One of the most acclaimed developers exclusive to the Sony Playstation ecosystem, Thatgamecompany is famous for producing games that stretch the visual, narrative, and artistic boundaries of the medium. Its titles, including Flow, Flower, and Journey. Thatgamecompany had its genesis as a student project in the Interactive Media master’s degree program at the USC School of Cinematic Arts with Cloud, a game about the flying dreams of a bedridden child. Released for free, the title swept a number of indie game awards and downloads crashed the school’s server, paving the way for Thatgamecompany to form around the seven members of the original student dev team.
One of the seven was composer Vincent Diamante, who was at the time a second year Master of Fine Arts student in the Interactive Media Division. With a diverse background including stints as a radio show host, games journalist, photographer, and artist, Diamante would go on to become the audio director for Thatgamecompany and an instructor at USC in his own right. Cloud, though, was his first stab at video game music and sound design to see release.
A purely synthesized score made with Cakewalk Sonar and Miroslav Mini, Cloud nevertheless has a crystal clear sound, bright and resonant, that’s a testament to both composer’s skill in composition and design. The music, even as variable bitrate MP3 files, often sound better than that produced by mega-studios with ten times the budget and a live ensemble at their disposal. And, most importantly, the music beautifully captures the sense of joyousness and serenity that’s so much a part of the game through frequent use of rambling piano lines, litling woodwinds, and powerful strings. When, as in “Fluffy Sweet,” the album’s highlight, the pieces lock together, the effect is breathtaking.
In addition to the overall atmosphere, Diamante uses a central theme that winds throughout most of his Cloud. Debuting in “Title,” the woodwind theme is, like the rest of the music, lilting and gossamer-thin like the cloudscape it seeks to evoke. It’s not dominant in the score, but the theme provides a second thread to tie the work together in addition to Diamante’s distinctive stylistics. Whether presented as counterpoint (“Just About Ready”) or in a more tortured minor key (in the concluding “Reflection”) Diamante’s theme is always a welcome presence.
The album isn’t all smiles and sunshine. “Reflection” plays like an introvert on a rainy day, its strings beautiful but vaguely tragic, and the optimistic main theme is contrasted with troubled piano, harp and woodwinds in “Cycling” to good effect. “Reflection” does make a rather dour ending to the album, which might have been better served by a return to joyful soaring instead. A few shorter tracks in the mix don’t break up the album’s flow much, but there is one outright dud: “Passing By,” a 22-second track of ambient noise. Luckily, true to its name, it passes by quickly.
With both the game and the 30-minute original soundtrack available as free downloads, there’s simply no reason not to experience Cloud for yourself, especially as the music was specifically mastered for its VBR bitrate rather than being compressed. Five years later, Diamante would follow up his effort with Flower, a much lengthier and more ambitious game score cut from the same cloth, albeit at greater length and with a less overt thematic strand running through it. Still, for your money, there’s no better Thatgamecompany-related soundtrack investment than Cloud.