I’m guessing that the majority of MMO players don’t pay much attention to in-game music. You either ignore it, mute it, or have other sounds playing in the background. But sound design can be immensely important to the overall media experience. Imagine the movie Conan the Barbarian with cheesy 1980’s synthesized tunes instead of Basil Poledouris’ majestic score. In my opinion, the music made that movie the cinematic icon that it is.
Music within a game should invoke a certain tone or feeling that coincides with the overall theme of a particular area. If an MMO contains a race of people that are known to be war-like, militaristic and ruthless, the sound design for that area should be complimentary – with heavy drum beats and a steady, marching rhythm. Or at the very least, a piece of music that suggests a sense of foreboding or dread.
Go ahead, listen to the entire thing. I dare you.
Allods, like many MMOs of similar ilk, has two waring factions: the ‘good guys’ of the League, and the ‘bad guys’ that make up the Empire. The races of the League include humans, elves (with fairy wings, no less) and teddy-bear looking creatures called Gibberlings. Although not up to the standards of video game composers like Jeremy Soule, this area of the game contains light, airy music that is appropriate – if not a bit forgettable – with oboes, strings and flutes.
Conversely, the races of the Empire consists of humans, an undead variant called the Arisen, and Orcs. Their capital city, Nezebgrad, belies the developer’s Russian roots: Stalin-esque statues are everywhere, and the overall art design suggests a steampunk Moscow. While I applaud the developer’s attempt to break from the standard fantasy genre, their efforts are completely ruined by their bizarrely chosen background music.
According to the website, Astrum Nival spent over 4 years and $12 million dollars creating Allods Online. For a free-to-play MMO, it does have above-average production values. Which makes this choice of sound design that much more inexplicable. Maybe the lead sound designer was the CEO’s brother-in-law?