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BlizzCon 2008: Blizzard sound panel


I am, I must admit, one of those people who frequently plays World of Warcraft with the sound muted. I've been playing for a long time and, well, I've heard it all before. So, as a person who doesn't exactly consider sound an essential component of their gaming experience, I wasn't entirely sure what I was getting into when I attended the Blizzard Sound panel at BlizzCon, featuring In attendance were Russell Brower, Director of Audio and Video; Glenn Stafford, who founded the audio department; and Derek Duke, a full-time composer. But, presented with live musical performances accompanied by enthusiastic explanation from people passionate about making music a part of the game, I have to say I'm a believer.

"[The music] gave us the 'ta-da' factor we wanted for the announcement of Diablo 3."

How best to explain the power of music? Let's talk Diablo 3. When the game was first introduced to the world at the Worldwide Invitational in Paris, it wasn't introduced with a speech, with screenshots, or even with video: on an empty stage, the lights came up red and attendees heard the notes of an acoustic guitar being played. (If you're a fan of the game, there's no doubt you know the sound without need for further explanation.) The introduction didn't need anything else, the music alone told everyone in the crowd what was happening. "Music is so important to Blizzard games," said Brower. "It gave us the 'ta-da' factor we wanted for the announcement of Diablo 3."

Brower launched the panel by telling the crowd that sound and music, by definition, is really hard to talk about. It's something that's best heard. So let's start our discussion, like the panel itself did, with some music: David Arkenstone and band playing Lion's Pride and several other pieces of music which weren't named, but were easy on the ears. And though you may not have been there, you can listen along with us -- just click on the play button to start any of the pieces of music below.

So what inspires Blizzard's audio staff to write music?

Glenn Stafford: Having an early exposure to music and being inundated with all types of music. It's one place i draw a lot of inspiration from. More specifically, the inspiration for the early Warcraft music came from a number of sources but particularly the classical composer Holst's The Planets Suite. At first we wondered if we could just use it, but we decided to write something along those lines. What we came out with was fitting for the game.

Inspiration can in fact come from anywhere at any time. At the worst times, at the best times. A lot of times it is at the worst time and the pressure is huge and the deadlines are huge. Having a voice recorder or something to record with on your ride home or the freeway, humming melodies in the back of your mind or humming them out loud if there's no one in the car with you. It can really come from anywhere. I think it's wise to keep an approach that allows it to come from anywhere at any time. Nobody's perfect, so I'm sure I've passed over much more inspiration than I actually took advantage of.

Derek Duke: Mostly it's the game. I come at it as serving the needs of the game. If I'm writing for a specific area or race, it's about taking the first musical influence that comes to my mind, whether it's samples or whether it's piano or whether it's synthesizer, or whether it's just my mind. It's like trying to find the right piece of marble for a sculpture. I can grab on to it and then sort of dig out the music, and pull out that singular idea from my inspiration.

For more Q & A with Blizzard's audio team (and another tasty musical treat!), read on to part two.

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