WildStar Wednesday: The Recipe for Perfect Music

Written by Robert "Robeardo" Land on October 10, 2011

This week, our WildStar Wednesday only needs a brief introduction before we get to the meat of the subject. Say hello to our Lead Composer, Jeff Kurtenacker, who is going to tell you all about the music you'll find in WildStar and his process for creating it. Plus, there may be a surprise or two waiting for you, too! Take it away, Jeff!

"Listen - Do You Smell Something?"
Hello! My name is Jeff Kurtenacker and I'm excited to talk to you about what we are cooking up in the audio department here at Carbine Studios. I am the Lead Composer and one of the sound designers on WildStar, and today I want to touch on our recipe for serving up a musical score that captures the fun, adventure, and pioneering spirit of WildStar!

The Appetizer
Music has such a unique ability to draw out an emotional response that it really becomes a powerful tool in the video game development process. Maybe it's because I love food, but I look at audio as the seasoning in the video game kitchen: if you do it well, many may not even notice all the things that went into it, but they know it's super delicious and they enjoy the whole experience - all the ingredients are enhanced. Do it wrong, and great ingredients leave the player with a bad taste - or worse yet, no taste at all. That's when players walk away with that not-quite-satisfied feeling.

You already know that WildStar looks amazing, with content that is rich and deep, and lore that is epic and fantastical, so believe me when I say that every time I start to compose something for the game, I am striving to reach a benchmark that has already been set by the talented group here at Carbine. I'm looking for musical ways to help enhance each zone of our game. WildStar is the marriage of everything we love about science fiction and fantasy. So it makes sense that the music reflects that. I'm combining elements of electronica (for the sci-fi), orchestral (for the epic adventure/fantasy), and for experiences like the Northern Wilds, a dusty-outlaw-guitar-pickin'-spur-rattlin'-tobacco-chewin'-gun-slingin' music. It's the blend of all these things together that creates a solid WildStar score.

The Main Course
I'm going to geek out for a moment, but hang with me! A very cool thing about the future-fantasy setting of our game is the musical opportunity to really play with tonality and colors. This is the first score where I actually have a great excuse and functional reason to use the Phrygian modal scale (You can click this link to learn more about the Phrygian mode, in case your music history classes started with The Beatles) and I get to use interesting spacey chords like a minor chord with a major 7th; I play around by putting automated bit-crushing effects on huge drums, custom whacky delays on guitar tracks, running violins through an electric guitar stack, and using a violin bow on acoustic and electric guitars. Again, because of the nature of our game, this approach really helps to bring out the experience everyone at Carbine has worked so hard to create. And best part of all, it is super fun to write and produce this kind of crazy space-adventure music.

The acoustic guitar is the heartbeat of the score. Using nylon string and steel string guitars, finger-picked, flat-picked - even bowed with a cello bow - the guitars bring out a pioneering spirit; a feeling that this world is vastly unknown to you and that there's a whole new landscape to explore. At times, there's even a dusty, outlaw feeling. Some zone music really features the guitar, and some zone music is more lush and orchestral with just a sprinkle of guitar work.

I'll never forget the first time I heard "Journey to Transylvania" by Alan Silvestri on the Van Helsing soundtrack. There is an acoustic guitar in there that just starts to drive and really take over the cue, sort of unexpectedly - and I remember thinking "This is awesome!" and realizing how versatile an acoustic guitar can be. The guitars (including banjo and mandolin) really give WildStar its roots. Then, by adding electronica elements to the score, we start to bring in a sci-fi, outer space element. These two elements working together give you, the player, a pair of very important reminders as you go through the game:

  1. You are in a frontiersman state of mind, and you have this pioneering sense of adventure that drives you forward.
  2. You are not in Kansas anymore - this planet has some amazing technology at work, and there are discoveries to be made, by you.

There's a third consideration I want to make sure the player feels throughout the game: You are a hero, and this adventure is so much bigger than you can imagine. This is where the orchestra plays an important role in the score - classic and bold - the orchestra brings out the heroic adventure and epic scale of the world we are exploring. I lean heavily on strings and brass to bring out the larger-than-life themes that are in our game. In the Northern Wilds (the zone we showed at gamescom and PAX) you find yourself in an unknown territory that is cold, stormy and chaotic, fighting for survival in the midst of these majestic mountains, with strange new creatures and dangerous magical technologies to overcome. It's a great blend of all our musical influences, with the guitars introducing that frontier flavor, the looping electronica and ethereal synths bringing that magic-meets-sci-fi vibe. Add to that the sweeping orchestra and a healthy dose of big, bold brass, and you're transported to a world of epic landscapes and high adventure.

There's something invigorating about appeasing your inner child, feeding the part of you that wants to be the hero. The music, in partnership with our amazing art and rich lore, is the perfect invitation, allowing players to tap into the adventure, mystery, and excitement that is WildStar! We have a very talented audio team here at Carbine and we strive to be the best seasoning we can be, to make sure what gets delivered to you is immersive, fun, and enhances the WildStar experience.

Now for the fun part! Click the links to hear two brand new tracks from WildStar! Take a moment to listen to what we are cooking up over here at Carbine Studios. Thanks for reading, and enjoy! *burp*

What We Now Call Home
You've arrived on a strange planet, determined to make a new life for yourself. But this beautiful, majestic, snow-peaked landscape is as dangerous as it is alluring. Your journey of survival will require grit, skill, and courage in order call this place your home. Listen to it as an MP3 or as an OGG file.

Justice Doesn't Always Wear A Badge
The musical theme of a Stranger who comes across a small town of settlers trying to forge a better life for themselves on this mysterious planet, but they're being overrun by thieves and marauders. The Stranger makes their problems his problems, and has the strength and courage to roll out a new kind of justice. Listen to it as an MP3 or as an OGG file.

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