Saturday, November 21, 2009

A sidenote on music

File under ramblings...
A few things tonight triggered this post -

  • I was just adding sounds to my areas and was thinking about whether or not using background music.
  • I was sitting around in Dammendrech and thinking about the lack of music.
  • I logged into Khalidine to look at the systems (and if there was something to rip off) and heard the custom music.

Now, point 3 is the one I'm starting my rant with - well, there's apparently a lot, or maybe not a lot but some custom music at the vault. Nothing new, that existed back in NWN1 times too, but I never cared about it. Now, when I logged into Khalidine today I was reminded why I don't care. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to sound negative, but for me personally, it's very weird and almost drops me out of any immersion when I hear 3rd party music, especially in NWN2.
Why especially NWN2? Well, tastes might differ, but personally I think NWN2 has an awesome original score. Especially the two expansions. No, stop... the two expansions have an awesome score and the original campaign just one I'd remember, but not listen to much.

When I first played NWN2's original campaign there was certainly the main theme and some music like the village music that was memorable, it's a score you associate immediately with the game. That's fine, job well done. Not worth an Oscar, but the title theme is certainly original.
Now, when I first installed and played MotB I must say it was quite a different experience - I stopped playing and just stood still to listen. Especially when I entered the village of Mulsantir, I thought to myself "hell, what did they do here, that's really special!"
I think it's the fact that Alexander Brandon, the man hired for doing the MotB score, broke with a lot of the usual conventions. He didn't just stick with the usual epic orchestral score, he added a lot of sometimes a little strange folklorisic elements, swimming noticably against the current and making the whole soundtrack stand out in the masses. Frankly, I don't know why this fact hasn't been praised more on the forums and elsewhere - MotB had one of the most original scores I've ever heard in a game.
And praised be Obsidian, they hired the same man for SoZ and you can hear it. I never finished the game, but I have the score on my iPod. Hey, I never listened to game music outside a game before! I don't even have any movie soundracks, besides Neil Young's Dead Man or such.. but I truly enjoy going through my NWN2 playlist to find new music for my areas. None of the other recent games I played had such an effect for me. Dragon Age could have been even more epic if they hired that guy, but they did not, so it's just average epic. The Witcher's music was certainly okay, but nothing you'd remember for a lifetime either. But Alexander Brandon should make movie scores, really. He wouldn't have a problem coming up with a truly unique score for Peter Jackson's next fantasy movie at all, actually I could imagine The Hobbit with some of the SoZ/MotB tunes. :D

So, my conclusions...
Custom music for Middleforest - no way. I love the music that comes with NWN2 more than anything else I heard on the vault or elsewhere. And yes, I will add background music, it gives each area a very special feel to it, improving the immersion for me. Don't like it? Well, disable background music or turn down the volume, hehe.
For you "NWN1 forever" people, here's some examples from Youtube to illustrate what I'm talking about.

NWN2's original title score (not A. Brandon), unique theme but nothing more

NWN2 - MotB (Mulsantir theme)

NWN2 - SoZ (Plains theme)

P.S: It certainly helped me to have the music available in iTunes to decide on themes for areas (and tracks I like so much that I probably never use them because I save them for "some special area" ;) ). In case you didn't know, all the tracks are stored in C:\Program Files\Atari\Neverwinter Nights 2\Music (or Music X2), you can copy them and just change the .bmu extension into .mp3. Tedious work that's easier to do with some batch programm... I can only name one for Mac, but I'm sure there's something for Windows too.


Michael A. Sinclair said...

I haven't been very impressed with a lot of game music, even NWN2. One that blows me away, however, is Arcanum: Of Steamwork and Magick Obscura. I love the heavy use of the string quartet, and its mournful tune reminds me of Arvo Part's Tabula Rasa (without a doubt, my favorite music ever). There's a NWN conversion on the Vault.

Also, do note that, if you're going to change your bmu files to mp3's, you should make copies of them first. Some media players will add extra info to mp3 files that, when you change them back to bmu's, causes them not to play in-game. I was banging my head against the wall for a long time because of that.

Casa said...

Hoi, I did say "copy them out". :D
And I do think I should've chosen more "special" examples to prove my point, because I'm still convinced the soundtrack of the two expansions is very different. My praise did not include the original campaign's score, mind you, that one's not extraordinary at all.
I tried to find some sound examples for the game you mentioned last night, but just as I'm writing this I slap my forehead because of all sites I didn't check youtube...

Casa said...

Oooh, and right you are (of course you are, because obviously your taste is very good). I love this one, it's fantastic:

Michael A. Sinclair said...

My bad, you did say to copy them. That's what happens when I read blogs at work. *headdesk*

Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that I don't like the music from NWN2 or its expansions. It just didn't leave me as floored as it did for you. That said, I will grant that the music from the expansions are better. I think the reason is that the change in instruments and style makes them different from the traditional game music. I like the NWN and NWN2 themes, but there's no arguing that they're typical of game music.

I think the reason I like Arcana's music so much is that it's not typical of a game at all. It's visual and evocative, the kind of music you'd expect to hear in a good movie. If the music can tell a story on its own, apart from the game, you know you've got something good.

Casa said...

Well, you'll get a blog post... give me a minute. :P