Category Archives: MMO Soundtrack

A Year in Review: Top 2016 Games and Soundtrack!

2016 has come and gone and if my social channels are any indication, most people people are glad to leave this arbitrary number behind. I don’t personally believe 2016 was the awful year it’s made out to be in the media but it’s certainly been exhausting on a personal level, despite some successes on the writing and day-job front. I’ve pushed myself to leave the safety (and lull) of a stable workplace for more flexible and lucrative work that doesn’t come with the security of a permanent contract. While I am content with my progress thus far, it’s also a stressful situation to be in at times and my constant struggle to find peace of mind inside our daily grind remains one of life’s great challenges. Alas!

top 2016 games and soundtrack2016 wasn’t a rocking year for me gaming wise, either. I arrived with humble expectations and browsing through my blog and steam library, I realize I’ve played much less than in years before. This was also definitely not a year of MMORPGs and I find myself in that strange position now where I am no longer looking forward to a single upcoming MMO title in 2017 and beyond. It’s a weird and melancholic feeling because MMOs have been a big part of my life for the past 15 years. With the exception of Black Desert Online, I’ve barely played anything besides some brief visits to Eorzea in the first half of the year. MMORPG players have seen this coming for a while and it certainly feels like our favorite genre has come to somewhat of a halt; that is, if you’re not still a follower of well-established titles such as WoW or GW2.

My Top Video Games of 2016

For reasons explained above, my past year in gaming wasn’t all about the MMOs. While I still haven’t gone back to GW2 for the expansion, two of last year’s expectations did hold true and then, it’s also been a year of small, unexpected delights. Without further ado, here are my top 5 titles of 2016:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

5. Owlboy
Owlboy by developer D-Pad Studio only came out in November 2016 and while I haven’t finished playing it, it’s already fulfilled all my expectations in terms of being a fun adventure with beautiful visuals and music. There are some unforgettable moments and quirky characters in Owlboy that make it a safe choice for anyone into whimsical and charming adventure platformers that aren’t overly complex. Only minor gripe: no keymapping for gamepads!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

4. Portal Knights
I’ve praised the concept, visuals and soundtrack of Portal Knights on MMOGames and if you ever wondered how a minecraft sandbox meets level-based gameplay would play, this is the title to grab! The game is especially fun for short-session gameplay together with up to 3 other players (also great for kids), while you can still put those solo hours to good use, base-building, gathering and crafting. Controls and GUI management aren’t perfect in Portal Knights but definitely manageable.

top 2016 games and soundtrack

3. The Witcher 3 (DLC)
The Witcher 3 was my GOTY in 2015 and remains my most beloved RPG title of this year – and possibly all eternity. I’ve lived and breathed the Wild Hunt again over the Xmas holidays and I am still so impressed and delighted by this title, I got no words! Not surprisingly, the Hearts of Stone and Blood&Wine expansions have been nominated for great honors again in 2016. I’ve only started to catch up now and intend to make the most of what CD Projekt Red have stated will be their only Witcher 3 expansions! :sadface:

top 2016 games and soundtrack

2. Black Desert Online
I’ve spent copious amounts of time in BDO between spring 2016 and summer, exploring its fantastic persistent world, writing guides for its complicated subsystems, joining a guild and decorating my house. While the game has had its issues and share of monetization scandals, it is still one hell of an experience for anyone looking to explore and travel a magnificent MMO world solo! I never reached PVP “endgame” in BDO and didn’t care to, but I had fun with almost everything else including its different approach to combat. The game remains an “alone together” experience for anyone not looking to join competitive PVP which is good or bad, depending on your personal viewpoint!

top 2016 games and soundtrack

1. GOTY: Overwatch!
There is no way around giving Blizzard the credit that is their due: they knocked it out of the park with Overwatch in 2016. As far as impressive comebacks go, only Square-Enix have managed a similar feat with a Realm Reborn – a persistence we rarely get to see in the video game industry. From the ashes of Titan, Blizzard have salvaged not just an incredibly accessible and fun hero shooter but one that’s so full of charming characters and iconic lines and gameplay moments, the Overwatch roster is already as popular as any other Blizzard IP heroes. I gave this game a 9/10 and there’s nothing else to add here, Overwatch was one hell of a successful release in 2016!

Best Soundtrack of the Year

As far as great VGM went in 2016, I’m sticking with the tradition of my annual youtube recap which you can find below! It’s been a good year for video game soundtrack and the Battle Bards podcast keeps going strong, counting its 4th anniversary soon. There’s been an official twitter account now for a while, too. I am still having as much fun as ever talking MMO music with fellow bards Syp and Steff.

Top VGM of 2016 list:

12. Civilization VI
11. Destiny: Rise of Iron
10. Overwatch
9. Enter the Gungeon
8. Hyper Light Drifter
7. Stardew Valley
6. Owlboy
5. Portal Knights
4. The Last Guardian
3. Revelation Online
2. WoW Legion
1. Black Desert Online

Let me know what your favorite video game soundtrack has been of late and another Happy New Year to all of you! Let’s see what 2017 will bring in terms of digital delights and virtual world travel – it’s all a blank open space for me from this point forward!

