Jack Wall on Scoring Call of Duty: Black Ops III

October 10, 2016

Composer Jack Wall is no stranger to creating video game scores, and one of his latest projects had him working on Call of Duty: Black Ops III. Though he also worked on the music for Call of Duty: Black Ops II, the two games are completely different, which allowed him to start over with a blank slate for Black Ops III.

So, how exactly does Jack approach writing a score for a game with so much action? First, he asks for a video playthrough of a level, which already has all the sound effects inserted. This makes the process more akin to scoring a film. The main difference, however, is that sound design will take over in certain spots.

To make his score stand out from the rest, Jack likes to create themes throughout a project, such as the “Frozen Forest” sound logo used for one of the companies in Black Ops III that threads through the game. He’s also always looking for new sounds, which is something that drives him to collaborate with others who have different ways of working, and ultimately creates a learning experience on both ends.

When it comes to one of the more unusual requirements of Black Ops III - the big band music for the zombie campaign - Jack pulled it off without a hitch. He describes the process of writing and recording the songs as some of the most fun he’s had. He’s also never gotten so many requests for a song’s sheet music as for the up-tempo swing track “Snakeskin Boots,” particularly coming from high school bands.

Considering Jack uses electronic, orchestral and ethnic instruments, the Black Ops III soundtrack is quite diverse. His choice of instrumentation is largely based on creating a different feel for each level of the game. It’s really a variety of music in the game that he strives for, and enjoys as a player himself. 

As for what truly perks up Jack’s ears, he likes sounds that evoke emotion, which involves a lot of trial and error on his quest to find these. He also listens to a lot of music to isolate sounds that aren’t related to a soundtrack, meaning already used. For example, his use of the Armenian duduk player when doing the score for Myst III was quite unique at the time, because he picked the instrument out of a Peter Gabriel album.

While video games continue to evolve with storylines that become more immersive and engaging, Jack keeps returning to the medium with a love of being a part of it all. As one person, he’s able to make a huge contribution to a game like Black Ops III that millions of people play. His musical choices are what moves the players, and that’s what he finds really inspiring.

You can watch the full interview with Jack below as he discusses his journey scoring Call of Duty: Black Ops III.

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