28 Jan 2011

Encounters That Rock!

Earthen Pantheon after their first Lich King 10-man kill

There’s a great shared topic over at BlogAzeroth right now: Naithin asks what causes an encounter to ‘click’ in our minds. When do we reach that point when a boss fight switches from being a difficult challenge to possible, then to trivial? It’s a good question, but I don’t think it’s just down to preparation, planning and persistence. There’s something else besides.

For me it’s the music.

I’m not talking about the melodies playing in the background, serenading us from the moment we’re greeted with the login page to the point we click the Exit button.  I’m talking about the soundtrack that plays in my head.

I’m not mad, I promise you. Next time you’re in a heroic or raid I want you to do something.

Mute the game sounds

Switch off Vent or Mumble or whatever

and Listen.

Listen to the rhythm that starts to pick up inside your head as the fight progresses. Listen to how it alters in pitch and tempo as the phases switch back and forth, how the boss abilities coming off cooldown mark the end of a verse or a change of chord. Listen to the crescendo build as the health bar slowly ticks down, the boss enrages and the musicians go nuts for the big finish.

It’s all there, just waiting for you to pick up.

I’m not just making up some nonsensical mumbo-jumbo either. It’s well documented in first-person-shooter circles that rhythm and pacing is used to set the feel of the game, from zone to zone and level to level. Half-Life 2 demonstrates this exceedingly well by embedding developer commentary within the game. You can listen to why they designed encounters the way they did, what they tried to achieve and how they hoped to influence the player’s mood.

It’s also why I get really annoyed with long post-wipe discussions. It’s like the conductor is banging his baton on the lectern before starting an epic debate. I don’t want to listen to this. I just want us to pick up and start hearing the music again. And each bossfight has different music – from the speed rock of Vaelestrasz through the the Tubular Bells-esque instrumental orgy of the Mimiron encounter. A hundred different musical scores from a hundred different encounters.

Rhythm and music isn’t just in encounters, it’s everywhere in a game. Quests, travel time, they all contribute towards the pacing, the feel, the mood of a game. It’s why Uldum with its huge amount of cutscenes just doesn’t work for me – it’s like I do a bunch of quests when all of a sudden this comes up.

Getting a feel for a particular encounter is tough. You’re trying to take everything that’s going on – all the placements, the movements, the cooldowns, the reactions and push it into memory so accurate it’s almost instinctive. But it’s all based on timings, and those timings mean there’s a pattern. A sequence. A rhythm. And wherever there’s a rhythm, there’s a tune just waiting to emerge.

What do you think? Sound theory or complete balderdash? Do you listen out for the music, or rely on something else? Sound off in the comments.

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10 Responses to Encounters That Rock!

  1. Rivs says:

    Being an Arcane Mage, more so in Wrath there was a beat to it so to speak. Boom Boom Boom, Pow.
    Rivs recently posted..World of Warcraft and the Single GirlMy Profile

    • Gazimoff says:

      Aye, same with Fire when hot streak procced. I used to have MageAlert play the sound of a rocket launcher whenever it was ready :)

      • Krazytoast says:

        MageAlert was awesome, especially with the voice in the background whispering, “Missile Barrage”, in your ear when it procs.

  2. Xandrion says:

    You know, this is both very true, and really fun. It took me awhile to notice that there can be so much more to a boss fight, if I just sit back and listen. Call me weird, but its a different “soundtrack” every time :D
    Xandrion recently posted..Protecting Your Computer Part OneMy Profile

  3. Redhawks says:

    I notice that with my moonkin too. Once you get in your rotation, it has a certain beat to it. Of course, I’m always listening to classic rock so it seems to go with a lot of the moonkin rotation for some reason.

    • Gazimoff says:

      It’s also one of the reasons why I love playing different classes – they have different rotations and different roles, so it changes things again. Always fresh!

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  5. Naithin says:

    Goodness, that’s certainly quite a view!

    Not being an overly musical person myself I don’t tend to experience that personally. But it’s certainly a really nice insight to the minds of those who do. I’m loving seeing some of the other ideas about what drives perceived encounter difficulty beyond gearing and practice, this one in particular has been quite eye opening.

    Will have to try with the sounds down and see if can’t reach such a mindset myself. :)
    Naithin recently posted..Rift — A Change of HeartMy Profile

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  7. red cow says:

    I know you posted this like a million years ago, but I’ve been thinking about it since then, and having read the other responses to the prompt (kind of wishing I had gotten my own take in time ><) I have to say that yours is the most accurate description of how an encounter clicks for me. It has nothing to do with composition, reviewing mistakes, or checking logs, and everything to do with repetition. When I learned (and wiped) on the LK encounter I was using DXE for my raid warnings. Recently we went back to do it on heroic and I forgot to redownload DXE, and my current DBM didn't have wotlk encounters, so I ended up raiding the entire night without a boss mod addon and didn't even notice! With the minimal input of "valks, stack" and "defile, spread" from vent, I followed the encounter like steps to a dance I knew perfectly. It was totally awesome *_*

    Sorry for the novel…should probably just make this a post in itself :/
    red cow recently posted..Things you can do in- Tol BaradMy Profile