The Cosmic Heights of Final Fantasy XIV’s Combat Music

I will love MMO music until the end of my days. It is the only thing about MMOs that has consistently made me happy over the past 16 years and has never let me down. Games come and go, so do posts, blogs, people – but the soundtrack is here to stay. It is a constant source of wonder and joy for me. Battle Bards, the MMO music podcast I share with my friends Syp and Steff, is turning 3 years old this April 2016 and we have a special anniversary episode upcoming next week. These three years, I have not missed a single recording and I regret not the times when I re-scheduled appointments or popped another pill so we could record together across the pond. Above all the things that I do in connection with gaming, the podcast has become my number one priority.

We recently did a second show on FFXIV on Battle Bards, with focus on the Heavensward soundtrack.  While slightly smaller in scope and narrower in focus, Masayoshi Soken has once more hit it out of the ballpark with Heavensward. The music celebrates everything that Final Fantasy means to people, treats its legacy with great respect and comes with a large variety of tracks for both day and night time. And as usual, the combat and boss music knocks you off your socks!

The Cosmic Heights of Final Fantasy XIV's Combat Music

King Thordan is very serious about kicking your butt.

The Cosmic Heights of Final Fantasy XIV’s Combat Music

Combat music is one of the most overlooked themes in most MMO soundtracks which is weird considering how often we do it. Many games don’t have any or only for special occasions, great raid bosses and such. Other games are so terrible at them, you get fed up after the first three times of hearing them. Only FFXIV cannot seem to respect its battle tunes enough; there are a total of 40+ tracks dedicated to different combat/grind/dungeon/raidboss occasions and even the standard field combat themes vary from greater region to region. Fates, leves, guildhests, exploration missions, dungeons….they all get their own dedicated music. As for primal fights, they are bewildering, unique arrangements players will either love or hate but never feel indifferent towards.

But enough gushing, let the music speak for itself. Here’s my very selective list of amazing combat tracks from both ARR and HW for you!

1. FFXIV ARR: Tenacity (Leve theme)
My favorite battle track from ARR, this gets you pumped from the first second and never ever gets old. Leves can be a grind but when Tenacity is on, I couldn’t care less. If you keep listening, you’ll even hear a bagpipe show up!

2. FFXIV ARR: Minstrel’s Ballad (Ultima Weapon theme)
Ultima Weapon is back and don’t let the choral intro to this track fool you, for it takes off at the 1:20 mark. This special story fight was the first time I lost my composure during my ARR journey – just how much more epic can a fight get thanks to the music?

3. FFXIV ARR: Good King Moggle Mog!
If this track isn’t a direct hommage to Jack Skellington and Danny Elfman’s “Nightmare before Christmas” soundtrack, then I don’t know – I’ll eat my hat!

4. FFHW: Ominous Prognisticks (dungeon boss theme)
If A Realm Reborn had great dungeons and raid bosses, Heavensward has taken everything to new heights both in terms of gameplay and music. This particular track comes up in various dungeons for boss encounters and is one of the greatest pieces of music in the entire expansion. I cannot sit still when I hear this!

5. FFHW: Heroes Never Die (Thordan Extreme theme)
The Thordan encounter is one of the most intense multi-phase challenges the game has seen up to now. I have only beaten this boss on normal so far and have been awestruck as he reigned down fire from the heavens while everyone was dying like flies. Such sweet death to such wonderful music packed with familiar FF cues!

6. FFHW: Ravana’s Theme / Thok Ast Thok
Unlike with so many other primal fights, there are only two phases to the Ravana fight as far as the music goes but boy, was I not prepared for that transition after 05:30! This boss fight is a condensation of what only Final Fantasy has mastered time and again, all at once: to be both grandiose and martial while very goofy and unserious at the same time. All hail Ravana, master of roses and death!

Looking for more? Thanks to the tireless work of Mekkah Dee on youtube, you can find a playlist of every single FFXIV combat track here. Enjoy and spread the love!

Black Desert Online Soundtrack Interview at MMOGames

This is just a quick update to ping the composer interview I got to make for MMOGames with the leading people behind Black Desert Online’s soundtrack. There was next to no (English) information about this so far, so I was excited to get this special opportunity. It is always fascinating to hear how different composers approach creating MMO music, especially for titles that have different publishers across the world and pay credit to regional differences and language. BDO’s music has been somewhat hit and miss for me so far in terms of consistency, but we’ll be talking about that more in an upcoming Battle Bards episode.

My first MMO music column at MMOGames was about Blade&Soul, in case you are interested! Now excuse me, I have carrots to farm and cats to take for a horse ride in Black Desert!

Black Desert Online Soundtrack Interview

Riding with kitty!

#Listmas: Best videogame soundtrack! Top VGM of the Year 2015

For the third time in a row, I am taking this final listmas opportunity to spread some annual VGM love around the MMO blogosphere. In lieu of many MMO releases, 2015 was still a year for new video game music and a few standouts on other platforms, albeit fewer than usual. Maybe it’s just me but this year it seemed harder to come up with a list but judge for yourself.

