I’ve talked a little bit, a long freaking time ago, about how I play the game with the in-game sound and music turned on. I still do that – still can’t raid without sound effects and still have the attention span of a gnat on crack, and therefore can’t raid with other music in the background. *
I was noticing though how much I really like the variety of new music that’s been made available in Cataclysm. While I thought I’d really miss the old music (and sometimes I do), I’ve found that most of it is still in game, and I can still happily waft into nostalgia remembering old RP while I wait for LFG to pop. The new instance music is really nice as well – in fact, this post was prompted by how fitting the music is in the Vortex Pinnacle.
I’ve always really liked the soundtracks for Blizzard’s games, and enjoyed the musical references they’ve made. The music in Sunwell had a hat tip to the Dies Irae chant, and much of Northrend had ties to folk music and instruments. The music of the Trolls, Goblins, and Gnomes has always had a strong thematic content as well. In fact, Blizzard does a good job, in general, of matching instruments/musical character to delineate cultures, bosses, and creepy zones in game.
Let’s take, for example, Ragnaros.
He’s Big. He’s Bad. He’s On Fire. And once upon a time*, he was THE Big Bad at the end of the first 40 man raid instance in World of Warcraft. He’s now back and still bad and causing trouble in the Firelands again.
I’d argue that part of what made Ragnaros’ room so successfully epic and intimidating was his soundtrack.
First, it’s in a minor key. Minor keys are (at least to modern, Western ears) for “sad” and “angry” feelings. It’s also in an unbalanced time signature – count on your fingers to the beat, and you’ll find the music is grouped into 6 beats and then 7 beats, 6, 7, 6, 7, 6, 7. Most “western” music is in even groups of 4 beats. Anything with 7 feels “unsteady”. This music is meant to make you feel off balance and nervous.
That plus the use of well-known musical conventions (frenzied strings, rhythmic percussion, lots of french horn), your mind “gets” what’s going on around you on a level beyond just seeing it. If instead of Epic Boss Fight Music, Ragnaros’ soundtrack sounded like the Temple of the Moon… it just wouldn’t work. It would even be laughable.
Fortunately, it’s not just Ragnaros.
The sparse, almost non melodic piano in Dragonblight is eerily reminiscent of snowfall. Norse folk instruments are used with great success to give a familiar, but still somewhat strange flavor to the Vrykul areas (and the turtle boats!), and Grizzly Hills is supposed to sound folk-like and “familiar”. The Zandalar Trolls have their own brand of percussive music that’s similar to the music in Zul’Aman… but with a slightly different flavor. The music from Vortex Pinnacle is airy and light, with soft whooshing strings. The soundtrack of Honor Hold and other places in Hellfire Peninsula takes a big key from Aaron Copland, using sparse brass instruments to convey the openness and emptiness of space. XT-002′s music is sufficiently mechanical, childlike, and frenetic to match the giant calisthenics-doing boss, Yogg Saron’s music is truly epic, and the entire soundtrack to Icecrown Citadel matches perfectly with its inhabitants (right down to using a boy’s choir to show the sweetness and temptations of power). The music in Vashj’ir is especially watery as well.
All of that boils down to creating another layer of emotional response to the game, expanding on the colors, environment, and critters wandering around. Kinda like how, in a horror film, you can always tell when the Bad Stuff is about to happen – either the music gets really ominous or it stops altogether.
Those sounds and emotional responses are, for me, part of RP. Walking into the Pig and Whistle and I automatically go into RP mode, just based on the music – music I’ve heard a thousand times as Aely’s spent her evenings there with the Riders (and as Angoleth is slowly starting to do more often as well). A lot of my first impressions of zones are made on the music, and when I think about old RP events, they’re often connected to the music in game as well as to what actually happened.
That said, I definitely understand having RP soundtracks of non-game music as well, especially if you need to have a really creepy event in a happy, folk music playing tavern (or Grizzy Hills).
Just don’t automatically discount the game soundtrack – there’s a lot of good stuff in there, at least in WoW.
(I make no promises in other games, but given how much I love the Diablo II music, I am definitely looking forward to Diablo III…)
*Except when it’s all of vent singing Journey. That’s different. (JUST A SMALL TOWN GIIIIIIRL)
**Ok, So Blackrock was merely a setback…
***Rumors of my death may have been greatly exaggerated, but I make no promises as to regular content here. Just… had an itch to post, so I scratched. I figure I can blame NaNo.
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