Greatest Video Game Composers: Jesper Kyd - ArticleTaneli Palola , posted on 03 May 2016 / 6,320 Views
Jesper Kyd has been composing music for video games since the beginning of the 1990s and during that time has established himself as one of the most talented and prolific composers working in the industry today. He has also won numerous awards for his music and received a huge number of nominations from various sources for his work. So let's take a look at the career of this Danish composer.
Kyd began his career in the video game industry in 1990, composing the music for a mostly forgotten Commodore 64 game called U.S.S John Young. At this point Kyd was closely involved with the Amiga demoscene, creating music mostly as a hobby with various demogroups.
His next video game soundtrack wouldn't come until 1993, when Kyd created the soundtrack for Pro Moves Soccer on the Sega Genesis. However, it was another game released that same year which truly began to earn him some notable recognition for his work. He composed the music for a title called Sub-Terrania, which was developed by Kyd's own company, Zyrinx. The game was praised for its visuals, gameplay, unique style and concept, as well as its soundtrack.
He would follow this early success with another Zyrinx game in 1994 called Red Zone, and in 1995 he composed the music to the Genesis version of The Adventures of Batman & Robin. He also worked on a Sega 32X game called Heavy Machinery, but it was never released. 1996 was equally uneventful, with only two low profile releases called Amok and Scorcher coming out that year.
Ultimately, Zyrinx closed down when the publisher Scavenger went out of business. Afterwards Kyd became a freelancer and moved to New York to set up his own sound studio. He wouldn't work on another game until 1999 though, at which point he composed the music for yet another little known game called Time Tremors.
Kyd's real breakthrough came in 2000. He first composed the soundtrack for BioWare's MDK2, garnering praise for his work on the game. Then he went on to score a game called Messiah, which was developed by Shiny Entertainment, a company best known for creating the first two Earthworm Jim games. Finally, Kyd created the music for IO Interactive's Hitman: Codename 47. Hitman would of course eventually become the developer's most well-known and beloved series.
This would slowly begin to gain Kyd more attention within the industry, but it was still a slow process. In 2001 he would work on two games: an RTS called The Nations: Alien Nations 2 and an MMORTS called Shattered Galaxy. Neither game made any real lasting impact, although apparently Shattered Galaxy is still online, supported by a fairly small but dedicated fan base.
In 2002 Kyd got his next big break when he returned to compose the second Hitman game - Silent Assassin, which got a significantly better reception compared to the first game. It is, in my opinion, one of his best works to-date and features a much more orchestral style compared to the first Hitman, which had a very electronic-driven sound.
That same year he also composed some of the music for the video game adaptation of Minority Report, which is exactly as good as one would expect from a game made to cash in on a popular movie.
Kyd started the following year with the soundtrack to a mostly forgotten Xbox title called Brute Force. It's a squad-based third-person shooter that at one point had some hype behind it, but largely disappeared from people's minds soon after release. Later that same year he returned to work with IO Interactive on its new game, Freedom Fighters. It was an interesting video game that was set in an alternate history where the Soviet Union had occupied New York City. The game got good reviews, but didn't perform very well commercially.
2004 was mostly a year of low profile releases for Kyd. He created the music for McFarlane's Evil Prophecy and Robotech: Invasion, neither of which were especially well received and Kyd's soundtracks for the two are not among his most memorable works by any means either. He also provided three tracks for Dance Dance Revolution Ultra Mix. Those projects aside, Kyd's only notable work that year was once again for an IO Interactive title - Hitman: Contracts.
In 2005 Kyd only worked on one game, Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory, for which he primarily composed the music that played during the game's cinematic sequences. Following this, Kyd would once again return to the series that made him famous, creating the soundtrack to Hitman: Blood Money in 2006. This would mark the final time Kyd would compose music for the series.
By this point Kyd had gained a lot of recognition within the industry and his work had already earned him numerous awards, including a BAFTA for original music for his work on Hitman: Contracts. 2007 was something of a landmark year for him, as he found himself working on three very high profile games. The first of these was Kane & Lynch: Dead Men. It got a decidedly average response, but sold decently, and even got a sequel a few years later.
Next, Kyd worked on the soundtrack for Unreal Tournament 3, creating seven tracks for the game. In large part the soundtrack consisted of reworked versions of songs from the original Unreal Tournament. However, it was another game that came out that same year which gave Kyd perhaps his biggest exposure thus far.
