Longtime readers may remember an article that came out two years ago, an interview with Ashram of Darksorrow (EU-H). Ashram was attempting to do something incredibly unique; he was rebuilding the entire soundtrack of World of Warcraft from scratch. Every sound effect, every song, every bit of voice work was meticulously redone in a video that detailed a journey through Stratholme --- a Stratholme that sounded completely different from anything seen in game to date.
But Ashram isn't done with his audio journeys or his success, and he recently released a part two of sorts to the original Stratholme experiment. Titled Lament of Vaia, his second work features more voice acting, a coherent story, and an ending that had me clamoring for part two. Ashram sat down with us to chat about audio work, Lament of Vaia, and just what the heck he's been up to in the two years since we last spoke.
World of WarCrafts: Hi Ashram! It's been quite some time since we heard from you last. Want to fill us in on what's been going on in your life in the meantime?
Ashram: It's been ages, and I honestly feel bad about that. The idea for Lament of Vaia came to me almost immediately after I released my original Stratholme audio rebuild way back in 2009, and I came up with a basic storyboard and recorded the footage pretty soon after -– but I also sent the Stratholme vid out to a bunch of independent game developers at the time, and a couple of them saw enough promise in it to contact me to start working on soundtracks and audio design for their games, which was just amazing.
So I sort of got my foot into the door of the game industry with that video. I founded Drewcifer Audio Design, and since then, I've been working hard in my spare time to really build on that initial opportunity. I've worked particularly closely with brilliant indie studio Mediatonic (shameless plug because they deserve it). I've worked on three of their games between then and now: Extreme Lawn Bowls for iPhone, Monsters Probably Stole My Princess which was released on PSP, PSN and Xbox Live Arcade, and Who's That Flying, which came out on PSP/PSN, Steam and iPhone. In between all that, I also wrote the Jungle Karts soundtrack for the lovely people at Brain In A Jar, that's going to be released soon, too, on the Wii. So it's been a really hectic, breakneck time with lots and lots of learning and very little sleep -– which is why I unfortunately never found time to sit down and release Lament of Vaia!
To have been "too busy" doing soundtrack work is actually a really good thing that I'm nothing but thankful for, but a part of me still felt bad for all those people who took an interest in my first rebuild project and took the time to watch it and write encouraging comments and emails. So I found a little bit of time recently and decided to knuckle down and release part one, partly as a thank-you to them.
Fill us in on Lament of Vaia and what it's all about.
From a technical perspective, the idea with Lament of Vaia was basically to allow the music and the audio to take the focus and tell a new story, to come up with an original plotline, and by using the audio, convey that plot to the audience by putting a new spin on otherwise-familiar parts of the WoW landscape, hinting that it was perhaps one of many untold stories that you'd imagine could be going on all the time in a persistent, living world like Azeroth. You know those moments when you're standing in a big city and you catch yourself looking up at an apartment block and thinking about all the hundreds of lives going on in there, and how you wonder what everyone's doing or thinking or hoping? I wanted the protagonist's story to be like one of those little threads, but one that passed "under the radar" of the existing lore -– he's not some mighty figure, he's not a Tirion or an Illidan. It's just the story of a person whose true love was brutally taken away from him and his desire for vengeance and closure.
I wanted to make something where the audio and the music would lend a completely new meaning to the visuals, as opposed to just rebuilding the audio around the visuals and the existing lore the way I did in the Stratholme video. From an industry standpoint, I think it's much more similar to the kind of thing you'd do when creating an intro cinematic or a cutscene, that kind of vibe. From an artistic point of view, I wanted to make something heartfelt and bittersweet, that would be engrossing and have an emotional impact on the viewer.
Video games have had several really intense, emotional moments in the course of their evolution, and I was aspiring to create a feeling similar to those moments. I also thought that overall, it was important to push myself and do something new and different, instead of just releasing the same concept in another setting.
Obviously, Lament of Vaia is way more story-oriented than your first video. Which would you say is more difficult -- working with rebuilding the audio from an instance run, or rebuilding it for the purposes of storytelling?
