With all of the award madness going on at Massively OP this month, it’s the perfect time to unveil the 2016 Online VGM Awards! It’s been a great year of soundtracks from our favorite MMOs, and since I have the opportunity to singlehandedly dish out any awards I like in this column, I wanted to give some honor to terrific composers and tunes that we got to listen to this year.
As with last year’s awards, I’ll be fashioning each category and selecting a winner. Some of the categories are 2016-specific, while others have more flexibility to stretch beyond this calendar year. Unlike last year’s awards, this round will have categories that are more universal and can be carried forward in future years.
So who won? We’ve got six categories to go through, including best MMO soundtrack of 2016 and composer of the year, so let’s get started!
One of the most common questions that I’m asked from my adoring throngs on the street is, “Justin, where oh where can I get some of these marvelous MMO soundtracks that you talk about all of the time?” OK, that just never happens (on the street, that is), but people are often curious how they can go about starting to amass an MMO soundtrack collection or where to find their favorite album.
The sad truth is that so much music from these games is never officially released in any capacity, which is why I scour YouTube for fan rips of the music files. However, every so often I do discover a studio release somewhere, and I try to keep an up-to-date log on these to help others in their quest for video game scores.
So in the spirit of Christmas and sharing, today I’m going to show you how you can get your ears on more than 120 soundtracks and scores from MMOs, MOBAs, and other online titles — some of which are free and legal for the taking. You’re welcome; don’t mention it!
In my years of coverage of MMO soundtrack music in this column and on Battle Bards, I’ve clearly observed that there are games that are well-known and admired for their music. Most often, these are from popular MMORPGs — your World of Warcrafts, your Guild Wars 2s, and so on. Popular game plus good music equals widespread recognition.
Yet as I’ve pointed out in the past, there are plenty of terrific scores and individual music tracks from lesser-known MMO soundtracks that don’t get the attention they deserve, usually because of a fan’s unfamiliarity with a title. That’s not your fault; few people are as crazy as me when it comes to trying to track down MMO tunes and building a comprehensive library. It’s only slightly frustrating to see these game scores go overlooked because nobody really thought to listen to them in the first place.
So I’m viewing today’s column as an exercise in education, to share what I’ve learned in my journeys and discoveries of MMORPG soundtracks. I present here for your listening pleasure six pretty great tunes from MMOs you’ve probably never played.
You simply can’t have a good and proper Halloween without a perfect soundtrack to back you up. Sure, you could just pop in one of those tired old sound effects cassette tapes (kids: ask your history teacher what cassette tapes are) and call it a day. Me? I prefer some genuinely atmospheric tunes straight from the games I love.
Today I’m going to put together a mix tape for your darkest dreams and your silliest spooks. It’s Halloween, done MMO-style, and the only way to get to the dawn is to dive deep into the terrors of the night with gleeful abandon. Take my hand and walk with me, and don’t worry if you start hearing voices murmuring just behind your left ear. That means they like you.
If you were ever to go to Vegas and place a bet that I would one day become a dedicated, passionate MOBA player, any bookie would probably give you 1:6,000,000,000 odds against. So go ahead and take that bet because if aliens scramble my brain and I start drooling over League of Legends, then you’re going to be richer than kings.
This is to say that, no, I’m not much of a MOBA player, fan, or even spectator. But when it comes to music, I’m always an equal-opportunity listener. And there’s some pretty great stuff out there for these PvP games, although I have to wonder if it can be heard over the frothing rage and screamed insults. One does hope.
Today I’m going to take a tour through MOBAs, both present and past, and pull out some of my favorite tracks to share with you. Then I’m going to go feed the enemy, whatever that may be, because it seems to tick off my team.
For soundtrack junkies such as myself, the release of a new World of Warcraft expansion is always extra-special for reasons that go beyond mere gameplay. Blizzard is always incredibly faithful in treating its music as an integral part of the game and releasing an official album that contains at least some of the score. Legion, of course, is no different in these respects.
Having listened through the entirety of the expansion’s score over the course of a weekend, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is an above-average entry into the WoW musical canon. There is a lot of forgettable filler, some incredibly long suites, and a few entries that will no doubt be remembered fondly when the community has had its fill of Legion.
Today I want to share with you six picks of what I think are the best of Legion’s score. Very little of it is brash action or hummable tunes, but instead these tracks exude a special kind of beauty that pairs well with the visual art of the game.
I can’t tell you how good it does my soul to see that WildStar has finally released an official soundtrack — two, in fact, with the hope of more to come. Fans of the score (and we are an army of rabid music evangelists) have been chanting at Carbine to make this a real thing since day one of the MMO’s launch. I won’t say that the music is the best part about WildStar, but it definitely is one of the key elements that makes it incredibly special.
