'Nothing beats the real thing': Horror game composer used miniature oil rig to play 'non-human' music

Jason Graves describes his score for The Chinese Room's newest horror game, set on a mining rig in the middle of the ocean, as a split between the human and non-human. Specifically, a combination of live musicians and a custom-made sound sculpture that can be "tapped, bowed, scraped, or rubbed."

Created by Matt McConnell (of McConnell Studios), the metal sculpture stands on four legs—just like the oil rig in the game—and has miniature structures welded on top. It screeches and wails as Graves slides a violin bow over its crude shape. "It makes all these different sounds and they're about as non-human and non-emotionally-tender or sensitive as you can get," he said in a trailer from the PC Gaming Show: Most Wanted today.

"I believe nothing beats the real thing, especially when it comes to instruments and other sound-making devices," Graves told PC Gamer. "And I also love the idea of collaborating with musicians, or in this case, a sculptor. The end result is always so much better than anything I would have come up with on my own."

Still Wakes The Deep will mark The Chinese Room's return to horror after 2013's Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, a game that blended the developer's contemplative, emotional storytelling with survival horror. Still Wakes The Deep exists in the same space: one man and a dwindling crew are stranded in the middle of the ocean  premise feels primed to catch the eye of the kind of players who are hungry for simmering, ponderous horror centered around a man trying to survive a single, bloodthirsty threat.

Graves, who has worked on a bevy of horror games in the past, says the score for Still Wakes the Deep is "probably one of the smallest number of instruments I've ever restricted myself to."

The custom-built miniature oil rig instrument used to compose the music for Still Wakes the Deep.

(Image credit: The Chinese Room)

"To put it in context, the expected orchestral score starts with around 50 - 60 players and has a very polished, homogenous sound. That’s definitely not what we thought was appropriate for this game. The music needed to be more intimate and immediate, more raw and emotionally visceral, hence the octet of live musicians augmented with a metal sound sculpture and a 70’s synth. That combination of sounds is very specific, based on the game’s setting and characters and creates an immediate vibe all on its own."

Speaking as someone who was convinced that there was something after me in Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, a game with zero monsters in it, I can tell that Still Wakes The Deep will test my courage. You don't drop a word like "non-human" and build an entire instrument to reflect that without something horrific to show for it.

For that reason, I will cautiously watch other people play Still Wakes The Deep when it arrives early next year.

Associate Editor

Tyler has covered games, games culture, and hardware for over a decade before joining PC Gamer as Associate Editor. He's done in-depth reporting on communities and games as well as criticism for sites like Polygon, Wired, and Waypoint. He's interested in the weird and the fascinating when it comes to games, spending time probing for stories and talking to the people involved. Tyler loves sinking into games like Final Fantasy 14, Overwatch, and Dark Souls to see what makes them tick and pluck out the parts worth talking about. His goal is to talk about games the way they are: broken, beautiful, and bizarre.