SWTOR Sounds And Music

July 16, 2010

I haven’t been paying much attention to Star Wars: The Old Republic news or been active on their forums for the last few days, so today’s Friday update was a complete surprise to me when they revealed a developer blog for Sounds of the Old Republic, and a developer dispatch for the Music of the Old Republic.

I know I’ve gotten excited for many updates in the past, but nothing really compares to this. Game music is something I’ve always pondered and written about. Yes, it’s personal and yes, it’s important. For me it’s such an essential part of immersion and the gaming experience, you’ll never catch me substituting the in-game score with my own playlist. I also like to listen to it offline, especially while I work. If a game soundtrack exists, you can bet I probably own it. My iPod is filled with gigs and gigs of music from the games I’ve played, everything from Aion to Zelda.

Oftentimes, audio cues touch me emotionally in ways that visuals can’t. Watch Titanic with the sound down low, and I’m laughing at the plight of Leonardo DiCaprio as he sinks to the bottom of the Atlantic ocean. But add music, and suddenly it’s the saddest, most touching thing I’ve ever seen in my life and I’m bawling my eyes out screaming, “No, not Jack! Why!” Granted, I’ve never reacted so candidly to any of the Star Wars movies, but so much of the Star Wars experience is arguably fixed into the mood created in part by the brilliant music of John Williams. To paraphrase a quote from the developer dispatch video, I want what’s happening in front of me to be felt. Doesn’t matter whether I’m watching a movie or playing a game, music contributes so much to the emotional picture…and that’s why I adore soundtracks so much.

There’s going to be some stock music in SWTOR from the movies and the Knights of the Old Republic games, but there’s going to be a lot of original music too. Lead composer Mark Griskey talks about the challenges of capturing that distinctive Star Wars-y feel, but they also want to inject a flavor to the music that’s unique to the Old Republic. I have to admit, I was a tad disappointed at first when I heard that Griskey was going to be working on SWTOR, because I was secretly hoping for Jeremy Soule. But after getting to hear his work on KOTOR II, I have a little more faith. Griskey’s style is a little darker than I’m used to hearing in a Star Wars game (actually, I thought the same about his work for The Force Unleashed) but who knows, maybe that will end up being good for SWTOR.

I was also pleasantly surprised that they included interviews with some of the actual members of the orchestra, as that’s a point of view we rarely get to see. Hearing the enthusiasm for their project was pretty cool. Anyway, if the background music in that video is any indication, I think it’s all going to work out just fine (some of what I’ve heard so far literally sends shivers up my spine) and I think it’s safe to say that I’m going to be ALL OVER this soundtrack. Package it with the Collector’s Edition, pretty please?

As for the Sounds of the Old Republic blog, first I have to remark on the irony of the opening quote from George Lucas. Out of all the asinine “updates” he made for the digitally remastered edition of the original trilogy, the thing I’m most sore about (yes, even more so than “Han shot first”) is the changes he made to the music, especially to the scenes in Jabba’s palace and the Ewok celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi. Those were songs I’ve loved since childhood, and if you recognized that audiences are “moved and excited” by what they hear in your movies, then why did you have to go and screw with it, you ass?!!! But that’s a rant for another day.

The blog once again touches upon music as well as the creation of ambient sounds, but what really struck me as I read the developer blog was appreciation for the sheer amount of effort that must go into making a fully-voiced game. You hear it over and over from Bioware that VO’s going to be “big”, it’s going to be “epic”, but you don’t really know until you realize it takes more than just some dude reading out script in a recording studio.

I hope it’s worth it, I really do. I was skeptical when I first heard about full VO, and I still am. It’s clear that they’ve pumped a lot of money into this part of the game. And watching my husband play Mass Effect 2 last night and seeing him read the subtitles and skip past the voiced dialogue, I can’t help but think this is how most people are going to play. While I can’t fault Bioware for their ambition, I just hate to think about those vast amounts of resources going to waste if they’ve underestimated the patience and attention spans of their players.

Nonetheless, the developer insights revealed this week were a treat. The video is a must-see if you have any interest in game music at all, and the dev blog is a monster, but it’s worth the read.


  1. I read this and read the developer blog, plus watching the video, and I have to say I’m getting pretty excited. It looks like it could be shaping up to something pretty special. I hope the music, at least, is in a mine-able format, like MP3s or something that is easily converted and transferred to my iPod.

