15 Sep 2011

Smile Week: Atmospherics & Acoustics

How many times have you been playing through your favourite MMO, only to pause for a moment and say “Oh, wow…”

Screenshot

Likewise, how many times have you been in a quest, dungeon or even a raid and caught a moment of of stirring music. You remember – the kind that has you muting everything including ventrilo or mumble just so you can listen to it properly.

This post for Smile Week is dedicated to the time I’ve been stunned by the sights and sounds of my favourite games, literally pausing for breath while my senses take it all in.

MMOs aren’t the first time I’ve been impressed by videogame graphics. I used to buy every id software game released, drooling over the new techniques that John Carmack  developed. That coder knows how to make a graphics card roar, using every trick in the book to push more and more polygons and detail in front of our retinas.

Today’s post isn’t about the coders or the engines though – it’s about the people who craft the worlds we play in. The artists and modellers, the world builders and animators who put some of the most spectacular scenes together. Everything from the spectacular city views to the isolated mountain hideaways, it’s the attention to detail that always amazes me.

I’ve mused about the work put into game worlds before, even pointing out how endearingly silly some of it is. It’s no coincidence – Sam Didier is a big fan of pareidolia, hiding faces in the artwork and scenery of the game. It also makes me grateful of places like Scrntag – it’s like a Flickr album of exotic places that only exist outside reality.

Compared to a single player game there’s so much freedom to explore, always one more hill to climb over, one more hidden easter egg to discover. It’s a sharp contrast to the claustrophobic corridors and deep canyons that populated most of my single player fayre. Try finding cunning ways around the boxed-in terrain and you encounter invisible walls or – worse – fall through the world.

Constructing a stunning world is one thing, but overlaying it with atmospheric sounds and an appropriate musical score is another. Creating music that’s noticeable without being jarring is a skill in itself. Making it memorable enough that people start creating guitar tabs so that others can play it too is a rare skill indeed.

We all have our favourite themes or melodies from the games we play. The kind of music that makes its way onto our MP3 player or gets set as our ringtone. Then again, each MMO usually comes with a huge range of music to choose from, each track with a different tone or character. More world zones mean that more music is needed in order to help each zone feel unique.

There’s a lot of skill and care that goes into making the game worlds we play in. And it’s while playing that we barely notice what’s going on around us as we focus on the next quest, the next bossfight, the next arena match. It’s only when we’re away from our virtual worlds that we play the scenes back in our mind, remember what we saw, hum the music we heard.

And smile.

This is day three of Smile Week – my look at the good stuff of MMOs. You can find all about Smile Week, or read my entry for day 1 and day 2. You’re also welcome to smile along with me – just give me a prod and I’ll include it in my roundup at the end of the week.

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One Response to Smile Week: Atmospherics & Acoustics

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