Music in MMOs is so underrated that many players forget how much of an impact it plays in driving the whole player-experience. Music has the opportunity to cement the game in the heart of players forever long after the closure of a game. Take WildStar for example (RIP), after the game’s closure many heartbroken fans reached out to composer Jeff Kurtenacker for a downloadable file of the soundtrack. Arguably one of the most greatest MMO soundtracks of our generation, this prompted a magnifying glass from the MMO community to look closer into an aspect that was never really discussed in the first place, Music. Today, I’m joined with composer Scott who is currently working on the soundtrack for the upcoming MMO Astaria Online.
Squishy: Hey Scott, thanks for joining us today. So this is a subject that is rarely discussed in the major gaming news media outlets, but as gamers, we’re starting to understand how important music impacts the experience and feel of a game. As a composer yourself, what’s kind of the process that you go through when creating a new track for these magical and enchanting worlds? What’s your inspiration?
Scott: Hi Squishy, thanks for having me! That’s a great question, usually when a client comes to me to write a soundtrack for their game, they already have an idea in mind for what kind of music they want. They would often send me a reference track(s) and ask me to write something in a similar style. I would then go compose a short piece of music and from there I would be going back and forth with the lead director. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way and I may have a different feeling for the music, so I would often write something that I think would suit the game.
I get a lot of my inspiration from the game I’m scoring for, that depends on the mood, setting and atmosphere of that game. I’m a big ambient music fan, so I love to incorporate the instruments and sounds that are often associated with a place or setting. For Astaria, I picked ethnic singing, flutes, strings, and the uilleann pipes, a type of bagpipes from Ireland. These instruments give the feeling of wonder and enchantment to the game.
Squishy: I’m a huge fan of “Movie Music”. 2 Steps from Hell, Epic Score, Hans Zimmer, I listen to them almost once a week. It’s really strange how music can drive a player’s emotions, and make a game that much more immersive. You know, if you look at the trends you can see Gaming Studios starting to invest more heavily into music in their games, such as Bless-Online who hired Hans Zimmer for their soundtrack in the past. What are your thoughts on this trend? Do you think in the future, music in MMOs can carve out an entirely new genre of music for mainstream use (Outside of MMOs).
Scott: This is the first RPG I’ve worked on, and I’ve only played a few MMO’s like Star Wars: The Old Republic and Star Wars Galaxies but I really feel music is important in a game, and as a gamer, I always listen closely to the soundtrack of the game. Music is there to enhance the experience of the game. Last year, I scored music for Post Scriptum, a WW2 video game. I convinced the lead director that the best way would be to get a real orchestra to play the theme and that’s what we did! It came out wonderfully, there is only so much sample libraries can do.
It’s always a scary thought when I’m up against competition like Hans Zimmer! However, music in video games is always changing and adapting, whether it’s incorporating different music genres and styles. Every composer has a different style and feeling, I feel as a composer, the most important thing is to make your own unique sound and identity.
Squishy: let’s talk about your project Astaria. Astaria is this enchanted beautiful world fraught with dangers of the encroaching darkness. How does that theme impact the way you create your music? Is there a way fans can listen to your music (Soundcloud/Youtube?)
Scott: I talked with Proverbs a lot about the story behind Astaria and we wanted to make sure the music suited what was happening storywise. I wanted the music to portray the surroundings and atmosphere of what is happening in the game. For example, the Yggdrasil tree in the game is this massive life essence, and keeps the whole world of Astaria from breaking apart. The song “Yggdrasil Tree” song from the soundtrack has a certain vulnerability to it, and I wanted to portray this with the music so that the player feels this when they’re playing Astaria.
Squishy: So I am not an expert on the subject of music, but how does a composer decide which track is great for a boss fight, city, or just the open world theme. Do you go by your gut feeling, and decide based on the level of “immersion” sort to speak?
Thank you so much again for taking the time to do this. I look forward to hearing your music in Astaria when it launches.
Scott: So for boss music, the music is generally going to be faster paced/tempo and with a lot more happening in the music, more instruments and more orchestration. If the player is just exploring, generally the music will be more ambient and with less melody. As a player, you don’t want the player to keep hearing the same songs and melodies over and over, because you’re going to be spending many hours exploring the world! For Astaria, I used a mix of orchestral music and ambient music.I live near a forested area so I would often take walks around there and soak in some of the atmosphere and get some inspiration from nature itself!
Sometimes I go with my gut feeling, and if I need some inspiration I would go to some of my favourite video game soundtracks. I’m a massive Diablo fan, and I love the music from the first two games. “Erinhart City”, the town music from Astaria is inspired by the town music from Diablo 1 and 2.
Check out more from Composer Scott below!