Since my teaser compilations on youtube have been appreciated in the past, I am once more presenting my top VGMs in both written and audible form, featuring two personal favorites per game:

My Top VGM of 2015

10. Fallout 4
9. Swordcoast Legends
8. Don’t Starve Shipwrecked
7. Crypt of the Necrodancer
6. Ori and the Blind Forest
5. The Witcher 3
4. Undertale
3. There came an Echo
2. GW2 Heart of Thorns
1. FFXIV Heavensward

As you may realize watching the youtube summary, my MMO soundtrack of the year Heavensward is missing; this is due to the circumstance that Square Enix put silly restrictions on players using even partial soundtrack and have been dealing with their fanbase in most dismissive and aggressive manner in the past (followers of Angry Joe will remember). My youtube account is currently under bad standing because of two strikes I received by SE earlier this year – both of which I wasn’t given a chance to react to and which have limited my ability to upload videos longer than 15 minutes. I have therefore decided not to feature and promote any of their soundtracks on YT anymore. There is however a Battle Bards episode on Heavensward upcoming soon, for those who are interested and are following our podcast.

Let me know which soundtracks you enjoyed this year! And as always, spread the VGM love – Happy New Year everybody!

OTC – Big Deals Edition: The Challenges of Virtual Poop, Undertale and DPS Meters still suck, thank you!

You guys, I actually used “poop” in a topic title! *Achievement unlocked!*

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The big deal that is pooping in ARK

I’ve been playing some ARK over the past weekend after finally upgrading my old graphics card to a 970. The game is beautiful but also rather straightforward and boring, to the point of where I am calling over-hype. Coming from the suspense that is 7 Days to Die, ARK still has a long way to go before it catches my survival fancy – “just surviving”, as in making sure you’re not starving, isn’t a good enough reason to sink hours into a game and build fortresses for me. That’s all well though and I will return to ARK once it received more content love and fixing.

Of course one very under-reported, hilarious feature in ARK is your character’s defecation mechanic which has caught many an unsuspecting player by surprise. It also spawns fantastically comical forum threads such as this one which was my main inspiration for looking into the topic. For those who don’t know how it works, just a brief summary: player characters in ARK randomly poop all over the place with a “you defecated” message popping up on your screen and an overly realistic bowel sound effect going along with it (eww). Also, you can pick up player poop and do things with it! There’s apparently a way to initiate pooping yourself (I did not know this), rather than being taken by surprise when your character relieves himself in the middle of your base like he’s part of the livestock.

This is noteworthy because most games never dare venture into the no-go zone that is human poop, no matter how high their authenticity bar is set otherwise. I only remember encountering virtual pooping in the Sims and Conker’s Bad Fur Day myself in the past. Even toilets as part of game settings are kind of a big deal, as was recently deliberated in this RPS article. Cross-reading different ARK forums, there’s plenty of players utterly aghast at this, nevermind all the violence and moral decay portrayed in videogames otherwise but…..poop? No way! I actually got a buddy of mine to play ARK and he is turned off so much by the defecation thing, he’s already stopped playing. I couldn’t stop laughing after it “happened” to his character the first time around!

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So many places to do your business!

Now, I am possibly the last person to ask for poop mechanics in videogames, or any simulation of mundane bodily functions for that matter, since I’m all for the idealized, stylized and aesthetically pleasing fantasy environments! The fuss over something as trivial as poop in a game like ARK cracks me up though; I guess I’m okay with the fact that my human body does that sort of thing and so does yours because y’know, we’re part of nature no matter how fancy we dress and talk. We tend to be fine with “manure” (different word for poop!) from beefalos when playing Don’t Starve, so let’s try be a little less Martha Steward about the whole thing, shall we?

The Tunes of the Undertale

Undertale, a successful Kickstarter project that’s been created for the most part by one guy named Toby Fox, has recently been released on Steam with a bang. Not only is it difficult to find anything but raging reviews from players and journos alike, the fact that many would go as far as calling it the best RPG they ever played or at least among the best, got me curious to check it out myself. Only about 1 hour in and without wanting to spoil anything, I think it’s safe to say that lovers of the (J)RPG genre will find this to be an interesting journey for its toying with player expectations, tongue-in check approach to classic tropes and unorthodox approach to round-based combat. That is, if you can get over the minimalistic graphics. I’m not even sure how much I like Undertale yet myself but there is something about it I need to get to the bottom of.

What’s already won me over is the game’s soundtrack – a whooping 101 tracks of oldschool goodness composed by Toby Fox again (that guy!), and available for only 9.99$ on his bandcamp site. If you’re at all into retro VGM, this is for you and one great deal for the buck!

And MMOs are still better without DPS meters

Most players who have ever spent a decent amount of time in FFXIV: A Realm Reborn will at some point talk or write about its incredibly friendly community that seems at odds with the current WoW-based MMO standard. I have mused on this not too long ago and so have other bloggers, and it requires no great leap of logic to grasp that FFXIV’s lack of (acknowledged) DPS meters, as well as its very forgiving dungeons for the most part, have a lot to do with it. FFXIV relies heavily on social engineering in many different ways and pugging is as essential to the player experience in this MMO as it is in WoW and other games, toxic hells that their LFGs have become. I have lamented the state of pugs in WoW as well as in Guild Wars 2 in the past and Eri did in fact recently write a similar review on returning to Tera.

