The music on Last Train Home
Composing the soundtrack for the Czechoslovak Legion in Siberia
Project: Last Train Home
Client: Ashborne Games
We Did: Music Composition • Orchestra Recordings
Dynamedion and Ashborne Games have recently wrapped up their successful collaboration on the latest hit game, Last Train Home. Released recently on November 28th on Steam, it’s an exciting and tense game that needs a soundtrack that is up to the task. The public reception of the game’s music, stamped with accolades and admiration, stands testament to their creative accomplishment.
Last Train Home is a real-time strategy game with management elements developed by Brno-based company, Ashborne Games, channeling an authentic wartime narrative. The soundtrack, an essential part of the gaming experience, enriches the storyline with its atmospherics of raw emotion, fighting spirit, and melancholia. Capitalizing on inspiration from Czech classical music and Russian traditional instruments, it embodies the historical essence of the game.
The game tells a tale not told much in Western history books. During the Great War, not all Czechoslovaks fought for Austria. Disillusioned with the Habsburg crown, many tried to dodge compulsory service or did what today we’d call “quiet quit”, as you can read about in The Good Soldier Švejk by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek. Many though, would follow Hašek’s own perilous path and make their way to the East to fight in the Czechoslovak Legion.
The official game trailer
After the Great War, Russia collapsed into a mess of revolution and civil war, and the Czechoslovak Legion had to make their way safely home. In Last Train Home, you play as a Czechoslovak Legionnaire, guiding your troops across Siberia on an armored train in a quest to make it back to Central Europe the long way around.
As an effective project, the Last Train Home soundtrack was born from the active collaboration between our composers and Ashborne Games skilled team. From Dynamedion, Simon Wiebe, Armin Haas, Nico Patricio, Henning Nugel, Chris Wirtz, and Matthias Wolf all made their contributions, working closely with Jiří Křupala at Ashborne.
“It was a real partnership in my opinion,” Jiří said about working with our composers. “With Simon, we exchanged a lot of calls about the intentions of the soundtrack. I would tell him and the composers what feelings I have about the part and what feelings I would like to have instead, and I let them provide the best solution.”
Capturing the rugged environment of Siberia – where much of the game takes place – meant shaping a soundtrack that could echo those harsh landscapes. “The keywords defining that atmosphere we were looking for,” Jiří told us, “were authentic, raw, cold, dirty, and melancholic. The story is set right after the Great War ended in a military setting, so I wanted to reflect that in the music and in the sound design.”
The music was to create a sensitive blend aligned with the war-torn backdrop. Jiří wanted the core of the music to come from Czech classical influences, and there would have to be some kind of recognizable motif that would call back to Central Europe.
“Of course, it was the Vltava-theme from Smetana’s symphonic work Má Vlast, which in turn means ‘My Fatherland’,” Henning said. “Just perfect for a game where the soldiers try to get back to their home country. Basically, everyone knows this melody and it’s easily recognizable.”
The explanation trailer
Henning wrote the main theme and sprinkled the Vltava-theme in between the main melody lines here and there. “While the main theme is featured throughout the entire score, the Vltava-theme also pops up from time to time as a feeling of longing for home.”
Jiří adds: “Imagine trying to get home which was just several hundreds of kilometers away from you, but you had to go the other way, literally across the whole globe. That must have been insane! And so in our soundtrack, I wanted players to feel this longing for home, this solitude and struggle for survival in Siberia.”
The game is structured into two main parts: Train Management and Strategy Missions, and the music had to reflect that gameplay. It was essential to compose exciting battle music and dramatic background music that could be used both in exploration missions and those focusing on conflict. There was also music for specific scenarios that needed their own feel, along with an extra track for the final mission in Vladivostok.
“That one in my opinion really raises the tension there,” Jiří said.
The Train Management portion of the game is narratively divided into three acts, which is reflected in the music, too. The plot develops and new songs are introduced thematically in response to events as you go through the parts.
As an example, the game’s opening theme, plays before you reach Moscow and for a short time after. This track though is replaced with a more somber version around halfway through the campaign. That gets swapped again at the end of the game with an even grittier and more dissonant version.
“All the music gets rougher as you progress through the campaign,” Jiří explains. “And not just the music, the visuals of the game and cinematics get colder too!”
The main Vltava-inspired theme suffuses the entire soundtrack, complementing the dark and melancholic symphony that marks the historic game setting. “The soundtrack is filled with rather dark and melancholic orchestral pieces befitting for a game in this historical setting,” said Henning.
“The challenge in writing this music was finding the sweet spot where the music has a bit of action, it’s tense but at the same time it’s not intrusive,” Nico, another of our composers, noted. “I remember Jiří telling us that these particular tracks needed to give the player a feeling that he’s walking on tiptoes 🙂 When I read that, I immediately understood what we were going for.
“The sound we were aiming for was very intimate and personal rather than the big, over-the-top orchestral sound,” our composer Chris adds.
Various parts were also performed by the composers themselves. “I have an old balalaika that I played,” Chris went on. “Just as a shimmering color that comes in and out of the orchestra. If you play close attention, you can even hear me singing here and there.”
Looking back on the achievement, Jiří is immensely proud of the work done on the soundtrack. They were so productive and inspired, that the early plan for a limited soundtrack ballooned. “My original plan was to have around half the total minutes we ended up with,” Jiří said. “Silly, inexperienced me. But the game needed it.”
It was a lot of work. From honing the vision to the seamless integration of the Vltava-theme, from collaborating with multiple talented composers to successfully maintaining a consistency of tone, Jiří had to coordinate every step and mix it seamlessly to create the perfect musical experience for the players.
But Jiří enjoyed coordinating with our team, as ours loved working with him and Ashborne. “Working with Ashborne was a blast!” Simon said. “Ashborne made my job as coordinator on the Dynamedion side as easy as possible providing insights into their passion and vision as to what the gameplay should feel like.”
As the culmination of tireless efforts, the Last Train Home soundtrack transcends being a mere backdrop to the game. It emerges as a narrative force in its own right, and has garnered commendation from players and critics alike. The soundtrack masterfully encapsulates the narrative’s essence, and its profound impact on the game and its reception is undeniably a testament to the successful vision, hard work, and collaboration between Jiří and our team.
The game and its music are more than just a leisurely pastime—they’re an experience, a dive into history, and an emotional odyssey. Now, it’s time to embark on that venture yourself. Get absorbed in the deeply curated world of Last Train Home. The game and soundtrack are both available for purchase on Steam. Let this symphony of survival enrich your senses today!
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