Checking the Score: King’s Quest Chapter 1

Checking the Score is a feature about video game music, composers, musicians and tools of the trade.

With its stellar voice cast — Christopher Lloyd, Wallace Shawn et al — beautiful art style and witty script, The Odd Gentlemen’s remake of Sierra’s King’s Quest has been a critical success. Part of the game’s overall appeal is the colorful and varied score by David and Ben Stanton.

The “theBROTHERSstanton” graduated from USC in 2006 and 2007 and typically move — as do many young media composers — between scoring for film, video games, television and theater (one of their side projects is “The Jingle Boys,” a couple of albums of re-imagined rock-styled Christmas songs). Among their video game credits are The Misadventures of P.B Winterbottom, Flea Symphony and Neil Gaiman’s Wayward Manor.

Although their music lacks the frantic energy of Danny Elfman’s scores, the Stanton brothers’ music does contain a hint of Elfman’s melodic quirkiness and use of color. Their demo reel shows a wide range of styles, with a focus on rhythmic drive and preference for acoustic timbres.

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The score for King’s Quest, Chapter 1 is far more orchestral than pop, with the use of musical motifs for characters that will be reoccurring through the many chapters of the game. The composers use colors and counterpoint — harpsichord, classical guitar, woodwinds — that are often associated with Baroque or early music but add their own harmonic and melodic style, with the result being a score that sounds unique and yet entirely appropriate to the fantasy/medieval setting.

Highlights of the score are “The Adventure Begins,” with its use of lush strings and piano soloist, the beautiful and elegiac “Boy and the Flower” with a chorale-like piano chord progression over sustained strings and bells, “Wade and Sea,” (one of the many pun-titled cues in the score), the woodwind-focused “A Forest in the Key of Tree,” and “A Knight Named Sir Cumference,” which is one of the more rhythmically-focused cues. “The Goblet of Squires” and “Manny’s Fugue” are primarily harpsichord solo pieces, and “Good Knight Stories.” Gamers familiar with Sierra’s long-ago title will recognize thematic quotations from the original score, which did its best to be “symphonic” in an era of limited technology.

Like any film or other visual media — and especially in character or story-driven games — music plays an important role in the success of a project. There are some game scores that stand alone as satisfying listening experiences, but David and Ben Stanton’s score for King’s Quest, while interesting on its own, is best listened to in the context of the game. On their own, many of the cues are short, but in-game perfectly delineate a moment or give emotional or comedic emphasis to a scene.

The King’s Quest Chapter 1 soundtrack is available on iTunes, YouTube and the usual places.