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World Music for Another World: creating a persistent sense of place

Creating the music for the hit iOS game "Battleheart Legacy" presented a more-than-just musical challenge: helping to create a persistent sense of place by choosing an instrumental palette that represented the culture of the game's fantasy world.

Eagerly awaited, named an Editor's Choice and Game of the Month at the App Store, and praised by thousands of players, the sweeping fantasy-adventure Battleheart Legacy by MikaMobile presented players a broad, deep experience.  Audio is a large part of that immersive experience, and I had the privilege of composing the music for the game.  My goal was to pay homage to some of the great orchestral game scores of the past (Final Fantasy), but to do something more than simply create excitement for battle scenes or tension during exploration.  I wanted to create a suite of music that would also help give players a sense of inhabiting a very specific place: to give the world of Legacy a culture, so to speak.

To do this, I chose an instrumental palette that would be consistent throughout the score, but used in different ways in each major theme (Legacy, has a lot of music for a mobile game, BTW: approximately 50 minutes of original score).

First, the orchestra. To give the score that Final Fantasy feel, I had to have strings and horns. But rather than a big, Hollywood scoring section, I opted for a smaller chamber orchestra to better create the medieval feeling: a few violins, violas, celli and basses, with understated percussion.  The horn section consisted of two trumpets, two trombone and two French horns.  Woodwinds were almost exclusively solo instruments, with English horn taking most of those duties.  It was easy to imagine an orchestra of no more than 20 players, which also helped determine melodic ideas.  I occasionally employed some subtle detuning to simulate ancient instruments.

Next, a collection of world elements, chosen from widely different cultures.  A female voice, singing wordlessly and microtonally in the Middle Eastern style.  Soft European boy's choirs.  Maracas and claves with sitar.  These and other ethnic sounds were blended in different combinations in different themes, with the idea that they were all indigenous to the world of the game.

Then, SFX as musical elements.  Creaks and groans from wooden bridges, high-frequency wind noises and random birdsong were blended into the musical tracks for color.

Finally, a few modern elements.  The score overall was spiced with a few effects-heavy electric guitar parts, providing more atmosphere.  High-register arpeggios run through multi-tap delays gave the score a sense of depth where it needed it most.

The result was what we thought of as "world music for another world:" a place like our own world, but with different history, borders and trade routes, so that music from around our fictional world got blended in surprising ways.  A subtle but vital part of Battleheart Legacy's immersive experience, our score made the game's already outstanding graphic approach even more real for players.  Next time you're scoring for a fantasy world, try imagining the musical history of the game and see where it takes you.

 

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