Best of MMO Music | MMOrgue 13

Best of MMO Music | MMOrgue 13

Today’s episode is dedicated entirely to the men and woman that tirelessly fill the earholes of us gamers with the rich tapestry of music that makes up the soundtracks to the titles we love to experience.

Later on, I’ll share my top picks for the best MMO soundtracks, as well as dedicating some time to talking about a few noteworthy composers working in the realm of video game and MMO music. Before that, however, we’ll also go over some music-related innovations from the MMO market!

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Show Notes:

T-SHIRT: “Die, noob!”
Available at ThinkGeek

Innovations:
APB – Import your own soundtrack!
  • This one is pretty straight-forward, but is also a first for MMOs as far as I’m aware…
  • While it’s always an option to simply turn off the in-game soundtrack, load up iTunes and jam to your own custom playlists, APB instead allows you to put your favorite tunes right into the game world itself.
  • This means that, by using their import functions, you can suddenly be treated to your fellow gamers riding around in stolen vehicles with Monty Python’s “I’m A Lumberjack” blaring out their windows.
  • Unfortunately, you’re still the only one that can hear it.
APB – Create your own theme!
  • APB also features a somewhat unintuitive interface option that allows players to compose their own “themes” which play through their victim’s speakers when they successfully kill another player in combat.
  • It’s a nice thought, but it’s pretty difficult to compose anything using the built-in interface without spending hours and hours at it.
  • On the upside, if you get good at it, you can also SELL those creations to other players.
LOTRO’s music system
  • This innovative and powerful mechanic is based around a scripting language that engages any time your in-game avatar equips a particular type of instrument.
  • Once these are equipped, your keyboard BECOMES an instrument, and by mashing different keystrokes, you can treat yourself AND ANYONE NEAR YOUR CHARACTER, to whatever cacophonous musical diarrhea you can manage to fumble your way through.
  • Not much of a musician? Fear not! For included with this mechanic is an easy-to-use macro language called “abc” which allows for anyone with the ability to type, the option of loading up pre-scripted recordings of any song they can manage to bash together in Notepad.
  • Also an option is downloading pre-made ABC scripts, written by people far more talented than you.
  • However, be forewarned that the general population of LOTRO is a bit … elitist when it comes to in-game musical performances, and using ABC scripting may net you more jeers and flames, than applause.

While neither of these games have attracted much widespread attention for these features alone, I think it’s worth lauding them for the efforts that they’ve made to allow their players to express themselves in artistic ways. And to potentially add to the enjoyment of their fellow players, through music.

Up next, let’s focus briefly on a few of the creative individuals that have contributed to the world of MMO music.

And they are BOTH Free-to-Play!

Download Lord of the Rings Online

Download APB Reloaded

Noteworthy Composers:

Up first is Tracy W Bush

  • Bush was one of the composers for the original World of Warcraft soundtrack, having first honed his knowledge of this universe by contributing compositions to Warcraft II and Warcraft III.
  • He later worked as audio director on Tabula Rasa, Auto Assault and DC Universe Online.
  • Although Bush is an accomplished musician and composer, he is perhaps most famously known as the voice of murlocs in World of Warcraft.
  • He’s also performed the voice of many of the characters in Starcraft, Warcraft III, and in DCUO (Ambush Bug, Booster Gold, Calculator and more)

Next I’d like to introduce you to Inon Zur

  • Although known in the MMO world for his compositions on the Lineage II and RIFT soundtracks, he is perhaps more well-known for his iconic contributions to some of the most beloved single-player games of all time, including:
    • Baldur’s Gate 2
    • Icewind Dale 2
    • Crysis
    • Fallout 3
    • Fallout: New Vegas
    • Dragon Age Origins
    • Dragon Age 2
  • His work on these titles and more have helped to shape the current image of video game music as something MORE than just the bloops and bleeps that we once tolerated. His compositions have been nominated for dozens of awards, and earned recognition and respect far beyond just us gamers.

The full soundtrack of his work on Lineage II used to be available for streaming from their official site, but has since vanished.

Here are a few examples:
Dion Castle / Aden Theme / Shepard’s Flute

The next artist really needs no introduction, so I apologize if I butcher his name… Nobuo Uematsu

  • He is single-handedly responsible for the almost entire Final Fantasy series (including the MMOs, FFXI and FFXIV) – he did not write the music for XII or XIII
  • Uematsu’s distinctive sound has left a mark on the Final Fantasy franchise that cannot be mistaken.
  • From his horn-heavy fanfares and percussive psuedo-tribal tributes to village life, to chant-like laments featuring full vocal choruses, almost every piece evokes memories of past adventures in the various worlds he helped create.
  • His work on FFXI was lauded for its cinematic emotional depth, while FFXIV has frequently been accused of sounding derivative and lazy compared to his earlier work.
  • Nonetheless, his contributions to video game music in general cannot be denied.

