Titan Quest Designer Diary #3 - Music and Sound of an Ancient World

The composer and sound designer of Titan Quest explains how they went about creating the music and sound effects for mythical monsters and ancient lands.

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Take the fast-paced combat of Diablo, set it in the ancient world, and give it a beautiful 3D graphics engine, and you've got something that looks like Titan Quest, the upcoming debut action role-playing game from Iron Lore. You'll create a hero or heroine out to save the ancient world from mythical enemies, and you'll jaunt from Greece to Egypt and beyond. In the third entry in our designer diary series, we caught up with the game's composer and sound designer to find out the challenges involved in bringing this ancient world to life in terms of audio.

Humming an Ancient Tune

Scott Morton
Composer/Sound Designer, Iron Lore

Sound and music are two very important elements of the Titan Quest experience. They not only give you feedback about what is happening in the game, but also help to wrap you up and pull you into that world on a dramatic and emotional level. Sound effects will envelop you and make the environment that you're playing in more believable, while the music serves as part of the storytelling mechanism; both types of audio add a level of excitement to the action on the screen.

Sound is a facet that is also important in establishing a style and personality for the game. For instance, when we're creating sounds for a monster, we'll take a look at the art and animation and decide how that monster sounds on a global level. We'll then break down the monster's personality into different applications, such as what the monster sounds like when it first sees you, when it attacks you, and when you kill it. Not only will there be numerous variations created on each type of sound this monster makes, but the audio engine also has the ability to shift each sound's pitch and volume dynamically based on settings we choose. We have a lot of control over how each set of sounds is handled and played back, on a case-by-case basis (not only is this process used for monsters, but it covers any type of sound-related character or object in the game.)

Music is an even more critical element when it comes to keeping things fresh and avoiding redundancy and repetition. It's amazing how many games still use the "loop the music over and over" approach; we step beyond this boundary in Titan Quest. We have two different layers to our music system; on one side, we have ambient music, which is very flexible in nature and serves to set a character or mood for a specific area. Ambient music is composed in sections and put together in a music playlist. All of these separate segments on the playlist can then be reassembled by the game in real time, based on settings and rules that are included with each list. We can also control how often these playlists are triggered; they can be changed out at any time depending on your location in the game, or several other circumstances.

We also have an event-oriented music system that will play music that has been written for specific locations or events in the game. These are unique pieces of music that help to identify key points in the story, or key locations that you have reached in your explorations. Putting these two parts of the music system together creates a very dynamic and constantly shifting musical experience, yet one that is still specific and story-related--not generic by any means.

If the audio sounds as good as the graphics look, then we're in for a treat.

Titan Quest has another unique dimension to its audio that a lot of role-playing games don't have: historical roots. Each ancient civilization in the game has certain historical authenticities to it in its architecture, people, and mythology. This carries over into sound and music; ambient environments are very visceral and "real" in nature, varying with the vast differences in location such as grasslands, deserts, underground caverns, and the like. Research was done into the historical properties of each civilization's music; specific instruments and characteristics from each type of ancient music were blended into the score. As you travel throughout the world of Titan Quest, you will not only see famous and historical landmarks from ancient Greece and Egypt, but you will also experience a little bit of the sound and music that might have emanated from those cultures. The flavor of authenticity is just as important in the game as the excitement and action.

We took the game's musical score one step further and decided to incorporate the wonder of the ancient Greek language into its sound. "When Gods Fall" is a song that speaks to the story behind the game, and the voice of that song is interwoven into various places of the soundtrack. It serves as a cornerstone and a gem all its own, as part of the game yet separate as well.

You will enjoy a sense of immersion from a dramatic perspective while playing Titan Quest, yet you will also be aware of the distinct authentic flavors of each culture you discover in your travels. We hope the music and sound only helps to deepen this truly unique experience.

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