Nowhere to hide
'Carrion' composer reveals how one disgusting toy defines the game's sound
"The score is the monster's inner dialogue."
Most modern horror games put players in the shoes of an unsuspecting survivor who needs to escape the clutches of some malevolent creature, but Carrion flips the script.
The so-called "reverse-horror game" developed by Phobia Game Studio gives users control over an amorphous, tentacled monster who wants to consume anything and everything that stands in its way after its violent escape from a research facility.
Veteran video game composer Cris Velasco is solely responsible for Carrion's hair-raising soundtrack. Velasco tells Inverse that the soundtrack was written to be the "monster's inner dialogue." Velasco has played a pivotal role in how many of today's most recognizable games sound, scoring titles like Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, Bloodborne, and the original God of War trilogy among dozens of other AAA titles.
Carrion, however, is definitely among the creepiest.
Carrion's sinister, hour-long score is full of blood-curdling sounds that further accentuate the deathly screams and crunching bones of the monster's victims. But Velasco reveals that one of the game's most recurring motifs was actually created using a real-life ball of ooze.
"My nephew and niece were really into slime toys," he explains. "I saw them playing with them one day and I wondered if they'd make any cool sounds. I spent a day in the studio with a ball of slime where I spent hours squishing and pulling and smashing it. I did rhythms with the slime and processed them, which really became a foundation for a lot of cues."
If you listen carefully while playing Carrion, you'll be able to hear the viscous squishing and slapping of the gooey toy that rose to popularity among children and YouTubers in 2017. Velasco's slime sample is especially prominent in Carrion's main theme, where you can hear the rhythmic squish of the toy accompanying the song's epic percussion instruments.
"We had most of the scientists' screams and the sound of the creature as it's crunching bones and moving around shooting its tentacles out."
Carrion's scrappy indie developer, Phobia Game Studio, gave Velasco near-complete creative freedom when it came to scoring the horror game. This led the composer to experiment with even more unorthodox sounds like human screams, animal screeching, and a bumping heartbeat to make gamers squirm in their seats as they play.
"I took recordings of human and animal screams and morphed them into really scary risers," he says. "I also used the literal sound of a heart racing for some percussion. I was hoping these types of sounds trigger the fight or flight part of your brain to make you anxious."
As Carrion's harbinger of death, players have to slither their way through air ducts as they devour scientists and soldiers to grow and mutate. Throughout your blood-soaked journey as a ball of alien ooze, remember that most of the music you're hearing was partially created with an actual ball of slime.
For more about Velasco's experience scoring 2020's squelchiest horror game and more, continue reading our Q&A.
What was the ongoing experience of scoring Carrion like?
It was super off and on. The majority of the score was written at the beginning of this year. The whole game was basically constructed by two guys in Poland. With a dev team that small, it took a long time to make this game. I can't believe they pulled it off — and in only two or three years.
There was just nothing for me to do for long stretches. They'd show me some new material every now and then and say, "Hey Cris, do you want to write some music for this section?" So we were constantly keeping in touch.
But there would be months and months at a time where I wouldn't really do anything.
What was it like working with such a small team?
I’ve never worked on anything that had a two-person dev team before. It's the kind of company that I've never really been approached by before, but I saw this GIF on my Twitter feed like three years ago.
It was an early prototype of the monster from Carrion. One of the devs Sebastian Krośkiewicz had tweeted the GIF showing the mechanics of the tentacles reaching out so the monster can pull itself. It was in this retro 16-bit style, but the way it moved was so fluid.
I was taken aback by how cool it looked, so I looked all over the internet for who this guy could be. When I finally got in touch with them, I said, “The image in your tweet just looks so incredible, and it's like ticking all my boxes aesthetically. Is it a game? Is it nothing? Oh and by the way I'm a composer I've scored all these projects here and I am dying to score this."
So for me, it just started out completely as a passion project. Sometimes you just want to do stuff that fulfills you creatively, and I didn't care anything else about it. I just wanted to be a part of that project based on a 5-second GIF.
A gag promotional video released by 'Carrion's publisher, Devolver Digital.
How closely did you work with Carrion’s sound designer?
So there were two guys that were really making the game, then I did all the music, and there was a sound designer that did all of the non-musical sounds.
There was sound design in the game before I wrote any music so I got a sense of what it was going to be like. We had most of the scientists' screams and the sound of the creature as it's crunching bones and moving around and shooting its tentacles out.
So I didn't work closely with the sound designer; We did our own thing, but we had so much time to perfect stuff that we kind of learned where not to step.
You've worked on virtual reality titles like the Vader Immortal series. How does composing for VR compare to more traditional games?
In terms of my writing process, it's exactly the same. But I think in terms of implementation, it's different.
When you're in VR, your brain is literally telling you this is your reality right now, which is very different than sitting on the couch and playing PlayStation.
I think that VR games really benefit from less music because [they’re trying to emulate reality]. You're not going to hear a score while you're at work. That's something you have to be careful of in a VR score is not over-scoring it and making [the player ask,] “Why is there music playing right now?” You have to kind of pick and choose your moments and really use them for dramatic effect.
The only time that's been different for me is when I scored a VR Star Wars game. That has to be wall to wall music because that's the sound of Star Wars. If you pull music out of that, suddenly it doesn't feel like Star Wars anymore.
Carrion is out now for Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, PC, MacOS, and Linux.