[Gaming] Winter and Holiday Music in Video Games

Winter is my favorite season of the year. While I might prefer spring and autumn in terms of temperatures, in temperament, it’s all about winter. Despite the poor traffic conditions, people complaining about the cold, and having to put my ride in the garage the few times every winter that it actually snows or ices up enough to warrant it, I find more peace in the winter months than any other time of the year. Ironically, I tend to be more depressed around the winter holidays because I can never spend time with family or friends for various reasons, mostly due to work and all of them living so far away. Still, winter is when my favorite constellation Orion the hunter marches high in the night sky, so all is well.

When it comes to the video games I play, winter-themed zones and holiday events tend to resonate with me in some fashion. Aside from the blue-tinged snow and ice covering the landscape, I find there is an overall tone to much of the music that game composers use for their winter areas. Whether you’re roaming Hoth in Star Wars the Old Republic, flying through Dun Morogh or Dragonblight in World of Warcraft, or trying not to fall into the deadly abyss outside Snowhead Temple in Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, there seems to be an aural commonality to the themes used in these areas. Some of my favorites are pieces that play in Belusran Winter Field from the game Aion. To me, there is a kind of serenity to these places and it’s mostly due to the music.

Now I’m not a musician, so my impressions are from someone who merely knows what she likes and only occasionally why that might be. Certainly, you won’t find any music theory coming out of me beyond the basic layman’s appreciation for the art form. Most of the wintry music I notice focuses on a single stately melody featuring piano, harp, or a flute. The melodies tend to be slow and elegant. With the addition of hollow wind sounds in the background, like in the Ice Cavern of Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, it often completes the imagery of a bleak and desolate area.

While not entirely meant to be a winter seasonal theme, the primary zone theme in Frostfire Ridge in WoW‘s Warlords of Draenor xpac hits on this as well. That theme is called ‘Magnificent Desolation’, and its composer Russell Brower once said during a performance at Gamescom that he named the song after Buzz Aldrin’s remarks upon setting foot on the Moon, calling the lunar landscape a magnificent desolation. Frostfire Ridge certainly warrants the homage. Brower also hit that particular nail on the head almost a decade ago with the opening and closing riffs in the theme to Wrath of the Lich King, since of course most of the action is set on the continent of Northrend, a most inhospitable land on Azeroth.

While other holidays get their own music, I keep finding myself gravitating to the ones around winter holidays in-game as well. One of my utterly favorite composers, WildStar‘s Jeff Kurtenacker, did winter arrangements of both faction’s capitals’ themes, making them these grand traditional holiday themes with jingle bells in the background, sweeping French horns, churchbell chimes, the whole nine yards. Of course, WildStar‘s winter holiday event is all about consumerism rather than a more sentimental form of holiday, so his department store commercial music with a pulp sci-fi twist was utterly perfect for it. EverQuest II also went with altering their theme music in Frostfell, mixing it in with some traditional RL Christmas tunes like ‘Jingle Bells’.

For the first time, even World of Warcraft got into the new holiday music thing this year. In their two main holiday hubs, Ironforge and Orgrimmar, and also the Greench’s cave where people go to save Metzen the Reindeer (*sniffle*), players who hang around can hear one of several variants of the same tune. It’s a soft melody that invokes the spirit of the season, whether the lead in each variant is a chorus, cello, piano, or woodwind. I find each variant to be rather peaceful and reflective, and in a holiday season where my mother spent much of the week before Christmas in the hospital with pneumonia, somehow it was the thing I needed the most.

Without realizing it, all of these wonderful composers who write music for the snow-covered landscapes in their games, they all get me. I look forward to hearing these pieces of winter and holiday music, and any new ones in future games, with quiet anticipation.

Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinking Badges!

WARNING:  This blog is over 6,000 words long and has a ton of images in it.  If you’re on mobile and with limited data, please wait until you get home on a full uncapped internet connection, cos I ain’t responsible for your overage charges. 😀  I’d considered breaking things up into separate blogs for each badge and lanyard, but the narrative wove between the lot, so it was easier to do it this way.  That said, do enjoy and then go out there and make something yourself!  The world could always use more art, to paraphrase a heroine featured on one of the badges I made.

That being said…

The Great BlizzCon 2016 Badge Project

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Game Development: Common Knowledge Site

This page is my original writing for Divided Skies MUSH, where I as the lorekeeper was tasked with creating a guide for players so they would understand what they would reasonably know or not know and be able to role-play within this Dragonriders of Pern setting as chosen by the game staff.  While the game itself didn’t remain open for very long, I found the research project stimulating and am still very proud of the work I did for it.  The page references other pages I wrote for the game that I’ve included as separate posts and linked in.

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Writing – Excerpt from an Old A-Z Guide

This is an excerpt from a 20-page A-Z reference guide I once wrote over a decade ago about seaQuest DSV… yes, that TV show from the 90s that had the dolphin.  This excerpt is used to illustrate the results of painstaking… and sometimes painful… research.  You remember their use of the internet, yeah?  The names in parentheses at various points refer to shorthand names for the various episodes, although these days, I would have been better using a numeric shorthand such as S01E04 to refer to the fourth episode of the first season.

