Updated August 19, 2021 - 9:07 am
Swiss composer Jakob Eisenbach created the music for Tikal, a project that intrigued him from the moment the developers showed him early builds of the game.
The soundtrack is now available for listening.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said. “It’s neither game or film. It’s both because you are the protagonist and you have to find your way.”
Music is important in any game. But in a virtual reality experience, the emphasis on what you hear — and what you don’t — plays a critical role.
“When you’re in the virtual world, you don’t want to have any real-world sounds,” Eisenbach said. “That’s the core reason to have music. It’s not just to tell the story and emotions, but to have constant audio in your ears so you don’t have any awareness of what’s going on in the real world around you.”
In Tikal, players are transported to a Mayan temple as they race to uncover the secrets hidden there.
“The core idea behind Tikal was not to give you the classic Hollywood experience,” Eisenbach said. “I researched what we know about the Mayans. They built their own instruments and did tribal drums in groups. That was my starting point. The (development) team wanted a huge experience and I used this tribal music theory combined with this epic Hollywood orchestra and choir.”
Eisenbach took an unconventional path toward becoming a composer.
“When I was 13 or 14, I was playing too much ‘World of Warcraft’ with my friends,” Eisenbach said. “We also played the Nintendo Wii. I didn’t do music at that time. I was telling my music teacher that music is so useless.”
Then came a game that would change his life forever — “Guitar Hero 3.”
“I fell in love with the way the guitar sounds,” Eisenbach said. “Games are designed to give you dopamine and that little negative feedback if you do something bad. ‘Guitar Hero’ was perfect at that.”
He quickly became obsessed, and after his parents gave him a real guitar, Eisenbach was off and running.
“I have this condition called ADHD, but not on the hyperactive side, but on the passive side. When you’re focused on something, you’re hyper aware of that one thing and everything else doesn’t matter,” Eisenbach said. “Which seems from the outside that the person does’t care about anything else, but the one thing you care about, you’re super focused on and learn extremely fast.”
The result was Eisenbach practiced for 10 to 12 hours a day and attended a music university in Zurich.
“If I only played guitar, I would have to have a lot of luck to make a living at that,” Eisenbach said. “If we’re going to go that route, I’m going to go as broad as possible and I want to learn as much as possible about sound and music.”
That thinking has paid off. Eisenbach has worked on a variety of projects from short films to games, though VR holds a unique space in his heart.
“You go there and you’re so overwhelmed by information and visual details, it hits pause on your real life,” Eisenbach said. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to give people a break from their lives or perception about what is possible.”