Jukebox Heroes: RuneScape 3's new sound

Justin Olivetti
J. Olivetti|08.06.13

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Jukebox Heroes: RuneScape 3's new sound
Jukebox Heroes RuneScape's new sound and the people behind it
Amid all of the hoopla surrounding the third major iteration of RuneScape was a notice that many readers may have skipped right over: Jagex authorized the audio team to go ahead and build a new sound engine for RuneScape 3 and record high-fidelity music with a full orchestra. As a result, RuneScape now has over eight hours of ear-blowing awesomeness thanks to composer James Hannigan and the Slovak Symphony Orchestra.

I'll be giving RuneScape the traditional Jukebox Heroes treatment in an upcoming column, but today we're going to talk with Jagex Audio Lead Stephen Lord about the enormous effort it took to overhaul the music for RuneScape 3. We've got the inside perspective on making RuneScape's new sound as well as several pieces from the new soundtrack, all after the break!

Jukebox Heroes RuneScape's new sound and the people behind it
Massively: Can you introduce yourself and your role on the team?

Stephen Lord: My name is Stephen Lord, and I am Head of Audio at Jagex. I manage a team of sound designers and musicians and am responsible for the overall audio vision and direction. I liaise with voice-over agencies helping to cast and record hundreds of voices for new content and quests. I have also been working closely with the composer James Hannigan to provide orchestral reworks of RuneScape classics and am working on a large collection of new material.

So why did RuneScape get a musical makeover for its third edition? I've listened to the past music -- it seemed pretty good to me!

There is always a drive to make things better and to continually strive for audio improvements, whether that comes from technological innovations or a more creative approach to help deliver the drama of the stories being told. The old MIDI-style music provided some good nostalgic memories for people, but for composers, low-quality samples and a limited instrument palette really stifle creativity. The introduction of dedicated music streaming servers has liberated the team and allows us to write and deliver music as we always intended.

What were the goals of creating the updated soundtrack?

With the extra audio fidelity the new tech now offers, we wanted to create something fresh and exciting with the inclusion of a full orchestra, string quartets, and lots of other live performers. We want the music to feel alive as players wander around the main areas for the first time, complementing the graphical improvements. We also felt it was important to remain sympathetic to themes and compositions that have become so familiar to players over the years but re-imagine them and take them in new directions.

How did you go about doing it? What orchestra did you use?

We approached the soundtrack in a few different ways. Firstly, there are the full orchestral sections to the soundtrack. We worked with composer James Hannigan, whom I have known for many years and worked with previously on Harry Potter. He was the natural choice for RuneScape as he excels at those epic, fantasy, and medieval themes. For this particular recording we took our own recording engineer and went out to Bratislava to record with the Slovak National Symphony Orchestra and conductor Alan Wilson.

Secondly, we have rewritten many of the classic RuneScape themes with live players, bringing some really great talented session musicians in house. We allowed them to express themselves creatively, often taking the music off in different directions.

Finally, for the 6th Age soundtrack, we took a different approach writing the music in house with dynamic triggers and more contemporary instrumentation and textures, creating a really dark environment to complement the ongoing Battle of Lumbridge.

What are some of the major musical themes or motifs that run through the score?

We have tried to build on the original RuneScape theme, bringing elements of that into many other tracks. For example, the main menu features the traditional bold style of the theme, but as we move into the game and the war-torn parts of Lumbridge, the song is carried played by a solo melancholy violin.

What's your personal favorite track and why?

I have two favourite tracks. The first is a version of Harmony played on a harp. We worked with an amazing harpist who improvised the melody on a traditional harp and then added an extra layer with a smaller folk harp. It was a gorgeous rendition. We are, however, still working on another more traditional version of that song. My other favourite is a song called Sunrise. It's not released yet, but it's subtle and beautiful, and I'm trying to save it for a poignant moment in the game.

Do you still have the shanties in there? How much fun were those to make?

Yes, the shanties are still there. We brought the folk band Haddo into the studio, and amongst other things, they reworked Sea Shanty 2 for us. They play melodeon and violin/viola and really put their own twist on things. I would like to do more of this and have some of the classic RuneScape melodies ringing out of the pubs and ports in true shanty style.

RuneScape has a page devoted to giving away much of its old soundtrack. Will Jagex do this for RuneScape 3?

Yes, I have made some of the music available via our official Soundcloud page. Check it out!

Are there plans to release the score as a digital or CD album?

Yes, this is something I am working on at the moment. There is enough material for several digital albums, but I would also really like to enhance the material by providing extended tracks and unreleased music that never made it into the game.

Eight hours is a lot of music. Is that it for RuneScape or are you already planning the next musical addition?

Eight hours of new music was an enormous commitment for us for RuneScape 3 launch, but for RuneScape overall, it is still a relatively small percentage. There are over a thousand tracks in-game, which would take someone around three days to listen to! We managed to update the wandering music for a lot of the surface world, but there is so much more to do. Our plans are to carry on working with live players, rework more areas of the game, and continue to develop the technology for all aspects of the audio experience.

Thank you and good luck with your future musical efforts!

MMOs aren't just about looks; they also have great soundtracks that often go unnoticed. Heroes don't stand for that! Every Tuesday, Jukebox Heroes will check out a game's soundtrack and feature the best tunes to share and discuss. Your DJ for the hour is Justin Olivetti, and the request line is open!
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