    • I remember you saying “game music or nothing” and your comments on immersion in your WoW questionnaire post, and I remember feeling glad someone else feels the way I do about in-game music 😀

      I’m really hoping there will be a retail soundtrack for TOR and that they’ll be releasing it with the game. In that case it would be as easy as ripping the content from the CD to my hard drive, but if they choose to sell it digitally (like AoC and iTunes) that would be great too.

  2. I’m also apparently one of those strange folk who still leaves game music on. It’s hard to roleplay without it, actually, since where you are in the world is so defined by the music you are hearing.

    I was also hoping for Jeremy Soule, but he’s working on Guild Wars 2, so I guess he’ll be tied up for awhile. The music in that video sounded good, so I’m not worried about it. 🙂

    • Nope, not strange at all 😀 Music also goes beyond immersion for me; sometimes a tune is so linked to a certain memory that listening to it offline will make me feel those emotions all over again.

      RE: Jeremy Soule, I hadn’t been paying much attention to Guild Wars 2 until recently so at the time it hadn’t occurred to me that he could have been unavailable because of that. It all makes sense now 😀

  3. It still makes a difference if you’re skipping over VO’d dialogue vs. unvoiced. In DA:O, it was really weird for me in the beginning to hear nothing at all when I selected a line of dialogue (it’s starting to get a bit more normal as I get further in the game). In ME:1 or 2, I would often listen to more of my own dialogue before skipping it, sometimes less with the other characters’ lines, but there’s something comforting and immersive to know/feel that the character WAS in the middle of saying something before you cut him/her off. Just my 2 cents.

    Also, that last screenshot reminds me about how I think that Bioware has a real problem with female character models. 1) They’re over sexualizing them – something I’ve noticed from ME:1 to DA:O to ME:2 (which is not helping us guys refrain from objectifying women); and 2) Their character models often don’t even look correctly proportioned / natural. Case in point: DA:O models. Some of the female character models look downright strange (e.g. female elf)! And Miranda in ME:2 has a very strange body type. I think the artists are going overboard with stylism and sexuality.

    Just another 2 cents 😛

    • I’m with you there. I never skipped over dialogue, in any of the ME games or DA:O. I know I was able to read the subtitles right on the screen, but I found it enjoyable to listen to the voice-overs and hear the tone, volume etc of what’s being spoken. You miss a lot of the nuances if you just read.

      About the female character models…I agree with you about Miranda. I’m actually watching my husband continue with his ME2 game right now and her body does seem a little…off. I thought it might have been her costume and how the black and white of it might break up her figure in a strange way (like it does with Jacob’s body…because his figure seems unnatural to me too, so it’s not just with the women). DA:O is another story; I actually thought my female warrior looked too manly. I heard somewhere that it was because they use the same model “template” or “type” for all player characters, but I really have no idea. Which I guess brings us to the issue of character customization, I sure hope there will be enough aspects of our characters’ bodies that are within our control 😀

      • Yeah, Jacob looks a little weird, too. I think they’re trying to make everybody look “too perfect”, so they’re overemphasizing all the secondary sex characteristics (aka feminine/masculine body features) and it’s starting to come off overdone, I think.

        Kind of like in photography when you try and increase the contrast and vibrancy of colors and sharpen your image digitally, and it starts to look fake and overdone. I’ve been guilty of that before (easiest way to mess a photo up is by losing the subtle tones with too much contrast).

        About the DA:O human female models, I found a mod that tries to make the female models more naturally “proportioned” (including armor/robes/etc.) and one of the main adjustments that was made was simply narrowing the width of the shoulders. So that might be a big reason you felt that the female warrior model looked too “manly” 😛 Also, apparently the default female hands are way too large for the rest of the body.

        That being said, I’ve only just met Morrigan, so I’m obviously not very far through my DA:O playthrough 😛

  4. I think i remember the exact time i started substituting my own music for in-game music in an mmo. I’d JUST started listening to Dragonforce because of trusty Pandora.com and it was only because of a computer upgrade which allowed me to run Pandora/Windows Media Player while playing WoW, and i was so happy to be rid of AQ40’s music and ESPECIALLY NAxxarammas 1.0. I can’t knock the music or sounds, but they really put me to sleep in some cases.

