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How Returnal’s DLC music creates rising tension

Fresh from its BAFTA Games win for Music, PlayStation has released a new video detailing the music of Returnal’s Ascension DLC.

Presented by Glen Andrew Brown from PlayStation Studios Creative Arts Music team, the video highlights how composer Bobby Krlic and the team heighten tension the higher Selene climbs in the endless Tower of Sisyphus.

Specifically, every music track has been composed and edited into all twelve musical keys so that every time Selene moves up a floor of the tower the music rises by a semitone.

“One of the things we tried to achieve with the music was a sense of never ending rising tension,” says Brown. “The higher you climb in the tower the more intense the combat music becomes.”

It’s not just the musical key either. The music dynamically shifts to add in more melodic and instrumental layers both as the player climbs higher and the threat level increases when surrounded by more and more enemies. As the intensity increases, higher layers move into the soundtrack.

The same principles were also implemented in the explore music, where the key shifts upwards in each level. The higher you climb, the more abstract and airy the music becomes.


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The team also implemented 3D audio with musical bells that suggest to the player the intended direction to progress. This reaches a peak at the tower’s boss.

“Returnal has been such a privilege for all of us at PlayStation Studios to work on,” says Brown. “There’s so much we were able to musically play and experiment with.”

Not only did the game win awards for its music and audio, it also won the top prize of Best Game. Jane Perry also won the Performer in a Leading Role award for her performance as Selene.

Housemarque boss Ilari Kuittinen is hopeful the game will reach a new audience when it’s added to Sony’s revamped PS Plus subscription.

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