Peter McConnell on composing music for Psychonauts 2, working with Jack Black and Brutal Legend

When Psychonauts 2 launched a few months ago, it was greeted positively by fans and critics. A big part of that is how he managed to improve on everything that originally made him great without losing sight of the spirit and identity of the first game.

The Psychonauts soundtrack is an integral part of that spirit and was created by legendary music composer Peter McConnell. McConnell has composed titles like InFamous, Sly Cooper, and several classic Star Wars games, but is perhaps best known for his relationship with Double Fine and for being a key figure in almost all of his larger releases.

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Psychonauts 2 - via Steam

Psychonauts 2 is no different, McConnell is once again returning to lead the music. After the game’s successful launch, I had the chance to chat with him about the challenge of composing different levels, how his music has evolved over the years, and what it was like to see Psychonauts 2 received so positively.

“It’s been wonderful, of course,” says McConnell. “It’s like a family reunion in part, a New Years Eve party. It’s been a long year – four years really, for me – so it’s been nice to be able to celebrate. ”

There is a 16-year gap between the original Psychonauts and its sequel, but in keeping with the spirit of the first game, the soundtrack contains many musical callbacks and tracks that are remixed and developed, this time with all players live. .

“Back then we had more modest resources to work with,” recalls McConnell. “At the time, I was only able to use live musicians for some of the instruments in a song like ‘The Meat Circus’, so the opportunity to do a larger score with all the live musicians. from Psychonauts 2 was a real treat. I would like to think that I grew up as an artist a bit over the years, so I was able to bring a new perspective to music.

One of the core concepts of Psychonauts is that the bespectacled protagonist Raz has the ability to delve into the minds of several key characters and help them overcome their trauma. Each spirit is treated as its own level, which means the music and visuals are completely different from each other, in order to match the character.

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“Honestly, I can’t think of anything more fun,” McConnell says of each character’s makeup. “The challenge, of course, is to keep the score consistent across so many beautifully diverse worlds. I did it mainly through melodies. The Psychonauts theme appears in almost every level and the character themes never change. I felt it gave me the freedom to expand into almost any genre.

Considering how well the music has to match the tone of each level, you’d think McConnell could see each level up close as it was created, but that’s not the case and the composer sometimes works with just a few. words. and images.

“It’s usually pretty sparse,” McConnell says. “It’s like black and white concept art coupled with a gameplay capture in which the backgrounds are just geometric shapes. I always ask for a description of the vibe and a bit of art, even if it’s just black and white background studies or character sketches. You really have to use your imagination at the start.

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“Sometimes the levels change completely in their mood, and you have to write new music and reuse the old one. This happened on two or three levels in Psychonauts 2. Compton’s Cookoff originally had more of a Julia vibe. Child, which was very different from the game show world we ended up doing, so this old music was reused to be played in the Motherlobe reception room and during Compton’s game show commercials.

McConnell also revealed the origins of the Brain in a Jar level, explaining that the character of Jack Black was originally an opera singer. McConnell explains, “You can still see a reference to that in art with the Psy King’s Viking helmet, a nod to Wagnerian opera. Fortunately, that changed for the psychedelic world of the 60s before I did any sketches. ”

This change worked, as Psychonauts 2’s Brain in a Jar level is arguably the most iconic in the game, thanks to those trippy visuals and the inclusion of Jack Black as a central character. Jack Black doesn’t just appear as a character, he also gets his own song, Healing Feeling, which McConnell helped compose.

“It was amazing,” McConnell says. “Jack Black is an incredible and very fast singer in the studio. Tim [Schafer, CEO and president of Double Fine] was in the room with him with voice director Khris Brown and I was listening from a distance give my opinion. Jack is a gracious and generous artist and it was a real honor to be able to work with him.

Speaking of Jack Black, I couldn’t help but ask about McConnell’s experience working on another Double Fine game – Brutal Legend. “It wasn’t that hard really,” says McConnell. “I just had to channel my 14-year-old interior. This is about the age I was when much of the seminal metal came out, and you live and breathe the guitar. The challenge was to keep the orchestral parts simple and not too fancy, so that they supported the essence of the music. Breaking a few classic rules helped.

While it’s currently unclear what Double Fine is working on beyond promises that it has “brand new ideas and none of this has ever been heard before,” many fans of the studio’s work are hopeful. that it will return to Psychonauts for a third. Entrance. If so, McConnell says he would be there “in the blink of an eye.”

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