I would say that rebuilding the audio in a storytelling way like this is a more difficult thing to do. There's a lot more planning involved. Suddenly, you have a script to write and characters to create and a backstory to convey, and you have to really think about the music and the flow of the audio and video editing, because everything is being dictated by your vision, as opposed to you just following along with what's there and filling the gaps in. I found it a much more complex undertaking this time around, another reason it's been so long in the making.
Most of the technical elements that were there in the first vid are also going to be there in the this one, and they're going to be just as tough to get right, but there's this whole extra layer of plotline going on over the top of them. I can't just release 5 minutes of moody music and combat SFX, or the story won't be conveyed ... And it's not like it's even a very complicated story so far. Definitely harder this time around.
Are you going to continue the story? It ended on such a cliffhanger!
Absolutely. The story is all planned out right to the end. Part twoI will see the hero wreaking his bloody retribution on the ones responsible for Vaia's death! Part one is much more a gentle opener, I wanted it to be moody and emotive and subtle, but part two is going to be where all the action is. Everything's plotted out, the music is written and recorded, and the footage is (mostly) edited. I just need a chunk of time to devote to really getting the SFX and voiceover nailed, then I can get that out there, too. Hopefully it won't be anywhere near as long a wait as the last time!
So how are you liking the sounds, voiceovers, and music in Cataclysm?
Ah, this is where I tell you about the price I paid for all this work I've been doing. There's a problem with having no free time –- it makes playing a game like WoW completely impossible. I had to quit. I actually left the game at the end of Wrath and I haven't been back. So unfortunately, I don't know anything about Cataclysm or the Firelands, although I've been keeping up with the general progress of the game itself and always been on the outside looking in, reading community websites and scanning forums from time to time.
It was a really hard decision to have to make at the time, and I still really miss all my in-game friends and guildies. But at the end there, I became GM of Conclusion, and we were raiding ICC-10 and -25 and the game was literally devouring every spare moment I had. Being a GM of a raiding guild is a crazy, intense commitment that nobody will ever understand until they actually do it, and it was a great experience, but it eventually came down to "Okay, do you want to raid ICC, or do you want to start building a career writing music for video games?" So I had no choice but to quit.
In a way, the sad tone of Lament of Vaia is partly attributable to what I was feeling when I left the game. The vid was almost my way of saying goodbye to all my friends and the world and stories I'd come to know so well. It was like my last way of being a part of it. Even now, I think back on certain times and places in WoW and I feel genuine nostalgia and almost homesickness. It's a pretty weird feeling, considering the places I'm feeling these emotions over don't physically exist, but my brain doesn't seem to care!
Anyway ... Blizzard sent me a free 7-day pass a couple of days back to come check out the Firelands, so I might jump in just for a week to snoop around. You never know!
Any future projects you'd like to fill us in on?
Well, I'm currently finishing off my fourth game soundtrack for Mediatonic on an upcoming title that's going to be awesome. I can't say too much about it at this stage because it hasn't been officially announced yet, but the IP is genius and it's been a real blast working on it. Aside from that, I'm just looking around for new companies to work with and projects to undertake. I'm really keen to push this thing as far as I possibly can. I love writing music for games, and it'd be awesome to (one day) be working a big-budget project like the soundtrack to Deus Ex: Human Revolution.
I've also been doing a bit of songwriting ... Before I started playing WoW, I spent eight years in the music business as the singer of a metal band called New Project, but this is new stuff I've been writing on my own. A solo project! Not sure how I'll even release it, but I don't want to get involved with the music business again -– I'll probably end up just putting it up for free on soundcloud, and then if anyone wants to donate me some beer money, they can.
Anything else you'd like to add?
Only to say a really huge thank-you to WoW Insider and to everyone who took the time to watch my work or comment on it. There are like a zillion potential videos people can watch now on the internet, and most of them have higher budgets or are funnier or have more naked girls in them than mine. I really appreciate every view and comment I've received. And if anyone at Blizzard is reading this, I want to write the music for Diablo 3! Call me!
Best of luck with your future projects Ashram, and thank you for taking the time to chat with us again!
If you'd like to hear more of Ashram's music and voice work, you can check out his website.
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