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BlizzCon 2011: Our Annual Interview With Russell Brower

October 25, 2011 | | 2 Comments Share thison Facebook BlizzCon 2011: Our Annual Interview With Russell Broweron Twitter

BlizzCon 2011 took place this past weekend, and while the biggest announcement coming out of the two-day event was the World of Warcraft expansion titled Mists of Pandaria, Diablo III and StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm were also on hand for attendees. There was the annual audio panel where the audio team shared their experience and a couple performances related to Diablo III, and of course we were able to sit down with audio director Russell Brower to discuss some of their upcoming projects.

Hit the jump for updates on all three of Blizzard Entertainment’s upcoming titles.

Diablo III

We really enjoyed the Diablo III beta that Blizzard Entertainment recently made available to a select audience. There was a lot of music to be heard, and we were curious about a couple of the tracks that really stood out in our minds including a melodic guitar piece that was heard in the basements of New Tristram and a dark new age track with electric guitars that we heard in a side dungeon. Brower noted that the team was “Designing a lot of repeatability into the game,” and that “You won’t necessarily hear the same thing each time you play, especially when the game ships with all the music in.” He told us that the beta only contains a small fraction of the music that will be present in just that part of the game.

More interesting, however, is the game’s generative soundtrack. “There’s a layering system in place,” Brower explained, “And you may be hearing a varying foreground layer over a different background that are supplied to the system.”

In terms of who’s involved, “A lot of music was produced by Derek Duke and Joseph Laurence,” the latter whom has been involved with Diablo III since its inception and worked alongside Matt Uelmen to “Seamlessly tie together Diablo II into Act I of Diablo III.” After the first act in Diabo III, however, we can expect to hear a departure as the player traverses different areas of the game.

Brower also told us that he recorded approximately 90 minutes of Matt Uelmen playing the Diablo signature 12-string guitars that he intends to use to create a “Tapestry of the old and new” by interweaving Lawrence Juber’s guitar work, Matt Uelmen’s, and Brower’s own work in a piece called “New Tristram” that will be featured on the collector’s edition soundtrack.

Brower himself is focusing his attention on the cinematics which he worked with alongside Nick Carpenter who directed them. He feels like he’s playing the role of “The overall glue that keeps this whole collection of instrumentation, styles, and sounds together. Just as the original Diablo titles had a very eclectic sound, we’ve expanded that to include an orchestra and choir in addition to the guitar stuff, making for quite a kit of artists.”

A number of recording artists will be featured on the album as well, including one of our favorite Blizzard Entertainment staples, world woodwinds player Pedro Eustache. They will also feature Tina Guo, an electric cellist who’s been involved with BlizzCon performances in the past. Even Neal Acree will be performing guitar, making for a big cast of composers and performers for this project.

Our final question concerning the Diablo series was about the exclusive soundtrack disc being offered at BlizzCon this year, The Music of Diablo 15 Year Anniversary soundtrack. Brower had this to say about the release:

“What we put together is an album that does not overlap the current iTunes release known as Diablo II which was the pre-expansion Diablo II soundtrack. If you have both, you pretty much have Diablo through the end of the Diablo II expansion, and there are a few conceptual pieces [Matt Uelmen] did early on for Diablo III. You can hear the lineage appearing. If you think of the Diablo III “Overture” I put together back when the game was announced, you’ll hear its roots on that album. It was really cool to get an opportunity to put this out so that fans of the music, and there are a lot of them of this game, will hear the lineage, and realize how we’ve tried to stay true to the vision, then when you hear the rest of Diablo III, you’ll see how we branched out to follow the storyline.

My goal was to have a cohesive, easily accessible, highest quality available soundtrack release. This was recorded a long time ago so we did a little remastering. As we say in the bylines of these things, ‘digitally remastered.’”

StarCraft II: Heart of the Swarm

Our next topic was Heart of the Swarm, where Brower gave us the confirmation we so desperately were seeking, “New music will be featured in Heart of the Swarm.” Thanks, Russell!

Getting more specific, however, he noted that while it’s obvious that the game’s cinematics will require new compositions, there will also be new pieces for the single-player campaign as well as additional map music for all three races, which is an impressive feat given that each race already has about six separate pieces of music.

I of course asked whether or not Derek Duke was heading up the project given that he’s traditionally been the ‘Zerg guy.’ This was confirmed, although Glenn Stafford is supervising the music effort for the game, with Brower stating, “He’s the heart of that particular swarm.”

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria

Again, the biggest news this year was the highly-stylized World of Warcraft expansion, Mists of Pandaria, which, as the name suggests, features pandas in a Chinese kung-fu style setting. We got some hands-on with the expansion, and were immediately drawn in by the Chinese-flavored visuals and music.

I asked about the team’s approach give the stylized nature of the expansion, and Brower had a lot to say:

“I spoke to Chris Metzen about this before we started writing, and we came up with this approach based on this notion that the graphic artists really worked hard to capture the flavor and make it look like a different land that was lost in time and hadn’t been thought of in over 10,000 years and is about to be rediscovered again by the Alliance and Horde.


Chris and I discussed that we still wanted people to know they’re in Azeroth, and it occurred to us that music was a great opportunity to do that. So instead of going full-on, dare I say, a cliché stereotypical Asian martial arts movie kind of sound, let’s use more of a Western song form or film score form, and overlay on that some of these idiomatic instruments like the ehru, a Chinese fiddle, and the dizi which is a Chinese flute. This one is especially sharp and piercing and has that sound that is unmistakable to this setting. You’d also expect, maybe, that we’d play with a pentatonic scale. That would be the cliché film formula device if you will. I do start there, but then I start violating it. It’s a way to have this Azerothian underpinning if you will.”

The team had to fly in an ehru player from the bay area to handle this particular project, although they had a dizi player in their regular session artist roster. Brower and Neal Acree have been working on the conceptual pieces heard in the trailer and in the game thus far, although he noted that they used code names in the files if you’re trying to find out who wrote what.

Video Games Live Extravaganza

We asked Brower if there was anything else he wanted to talk about, to which he immediately told us about his recent trip to Brazil for the annual Video Games Live tour down there. Apparently Blizzard Entertainment is translating the game into Brazilian Portuguese, and to celebrate the occasion, Blizzard Entertainment’s PR department joined up with Video Games Live to make it “an even bigger extravaganza than was originally suggested.”

As it turns out, Brower was able to conduct all of the Blizzard Entertainment pieces which enjoyed an expanded portion of the set list, including StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, “Lament of the Highborn,” “Invincible,” “Diablo III Overture,” and as a special treat for fans in Brazil, “The Dark Portal,” which is the opening piece for The Burning Crusade, complete with Illidan’s voice recorded in Portuguese, which apparently received a huge fan response.


Which Blizzard Entertainment projects are you most looking forward to, and what do you think of the music we’ve heard from each project so far?

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