Now Rohan linked an interesting experiment from reddit in his post yesterday, in which some guy parsed both the harassment and the DPS for pugs in both FFXIV and WoW. Bottom line: the jerks in WoW are often also the “good” players (no doubt using meters as their justification). In FFXIV on the other hand, in case of a bad pug it’s more likely that the loudmouth is also a bad player (that’s simply never detected). So far goes the result of the experiment.

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More dps whyyyy…look I have a pretty angel!

It’s easy enough to believe this data. Like Rohan, I fail to see how any of the two options are superior in theory because well, I generally don’t want any jerks in my pugs. Doing well on meters doesn’t entitle you to be a jerk. Where I disagree slightly is the bottom line that the two approaches to meters are on the same level / cause equal inconveniences; in reality I am a lot less often subjected to harassment in FFXIV than I am in WoW by virtue of how the FFXIV devs handle meters. And this is a big deal.

Would you rather deal with a 5% chance of getting ebola or a 70% of getting SARS?  The 5% suck but are preferable to the 70%! Naturally, these are my uncorroborated percentages to illustrate approximately how often my pugs have been awful in FFXIV vs. WoW. Source whatever you like, it would surprise me greatly if you didn’t end up with a huge disparity between these two titles. I must have done a 100 runs myself in FFXIV by now and I recall precious few group disbands either, outside those 2-3 single raid boss encounters everyone seems to loathe.

Of course the question of whether bad players matter much towards outcome, factors into this and once more FFXIV appears to be more laidback and forgiving where the majority of its puggeable content is concerned. I mean look….the 4-man dungeons aren’t exactly difficult. I am still undecided whether WoW’s dungeons are truly that much harder to warrant meters – I’ve a feeling this is not the case. The amount of harassment in WoW happens because meters are readily available and because people can. So, I’ll take a few loudmouth players in FFXIV who are “also bad” any day, if it means a much friendlier overall community.

The Great MMO Music Quiz & Giveaway Challenge!

Those fairly new to my blog may not know that ever so often, there’s a special MMO quiz I like to challenge my readers with. I’ve done anything from rebuses to screenshots and other quizzes in the past, all of which have always been solved quickly by very MMO savvy individuals. Every time I have vowed to make the next challenge harder – every time I have failed.

This might change today.

The Great MMO music quiz!

The premise of my new quiz is fairly simple: listen to ten 10-second soundtrack snippets from well-known MMO titles and tell me both what they are called (title name) and which MMO they are from (no need for specific expansions, just name the main game). Too harsh? Well, maybe that means you need to listen to more battle bards in the future!

The Prize and how to participate!

Don’t use the comment section for quiz answers. To get a shot at the prize, your answers need to be sent in to me via my email form (include your steam info!). Send me a list numbered 1.-10. with the correct and complete info. The first person to guess them all shall claim a Steam copy of The Witcher 2, one of my favorite RPGs of all time! If you’ve never played any Witcher games thus far, this is the best place to jump in and prepare for the third game in my humble opinion.

The winner will be announced on the blog over the next few days (or maybe…never). If there is indeed a runner up to this challenge, they will receive a random humble bundle item for recognition! Fame & glory!

The tracks!

You can listen to my quiz file below. Good luck! (yeah 10secs are awfully short, aren’t they? muaha)

Tunes of Magic VIII: Listmas Edition – Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2014

It’s that time of the year again and like in 2013, I am publishing my personal VGM winners of the year under the official #listmas banner of the “United We Game” initiative.

2014 was a year of ups and downs as far as new releases were concerned, with some down times in Q1 especially but definitely not a bad year for gaming and music overall. As MMO players, we got at least four new high-quality OSTs to enjoy and like in previous years, the world of small gems and indies has contributed to an overall great year of videogame music. What also remains unchanged is my general rule of thumb: the best games tend to also have the best soundtrack (exceptions verify this rule!).

Without much further ado, I present this year’s “Top VGMs of 2014”-teaser compilation for all of you who would like to reminisce a year of VGMs the easy and most effective way: by listening!

To remove all doubt which were my favorite OSTs and SOTY (soundtrack of the year) in ascending order, here’s the tracklist of all the games included in this year’s round-up:

10. Dragon Quest X 3DS (Koichi Sugiyama)
DQ X was in fact only released for 3DS in September 2014 which is why I hadn’t heard of it earlier. This soundtrack is packed with classic theatrical and fun music and I highly recommend checking it out!

9. Cinders (Rob Westwood)
Cinders caught my eye on Steam one day and while I’m not big into romance novel click-adventures, the spooky fairytale vibe of the soundtrack is right down my alley.

8. Transistor (Darren Korb)
A must-have for Bastion fans, Transistor comes with an equally brilliant sound fusion of western, folk, electric and experimental. Also: for Buckethead fans!

