Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart Composer Wataru Hokoyama On Winning Awards, Writing Video Game Music, And More
Wataru Hokoyama has been composing and orchestrating scores for TV shows, films, and video games for decades. Thanks to the music he created for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, alongside his mentor of six years, Mark Mothersbaugh, he’s now an official American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers awards winner.
That’s because Hokoyama has received the Video Game Score of the Year award for Rift Apart by way of the 2022 ASCAP Screen Music Awards. Of course, Mothersbaugh helped create the score as well, but he’s not with ASCAP, so the award, on paper, goes to Hokoyama alone. In a new interview with Game Informer, though, the composer, who also has credits on Thor: Ragnarok, Resident Evil 5, Knack, Halo Wars 2 and Halo 2: Anniversary, and more, said winning this award wouldn’t have been possible without Mothersbaugh. That’s because Mothersbaugh is the reason Hokoyama got the opportunity to score Rift Apart in the first place.
“We worked on it for about a year and a half, but I want to mention something that’s super important before I talk about anything else [and that] is that this project, actually, originally came to me by my mentor, Mark Mothersbaugh,” says Hokoyama. “I have been working with Mark for the last several years – at least six – and he’s been my mentor so when Sony offered [Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart] to Mark, he brought me on board as a co-writer, which is extremely big and kind of him because it is such a huge title. He brought me on board as a co-writer to share credit with me and to work with me on this, which was an extreme honor. I just want to show my appreciation for Mark.”
Hokoyama and Mothersbaugh worked together on 2017’s Thor: Ragnarok, but obviously, they had the score finished before then. He says in 2016, shortly after finishing up on Ragnarok, the Rift Apart opportunity landed on their plate. In Hokoyama’s heart, today’s award goes to both of them.
“I’m glad I’m getting all these awards and attention now, compared to 10 years ago, because I’m more mature, I don’t get ungrounded or jump off the chair or get a big head or the wrong idea about myself,” Hokoyama says. “I feel very calm and just this sense of, ‘wow, so grateful that the world actually sees this as a special soundtrack that we’ve worked on for so long.’ I just feel calmly grateful.”
Throughout the interview, Hokoyama stressed how thankful he was to work with Sony. He says they gave him, Mothersbaugh, and the rest of the music team full creative freedom to create the best score possible for Rift Apart.
“The team at Sony is really awesome,” Hokoyama says. “They’re super easy to work with and very, very collaborative and creative. And they just supported us in any level possible. I think it made the whole creative team really fun, and it allowed us to kind of do wilder things.”
Hokoyama says that creative freedom remained throughout the entire process, even as pressure and hype around Rift Apart, which was one of the first major first-party exclusives for the PlayStation 5 that launched less than a year prior, continued to build. When asked about the pressure of composing a score for such a big title, Hokoyama says it felt less like pressure and more like excitement.
“I knew the name Ratchet & Clank because I used to play it, and I was so into it,” he says. “When I heard the name, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness!’ Of course, I did feel the pressure, but we were all excited. Rather than pressure, it was like, ‘Oh my god, we get to do this big title.’ They just basically said, ‘Hey, I want you guys to be very creative and any idea that comes to your mind, we’d love to hear it.’ That allowed us to extend our creativity and I really believe that it was a whole team effort…that led to this score.”
Ratchet & Clank is one of PlayStation’s longest-running franchises, and when asked how the score of Rift Apart played into that legacy, Hokoyama explained that because the last new entry in the franchise was 2013’s Into The Nexus (since 2016’s Ratchet & Clank was essentially a remake with an existing score written for it), he and Mothersbaugh were able to create a new sound for the series. He said Sony specifically encouraged them to create something new. They wanted to hear what would come out of us, he says.
As a result, Hokoyama and Mothersbaugh didn’t have to find ways to include old themes – everything created was new. However, the duo was aware of the legacy behind Ratchet & Clank, and the history fans draw on when playing the games, so they made sure to honor the previous sounds of the series, too.
The premise of Rift Apart, which tasks Ratchet and the new alternate-dimension Lombax, Rivet, with fighting across multiple dimensions to stop Emperor Nefarious, gave Hokoyama and Mothersbaugh plenty of space to write creatively, too. On the one hand, Rivet gave them a new musical canvas to play with as she would need her own defining theme and score. On the other hand, because both Ratchet and Rivet jump from dimension to dimension throughout the game, the protagonists always visit a new planet – and a new world means a new track.
“It’s sort of like a multiverse of one world,” says Hokoyama. “So we kept that in mind, and we would use a lot of electronic music to create the feel of Rivet’s worlds versus the original Ratchet world. I think that helped us sort of, not divide, but create dimensions.”
Hokoyama says Sony helped the musical duo too, guiding them by keying them into what the next level or planet would be like so that they could write to its mission, aesthetic, and more.
“When we looked at the big map…we saw all the planets of this world and the first impression was, ‘Oh my god, that’s a lot.’ At the same time, Sony’s idea [with the game] was to have different characteristics on different planets and while this is a multiverse, it needed to remain cohesive at the same time. There was a cohesion in energy, but the sound and color had to be different so we kept that in mind as we proceeded. It actually gave us a lot of freedom to sort of search for new tools and writing styles. We used different types of instrumentation, sometimes orchestra heavy or electronic heavy, to create the feel of each planet.”
One example of the collaboration between Hokoyama’s creativity and Sony’s freedom can be found in Y’Ardolis, the game’s pirate-themed level in the back half of the game. In talking about pirate music, and the way audiences can hear a song and go, “that sounds pirate-y,” he said originally, they went too heavy on the pirate-ness of the planet’s score, with Sony suggesting it could be toned down. That’s where more of its electronic sound came through – they are space pirates, after all. It’s also how instruments like broken accordions get used. These pirates likely don’t have a fully-operational accordion, so why would the music feature one? The score needed to reflect the world, and that’s why the planet’s score contains broken accordion noises.
Speaking more broadly about video game music, Hokoyama says games present their own unique challenge in composing a score. One player might blaze through an area in just a few minutes. Another player might take 20 minutes, but both should feel equally impacted by the score at the right times. Hokoyama’s composition needed to be able to handle both types of players.
“The biggest difference [between games and movies or TV] would be placing the gameplay,” he says. “The players listen to our music so much longer than they would in a scene for a movie. You only see…and hear…it once [in a movie] but for video games, sometimes they stay in there for hours, so we have that in mind.”
Something that’s easy to listen to and get into without even thinking is key, according to Hokoyama. On that same note, players are going to be listening to this music longer than they would the score in a TV series or movie, so it needs to be fun and enjoyable enough that they don’t mind listening to it for so long.
Hokoyama is the winner of the Video Game Score of the Year award for the 2022 ASCAP Composers’ Choice Awards, itself a part of the overall 2022 ASCAP Screen Music Awards, which is a special honor because it’s an award decided on by fellow ASCAP members. This means Hokoyama was chosen by fellow composers in the industry to be the winner. The other nominees were Austin Wintory for Aliens: Fireteam Elite, Wilbert Roget II for Call of Duty: Mobile Season 5: In Deep Water, Lena Raine for Chicory: A Colorful Tale, Tom Salta for Deathloop, and Pedrom Bromfman for Far Cry 6.
You can view the full list of nominees for other ASCAP categories, including Television Score of the Year, Film Score of the Year, and more here. For more, read Game Informer’s Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart review to find out why we gave it a 9 out of 10.
What’s your favorite video game score? Let us know in the comments below!