November 13, 2020

Plague Inc. The Cure

Writing music for humanity’s struggle against a global pandemic

Several months ago, I was contacted about a secret project.

My friends at Ndemic Creations—makers of the über-popular Plague Inc. and Rebel Inc. games—were working on something new for Plague. An expansion of sorts…but on a scale unlike any previous addition.

It was a new mode that would entirely flip the gameplay perspective; instead of playing as a disease wreaking havoc on the world, you would play as humanity itself, defending against a raging pandemic.

A timely idea.

The company has donated more than a quarter of a million dollars to organizations fighting COVID-19, and over the years Plague has become recognized as something of an educational tool. It’s been repeatedly celebrated by the CDC and other organizations as a means of helping people understand the mechanics and intricacies of epidemiology in the guise of a video game.

That presented an obvious opportunity to flip the script and provide a similar look at the fight against disease on a global scale. With the help of experts from the WHO, CEPI, and others, work on this new expansion accelerated.

And this new mode—this uncanny pseudo-simulation of current events—would need music.

Music for a Global Struggle: Flatten the Curve”

From its humble beginnings as a small mobile game developed as a hobby, Plague has made its way to every major console and boasts over 135 million players.

Knowing that the music I’d be writing would go out to such a vast audience was daunting in and of itself, but this particular project was a whole new level of intensity. Not only would it reach many people, but in a sense it would have to represent that multitude.

How do you write a piece of music that can encompass the range of emotions we’ve all been experiencing over the past year? How do you capture the fear and tension, the hope and ambition? How do you make sure it does that while fitting the gameplay?

Over the years, I’ve established a musical language for Ndemic’s games. The music of Plague and Rebel are different, but clearly cut from the same cloth. This gave me a useful starting point, but the rest was more a matter of patience and finding the right headspace than anything else.

I began and discarded several approaches in the first few days of work. Some were too dark, too threatening, too hopeless…whose side was I on? Others swung too far the other way, coming off as disingenuously positive.

I eventually found my way to the final version by channeling what I saw in the world: a civilization reminded of its fragility, forced to come together to overcome an unprecedented, relentless, and apolitical adversary.

I did my best to weave our collective struggle into music through the relentless worry of frigid synths, the meditative patience of a gamelan ensemble, the gentle kindness of a piano, the thundering threat of low brass blasts, the noble persistence of a string section, the soaring optimism of a solo cello, and the the angelic hope of the human voice.

Now, the new game mode is making its way out—on mobile first, with consoles and PC to follow. I’m excited to finally share this tiny part I played in the making of an outstanding and important update to the most meaningful game I’ve ever worked on.

You should play it. And here’s the new piece of music!

If you’d like to get yourself a high-fidelity copy of the soundtrack to listen to outside of the game, you can find it on BandCamp or Steam. If you’ve already bought a copy of the soundtrack in the past, you’ll see that this new piece, Flatten the Curve, was added as a free update!

gaming music

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