EVE Online's soundtrack is a strange puppy to me. I've heard players proclaim their love and undying affection for it, although I believe that a great deal of that is tied into game loyalty and monogamy. From this outsider's perspective, it's a large number of ambient synth tracks that are big on atmosphere and small on catchy melodies or memorable themes.
Even though I wouldn't rate it as one of the most exciting scores I've covered for this column, I don't want to dismiss its atmospheric nature as a negative. Creating a soundscape that communicates the wonder, mystery, and largely empty gulf of the cosmos has proven to be a great asset to gamer immersion for EVE, and at least most of these tracks are soothing and low-key enough to warrant a high rating on the replayability scale.
Icelandic composer Jón Hallur Haraldsson was in charge of this project. Responding to an interview question about the score's musical category, Haraldsson said, "Back in the days I used to concern myself a lot with defining my music, but I don't do that as much anymore. I like to amalgamate, to take whatever I like from whatever style and try to put that into my music."
You can listen to a bulk of the game's music on Sound Cloud, but here are my picks for the six best tracks out of the bunch!
1. Below the Asteroids
Yes, everyone loves Below the Asteroids. Yes, it's the breakout track of the game. And yes, I love it too. It's actually one of my most favorite pieces of MMO music in my collection, and for probably all the same reasons that everyone else has. It's dang catchy and playful, lending itself well to repeated plays.
Like many of EVE's tracks, it takes a repetitive theme and gradually builds upon it. In this case, it's a poppy little electronic beat that leaves behind a trail of echoes. Other notes and percussion are played against it, eventually culminating in some "sci-fi" electronic noises that wouldn't be too out of place in a 1950s B-movie serial. It's the soundtrack to how I thought of space when I was a kid, and I will hug it forever because of that.
2. Theme from Jita
It seems as though there are a good dozen or so main themes in EVE, usually corresponding to one per expansion. While the themes are generally a cut above the rest of the tracks, only this one gets my double-thumbs-up for its overall excellence.
It's hard to explain why I like it, too. The repeated theme here sounds like an '80s synth giving a prologue to what will become some sort of power ballad, although the track doesn't develop that way. Instead, it remains this wistful melody that laps against me like waves on the beach. I guess what I appreciate is its emotional component. If EVE-the-game is jocks ripping their shirts, giving each other the middle finger, and body slamming each other all over the field, EVE-the-soundtrack is sensitive poets trying to fathom the beauty of the universe.
3. Apocrypha Theme
Another above-the-cut main theme, although I wouldn't put it as high as Jita. Even so, Apocrypha's theme is strangely compelling. It sounds like the moment of the movie when the hero suffers a near-fatal blow and is knocked to the mat. It's the long, dark night of the soul, with the background thumping representing the beating of a heart as it struggles to go on. Like Jita, it's slow and plodding but majestic as well.
4. The Dealer
I picked this track because I liked how this techno piece stuck out of this mostly ambient score like a toe-tapping sore thumb. Strip away the funky beat and it's more plodding space tour stuff, but with it, the track becomes a party in a single MP3 file. Even when the beat takes a moment to breathe, the happy synth chickens from Below the Asteroid show up to do their dance across the keys. It's not going to burn up the charts at any club, but I definitely grooved to it. Yes, that's right: Now you have to imagine this 36-year-old white guy dancing in the most dorky way possible. You're welcome.
5. Seven Clans
Now here's another odd-man-out track. Seven Clans begins with the soft tappings of bongos and the occasional interjection of a didgeridoo (!) before a bit of hardcore electronic funk takes over. Honestly, I picked this just for the bongos, although the rest of the track isn't half-bad. Now my inner Crocodile Dundee is playing EVE: "That's a spaceship? Now this, this is a spaceship."
6. Smoke from Down Below
My final pick is another crowd favorite (I think). Initially it's composed of two elements: a trilling electronic note and an electronic guitar. Both combine to create a serene track that plays out like a western in outer space. Alternatively, if we're still fiddling with movie metaphors, this would be the track that would play after the hero wins and he or she has a quiet moment of triumphant reflection.
Bonus: EVE Online's 10-Year Anniversary Symphony (in full)
At the recent Fanfest, CCP hired an orchestral symphony to celebrate the game's 10th anniversary by performing the score in concert. If you've got an hour or so, check it out and listen to how these pieces sound different when you have a legion of real instruments performing them.
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!