Canadian Game Awards spotlight – interview with Outward’s Jean-François Racine

Quebec-based studio Nine Dots was one of the many developers who walked away with an award during the inaugural Canadian Game Awards. Back in September, Nine Dots was not only nominated for Best Score/Soundtrack but won for its original composition in Outward.

As we begin closing out 2020, we want to look at some of the outstanding Canadian studios that are making strides to developing memorable gaming experiences. In Nine Dots’ case, we wanted to spotlight the individual who created Outward’s soundtrack. Jean-François Racine has been working with Nine Dots to craft the score to accompany the studio’s open-world RPG.

We spoke to Jean-François to discuss the creation process and how he finds inspiration. As a freelance composer working with the studio since 2016, we also asked him how Nine Dots set itself apart from other talented studios in Canada.

Steve: How did you begin composing what would become the score for Outward?

Jean-François: I was introduced to Nine Dots by SilverJack Audio. Guillaume Vidal (CEO of Nine Dots) asked me to make a pitch track to see if I was the one for them. The first track I did was the main theme for Outward. It stayed the same and never changed. It is quite symbolic for me.

As a video game composer, where do you find your source for inspiration?

Inspiration is instantaneous. I don’t think about it. It comes from the emotion first. I put myself in a state where I can receive a feeling that fits the scene I have to compose for. As the expression goes: “a picture is worth a thousand words”, I think emotion is beyond words.

From that energy, I can connect memories and images that push the creation forward, letting the emotion bloom in the musical language. When the feeling is clear, it is not difficult for me to pair the music with the image. Outward was a perfect fit for me because I could connect my personal adventures through the music.

How did it feel to see your work get recognized during the Canadian Game Awards?

When I was informed that I was nominated, I was ecstatic and really excited that my work was being compared to video game legends like Zelda, Luigi’s Mansion and Gears of War. I wasn’t expecting it at all.

To receive the award for the Best Score made me deeply happy. I’ve put a message into the Outward soundtrack, a reminder of the beauty and joy we have in our world. That’s my intention when I create music. I’m also really grateful that the judges listened to the music and recognized my intention.

In your eyes, what is Nine Dots doing to set itself apart from other Canadian studios?

Jean-François: The first thing I find impressive is the studio’s size, it’s a small team. To work on long-term projects, you need vision, conviction, talent, and a lot of passion. Guillaume does superb work to keep everyone pushing towards their common goals.

I’m not aware of the dynamics of every studio in Canada but I feel a lot of love in what [Nine Dots] creates.

Outward has been available for over a year now. Have you heard any specific feedback from the community on your work? Have you had any memorable interactions with the playerbase?

The main interactions have been on YouTube. I receive beautiful words every day about how the soundtrack makes people feel good and give them a sense of hope. Some people say it’s helped them through hard times and that the soundtrack really brought the game to life. Music can accompany us through joy and sadness. I’m really happy to offer this to the world. 

In your opinion, what can the Canadian gaming industry do more of to stand out?

In my opinion, success is not a matter of choice. It’s about timing and connection between people. That said, you can optimize your chances of standing out by doing what we Canadians are already doing. 

Allow the art to fully bloom. Work with creative people, let the passion drive the process and have an open mind. I think we’re really creative people and open minds make great products, not only to have success in the market but to touch people and participate in the evolution of video games.

Nine Dots is planning to release the Three Brothers expansion shortly. How did you go about creating the new soundtrack? Did you experiment with any new sounds or take new approaches to the creation?

Sound wise, I used the same instruments and work methods. I have more production skills and a lot more composition maturity, but the essence of the music is the same. I want to open the player’s heart. To me, my musical career isn’t just work, it’s my purpose. 

The team of Outward never tells me how to compose the music, I have a lot of freedom in the creative process. My approach is to write a soundtrack that fits the screen and also feels complete by itself. I’m classically trained and it has taught me to follow the form and flow of a musical piece. I listen to where the music wants to go and that’s where I go!

A big thank you to Jean-François Racine for taking the time to speak with us. Outward’s The Three Bothers DLC will be available on Dec 15th on PC.