Dev Journal: Composing sounds of Wonder

In this development journal Age of Wonders III composer Michiel van den Bos explains some of some of the changes that happened since composing for the first game in the series. We also released 13 clips from different tracks in the game.

Michiel van den Bos is making the music of Age of Wonders III

I look back on most aspects of the 90’s fondly. Music across every spectrum was fairly awesome and instrumental to developing my musical tastes. I was much younger and life was less complicated, even when I got my first gig as a game composer, which came courtesy of Triumph Studios. My PC was a relic and the software I used was freeware. You made do with what you had and you didn’t really know any better. Painstakingly sifting through CD’s to locate isolated instruments so they could be shortened and looped in Impulse Tracker, my program of choice while creating music for Age of Wonders, Unreal, Unreal Tournament and Deus Ex, wasn’t a problem and something I actually enjoyed doing.

Software to create some of the tracker music for the first Age of Wonders

Yes, I looked back on those times fondly…until two years ago. I got a small gig which required me to revisit Trackers and I hated every single second of it. Having used advanced sequencers like Cubase and professional sample packages and synths spread across multiple PC’s for over a decade, the process of going back to basics was an excruciatingly painful experience. I was relieved when the gig was finished and vowed never to do it again. While life has become infinitely more complicated in many ways, technology has come a long way in making other aspects far less tiresome.

New and familiar sounds

In the fourteen years since the release of Age of Wonders, I’m happy to see that the game as well as the soundtrack have gained quite a following. I’m still proud of those tunes, although not the way they sound. I have evolved, my equipment has evolved (not naturally, I paid money for that, but evolve it did) and naturally anything that was made using technology from the 90’s will sound dated in some way. I’m still very happy with some of the melodies and themes used in those tracks and while a lot of the soundtrack will feature entirely new music, there will be quite a few remakes of select classic tracks as well as new ones built from segments from the original AoW tunes, this time with lush string sections, crisp woodwinds, powerful horns, thundering percussion and rich synths.

The Age of Wonders III music is now being created using a sequencer

Times have changed and I’m happy they did. Now, I can finally deliver the AoW sound the way it sounded in my head but couldn’t quite pull off due to the restrictions of the technology at the time. I’m really excited about it and I hope you folks out there are too!

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Michielvandenbos

Maestro of the Age of Wonders III soundtrack

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  • #6878

    jimmy
    Member

    In this development journal Age of Wonders III composer Michiel van den Bos explains some of some of the changes that happened since composing for the
    [See the full post at: Dev Journal: Composing the sounds of Wonders]

    #6883

    Oeeeh nice teasers. They definately capture the essence of AoW, although the Clouds & Feuds remake sounds a bit too different for my tastes. Overall, my fears of van den Bos making music that would not chime with the feel of Wonders have ben lifted. I am really looking forward to humming and whistling along with those tracks during gameplay!

    #6884

    AoW1 soundtrack was overall more interesting than 2 imo so it’s great to hear so many of its songs making a comeback. Incidentally, nostalgia blinds me to any imperfections and I still enjoy the midi-ish sounds of the old tracks. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    If there’s any advice I’d give it’d be to avoid the generic “epic” movie trailer music. Everyone gets off on Two Steps From Hell and such but I find their stuff mostly uninspired. Not saying there shouldn’t be bombastic, orchestral songs, only that they should have some character to them.

    In any case everything sounds great so far.

    #6886

    b0rsuk
    Member

    To be frank, I’m not impressed. Sounds like Age of Epic. The only track I that would make me regret turning off music is the one at 4:10.

    Music from Grim Dawn is inspiring:

    The music from Unrest, the upcoming kickstarter RPG set in ancient India, is great and you can have the game for $10. Go India !
    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/698883673/unrest-an-unconventional-rpg-set-in-ancient-india/posts/505658
    (scroll a few lines down for the SoundCloud player, the track is called “Troubled Countryside”)

    Music from Eschalon Book 1, an obscure indie RPG, is certainly memorable:

    In general, I’m not a fan of “epic” music, with few exceptions like the main menu theme from Heroes IV:

    This one makes hair raise on the back of my neck.

    #6889

    Tomipapa
    Member

    These songs are just awesome! Especially the “remastered” old ones like Battle Macabre or March of the Halflings ๐Ÿ™‚

    #6891

    War Troll
    Member

    Tempo seems really fast for TBS but some nice work there.

