “It’s a great rendition, it sounds great and it really fits. It always surprises me to hear that theme and how many ways it can be presented. And how it always just reminds you of Assassin’s Creed.”

Assassin’s Creed Shadows cinematic trailer.Watch on YouTube


But despite Ezio’s Family being the Assassin’s Creed theme, and despite working on the series since Assassin’s Creed 1, Kyd’s iconic track only came to life for the series’ second entry. And even then, Kyd notes, it’s barely in it at all.


“When that theme first made its appearance in Assassin’s Creed 2, it was such a great moment because everybody in the team were just in such agreement to the way it was presented. Because the theme is not used while you’re actually playing the game,” he recalls. We’re chatting over Zoom a couple of days after the Shadows trailer drops, and ahead of the theme being played in London at another tour of the ever-popular Assassin’s Creed concert series.


“It’s in there a little bit, it’s more used in the beginning and the end of the game and it gives it such a good kick off into the experience. When we first released that theme we were very passionate about it, but it’s so great to see that players feel the same way.”


Kyd scored the first four games in the series – 1, 2, Brotherhood and Revelations – in rapid succession, as Ubisoft quickly realised it was onto a Good Thing and made the series an annual event. But while Kyd’s theme has remained a constant in the years since, the composer ended up taking an extended break – only returning some nine years later with 2020’s Viking-set Valhalla.

“Doing every Assassin’s Creed every year would be just… it would consume you. And like any other composer I like to do lots of different things.”


“I started with Assassin’s Creed 1 and then we had two years to do Assassin’s Creed 2 where I did a lot of experimentation and a lot of things I’ve never done before,” Kyd recalls. “I really tried to innovate in my music style. That all took a while to figure out.


“And then for Brotherhood, I had a year. I wasn’t asked to do that much music, it’s not that long of a score. I believe I did 90 minutes of original music where usually it’s at least three hours [as] the team decided to start using songs from Assassin’s Creed 2, so Brotherhood has a mix of both.


“And then Revelations [was released] like a year later. It’s a challenge to keep inventing a new music style when you have a shorter deadline, and I really like to invent something new for every location.


“Doing every Assassin’s Creed every year would be just… it would consume you,” Kyd said. “And like any other composer I like to do lots of different things. For me, it all worked out great and it was such a joy to come back with Valhalla. That makes so much sense – going back to the Viking era as I’m Danish, so I grew up with a lot of Viking information… But it’s always such a joy to work on.”


Kyd recalls initially being wowed by the series’ early focus on open-world gameplay – and its feeling of discovery, something that seems a key feature again in the upcoming Assassin’s Creed Shadows.


“When Assassin’s Creed came out, I don’t think any game did exploring that way,” he says. “I really enjoy the discovery, and so I try to find ways to make you want to stay in that world – even if you’ve completed a game. A good soundtrack can really do that, if it’s carefully constructed.”


The Assassin’s Creed series has evolved significantly over the past 15 years, to the point where its modern day meta-story is now entirely detached from its historical narrative, and is set to be told through the Assassin’s Creed Infinity game/hub/experience/thing in the future. But early games in the franchise had you hopping in and out of its Animus device repeatedly – something Kyd tried to reflect in his music.


“[The Animus] was such a huge part of what Assassin’s Creed was in the beginning. And I think that is something we now all understand as part of the story. But to set up Assassin’s Creed, the Animus was very important. So of course, sci-fi was important.

“I try to find ways to make you want to stay in that world – even if you’ve completed a game.”


“I remember for Assassin’s Creed 1, when you were being chased across the rooftops by guards, we had all this escape music,” he continues. “And we had all these different states the escape music could be – low, medium and high. Patrice [Desilets, Assassin’s Creed co-creator] wanted this music to be electronic, and the idea was the Animus was being pushed to the absolute maximum when you’re in those moments – it’s why you see screen-tearing and so forth. That’s when the sci-fi came out and why it’s scored that way.


“In Valhalla, the sci-fi is done in a different way. I wanted the score for Valhalla to sound more realistic and I didn’t want any electronic elements in there because the game was so incredibly gritty and realistic and everything took place outdoors in really large, natural environments. You’re just so far away from hidden locations in cities where some sci-fi stuff might be going on in a dungeon somewhere.


“But the way I was able to blend the Animus and the sci-fi aspect into the music was I filtered and processed all the live performances. Everything had to start from the foundation of being a live performance, but then I would filter and process everything on top. It gave it a different sound. It’s not a super-authentic Viking sound, that was never the idea. But the idea was it could fit in the Viking era and then I would process everything to make it feel more modern, so that was the way I filtered in the Animus on that.”


Hearing Kyd talk excitedly about his work on the Assassin’s Creed series, I don’t get the feeling his time with it is done. “It’s not a closed book at all,” he says, when I ask if he would return. And until then, his theme will continue defining the series’ sound, wherever it goes. It must be a source of pride, I ask, that this theme continues. “Yeah, absolutely,” he concludes. “It is.”



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