The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth Designer Diary #7 - Music and Sound

Even though they had Academy Award-winning music and sound effects to work with, the designers at EA LA still had a lot of work to make the sound for the game.


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The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth is an upcoming real-time strategy game that features battles inspired by the epic scale and scope of those seen in Peter Jackson's acclaimed The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. In The Battle for Middle-earth, you can take charge of the armies of both good and evil as you attempt to conquer all of Middle-earth. Visually, The Battle for Middle-earth is impressive, because its designers sought to capture the look and feel of the battles from the movies. They also aimed to capture the sound from the movies as well. And in this edition of our designer diaries, audio director Mical Pedriana discusses the challenges faced in making the sounds of The Battle for Middle-earth come to life. (Additionally, you can listen to a sample track of music that will play during the early part of either a Rohan or a Gondor mission.)

You'll hear your commanders issue orders during battle, like
You'll hear your commanders issue orders during battle, like "Charge" and "Retreat."

The Sound of Battle

By Mical Pedriana
Audio Director, EALA

When we sat down to design the sound for The Lord of the Rings, The Battle for Middle-earth, our primary goal was to make the game feel like director Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings movies. When we heard that we would be getting access to the films' sound and music elements, it seemed like our job was already half complete. However, this excitement soon faded when we realized that the films' assets were only going be a fraction of what we really needed to make this game sound good. They became more of an artistic style guide than anything else.

The Academy Award-winning music from the films is sprinkled throughout the game in various forms. However, the dynamics of a real-time strategy environment are worlds apart from those of a feature film. Anybody who's played real-time strategy games knows that players can move armies around a map for hours at a time. With this in mind, we set out to add more of a steadier, emotion-driven score, rather than the character-based themes that the movie emphasized. We needed somebody who could create completely original material that would fit in the style of composer Howard Shore's music. We were lucky to find that Bill Brown, with whom we had worked before on Command & Conquer: Generals, had already been dabbling with The Lord of the Rings-inspired music during his work for Lineage II. Bill and partner Jamie Christopherson's initial scratch tracks fit right in with our goals. By mid-August, we found ourselves recording a 45-piece orchestra in Seattle over a period of a day and a half. All in all, Bill and Jamie did an amazing job of matching the style and finesse of the films' score, yet they also gave us new material that was better paced for our needs.

A new feature this time around was having the music follow the emotional contour of the game experience. When a game begins, the music is a mellow accompaniment to the player who's busily setting up camp and moving small groups around. After this initial phase, when large armies are on the move, the music becomes more energetic. Fast-paced action music will then break in during moments when armies are clashing. Eventually, the music elevates to an epic scale to accommodate apocalyptic moments, such as when encounters with the Balrog and the Army of the Dead occur. As we've done in the past, there is particular attention paid toward army-specific music. So when commanding the armies of Rohan and Gondor, the themes are heroic and filled with great anthems. Likewise, when playing as Mordor and Isengard, the music rings of destruction and domination.

When armies are on the move, the music picks up, and you'll hear them marching.
When armies are on the move, the music picks up, and you'll hear them marching.

One of the bigger hurdles that we had before us was that real-time strategy games don't traditionally lend themselves to a cinematic audio experience. For example, characters usually speak to the player with entertaining one-liners that are repeated over and over. We knew this kind of style would pull the player straight out of The Lord of the Rings universe. So we redesigned the whole approach in such a way that the dialogue would sound like actual moments that you might hear on the battlefield in the movie. Leaders of the armies will call out to their troops and give out commands, like "Charge into battle" and "Retreat back to the castle." Players will even hear the enemy's commanders barking out orders to their troops--if they happen to be nearby. Some fans may be unhappy that we lost some of the witty phrases from the past, but I think most will agree that the voices sound natural and lend themselves to the sound of an epic battle.

Many of the enduring images from The Lord of the Rings films are those involving huge armies that assault castles. We wanted to make sure these armies sounded like huge armies. Traditionally, games that play from a god's-eye perspective never really recognize the fact that 50 horsemen might have an ambient, stampede sound when they all move at once. So we developed a system so that different types and sizes of armies would have different sounds for their actions (battling, moving, standing still, etc.). So when hundreds of orcs are all cheering, you will hear a huge, stadium-like swell. But if there are only a couple of orcs cheering over a dead peasant, you might just hear some chortles from the two that are there. The amount of additional content here is daunting. We could easily spend another six months creating sounds just for the different groups and their various behaviors. However, something tells me that EA wouldn't let us do that!

When all of this is added together with environmental ambiences, weapons clashing, and monsters roaring, we have something that ultimately sounds like you are amid the world of The Lord of the Rings films. It has been a great experience this past year working with top-quality talent from the films as well as from our own EA staff here in Los Angeles.

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