7. Ethan Carter (Mikolai Stroinski)
The saddest game by far that I have played through in recent months, the beautiful music by Mikolai Stroinski is a perfect match to the overall sombre mood of the Vanishing of Ethan Carter.

6. Destiny (O’Donnell, Salvatori, Johnson, Mc Cartney)
Some games never deliver on their big promises, but the Destiny soundtrack at least is definitely one of the big must-haves in 2014!

5. Bravely Default (Revo)
Much to their fans’ delight, SE re-discovered their classic fantasy JRPG roots with Bravely Default. The entire soundtrack by Revo is a joy to listen through, producing gem after gem!

4. Child of Light (Cœur de Pirate)
A visually stunning, poetic journey deserves a special soundtrack and Cœur de Pirate, aka Béatrice Martin, has managed to elevate Child Of Light to an unforgettable experience that instantly reminded me of the very french movie Amélie.

3. Blade & Soul (Taro Iwashiro)
Released in Japan and Taiwan this year, Blade&Soul has yet to honor us with a western release. Until that time, it’s well worth checking out this very flavorful and diverse MMO soundtrack.

2. Warlords of Draenor
Listing all the composer involved in WoW soundtracks has become a real chore (Hayes, Stafford, Brower, Bajakian, Cardon, Guidotti…) but I’m glad the outcomes still seem to work out! WoD is one of my favorite OSTs of the year and has brought back countless memories of our early vanilla days. If I had to name a single favorite track overall, that would be “Wolf at the Gates” no question.

1. SOTY: Wildstar (Jeff Kurtenacker)
My soundtrack of the year easily, Wildstar has brought us all kinds of awesome music in 2014. This soundtrack is vast and vastly diverse, ethereal, creepy, whimsical and fun! We don’t often get to see fusion work off so well but Jeff Kurtenacker has done one remarkable job at composing for the Nexus! Must-have, folks!

My top 10 aside, this year’s honorable soundtrack mentions go to Valdis Story, Castlevania Lords of Shadow and Beatbuddy which came out in previous years and much later to my attention.

Annual disclaimer: videogame music does still not receive the attention it deserves from many publishers and developers, which is a sad affair for fans worldwide waiting to purchase official soundtracks and support composers. However, we can spread the word, let the artists know how much we appreciate them and bring as many players (and potential music lovers) on board as possible. Thanks for sharing this post and here’s to another great year of VGM!

Introducing Totally Legit VGMs, Battle Bards Episode #23 and moar Music!

It’s no secret, I love videogame music. I love movie themes too and classical pieces such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Mozart’s Magic Flute. Back in the 80ies and 90ies great VGMs (I insist on pluralizing this!) were few and far between although some ear worms did exist; I am not going to deny the merit of the old Castlevania or Turrican scores for example. Yet, we really started talking with the mp3 era and it were giants such as Nobuo Uematsu (happy birthday!) for the Final Fantasy series, who brought the booming choirs and orchestras, forever altering the significance of videogame music and blowing a young audience’s mind.

The rest is history. Over the past decade videogame music has become a wonderful and inspiring part of gaming, still overlooked in too many cases, with the potential to be just as elaborate, complex and deep as much-praised classical music. Developers will budget for professional composers, even live orchestra when particularly serious about a title. MMOs in particular are a spoiled genre when it comes to memorable compositions and impressive effort.

Almost a year ago now (!), the Battle Bards podcast was formed by Syp to bring the beauty and variety of MMO music to a wider audience. We’re a niche-inside-the-niche podcast for sure, asking for the type of willing audience that will follow our musical expeditions for a full hour every two weeks. In return, we’ll share our pearls with you and hopefully convince a few more listeners that MMO music has a lot to offer. MMORPG music that is, because we keep a necessary narrow focus on the show. Which reminds me, Episode 23 on epic boss battles is out now, with a very special intro if I may say! We’re always having fun on this show and we are not afraid to make fools out of ourselves for entertainment’s sake (QED).

Introducing: Totally Legit VGMs

Doing a full-hour bi-weekly podcast on MMO music does a lot to quench my thirst for VGM rambling among fellow aficionados. Yet, for a while now I’ve been trying to find outlets for a wider spectrum of music too to spread some love across all genres and platforms, usually via my twitter channel (where I frequently spam “OSTs of the Day”) or the Tunes of Magic series. What is a quick and easy way to draw some attention to random videogame music? How to best reach more players who may shy away from longer shows or articles?

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This is where the idea for “Totally Legit VGMs” was born – a new format spotlighting a different videogame OST every week, with only 5 tracks compiled in a 5minute youtube clip. The weekly spotlights will be featured on blogosphere buddy Liore’s Totally Legit channel, a cooperative of great fellow gamers and geeks. Episode 1 is out now on yes, World of Warcraft!

The whole point of TLVGMs is not to present an entire soundtrack so much as to say “here, this is good stuff and this is why. You should look further into it!”. I ask for 5 minutes of your time to present a sneak-peek into an entire soundtrack via 5 handpicked tracks! It doesn’t get much easier than this and allows me to share some of my most beloved tunes with ease. It’s safe to say, I have enough material for the next year already.

