I love music. Most likely you love music too. Chances are, our tastes in music are completely different. And that is fine. Today I want to share with you my thoughts about videogame music and how it pertains to Guild Wars 2.
Inspiration for this post came from one thing, which flipped a chain of switches in my head, going back through streams of consciousness and thought for several months. Let me explain.
I love BioWare’s Mass Effect series. Not just for the stories and action, but for having two of the best videogame soundtracks I’ve ever heard. The last six or seven songs on the Mass Effect 2 soundtrack are some of the most inspiring, heart-pumping songs I’ve ever heard. Even out of the context of the game they are great to listen (and in my case, paint and write) to.
When I heard that Jack Wall (one of the main guys responsible for the first two games’ music) was being replaced, I was instantly cautious. I loved that stuff, and I was afraid they’d screw it up by bringing a “big name” in to do the music for the concluding part of the trilogy.
Yesterday I put some of my fears to rest. The Mass Effect 3 demo is pretty short, but there are some incredibly moving pieces of music in there to allay my worries. With my mind put (at least partially) at ease, I began to contemplate the effect music has on me in games, and I recalled a post on the ArenaNet blog by James Boer where he talks about GW2′s audio design (august 2011) and a Guide to GW2 for the Uninitiated (updated regularly) on GW2Guru.
Music & Sound Design in GW2
The following quotes are taken directly from the aforementioned posts. Additional commentary is mine.
Audio cues are nothing new in videogames. Plenty of games switch up the music in different zones, different areas, different situations. One of the most obvious is the “battle musics” in any Final Fantasy game you care to mention. They often have completely different music in battle to on the world map, for example.
But the most recent FF games have gone a step further than this. Both FFXIII-2 and FFXIV use a dual-audio technology to overlay a “battle” and “normal” version of a piece of music in the world, and switch between them when going into an out of combat. It’s kind of hard to explain, so here’s a handy video! There’s no need to watch the whole thing (though feel free to do so to support EcchiGoshujinsama): from about 60 seconds in you can get a real sense of how the dual tracks work.
Moving through the dungeon has a kind of “synthy” version of the music, which instantly segues into a more robust “orchestral” version when in battle. They both have the same beats and measures and switch in real time. I absolutely love this, and I hope more games work with something like this in the future.
People underestimate the ambient sounds in a game: ambient sounds aren’t supposed to be noticed, but you will notice them if they aren’t there. I’ve played some games where they’ve completely cut all ambient noise in sections for creepy effects. I’ve also played games with no ambient sound whatsoever and it just feels wrong.
(Plus some games — hi TERA and Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning — don’t balance their ambient audio very well. Those waterfalls drown out anything else going on!)
Stuff like the frogs croaking example are tiny tiny things, but they will deeply add to the immersion factor while playing!
If this feature goes into the game I will be very happy indeed. The first thing said, about turning on your own audio, is exactly what I used to do in WoW and RIFT. There’s only so many times I can hear the music looping before I get bored of it, no matter how good the game’s audio is. While it isn’t as cool as the aforementioned dual audio, being able to define your own collection of ambient and battle music is a great feature, made utterly awesome by the knowledge that the dramatic cutscene music will kick in when required. I’ve missed out on awesome cutscenes before as there’s rarely any way to quickly stop iTunes and turn ingame sound on when you’ve already launched into a cutscene.
Hopefully, assuming this info is correct and up-to-date, we’ll be able to make multiple custom playlists depending on our mood. So I could have a ME2 day. Or a Black Mages Final Fantasy rock day. The possibilities are amazing! Once again, ArenaNet wanting our experiences to be the most personalised they can be!
Thoughts & Conclusions
All of this sounds brilliant to me. With my limited musical background (grade 6 violin >_>) and eclectic taste in musical genres, having so many options is sure to keep me happy. Plus making those playlists will give me even more to do to make the GW2 experience my own.
One thing I hope they include is some kind of shortcut key to swap between audio tracks. Ctrl+M is used in some games to turn music on and off. It would be nice if, in GW2, I could use Ctrl+M to switch between custom and default music, as well as turn it off. Just a thought!