    #6893

    Sounds great! I really like it, and I am also happy to find that the soundtrack is more similar to AoW1 than AoW2! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Besides, it may be somewhat unfair to compare the soundtrack of AoW3 to that of the earlier games, seeing as we have yet to play the former: We do not yet know how the game will “feel”, and whether the music “suits the game”. (And there’s of course the problem of different tastes: I, for instance, never liked the HoMM-soundtrack) Having said that, I feel that van den Bos has done his share to make this game epic! ๐Ÿ™‚
    (Edit: This, of course, only applies to those questioning the inherent greatness of van den Bos’ music!) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    (But someone should tell van den Bos that he forgot to add the last part of his “Perilous Quest”-remake to the soundtrack above…he must be busy making it even more awesome) ๐Ÿ˜‰

    #6894

    TheDio
    Member

    LOVED everysecond of it…it’s new, it’s smooth and it’s epic. I dunno about some guys up above, who dared to judge it and then continued by saying “i’m not a fan of epic music”. Well then don’t judge it cause it’s wonderfull! I just hope (and am pretty sure) that these sounds won’t loop randomly but they will be triggered in certain events. I.e battle sounds, sound when enemy is near the town, peace sounds etc etc

    #6896

    TheSpeaker
    Member

    Times have changed, the games have changed, and it’s only natural that the music has too. I recognise the track at 4:10 as being the one that played during the last game trailer we got. I personally like all of what I’ve heard so far. It sounds really good. Light and fresh and just new altogether. I can imagine it tying in well with what we’ve seen so far. Maybe I’m just easily pleased, I dunno, but yeah, great job, thanks for the dev journal ๐Ÿ™‚

    #6897

    BlaneckW
    Member

    I liked the “Sinister Exercitus”, Snowscape, Wake for the Fallen pieces. The latter reminds me of AOW2; “Union” has definite AOW1 nostalgia. But some of the music is rather frantic.

    #6898

    NEHZ
    Member

    Sounds good to me ๐Ÿ™‚
    @b0rsuk: while the music you linked didn’t sound too bad, it’s not really something I’d like to hear while playing strategy games. Except the Eschalon one, I can see myself clicking around armies with that tune. The Heroes music you linked sounded like a mess, but that could be the quality of the upload.

    #6899

    Nice! U didn’t know that Van Den Bos made also Deus Ex… that in my opinion has one of the best “title” music of videogames ever… along with Aow1. Really god job. Clods and feuds and Battle macabre… some of my favourites. I liked also content workforce.

    #6900

    I remember that in aow1 u were able to listen game music from a folder, becouse it was in Mp3 format. I never tried, but probably it was possible to persolalize it with some personal tracks.
    So i ask: would be possible on Aow3? This way, some nostalgic will be able to put old aow1-2 tracks in their personalized maps and play hearing them!

    #6901

    hearing—>listening… sorry!
    And sorry for triple posting, but i can’t see the edit button…

    #6903

    b0rsuk
    Member

    @b0rsuk: while the music you linked didnโ€™t sound too bad, itโ€™s not really something Iโ€™d like to hear while playing strategy games. Except the Eschalon one, I can see myself clicking around armies with that tune. The Heroes music you linked sounded like a mess, but that could be the quality of the upload.

    And I can’t see myself listening to bombastic, “epic” music for hours, as invariably happens in a strategy game. It’s simply tiresome. It looks like the AoW music is designed to make a good first impression and/or fit trailers well. Red Alert (1) won an award for Game Music of the Year from several magazines, and it deserved it. I was initially a little puzzled because the music doesn’t at you as great at first, but it’s varied, moody and absolutely not tiresome. It can be listened to for hours, and it grows on you.

    “Epic” music can be good, but when it’s played from time to time, or it ceases to be epic. It’s like using a red font as default or underlining everything with a red marker. Not just becomes tiresome, but loses the importance. I think the fact that so many games use movie-like music is short-sighted.

    #6907

    Piko LV
    Member

    This music is really great. I hoped very much the Michiel Van den Bos’ Dev Journal will come soon… and it did. ๐Ÿ˜€

    #6908

    Gandolaro
    Member

    What can I say… Epic soundtrack… but I think it will be better while playing, some music really gives is best associated with the game was composed for. ๐Ÿ™‚

    #6909

    Motasa
    Member

    Amazing. I love the epic feel and the broad use of different instruments and sounds. I can clearly hear “In the Company of Elves” from 3:35 onward.

    I’m so glad so many great songs are returning in one way or the other. Would be great if at the release of the game we could also buy the soundtrack. I for one, would buy it in an instant. (Got my fingers crossed for a return of Highmen Theme and Mountain Song)

    #6913

    joni_makinen
    Member

    Oh, it is nice to know, that you also made music for the original Unreal, Michiel. Unreal in my opinion had one of the best music that has ever been made for a game.

    I hope Age of Wonders 3 has music of different styles, including some ambient / wave music in addition to epic and bombastic or so. ๐Ÿ™‚ Something calm and ambiental to listen to while spending time in a town or exploring the distant lands.

    #6915

    Fyrdraca
    Member

    A+. Excellent work. The Snowscapes / In the Company of Elves mash-up was especially lovely. Looking forward to hearing more.

    #6922

    BlaneckW
    Member

    Oh, I like the first song now.

    #6924

    mrXD89
    Member

    This music is amazing! Before I heared that I thought: who is listening to music in games this times. Now I know I will. Is it possible for u to give us version of this soundtrack clips for download. I would listen to that all time.