I hope this format manages to spread some more VGM love in the community. I don’t know how high the entry barrier is to VGM appreciation and obviously, it’s never for everyone. But really, what’s 5 minutes of your time, right?

Humble Rhythm Bundle

Coincidentally, this weeks Humble Rhythm Bundle is all about playing to the music! Not just game music mind but your personal library in many cases, so check out the current sale on different rhythm games (5 days to go!). My first ever such title was Vib Ribbon on the PSone whose controls I hated with a passion, however the fascination of a randomly generated gaming experience and to my favorite music no less, has never left me. There are many exciting avenues we have yet to travel and fully discover for this medium and I look forward to music being one of them.

A great weekend to everybody and happy listening!

The Music of Death Knight Lovestory (A Guest Post by Hugh Hancock)

It’s been a good while since we’ve had any news from Hugh over at MMO Melting Pot. In recent months the pot has quieted down rather noticeably and many bloggers, myself included, have been wondering about what happened or what secret projects may be afoot there. Well, a secret no longer.

I am very happy to feature a new guest post on MMO Gypsy. Having always considered this place a space not just for my own writing but also for my commenters thoughts, for blogosphere interaction and for supporting fellow bloggers’ creative ventures, I was excited to hear about Death Knight Love Story – an ambitious WoW machinima project only revealed today. Due to my interest in videogame soundtrack, Hugh has decided to focus on the creative process of creating the music, the challenges involved and his different MMO and movie influences. From here, all words are his own. (Syl)

The Music of Death Knight Lovestory by Hugh Hancock

What’s the only thing scarier than trying to create something great? Trying to follow something great. That was the problem I bit off with Death Knight Love Story.

If you haven’t heard about it yet, Death Knight Love Story is my crazily ambitious Machinima fan-film, the first part of which was released about 8 hours ago. It’s voiced by Hollywood actors Anna Chancellor, Joanna Lumley, Jack Davenport and Brian Blessed. It’s not Machinima animated in the standard way, instead being fully motion captured and rendered using the same software WETA were using at the time I picked it up. And it tells a pretty ambitious story: the story of two Death Knights who fall in love whilst under the Lich King’s sway – but only one of them escapes his power, and they end up on opposite sides of the battle…

Obviously, even more than a game, a film needs music. And with Death Knight Love Story, I had not just one but three great touchstones to follow. My cinematography had been heavily inspired by Lord of the Rings, and Howard Shore’s shadow falls long over the entire fantasy genre. Meanwhile, the purity of the romance was inspired by Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge – not a low bar for music there. And finally, of course, there was the music of World of Warcraft, which I personally think is almost the equal of Shore’s work in places.

If it had just been me and Garageband, I cannot stress how very screwed I would have been. Fortunately, I made the best – and scariest – call I could…

So here’s the tale of how we ended up composing an alternate musical take on the World of Warcraft and the fresh new takes on fantasy we found as a result, which I hope might make their way into other games’ scores in future! But first, here’s a quick trailer for you:

A New Fantastic Influence

The music for Death Knight Love Story was composed by Ross Campbell, one of Scotland’s best-known composers for screen, TV, opera, and even house music. I took the same approach to finding a composer that I took to finding a casting director, and subsequently actors: I pulled up a list of Scottish TV composers and started with the person who sounded the most dramatically overqualified to work on my movie. I was expecting nothing more than a rather curt “no” – but was astonished when Ross agreed to work on Death Knight Love Story!

On our first meeting, Ross immediately and dramatically changed the way I was thinking about the film’s score for the better. I’d had Shore and the WoW music in my mind – classic Western orchestral soundtracks. Frankly, rather cliche. But Ross’s first thought on watching the film was much more interesting. He felt it was an obvious reference, but it had never occurred to me as a lifelong cinephile and fantasy fan: Akira Kurosawa’s Ran.

Kurosawa was one of the most influential film directors of all time, a recipient of the Academy Award for Lifetime Achievement and the director of films like Seven Samurai – yes, the original. Ran was one of his later works – based on King Lear, it’s an incredibly dark film, focused on themes of chaos, nihilism, and death.

It’s also set in medieval Japan, and in many ways feels a lot like a mid-eighties, Japanese Game of Thrones. And its music, composed by Toru Takemitsu, fit astonishingly well with the themes of Death Knight Love Story and the Death Knights of WoW in general. The chaos, darkness and violence of a Death Knight’s life is almost eerily similar to the themes explored in Ran’s tale of the collapse of a kingdom led by a ruthless warlord.

(Interesting trivia fact: Brian Blessed, who plays Arthas, the Lich King, is also well known for his portrayal of King Lear – and Ran’s story, and its ruthless king, is based on Lear.)

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The Problem Of Orchestral Sound

I did consider hiring an orchestra to record the score for Death Knight Love Story. It’s actually cheaper than you might think, semi-affordable for an indie film, if you work with an Eastern European orchestra. But in the end, I concluded we couldn’t afford it.

That left us with a problem: how did we avoid the problem of tinny-sounding fake orchestration?

