Put hundreds of hours into Hunt: Showdown as I would strongly recommend, and you quickly become intimately familiar with its soundtrack. Not just the Rise Up Dead Man humming that greets you on boot up, but the general atmospheric backdrop that prepares you for the kill-or-be-killed world of 1895 Louisiana where monsters are the least of your worries.
Yes, as countless TV shows and movies from The Walking Dead to Planet Of The Apes have warned, humans are the real monsters here — and if your KDA is above 1.0, you’re a more effective monster than most.
It’s a damned good soundtrack, encompassing elements of gospel, blues, jazz and folk, so it’s no surprise to me that it’s quite popular outside of the game as well. Indeed, at the time of writing, the music of Port Sulphur Band — Hunt: Showdown’s in-house band — has racked up more than 12million listens across Spotify and YouTube alone. That’s popular enough to justify a second album — The Sinners Songbook — which launches on December 10. Indeed, eagle-eyed players may have spotted its subtle in-game promotion.
It’s extra impressive, considering that the fictional group is mostly currently the handiwork of two people with other important roles at developer Crytek: lead narrative designer Nicolette Stewart and audio designer Dominik Zingler.
From gramophone to iPhone
Are they surprised that Port Sulphur Band has been able to advance 126 years into the 21st century world of music streaming platforms? “I don’t know if ‘surprise’ is the right word,” begins Stewart, before picking a few more effusive ones: “overjoyed, awestruck, really excited.”
“Really glad we get to keep making music because people seem to like it.”
🎶"I'll keep my misplaced faith, though I'm digging my own grave"🎶
Port Sulphur Band is coming to Lewis' Saloon in DeSalle on December 10th! pic.twitter.com/YOKKTYVkbs
— Hunt: Showdown I Twitch Drops (@HuntShowdown) November 27, 2021
And like it they do. Indeed, Stewart has “never seen the internet this nice,” which perhaps won’t come as a surprise to anybody who patrols the various Hunt: Showdown communities of the web. For such a brutal game, the community is impressively welcoming and pleasant.
“In general, the community for Hunt is, I think, one of the best on the internet, because most players are super, super helpful, and nice,” says Zingler. “But when it comes down to the music, the feedback is awesome.”
It’s all the more pleasant because, as Stewart explains, Port Sulphur Band as it is now came together via “a series of coincidences,” kicked off when Crytek’s former audio director Florian Füsslin stopped by the narrative department and offhandedly suggested that lyrics should be added to his Rise Up Dead Man theme as a possible Easter Egg for the fans.
“He was just spitballing an idea that he thought would be funny,” Stewart recalls. “I don’t think he had any idea that I was a singer when he was saying that, and I was like ‘write some lyrics? Don’t mind if I do!”
She wrote them on the bike ride home and returned the next day ready to perform them to a no doubt surprised Füsslin. They recorded it that afternoon, and from then on the requests for songs kept on coming.
Like the 1930s big band sounds of Cuphead, Hunt: Showdown’s soundtrack has to fit with the old-timey nature of a game world where guns take an age to reload and almost everyone wears a Stetson. And, interestingly, Stewart and Zingler have very different methods when coming up with era-appropriate music.
“I tend to go back and listen to a lot of music from the time period,” Stewart explains. “I’ll listen to a bunch of — I don’t know — early 1900s Irish ballads or something like that, and just listen, listen, listen to as much music from the time period as I can. And I wouldn’t say that what I end up writing necessarily is exactly that, but it’s deeply, deeply inspired by the music of the time for me.”
For Zingler, the era is less the starting point than the world itself. “From my perspective it’s not really related to the time period to be honest,” he says. “I’m always imagining a scene in the game or in the world where this could happen. For example, The Sinners Blues starts with these ambiances and the atmosphere, where I thought, ‘okay, people are sitting at a campfire and experiencing the world and then someone starts singing that song’.
“I get inspired by the melody and all that where it’s coming from. And I always think, okay, how could people at that time make that music?”
For both, though, the constraints keep things interesting. “I never feel stifled by that,” Stewart says. “I can bring these songs in and imagine the lore through the lyrics. Or imagine characters that might have sung this song. And just, I don’t know, to me, it adds a really interesting dimension rather than taking away, to work inside that box.”
Indeed, on occasion, the songs have contributed to the backstory that Stewart and her team have been inventing. Death is a Bird Flying and Bullet’s Lullaby, for example, are both part of the lore for the game’s most recent boss addition: Scrapbeak, or somewhat pejoratively “Big Bird” to me and my regular Hunt: Showdown team.
“Writing those two songs was part of my mental exercise in figuring out what his story was and what it would feel like to be him and living in that time,” Stewart says.
Lend me your ears
Hunt: Showdown relies on players’ superhuman hearing to pinpoint where others may be lurking, and I wonder if that might go some way to explaining how Port Sulphur Band has been able to burrow into players consciousness, even when they’re not crouched in a bush with a Sparks LRR.
“I did a song basically based on that: Light The Shadows, the event song for the event we had in summer,” Zingler says, explaining that it has exactly the same BPM as the footsteps of a hunter running in game. “My idea was basically, if players listen to the footsteps in the game, they get reminded of the song and then listen to the song.
“I don’t think it worked out,” he adds, noting that at least one Redditer thought that leaving the footsteps in the Spotify release was an oversight.
But similarly if you revisit the trailer for DeSalle, the new map introduced in the summer, you’ll note that the footsteps and cuts are always in sync with the music. “It’s a fine detail, which I think made the life of the creative service department for that trailer a lot harder. But I loved it a lot.”
With posters for the band popping up in game, I ask whether there’s more scope for them to appear in game, rather than just being game adjacent. Nothing to be confirmed on that point at the moment (or indeed regarding the live action series that has recently been commissioned). But you’d hope that at the very least the band would appear on the in-game gramophones (things you’re really not supposed to touch, given the importance of silence, but something I can never resist all the same. “I fully approve of this,” Zingler says out of misplaced solidarity.).
As things stand, however, Port Sulphur Band have yet to actually perform to a crowd. “We are a band with two releases, but have never played in front of an audience which is interesting,” muses Zingler. “But on the other hand, you could say that every player in the game is our audience. So maybe we played before a lot of people without even knowing it?”
The Sinners Songbook will be available to stream on Spotify from December 10