    Now in OTHER cases, like in SWG, hearing the music that played when The Millennium Falcon was escaping the Empire into that “cave” while i’m presently kicking the ass of a dewback really gave me a rush no matter what. The iconic classic Star Wars music is fun, but i mean, it only lasts for so long to me overall.

    But then that just delves into something else entirely. The fact that my video gaming nostalgia runs way deeper than just mmo’s. For example, my favorite thing to loop while i’m in Winterspring or anywhere Icy in WoW would be Chill Penguin’s stage from Mega Man X.

    Sometimes i like to hear the Overland theme from Final Fantasy 6 while i’m flying or The Gerudo Valley theme from Ocarina of Time when riding on my mount, and give me just about any boss theme from nearly anything when it’s a major raid boss i’m facing.

    I appreciate all the hard work put into the game soundwise, but i’ll probably be the only guy who says, “Meh, i’ll take my chances with my own music.” Because there’s plenty to draw inspiration from in my mind that invokes all kinds of emotion and nostalgia mixed with a new game i’m growing to love.

    • Yeah, obviously a song has to be done well and fit the game for me to like it…there have been some game music that makes me go “meh”, but never have I downright hated any tune because I think in most cases games these days are scored very well.

      Cool that you mentioned Ocarina of Time in there, I think that was the first game that made me appreciate game music to its fullness. So many great, classic tunes from that game.

  5. Music is vastly important to any experience, whether it be film or game. It’s one of the reasons, for instance, that I like Age of Conan so much! 🙂 TOR being Star Wars, of course, also makes the music so important. They’ve got big shoes to fill when it comes to the score!

    • Yes, SW music is very iconic! They’ll go a long way if they can capture that feel…I think that’s why people appreciated the AoC music as well, because it was so inspired by Basil Poledouris 😀

  6. The Corus part gave me the chills lol, yeah ofc music is an essential part of gameplay, at least for me, the thing is some games dont quite get it, or at least doesnt stimulate me to keep the music on, apart from Age of Conan and very few other games but yeah lets see what SWTOR has to offer, seems promissing so far

    • The chorus is indeed very powerful, that part gave me chills too, as well as that intro music at the beginning of the video. 😀

  7. Music and rpg go hand-in-hand; honestly, I can’t imagine how one could exist without the other; music just feeds an energy into the rpg experience in a powerful way. How much less epic would the last battle in KOTOR be without Jeremy Soule’s “The Last Confrontation”, or the final battle with Magus in Chrono Trigger without Yasunori Mitsuda’s “Battle with Magus”?

    As soon as I heard that Mark Griskey was going to score the game, I felt fairly good. I still think Jeremy Soule’s work on the original KOTOR was excellent and, arguably, better of the two. That said, I like hearing that there are a number of composers working on this project. Variety is always — well, can be — a good thing. It brings different flavors to the mix. Judging by the music in that video, I would say, so far, the collaboration is bearing some tasty fruit, as there were a number of tracks in that video that made me feel light-hearted.

    If BioWare releases the score in a collector’s edition of the game, I will be one of the first to place an order. That soundtrack sounds beautiful. (I am a sucker for bombastic endings, and that video has one of my favorites. It reminds me of Hans’ Death music from Die Hard – but upbeat.XD)

    I hope this game’s score has an impact on me similar to some of my favorite rpgs of the past. Games like A Link to the Past, Chrono Trigger, Ocarina of Time, or Final Fantasy IV, VI & VII; I want these pieces to resonate with me long after I switch the game off, just like those other titles.

    Now I can’t wait to see what these composers have written for Nar Shaddaa (the newest planet revealed for TOR). I hope the above city has something similar to Gold Saucer in FFVII, or something similarly exciting. The lower city, I’m hoping they’ll compose something dark, seedy, unseemly – maybe something with saxophones.lol

    • Though I said in my post that I would prefer Soule, I have to admit Griskey is also very good. Like I said, I feel his style is a lot darker and it actually has more appeal when I’m in a certain mood. Like, I think his stuff will turn out amazing for Nar Shaddaa! Different composers is definitely a good thing, and I like the fact they are going to be using a lot of music from past sources like the movies and the games.

      It’s been a while since I watched the first Die Hard…I can’t believe I can’t remember the music from when Hans Gruber died though! That was an awesome scene.

      • The scene where Hans dies in the original Die Hard is one of my favorites from that movie. Not in a morbid way, mind.

