Massively Overthinking: Underrepresented MMO music genres


Massively OP Kickstarter donor Magnet Brain wants a revolution… in video game music!

“Enough with the orchestral fantasy score… what genre of music would you like to see more represented in MMOs?”

We’re taking a cue from Jukebox Heroes to talk about MMO music, music genres, and composers in this week’s Massively Overthinking. Join us!

Brendan Drain (@nyphur): Music plays a big part in setting the tone and feeling of a game and has to remain background sound to your play, so I get why fantasy MMOs have clung to big orchestral scores. I’d love to see more MMOs use dynamic music systems that change depending on the situation in the game, like how EverQuest II’s combat music gets more epic the longer a fight lasts. Solo PvP in EVE Online is also greatly enhanced by throwing on some epic non-background music at the right moment, and it’d be amazing if that were a standard feature that kicks in automatically rather than something players have to figure out for themselves. There are moments in every game when the music should pop out of the background, and that opens a ton of genres for use depending on how fast-paced a game is and what activity you’re doing. Personally, I’d love to see a game use nice melodic electronic music like chillstep as background music and kick in some glitch hop or even epic orchestral music in combat.

Brianna Royce (@nbrianna, blog): The thing about stock orchestral fantasy music is that it’s awesome; who doesn’t adore some Zur or Soule? But cake for every meal is a fast way to ruin cake, and that’s why people turn off those orchestral soundtracks after they’ve heard them a few times. That’s a huge waste of effort and talent. (Me, I’ll leave anything on as long as there’s no irritating repetitive tick to it that distracts me. Ask me how many sound machines I had to test before I found one with no detectable pattern to drive me crazy.) But most people mute their music and go back to their MP3s. So in MMOs, I’d rather hear music that can duplicate that. Think: City of Heroes– or Diablo II-esque tracks. I realize those two couldn’t superficially be more different; one was all catchy synth that made me want to get up and move, while the other was almost entirely creepy gothic monotone. But they both feature tracks that could stand alone if necessary but still add a bit of color to the game without trying to pull your attention away from it. That’s what I want and like.

Eliot Lefebvre (@Eliot_Lefebvre, blog): I think a lot of it depends simply on the tone that the composer is trying to set, but I for one would like to see games that draw from a wider range of styles or even impart a style at odds with the “classic” symphonic music. Final Fantasy XIV does a great job at blending various genres and keeping musical motifs distinct for various zones and landscapes, but I’d love to see more variation; WildStar’s use of hard guitar mixed with orchestra gave the soundtrack a very distinctive feel. Lots of games and films alike benefit from having style communicated by soundtrack; look at the Persona games and the sheer oozing style of their hip-hop fusion soundtracks for an example. I will also play at least a little bit of any game that hires Junkie XL for a soundtrack, since I still frequently use the Fury Road soundtrack as background music anyhow.

Justin Olivetti (@Sypster, blog): I’m particularly fond of good synth or electronic music, especially when paired with science-fiction games (such as Mass Effect). There’s actually been a lot of variety in MMO soundtracks lately, with many eastern games taking on electronic rock while western titles have flirted with blues rock (PlanetSide 2), goofy ’50s-era tunes (WildStar), jazz/electric (The Crew), industrial (Defiance), and so on.

Really for me it comes down to a good mix of genres that mesh well together while providing a wide palette for the ears. Some soundtracks are too samey all of the way through or a touch too generic.

Larry Everett (@Shaddoe, blog): Being a Star Wars fan, I admit orchestral scores are clearly my favorite thing. But to be honest, I think my ultimate MMO would actually take a cue from television. Many times the main theme is generically reflective of the tone of the show, but the scores within the show itself will many times pull from the cultures that are most present in the scene. Take Firefly as an example because we all love Firefly here: In Jaynetown, the themes were very folksy; in Shindig, the themes were symphonic; and at the beginning of The Message, there was an Asian flavor to the background music. But if that turns out to be to complicated, then we’ll just make everything dubstep. People won’t get tired of that, right?

MJ Guthrie (@MJ_Guthrie, blog): Well, to that I say: More orchestral fantasy scores! Or, orchestral sci-fi scores. I love that style of music (I geek out over classical music all the time as well), so I am not the least bit tired of it. And who wouldn’t love to hear more John Williams in anything space-related? (Or anything for that matter?)

That said, I like the direction World of Warships is going with its music: It changes depending on your circumstances in game. Preparation in dock has one style, and when you move out into a match the sounds morph depending on whether you are in danger, engaged in battle, etc. The real point for me is that the music fits the mood that the game is trying to convey; if the music leads me to feel a certain way that is congruent with the theme/situation, then it is doing a fantastic job no matter what the style is.

Your turn!

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