Dissecting The Auto-Generated Music Of The Elder Scrolls Online

by Ben Hanson on May 12, 2012 at 06:05 AM

While we regretfully aren't able to share any of the music from The Elder Scrolls Online with you, we wanted to give fans of the series a glimpse into the team's approach to music in the game. We talked with the game director Matt Firor and lead gameplay designer Nick Konkle and asked them to explain how they plan on incorporating a dynamically auto-generated soundtrack.

So how far along is the music for The Elder Scrolls Online?
Matt Firor: Generally speaking, it's auto-generated. We are still working on the main score, but, generally speaking, when you go into an area it will pick one of sixteen different threads and it will layer two or three of them together and play it. The way it's written is that it picks one or two or three of a set, it's usually sixteen, and it will play those for like 30 seconds and then it  it will fade out and then it will fade in a different version of the same tune with three other different threads. And so it's continually auto-generating as you go, because you're playing this game for so long. And then it's tied to zones and each thread is tied to different zones. So if you go into a swamp it sounds different than if you go into combat. Dungeons have a whole different set.

Nick Konkle: It is dependent on your state. The music changes if you are approaching an NPC even…

MF: As you approach a city…

NK: Yeah, it layers and changes at the appropriate time. As apposed to just the binary combat or not combat…Which I actually find super useful, because I always end up turning the music off in other games because it interferes with the other audio cues, in this case it is an audio cue.

Are you guys going to have hints from past Elder Scrolls music in these small samples?
MF: Yes, definitely. We are working on the main theme right now but you will definitely recognize it as Elder Scrolls.

So is the music being done in-house?
MF: We are doing a combination of in-house and out-house. It's a huge game and there's so much music to be done, and art, so we outsource a lot of it.

Will there be a familiar composer coming back to work on certain themes?
MF: Uh… we're still working on that.

So the way you described the auto-generated music, I'm not familiar with musical systems, is that common?
MF: We had a similar system in [Dark Age of] Camelot, but I'm not familiar with how it works in other games…I know, just through working with the Bethesda guys, that Skyrim has a similar system. It doesn't have quite as many threads but it does auto-generate things as you go. So it has probably been done.

To get an idea of the hand-crafted music in the game, you can listen closely to the teaser trailer that contains hints of what may turn out to be the main theme of the game.

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