Assassin's Creed was easily one of the most hyped games that released in 2007. For the game Kyd once again adopted a more orchestral sound, although the music is influenced by a variety of different styles. Many of the tracks have a strong, ambient quality, and overall the soundtrack creates a very dark, ominous atmosphere which fits the game very well.
2008 was a significantly slower year for Kyd. He composed the main theme for The Club and created the soundtrack for Chronicles of Spellborn, an MMORPG that closed its servers in 2010 after the game's developer went bankrupt in 2009 and it was turned into a free-to-play game.
The following year Kyd worked on two of the biggest games of the year, further cementing his status as one of the leading western composers in the industry. The first of these was Gearbox Software's Borderlands, which became one of the year's biggest surprise hits. Kyd worked with three other composers on the soundtrack and provided a total of five tracks for the final game.
The second game Kyd worked on that year was Assassin's Creed II, which he scored alone. In my opinion it is one of his overall best works. The soundtrack has a very different feel compared to the first game, with a much more melodic and acoustic sound that also reflects the change between the games very well. Of course, there are still many tracks reminiscent of the more ambient feel of the first game as well.
The very next year he once again returned to compose the soundtrack for an Assassin's Creed game – Brotherhood. The soundtrack to this game is extremely diverse, with tracks taking inspiration from numerous different genres and employing a wide array of techniques and instruments. It is an excellent soundtrack that showcases Kyd's talents to their fullest.
In 2011 Kyd continued to work on Ubisoft's highly popular series, this time composing music for Assassin's Creed: Revelations. However, this time he shared composing duties with Lorne Balfe and Revelations would ultimately be the last time Kyd would create music for the series. That same year Kyd created two music tracks for Turn 10 Studios' critically acclaimed Forza Motorsport 4.
In 2012 Kyd had yet another big year. First he provided a remix of one of his AC II themes (Venice Rooftops) for use in Namco Bandai's Soul Calibur V, which featured Ezio as a guest playable character. He then went on to create the soundtrack to Darksiders II, putting yet another high profile game under his belt. Kyd's music in the game fits the dark, fantasy setting beautifully, and complements the game's tone and atmosphere.
He finished the year working together with three other composers on the Borderlands 2 soundtrack. Unlike the first game, where his contribution was comparatively small, this time he composed over half of the final score, once again mixing various different genres of music together to great effect.
For the next two years Kyd mostly worked on lower profile games that didn't attract much attention, nor did they have any lasting impact on the industry for the most part. His most notable work in 2013 was the soundtrack to State of Decay, a third-person survival horror game. The score for this game may not be among Kyd's most well known, but that takes nothing away from its quality. The music is very acoustic driven, with piano and guitar often at the center of the songs.
The following year he would yet again collaborate with Gearbox, as he returned to compose the music for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Kyd composed roughly half of the game's soundtrack, for which he got to create a 'true' synthesized score, as he himself puts it. He even used the soundboards of old gaming consoles and home computers such as the Commodore 64 and Sega Mega Drive/Genesis to create music for the game. It's definitely one of his more unique soundtracks, and as a result is very memorable as well.
He then composed the soundtrack to a game called Moonrise together with Jeff Broadbent, but the game was cancelled after its early access release proved unsuccessful. The soundtrack is fortunately still available, and as expected Kyd's work on it is excellent. After that disappointing result, he would once again find success with another game - Warhammer: End Times – Vermintide - which was released in 2015.
With Vermintide Kyd once again showcased his ability to capture the unique atmosphere of a game and accentuate it with his music. Vermintide became something of a surprise hit, being developed by a relatively unknown developer and emulating the design of Valve's highly successful Left 4 Dead games, which doesn't necessarily work very often as games that try to be like another usually just come off as pale imitations. Fortunately, Vermintide had the advantage of being set in the Warhammer universe.
Jesper Kyd has been working in the video game industry for over 25 years and over that time he has become one of the most versatile and sought after active composers. He has the ability to work in just about any style required of him and he can capture the unique tone and feel of each game he works on with his music masterfully. Plain and simple, he is one of the best western video game composers of all time.
Once again, I'm sure many of you have your favourite soundtracks from this talented composer, so feel free to share them below in the comments. As always, thanks for reading.