Indie games, indie films, and essentially anyone without a big budget hit this problem over and over again. Whilst modern electronic composition can do pretty remarkable things, one of the things it still can’t do is accurately recreate the sound of an orchestra. Usually, game or film composers will try to create an orchestra as best they can anyway, leading to the soundtrack sounding, well, cheap.

Ross, however, had a different solution. Drawing on the work of another Scottish composer, Paul Leonard-Morgan, he suggested that if we didn’t have an orchestra, we shouldn’t apologise for that. We should go for the “sweep” of an orchestral soundtrack, and the feel of orchestration, but without attempting to use orchestral instruments – instead, proudly using the electronic music and sounds that we had. In essence, he would create a new set of instruments for our orchestra.

It worked phenomenally well. Death Knight Love Story’s music sounds epic, appropriately dark or heroic, but it never has the false note of cheap string or brass samples pretending to be what they’re not. Even in Wintergarde, where we’re closest to the major-key majesty and triumphalism of the WoW alliance theme, we’re still proudly digital.

Given how successful it was for us, and how tremendously well a similar approach worked the soundtrack for “Dredd” (the work of Paul Leonard-Morgan), this is a style of composing that I hope we’ll see a lot more of.

We’ve got amazing musical tools these days, but so much effort is devoted toward making them sound like analogue, offline instruments. I think there’s real potential for soundtrack designers, particularly indie game and film composers, to break genuinely new ground.

A Nod To Lord of the Rings: Leitmotifs

I’d indicated to Ross that I’d been heavily inspired by the Lord of the Rings film adaptions, and one technique that we used very clearly is shared with Shore’s inspiration in Wagner: our use of leitmotifs.

A leitmotif is a short, repeated musical phrase associated with a person, a place, or an idea. It was brought to prominence by Wagner in Der Ring des Nibelungen, which hugely influenced Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings.

In the Death Knight Love Story score, leitmotifs proved invaluable, particularly in introducing and linking the appearances of our heroes. Thanks to DKLS’s rather complex structure, starting with a flashback and then going back into a series of historical events, we found that it was easy to get confused as to exactly where in the story we were, and whom we were following. The various leitmotifs Ross put into the score, notably the phrases which could be considered “Miria and Zelieck’s theme” really draw the entire film together. I was amazed at how much of a difference it made to not just the emotions behind the film, but even the simple ability to follow the story!

I’m surprised that we haven’t seen more use of leitmotif techniques in games. Whilst most games have the idea of a musical theme for an area, there’s never any attempt to mix in music representing principle characters, let alone the ideas behind the fiction of the world. The only exception I can think of is the Dhovakin theme in Skyrim.

Having now seen first-hand just how powerful leitmotifs can be, I can’t help but think that games composers are really missing out on an opportunity to deepen their worlds here.

(Note: this last section of the article includes spoilers for the film! Definitely watch DKLS before reading this bit!)

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The Hidden Message of Games?

We struggled with one section of the score above all: the battle between Miria and Zelieck.

Ross’s initial inclination was to score this as an extremely dark, twisted moment. Whilst I didn’t disagree about the darkness – after all, this is two people falling in love through the expression of lethal, unbridled violence – I really wanted to get across something that I felt was key, both to the roots of much of WoW’s joy.

World of Warcraft, like almost all computer games, is significantly about violence, and the joy of destruction. And that’s what Death Knight Love Story is expressing in part – the idea that a meeting of minds might come through battle, and anger, skill, and archetype of the Warrior. And that is still as true an expression of love as any other. (If we’re going to get really Jungian about it, Death Knight Love Story is a story about two Warriors who become Lovers, trapped under the rule of a twisted King.)

I’d penciled in music like the Dropkick Murphys here – Shipping Up To Boston, most notable from the soundtrack of “The Departed” – and possibly the quintessential expression of rage and the joy of conflict in cinema, “After The Flesh” from the soundtrack of The Crow. But for some reason, Ross and I weren’t quite able to meet in the middle on this one.

Until one day I remembered a particularly impressive show I’d seen at the Edinburgh Festival some years back: a performance by Tao, the Japanese drumming ensemble who mix traditional Japanese drumming with martial arts to produce one of the most electrifying musical performances I’ve ever heard. It’s like angry, uproarious thunder.

I suggested Taiko drumming to Ross, and he immediately got where I was going – and that’s the reason the fight sequence ended up with such a unique soundtrack.

Hugh Hancock

Artistic Director, Strange Company

http://www.strangecompany.org
http://www.deathknightlovestory.com

Tunes of Magic VII: Listmas Edition – Greatest Videogame Soundtracks of 2013

With Xmas almost here, I have one more promise to fulfill which is celebrating a year of beautiful soundtracks. 2013 has brought me many a new tune to delight in and of course as Battle Bard, it is my sacred duty to share rather than keep them all to myself.

While we are all listing across the blogosphere, I officially dedicate this post to happy #listmas – a fun blogger initiative started by Murf vs. Internet bringing all the blogosphere lists together over the holidays. There is still time to join for that!

