I’ve said before that the mark of a good video game composer is someone who can make music that enhances the gameplay experience. But the mark of a great video game composer is someone who can make music that simultaneously enhances the gameplay and stand on their own as great works of composition. I’ve recently discovered another person who deserves to be in the discussion.
There is a list of composers who have earned a place among the greats. Jesper Kyd, Jeremy Soule, Martin O’Donnell, just to name a few. But another name, that is quickly proving he belongs on the list, is Jon Everist.
Jon Everist is a freelance composer who primarily works for Shadowrun and Battletech developer, Harebrained Schemes. Jon has been creating music for their games since Shadowrun: Dragonfall. Dragonfall ended up recycling some of the songs featured in the previous Shadowrun game, which was produced by 4 different composers. It wasn’t until Shadowrun: Hong Kong that Jon really got a chance to show what he can do.
He combined traditional Chinese instruments with modern western orchestra and electronica. IGN said: “Good soundtracks aren’t always good indicators of good games, but it’s happily the case with Shadowrun: Hong Kong. The artistry of composer Jon Everist’s work reveals itself in the opening titles, and maintains an atmosphere of subdued mystery through character creation and beyond - spilling over into the first conversations and battles effortlessly and memorably.”
The praise continued with Battletech. Gamespot called his soundtrack “Inspired”, but the soundtrack to Battletech might be even better than that of Shadowrun: Hong Kong. Musical quality is highly subjective however. But I don’t know about anyone else, but I love the sound of a cello. There’s something about how it’s used in Battletech that it really gives me a sense of awe. An emotion that is perfect for a game about commanding giant, hulking machines of war called Battlemechs.
His music tends to blend in so perfectly with theme of the games. In Shadowrun: Hong Kong he uses traditional Chinese instruments, but the way it’s combined with orchestra and electronic elements, makes it feel familiar but not too familiar. Like you’re in Hong Kong, but you don’t really belong there, you’re a foreigner in a strange land. Fitting, since the main character is originally from Seattle.
The man is a master of his craft. Through one of the developer commentaries in Shadowrun: Hong Kong, they tell a story of how, on a whim, they came up with a silly little concept for an area of the game. Word got to Jon about it and he created a little techno loop that took him about 5 minutes.
Jon Everist maintains a YouTube channel where he sometimes uploads commentary and behind the scenes videos on how the songs are made, and he uploads all of his work, so people can hear it for free. For higher quality versions of the songs, you can buy them from his Bandcamp page.
No matter what his next project may be, he’s someone who we should keep our eyes on. I for one will be listening to whatever he produces next, even if I don’t play the game. Because the man is not a good composer, he’s a great composer.