Best MMO Soundtracks:

Guild Wars
  • Featuring the genius of Jeremy Soule (also ES:Oblivion, ES: Morrowind, NWN, and over SIXTY others)
  • 2007 GameSpot interview // 2007 ArmChair Empire Interview
  • He’s been described as the “John Williams of video game music.”
  • He is one of the most acclaimed video game composers still working in the business, with more than half a dozen prestigious awards decorating his shelves, and several more nominations as well.
  • Each of the expansion packs for GW have featured complete soundtracks, all of which Jeremy Soule has created. To date, this library spans hundreds of hours and includes rich and diverse compositions that vary from soaring orchestral epics, to simple 1- or 2- instrument compositions… some of which were even performed by Jeremy himself.
  • And… as if all of that music wasn’t enough of an offering for Guild Wars fans, he is also selling musical “Expansion Packs” for GW via DirectSong.
    • Almost 10% of overall GW subscribers have purchased at least one expansion song.

Guild Wars – Eye of the North Overture
Guild Wars – Factions Overture
Guild Wars – Prophecies Overture

The songs of Guild Wars are too varied to review in a one- or two-sentence soundbite, and truly must be heard to be appreciated. I’ve included links to three of the major expansions’ overtures, as an example of some of the diverse introductions players of this title have been treated to over the years, and would highly encourage any music fans to click and enjoy.

Age of Conan
  • Rich and completely evocative of the incredible worlds and cultures created in the original Conan novels and comics, this soundtrack was sadly buried by being attached to the substandard launch of one of the biggest disappointments in recent MMO history.
  • Sadly, it can be a bit bleak overall, as there are very few happy/upbeat tunes included among the batch, which has turned some off from these compositions in the past.
  • The entire soundtrack was composed by Knut Avenstroup Haugen, who won an IFMCA award in 2008 for this outstanding original score.
  • It also features the alluring vocal talents of Helene Bøksle – a known actress/singer from Norway – and, in a strange twist, the CD version of the soundtrack also bears 3 bonus tracks performed by the Norwegian punk metal group, Turbonegro, including one they composed especially for Age of Conan.
  • Listening to the soundtrack for this game was an absolutely joyous experience, having never actually played the game myself. Now that AoC has moved to a F2P subscription model, I intend to pick it up for another round in the near future, based SOLELY on listening to this jaw-dropping soundtrack. So look forward to a re-review of this game on a future episode of the MMOrgue, inspired entirely by music!
EverQuest II
  • Up until a recent expansion pack, this game’s entire body of award-winning work was solely credited to Laura Karpman. Since that time, Inon Zur has taken up the reigns (whom I spoke of earlier, as attached to Lineage and Dragon Age).
  • For the purposes of this episode, I’d like to limit my opinions to the soundtrack that accompanied the original game that shipped at time of release.
  • Karpman has a masterful understanding for different instruments and the emotions and atmospheres they can evoke in different combinations, and uses this skill and understanding to create some of the most diverse and interesting musical compositions that I’ve heard in an MMO setting.
  • I feel as though nearly every piece of music from EverQuest 2 successfully transports players to the locales the music was crafted for… be it a shipwrecked beach beset by goblins, a forgotten city that has become a tomb for ghosts and worse, or a magical shrine of divine origins.
World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King
  • I ALMOST did not put this game on the list, for a couple reasons…
    • 1) It’s so obvious, and I was hoping that this episode would open folks’ eyes to games beyond their existing scope, and…
    • 2) More than 3 dozen different composers have worked on WoW over the years. That, in my opinion, lessens the impact that each overall soundtrack can have, when you consider that it’s a culmination of some of the best work that more than 30 different musicians have cobbled together. Meanwhile, games like Final Fantasy and Guild Wars feature soundtracks from a single creative mind. The comparative depth of talent there is astounding.
  • NONETHELESS, I’ve got to give credit where it’s due.
  • I was invited into the WotLK beta approximately 2 months prior to its release, and over those following 2 months absolutely fell in love with the diverse, cinematic and epic score that was attached to the continent of Northrend. By the time release came around, I went halfsies with a buddy to buy a CE of the game, giving him everything from the box except the soundtrack CD, which I still own to this day.
  • The soundtrack features everything from solemn bagpipe hymns punctuated with flowing streams and birdsong, to epic discordant fanfares that would rally the undead into battle, to ethereal dream-songs heralding the mystical dragonflights. While also featuring a heavy dose of both the cathedral-esque choirs of the alliance, and tribal ferocity of the horde.
  • This soundtrack has it all, and never fails to wholly embody the content it was created for.
Nostalgia:

Because several older titles were brought up as suggestions to be covered in this episode, I’ve included a “Nostalgia” section in our show notes that includes links to some of the songs from some of the great older titles of the early days of MMOs.

Meridian 59

EverQuest

Ultima Online

Earth & Beyond

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