        There are a number of reasons, like the look of utter “Holy ****, I’m falling!” on Hans’ face when Holly’s watch slips off. Not to mention the line from that jackhole Dwayne T. Robinson immediately after: “I hope that’s not a hostage.” And of course, Al Powell’s wince – damn that movie was awesome.lol

        As far as the music for the game, after having had a chance to listen to the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic II soundtrack again, I agree on Mark Griskey’s style being much darker than Soule’s original KOTOR musical score.

        I will say one thing for Mark Griskey: he REALLY knows how to score deep, ominous music for Sith lords. I am currently listening to the themes for Darth Nihilus, Darth Sion & Darth Traya from KOTOR II, and the music fits each character like a glove. Darth Nihilus’ theme, in particular, just builds mercilessly with horns and strings until it sounds like something right out of The Music of Erich Zann. This leaves me with no concerns over whether or not he is capable of creating effective pieces for this game’s antagonists (whoever they may be).

        I have to admit, one of my biggest concerns after learning he would be the lead composer on the project had to do with how he would compose the “lighter” side of the game. However, listening to the KOTOR II soundtrack brought me right back to “Rebuilt Jedi Enclave” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhDg9LdGA-A), and my worries were put to rest, somewhat.

        That track remains one of my favorite pieces to come out of either KOTOR game. It starts out kind of ambiguous in the tone, then 0:17-0:33 just sounds like, I don’t know…”hope”, I guess would be the best way to put it. It kind of reminds me of some Jerry Goldsmith scores in the way it changes tone throughout the 1 minute song. It really is sad, but very emotional, and an example of the kind of orchestral music I am looking forward to hearing in this game.

        In the Music of SWTOR video, 2:35-3:02 really hit me hardest, as a fan of fantasy. It was the perfect blend of pure fantasy & the Star Wars signature musical style. If that guy they were talking to when it played (Wilbert Roget II) wrote that particular piece, I hope they let him compose all the music for Tython.

      • Damn, I really have to dig up my KOTOR II soundtrack and take a good hard listen to the songs again. I realized I only have the one for the first game on my ipod, which means the music from the second game hasn’t been transferred and is probably still sitting on one of my hard drives somewhere.

        Internet’s really slow right now (because we have slow connection and my computer is downloading a game client) so I couldn’t check out the song you mean in the Music of SWTOR video. I’ll have to remember to check that out one of these days. My personal favorite is actually the music from the beginning of that video because it reminds me of the music from another one of their videos, the trailer for Taris. Or maybe it’s even a variation on the same tune! Anyway, if you can, look for the trailer where they talk about the making of Taris, and listen to the music at the very end of the video. I don’t know, something about it makes me tear up, it just sounds that good to me. Really powerful stuff.

      • To me, it looks like the music–beautiful on its own–and the setup–rebuilding/revisiting a world that was so iconic to the first Knights of the Old Republic–come together to make an impactful presentation.

        Just to see Taris again brings about a strong feeling of nostalgia, but how they ended the video (saying that you, the player, would have an impact on what happens to this city with your choices) only adds to the strong emotional feeling. The music just seems to amplify that last sentiment: Hope. The city may be in ruins, but there is life in its old bones, yet.

        I fully intend to the quest the hell out of Taris; knowing how BioWare is likely to use phasing, I am excited to see this ancient sentimental relic receive some polish and really take shape.

        Oh right, I remember reading about the slow connection.lol Well, it seems like every marriage has some adjustments that can be worked through together, ne? Work as a team and attack the problem at its source (get a kickass connection that is faster than Usain Bolt). I wish you luck on that front.

        Watching the Music of SWTOR video again just excites me again about the game. I still can’t totally fathom 5 1/2 hours of original music, AND pieces from the first two KOTORs, AND John Williams’ epic score. That is just ridiculously awesome. I can’t even begin to imagine how much work must have been undertaken to create a musical landscape for a game this size. Just the amount of musical subtext needed to convey emotion must be daunting.

        On that note, I’ve already heard some ingame cantina music. I’ll admit, it does have a unique sound to it. Sort of like the cantina band decided to experiment in electronica.:P It actually fits the mood very well. I can see myself getting into the cantina spirit.

        Now if BioWare implements ingame Pazaak, I’ll be cool, like a fool, in a swimming pool.

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