Jeff Kurtenacker’s score deserves all of the praise that’s been heaped on it for delivering a rich, exciting, and incredibly memorable audio experience. There are recognizable themes all over the place, catchy riffs, electric Western twangs, crazy ditties, and even a somber hymn tucked away in there.
Picking out my six favorite tracks is one of the hardest things I’ve had to do this week, but I’m game for the challenge, especially when it means that I get to gab about this score more on this site. Here’s what I ended up choosing.
This week I’ll be hijacking a question sent into the podcast that I thought was particularly apt for Jukebox Heroes to tackle. It comes from reader Chris, who has a rather interesting thought exercise to share.
Chris writes, “If you had to choreograph a fight scene in a movie (an EPIC one, of course), what MMO song would you pick? It’s a practical question, actually. My kids are martial artists, and they regularly perform for audiences or compete in tournaments where music is expected. We’ve used lots of music over the years, and we are ALWAYS looking for new stuff. So, Justin, when you see yourself in an epic fight scene, what’s the MMO song you hear? And, yes, you can pick your own weapon.”
Obviously my weapon would be “giant death robots with kill-ray hand cannons,” but as for the music? That’s going to take some winnowing down! To help out Chris and perhaps entertain you, here are six MMORPG music tracks that I could see being used for the soundtrack of an epic fight scene.
If I had to describe Black Desert Online’s score in one word, I would probably go with “lovely.” Generally, it’s a very lovely soundtrack. Maybe not the best I’ve ever heard, but it definitely has a plethora of pieces that are quite easy on the ears and make for relaxing gaming.
Today we’re going to saddle up on our newly tamed horse and ride across the plains in search of a bounty of musical riches. What will we find when we crest the horizon? Serenity and bliss, hopefully.
I’ll admit that I have a particular fondness for older video game music. I still scour the archives of NES and Genesis libraries for catchy tracks, listen through Amiga and Commodore 64 playlists, and seek out MIDI tunes that trigger memories of great PC adventures. There’s a charm in the simplicity and cruder sound hardware that is, for me, a welcome change of pace from the modern pitch-perfect orchestral scores.
Today we’re going to hop into a musical time machine and travel back to the 1990s to listen to what MMORPGs sounded like back then. The soundtracks, when present, weren’t as pervasive or as (ahem) instrumental to setting the mood, but even back then you could see some passion and skill being poured into the occasional score.
Maybe these won’t all be masterpieces to your ear, but they should provide some insight into what gamers back then heard as they were exploring these magical new MMOs for the first time.
Interestingly enough, there are a few types of video game music that don’t often pop up in MMORPGs for various reasons. One of these are victory fanfares or mission completion tunes, for obvious reasons. While your standard game might congratulate you for completing a level or winning a single battle, MMOs tend to give you a brief pat on the back for a job well done and send you on to the next task.
Yet this isn’t to say that MMORPGs are completely devoid of victory themes. Every so often I come across one, usually from non-standard titles. I kind of wish we’d get more victory fanfares, to be honest, perhaps after downing a boss or winning a battle by the skin of our teeth.
Prepare to get pumped up and celebrate your mighty accomplishments as we herald them with these themes!
“Wait a minute,” you say out loud to your computer. “Western MMORPGs aren’t a thing, except in my fondest dreams. How can you write an entire column on music from these imaginary games?”
It is true, there really aren’t many (if any) “wild west” MMOs, but that isn’t to say that we are lacking for western areas and themes in our games. The American west makes for a great backdrop when its fictionalized into games, whether they be fantasy or sci-fi, and composers do love to sneak in a western-sounding track or two into their albums as well.
Today we’re going to be listening to a wide range of MMORPG soundtracks that would be comfortable on the frontier. So pull a log up to the fire, take our your harmonica, and think of a home on the range!
When a beloved MMORPG is canceled, it doesn’t entirely vanish without a trace. After all, there are thousands (if not millions) of eyewitnesses with long memories, screenshot folders filled to the brim, videos, articles, and — of course — music.
The way I see it, the enduring soundtrack is one of the most pure aspects of the late game. It can be enjoyed today the same way it was back then, albeit with fewer visuals and furious mouse-clicking. This orphaned score holds a torch for the game that was by triggering memories and keeping the atmosphere and story beats alive.
Today I’m going to look at great tracks from deceased MMOs, some of which aren’t even that cold in the ground. I’m also going to try not to rehash the most popular (and perhaps overplayed) tunes from these games but instead branch out to others that are terrific if not as recognized.