    #6925

    NEHZ
    Member

    And I canโ€™t see myself listening to bombastic, โ€œepicโ€ music for hours, as invariably happens in a strategy game. Itโ€™s simply tiresome. It looks like the AoW music is designed to make a good first impression and/or fit trailers well. Red Alert (1) won an award for Game Music of the Year from several magazines, and it deserved it. I was initially a little puzzled because the music doesnโ€™t at you as great at first, but itโ€™s varied, moody and absolutely not tiresome. It can be listened to for hours, and it grows on you.

    โ€œEpicโ€ music can be good, but when itโ€™s played from time to time, or it ceases to be epic. Itโ€™s like using a red font as default or underlining everything with a red marker. Not just becomes tiresome, but loses the importance. I think the fact that so many games use movie-like music is short-sighted.

    Fair point, if I hear the same tune all day I grow tired of it too, but I don’t see the AoW music as variations on one bombastic song. It’s playfull and there is a lot of difference between the songs, switching between bombastic and other tunes. I can really enjoy myself just by putting up the AoW playlist, and that really doesn’t just stem from nostalgia.

    #6926

    Hey guys & gals!

    The response has luckily been overwhelmingly positive both here and on Facebook/Twitter. It’s always scary sending something you’ve been working on for the past 13 months into the world, but your responses and general kindness have kept me from finding a dark corner and curling up into a fetal position ๐Ÿ™‚

    A few things I’d like to address:

    It was incredibly hard to find small parts of the music that would give an indication as to how the full song would sound and at some point I just gave up. Those who are familiar with my work know, that I tend to incorporate several different ideas or segments into one song (because I get bored easily) and it was simply impossible to find 20/30 seconds of each song that would adequately paint a picture of the full product. They are sketches, nothing more, and a lot of them are from songs that are near or over 5 minutes in length.

    In regards to the ‘epicness’ or ‘bombastic’ nature of the clips, most of these are from combat tunes which are by definition more frantic than the map music. There are plenty of laid back songs in the finished product and I wouldn’t be true to my own preferences if there weren’t. Fear not! ๐Ÿ™‚

    As it stands, I have about 90 minutes worth of music ready to go and a lot more to come. Also, I’m always considering the input of you lovely forum users when it comes to remakes/re-imaginings of the original songs. Some are more appropriate to revisit than others, but I’m constantly thinking of new ways to approach them.

    In addition to finding me here, you can also ‘Like’ my page on Facebook here:
    http://www.facebook.com/pages/Michiel-van-den-Bos/143307354562

    or on Twitter @michielvdbos.

    Thanks once again for your kind words and responses and I’ll be sure to check in regularly.

    Sincerely,
    Michiel van den Bos

    #6927

    Valandil
    Member

    Please come back “Love and Death”.
    Greetings from Spain.

    #6929

    Jordos
    Member

    I love the soundtracks of Age of Wonders. It is so great that i have burned all down on cd’s to listen in the car. They played in the hall of my car for years:).

    Keep up the good work!!

    #6932

    Tomipapa
    Member

    90 min already? omg thats nearly the same as the whole AoW 1 soundtrack. 90 min of awesomeness and more to come. Im happy now. If you could remake “Of Past And Present Times” i would be even more happy. ๐Ÿ˜€

    #6933

    terrahero
    Member

    I had a nostalgiagasm with these tunes. Recognizeable in both melody and overall style. I’m looking forward to it, to this day i still have some of my favorite AoW music in my playlist.

    I was going to comment that Borsuk had a point, constant on the edge music alone would kind of exhaust the point. And the more relaxed tunes are what has always carried AoW for me as a nice background theme when i was crunching my brain on the options before me.

    But Michiel has already laid any concerns to rest, as far as i’m concerned atleast.

    #6941

    Edi
    Member

    The original Age of Wonders soundtrack is still my favorite game soundtrack of all time and the news that there is nearly as much music on offer here is very welcome indeed!

    Battle Macabre always was my favorite and I think I heard a snatch of Heartwood Forest there, which means my two favorites are already in! Recognized some others from there too, which is all excellent!

    Michiel, I didn’t know you had done the original Unreal music too, but that is another game that comes right there at the top ten of my list in terms of music score. So now that I know, it is no surprise. ๐Ÿ™‚

    b0rsuk, let’s just say that with regard to the music, you are entitled to your opinion. Since it is a matter of taste, if you absolutely, positively wish to be wrong, that’s your privilege. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    If you don’t own AoW1 and haven’t listened through that soundtrack in its entirety, you have no clue just how varied and rich the music is. I certainly did not get bored of it even though I played AoW1 for years. This soundtrack promises a very similar experience.

    If it’s mixed with some of the songs from AoW2/SM and new tracks for map music, those were a lot slower paced, so it will give a nice balance to the score. The problem with AoW2 music for me was that all the songs more or less blended into one another for me, so they were not distinctive. Earth Song and Fire Song were the only ones that I remember.

    #6943

    kun_x._c
    Member

    Most pieces of game music have peaks and valleys. The sample shows some of the music at its “epic high” or “climax”. If you listen to the gameplay demo music on youtube I think it is a better indicator of what the final tunes will be like.

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