[ Begin excerpt ]

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Chronology: seaQuest DSV and 2032

Just for grins, I excavated this from my archives.  It’s part of a 141-page document I have with a number of cool quotes from the early 90s TV show seaQuest DSV and the rebranded seaQuest 2032.  The first 20 pages of the document represent an A-Z glossary of people, places, things in the series and their relationships to one another, such as Robert Bridger being the son of Nathan Bridger who was killed in action before the series started, that sort of thing.  This is one of the earliest fun non-gaming chronologies I ever researched.  Do enjoy!

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Official Incarnations of Immortality Chronology

This page represents a reprint of my chronology of Piers Anthony’s Incarnations of Immortality series that was hosted on http://www.spundreams.net/~phoenix/IoIChron.html which I ported here to my site.  The original page remains on Spundreams as an archive with a redirect here so I can keep all the good stuff in one location. Please note, this is considered by his own words as his official chronology of the first 7 books of the series.  It is listed by URL and me by name (although Mr. Anthony thought I was a bloke) in the Author’s Note of the 8th book in the series, which takes place in the past of an alternate reality very much divorced from the first 7 books, so I never revisited the history.  That being said, do enjoy the chronology as much as I enjoyed doing the research, because I’m a lore nerd.

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[Gaming] Vol’jin

WoW has a leadership problem. I’m not talking about the executive team at Blizzard Entertainment, but rather how Blizzard writes the leaders of their MMO. The history of the Warcraft universe has never been one of much peace because peace is boring and hello, it’s not called Peacecraft. However, as players who focus on one of the two primary factions to the exclusion of all else, we can see how each faction is treated by Blizzard, how their leaders are written, and we tend to get riled up when we see our faction losing out to the other. Myself, I’m primarily Alliance-leaning, although I play Horde almost as much. I can see both sides of the argument as a proper moderate should.  The rest of this article will contain massive spoilers for the upcoming expansion Legion, including the Broken Shores instances currently live in-game.

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[Gaming] WoW’s Class Buffs as a Social Tool

One of the more passively social aspects of World of Warcraft is class buffs. Before the Legion pre-patch (7.0.3), players could add limited-time buffs to other players, either via single-targeting or self-targeting in a party or raid. These class buffs used to be five or thirty minutes and not raid-wide in Burning Crusade, but were turned into 1-hour buffs until the pre-patch in July. With all the class changes in 7.0.3, this one has caused some consternation. With the default UI, many of us got used to seeing the buff icons in the upper right near the minimap, so it now looks a bit weird when they’re not there, and more than one person has caught themselves hunting for their now-missing buff key to restore the buff.

Blizzard baked much of these effects into various specs with the overhauling of the classes, so most classes and specs don’t have any buffs to offer, other than retribution paladin. While it’s easy to understand the gameplay aspect of things, to be more tactical about what kinds of characters to bring to a raid, we now lose out to some extent. Who hasn’t been out minding their own business whilst questing and then seeing the spell effect of a random priest casting Power Word: Fortitude on you as they ran past in the middle of their own business?

It took little more than a target click and hotkey press, but players buffed others even though it did themselves no real good outside of group content. When I’ve been out and about and hitting random players with Kings or Might or Wisdom (yep, ret pally here), I’d even get an occasional thank you and the other player would reciprocate with their own class’s buff it they had one. In group content, some pugs or guild groups made a game out of who’d get the last buff in before the boss pull.

I’m fairly sure Blizz wasn’t thinking of the social side of things when they redesigned ret pally buffs, for example. Before, any paladin could buff themselves and anyone in their group, and the game didn’t care how many people you hit with Kings. It’s readily evident how the new system, with only ret pallies having access to the buffs, plus with the new mechanic of one person total per buff, makes it a gameplay choice. A paladin has to decide whether to buff themselves OR a tank with Might, themselves OR any DPS class with Kings, or themselves OR a caster with Wisdom. While the selflessness of a paladin is a lore and story fantasy for the class, I can see paladins being selfish about the buffs even in group content unless threatened with a kick. Even with the DPS from a buff is reflected in the paladin’s DPS meter, it’s still a social issue.

Yeah, the social aspect of the class buffs while out in the open world is almost akin to a person who tweets support for victims of a crisis without actually volunteering or donating to help out, but it did instill a small bit of random goodness into the game that is now gone. I don’t expect Blizzard to go back to the way things were, that’s not really their style, but I will miss those open-world encounters that were about doing a good deed, not getting ganked.

Opinion: The Game Industry’s Workforce Problem

It’s been awhile since I’ve posted, but I figured it was time to write something new.  This is an opinion post based on what I’ve observed with the game industry, mostly relating to video games versus board games or tabletop, so your mileage may vary.  In it, I will cover two main issues involving the industry’s workforce:  Crunch and Layoffs.  At the end, I will point out what I believe needs to happen for a healthier workforce.   Unfortunately, I am well aware that it would require massive change on the part of the industry to enact any of these ideas, but if no one is willing to point out the elephant in the room and name it for what it is, then no one can begin to look into alternatives.

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[Spoilers] Star Wars: the Force Awakens Belated Post-Mortem

Note: This article contains SPOILERS for the movie. If you haven’t seen it and miraculously haven’t seen spoilers on your social media, you might want to give this a miss until you’ve had a chance to see it or just don’t care anymore if you’re spoiled as to most/all the major plot points.

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