Game Music

BlizzCon 2010: Audio Director Russell Brower Weighs in on Our Context Debate

November 4, 2010 | | 3 Comments Share thison Facebook BlizzCon 2010: Audio Director Russell Brower Weighs in on Our Context Debateon Twitter

This is the last piece we have from BlizzCon 2010. It’s not really about anything that the company has been up to, so I’ve been holding on to it. During our lengthy chat with Audio Director Russell Brower where we talked about StarCraft II, Diablo III, and World of Warcraft: Cataclysm, we also touched on the subject of context, as I thought he may have some interesting insights having worked on games with so much music that is loved by so many fans.

As it turned out, I was right. Aligning himself more with Wes’s “Everything is a Context” as opposed to Gideon’s “Context is Everything” argument, I think you may find what he has to say to be interesting.

Hit the jump for more.

The conversation about context came about when I mentioned the fact that the many World of Warcraft CDs and even the StarCraft II soundtrack that have been released since Brower’s arrival at Blizzard Entertainment have been true outside listening experiences as opposed to simple “cue dumps,” to which Brower noted:

“It’s an artistic choice that I think is kind of fun because the music has to exist now outside of the game, so I think it’s all fair to do some musical segue and group certain things together and given them a new name as group now. You might actually have 3 or 4 cues in one cut and give them a label, like “I, Mengsk” [from StarCraft II] for instance, and we do them all the time in World of Warcraft.”

This comment gave me a great window to ask Brower specifically about his thoughts on context, especially in regards to the fact that while I’ve never played World of Warcraft, I’ve always enjoyed the music, and more particularly, all the CD releases that have been created. I brought up both Gideon’s points and Wes’s points, noting my personal view that a soundtrack as a product should probably stand on its own if it’s being sold separately from the game. Brower had this to say:

“I think you’ve crystallized the role of the soundtrack in the product line: to present the music in a way that stands alone. That is the product at that point. It’s a listening experience that I hope people will put on in their car or iPod, or whatever, and as opposed to people who have pulled the MP3s out of the packs and put them in their iPod, and think, gosh, this is not the same feeling I remember from the game. Or if they play it for a third party who’s unfamiliar with the game, they may say, ‘Wow, this is kind of drone-y and boring!’ Well, because I wouldn’t put that on the soundtrack. It works great in the game, the drone-y boring stuff, it actually because atmospheric, and maybe you wouldn’t know the difference between the music and the ambience.”

Now, I admit that World of Warcraft is somewhat unique in that it’s the biggest MMORPG out there, and even more, there’s going to be 36 hours of music in the game with the arrival of Cataclysm, so the team is able to pick the most memorable music to put on the album. I proceeded to ask about soundtracks for games that only have 50 minutes of music, and are arranged in more of a “cue dump” or track-by-track fashion rather than a continuous listening experience as has been done at Blizzard Entertainment. Can we review and be critical of these kinds of soundtracks without knowing the context?  Once again, Brower responded:

“Well, you bring up a couple of things. If it’s a good listening experience, I say go for it. But the other thing you’re bringing up is how long is the right length of a music product and what do you charge for it? There are no hard-fast rules. We kind of go on feels. We say, ‘That album feels short to me.’ In this digital age, you can buy things a track at a time. So you’re getting what you pay for, literally. Sometimes it’s cheaper to buy the whole album. If something is 20 or so tracks and it’s $10, then that’s a good deal. But if it’s something like we’d call an EP in the old days, and you charge per song, you just have to make a decision. Is it worth it? It may be about how you present it. If you present it as an EP and it’s $4, then you may say, ‘Hey, it’s short, but it’s only $4!'”

My final question was whether or not the fact that I had never played World of Warcraft made him view my reviews of his and the Blizzard Entertainment sound team’ s music differently.

“Well, you’ve reviewed the soundtracks. You didn’t review the game music. To make a distinction between somebody who say is reviewing the game and is mentioning the music–which is totally valid and cool–it’s different from what you’re doing. I see your readers as somebody who’s appreciating the products and albums. If they relate it to the game, it’s so much the better, but it’s still great.”

I suppose it helps that I usually have positive things to say, but still interesting thoughts nonetheless!

Do Russell Brower’s comments make you think about the debate differently? What are your thoughts on the context debate if you haven’t already weighed in?

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