Making music together: An interview with Anthymn

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|06.28.13

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Making music together: An interview with Anthymn
Making music together An interview with Anthymn
It's safe to say that many of us on the Massively team were seduced by the promise and potential of Anthymn when we first saw its Kickstarter campaign. The concept of an entire fantasy MMO that revolves around music instead of swords and sorcery is a refreshing approach in this day and age.

The folks at String Theory Entertainment are downright passionate about bringing the power of music to online games. While Anthymn is still in an early stage of development, the idea behind it stretches back a decade or so. The developers aren't just using music as a quirky feature for the sheer heck of it, either; this is a studio full of musically talented folks who know how infectious and bonding a song can be.

We sat down with the creative leads behind Anthymn to get a better feel for the project and the future of the game, with or without Kickstarter's help. Check it out after the jump!

Making music together An interview with Anthymn
Massively: Could you introduce yourself and your role on the team?

String Theory Entertainment: Hello, we're Riley McDougall (Creative Director) and Daniel Marrable (Community Manager), the team leads and representatives for Anthymn!

How and when did String Theory Entertainment get started?

Though our team members have been working on a myriad of film, music, animation, and gaming projects for a long time now, it was Anthymn as an IP which really brought all of us together to create String Theory Entertainment in order to begin its production three years ago.

What was the creative spark -- the impetus -- behind Anthymn?

My (Riley's) mother is a piano teacher, she would instruct my art teacher's daughter in exchange for drawing lessons on weekends. Thus music performance and education always accompanied visual arts throughout my entire childhood. Music is incredibly powerful unto itself, the emotional landscape it can create has really been the inspiration for Anthymn's story, setting and design.

How long have you been working on Anthymn? What's been accomplished so far?

Anthymn's story has been in full-time development for just over 10 years, and the narrative now spans eight screenplays. We're obviously not using all of that material, but it does provide us an incredible amount of depth to work with when creating game content for our players.

Though we're currently in rapid prototyping now, the String Theory team has to be one of our biggest accomplishments to date. Everyone comes from a different field with a special set of skills which has helped shape Anthymn into a unique IP. We're really proud of how far we've already come on hard work, stubbornness, belief, personal resources, and incredible investors.

Why base an MMO around music? Do you see that as a hard sell to potential players?

Anthymn's story unfolds across the continent of Chora which is divided into eight diverse musical provinces. Because they are unable to overcome their cultural differences, these incredibly powerful Maestros have ignited a war against each other in hopes of proving whose style should rein. So when you begin basing a game around that sort of setting there isn't much choice but to support musical interaction between players.

Though we have a very broad demographic, Anthymn's design has always revolved around one thing: having fun together! From day one we knew every point of musical interaction both inside and out of combat had to be for the MMO player, not experienced musicians with a deep technical knowledge base. However, those who happen to have musical talent will be able to collaborate together and create powerful Warsongs.

What sources of inspiration -- gaming or otherwise -- did you draw upon for Anthymn?

That's a long answer! When you're shaping a world with music it's hard not to be inspired all the time, which is something we see in new team members. They start coming into the studio with hundreds of new ideas because suddenly the way things sound or how a song feels evokes all these gameplay features. It just has this infectious quality which you can even see in the comments section of our Kickstarter; the backers have been incredibly vocal and supportive.

Making music together An interview with Anthymn
The Kickstarter campaign looks to be falling short, with only a fraction of the funds raised so far. What happens if Anthymn fails to hit its $600,000 goal?

We keep moving forward with the capital resources and talent available. Our Kickstarter was always about bringing backers on board early in development, to hear their voice and provide our community with game play, content creation, and sharing features they really want!

There have been plenty of remarks over the concept art and its similarities to Guild Wars 2's concept art. Could this be misleading or distracting -- for example, subconsciously insinuating that Anthymn is Guild Wars 2-like?

Rich and Levi worked on Guild Wars 2 so the comparisons are only natural -- and also a huge compliment! Both are incredibly gifted artists but also very specific in terms of style, and our concept art will continue to evolve and help bring Anthymn to life.

Will players who are musically talented be at an advantage in Anthymn? Conversely, will the musically inept struggle to play the game?

In terms of creating Warsongs, yes. It will be a much easier for them to collaborate and contribute music to the community. In terms of gameplay, no. Though the Maestro classes are more musical per se than the Champions, you still need to be a player first. Because we're incorporating music theory and optional music lessons (apprenticeship) into how your character levels, we hope every player will gain a deeper understanding about music each time they play.

What are some of your favorite musicians and musical classes from RPGs and MMOs?

We are both soundtrack junkies. Final Fantasy VII is incredibly iconic while Skyrim acoustically paints exactly what you're seeing on screen. Austin Wintroy's score for Journey blew our minds, so much mood and atmosphere. Halo 4 was definitely a surprise favorite, but anything Two Steps From Hell makes something like sipping morning coffee the most epic experience of your life!

Who is working on the soundtrack? Is there additional pressure to make the score worthy of being featured in a musical MMO?

Nick Morrison is our sound designer and composer. He's a Berkley-educated mad scientist in all things musical theory and composition. We met working on a project for Siggraph a few years ago and he's been forging Anthymn's soundscape ever since.

There's definitely added pressure when you're developing a game themed around music, but to be honest, we welcome it. He's currently ear-deep in building the combat effects library, which is really important for Champions because the sound of a sword strike can have more attack power than the strike itself if you land it in rhythm. The audio layering is something we hope players will really enjoy.

What innovation do you see Anthymn bringing to the MMO space?

Enabling a community to create, collaborate and share music content in an MMO space is definitely where Anthymn is the most innovative. Music naturally brings people closer and we're hoping when a band successfully raids a dungeon or conquers a PvP campaign knowing it was the gameplay and artistic collaboration which found them victory, it'll be a new and deeply rewarding experience.

Thank you and good luck with the future of this project!

When readers want the scoop on a launch or a patch (or even a brewing fiasco), Massively goes right to the source to interview the developers themselves. Be they John Smedley or Chris Roberts or anyone in between, we ask the devs the hard questions. Of course, whether they tell us the truth or not is up to them!
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