Videogame Soundtracks of the Year

I will add that not all of these games were released in 2013 and at least one of them is actually still in the future(!) Some have had their soundtracks released later or then they have come to me late. My year of videogame music is therefore truly my year although there are mostly 2013 releases among them.

1. Dust – An Elysian Tail (2013)
My GOTYs tend to be games that also come with a brilliant soundtrack. Dust AET is such a title and there are no VGM aficionados who haven’t shed a tear over the beautiful music created by Hyperduck Soundworks this year. My favorite tracks are Falana and Cirromon Caverns.

2. Don’t Starve (2013)
Another GOTY, Don’t Starve’s soundtrack echoes every bit the quirky, playful and creepy “Nightmare before Christmas”-style of the game. This OST by Vince de Vera and Jason Garner is a lot of fun and despite its generally shorter tracks, not to be missed. My favorites are the Main Title and Work To Be Done.

3. World of Goo (2008)
WoG is a special little game with a spooky and magical soundtrack, that opens the door to childhood memories such as Beetlejuice or King Arthur for me. The best part? The complete OST has been made available for free by composer Kyle Gabler so what are you waiting for? Personal favorites: Rain Rain Windy Windy and Are You Coming Home, Love Mom.

4. The Legend of Zelda – A Link between Worlds (2013)
Possibly my favorite game on the 3DS, ALBW comes with a splendid soundtrack full of familiar Zelda cues. My favorite tracks include Dark Palace Maze, Swamp Palace, Lorule Castle and the good old acid flashback that is the Lost Woods.

5. Animal Crossing New Leaf (2013)
The second best handheld title I played this year, it was lovely to dive back into the world of Animal Crossing with New Leaf. This franchise is loaded with a unique charm and quirkiness, accompanied by a wonderfully diverse soundtrack. Every hour of the day plays a different tune in animal town, so I have too many favorites to count (although I am partial to 7PM, 11PM and the Main Streets) . Check them out for yourself!

6. Phoenix Wright – Dual Destinies (2013)
Ambivalent about some of the characters and dialogue in DD, the game has produced many memorable and high tension tracks such as Announce the Truth, Logic Trinity, Last Promotion, Cross Examination and Court Begins. Fans of the typical Japanese anime flavor will love this.

7. Professor Layton – Miracle Mask (2012)
Although the Azran Legacy has only come out this November, I love the more haunting tracks from its predecessor, Miracle Mask; Puzzles Abound and Illusion are definitely among my top sparkly tunes of the year!

8.  Final Fantasy – A Realm Reborn (2013)
Moving away from indie games and handheld titles, FF:ARR delivered some of the most beautiful music as far as MMO releases go in 2013. While the game wasn’t quite reborn for me personally, I will listen to beautiful tracks such as Ul’dah at Night or Sacred Bonds for a long time to come. Now if only SE added the ARR-OST to their store.

9. Wildstar (2014)
While the Battle Bards have already paid homage to Wildstar and Jeff Kurtenacker this year, we have no doubt much to look forward to as far as its complete OST release is concerned. WS is all about thematic fusion and I especially love the Character Customization or Highland Vista themes.

10. Lime Odyssey (unreleased?)
A lesser known MMO title that cannot quite make it to launch, my thanks go to @Soltanis for providing me with a link to the music of Lime Odyssey by legendary composer Yasunori Mitsuda (Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross). It’s a sad thing when great soundtracks are tied to unfortunate launches, never making it to a wider audience. Tracks such as Bluecoral Town and many of the beautifully uplifting BGMs deserve to be heard by a wider audience.

11. DOTA 2 (2013)
Not surprisingly, DOTA 2 has some glorious and epic music composed by none less than Jason Hayes, former lead composer for WoW and WCIII, as well as Tim Larkin (Portal). There is much to love here despite shorter length . My favorite tracks would be Laning 1 (and many tracks of a similar name), World Map and many a Main Menu theme.

12. Various Bits & Bobs
Some OSTs don’t warrant purchasing the entire album but leave a mark in our memory nonetheless, thanks to an outstanding title or two. For completeness sake, I’ll mention them here in no particular order, in case you’d like to browse further from there:

13. Lucky number thirteen: Chrono Trigger Symphony
Saving the best for last, my special bonus recommendation for you are both albums of the amazing Chrono Trigger Symphony by Blake Robinson’s Synthetic Orchestra. Die-hard CT fan or not, there is not much that comes close in terms of quality and stellar orchestration in the world of VG OSTs. A third album is in the works – until then, you have Yearnings of the Wind, The Trial , Frog’s Theme and sooooo many more to keep you company. Do not miss this!

wv

With that, I really hope I included my most important picks for 2013 in this post. I’ve a feeling I forgot something but hey, it’s a start right? I included links to official distribution pages in the titles where I know them but you will still need to browse youtube here and there to find out more. Videogame OSTs do still not receive the attention they deserve from some publishers or even developers, which is a sad affair for fans worldwide waiting to purchase the soundtrack and support composers. However, we can spread the word, let the artists know how much we appreciate them and bring as many players (and potential music lovers) onboard as possible. Here’s to another great year of VG music and hopefully much goodness to share in 2014! Happy Holidays all!