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Closer Listen: Creating the Sounds of RuneScape

Closer Listen posts unpick bits of Jagex's audio content to give a glimpse of what's going on under the hood. AudioBlog1

Music

The music of RuneScape's Dragonkin Laboratory is primarily defined by the sound palette we've used to evoke feelings of menace and temperamental dark energy that's on the brink of eruption. The key colours in the music come from electric guitars and arpeggiated bass synthesizer sounds, combined with lower brass and strings and industrial-flavoured percussion. Let's take a look at how some of these components were crafted.

Electric Guitars

We wanted guitars to play a pivotal role in the dungeon's soundscapes, but rather than making clear lead and rhythm guitar parts, I wanted to use the guitars more like vessels for carrying effects like distortion, ping-pong delays and reverbs, to create a grungy wash of colours. This was inspired by bands like Manon Muert, My Bloody Valentine and Mogwai. Guitar parts were recorded dry, often without any rhythm, and then shaped by FX processing afterwards. A texture you hear a lot in this soundtrack is a reversed, distorted power chord, which gives the feeling of swelling energy in the bubbling magma.

We also make a lot of use of the 'gating' effect on the guitars, to give them a thumping rhythm in some of the boss fight tracks. In Regal Tremors, I recorded each chord individually with just a jangling tremolo rather than a rhythm, I then pumped the rhythm into to it using sidechain gating. A kick drum part is fed into the guitar track's gate effect, so every time the kick occurs, it ducks the volume of the guitar, then gradually brings it back up again, creating an effect similar to the house music pumping bass effect. Here's an extract that shows: the original clean guitar recording; then with the fuzz, distortion and reverb applied; the solo kick drum that's driving the side chain; the guitar with the sidechain gating and then the full mix.

In A Malice Unleashed I used an auto-gating effect, so that the guitar chops an and out, and used an automation envelope to vary the frequency of the gating effect, and thus how quickly the sound chops in and out.

Arpeggiated bass synths

Probably the most prominent musical feature that spans a lot of the tracks is the bass synth. I created these with Native Instruments' frequency modulation (FM) synth plugin FM8, which has an in built arpeggiator that runs on a timer synced to the track project's tempo. After choosing an FM sound I liked, I would punch in a repeating bass pattern and let it run, and then to give it a real gritty 'bubbling' feel I slathered it in tape saturation, and ‘brickwall-limited’ it to get a dense and rich slab of harmonics to pulse through the track.

Other instrumentation

Other musical timbres that make up the soundtrack include swelling lower brass, piano and live violin. It's subtle, but in the second half of Latent Menace you can hear what sounds like a cello improvising over the piano part, but is actually me playing the violin pitched an octave down!

Referencing other RuneScape tracks

Elite Dungeons 2 takes its narrative foundations from RuneScape lore, from existing characters and stories and taking them to new places and combining them with new ideas. We wanted to reflect this in the music too! We've taken some existing pieces related to the dungeons/wilderness and reworked their themes into the ED2 musical vocabulary. -Blackstone Scales is a reference to Blackstone Shadows, replacing eastern ethnic instrumentation with the elements described above. -Regal Tremors, the boss track for Verak Lith (a reincarnation of the King Black Dragon) is a nod to Royal Rumble, the old King Black Dragon boss track. -Latent Menace is a re-imagining of the Old School RuneScape track Scape Sad.


Sound Design

Triggers and atmospheres

Being an abandoned, underground laboratory a lot of the environment is quite static, but we really wanted the atmospheric audio to be quite strong, to really sell the haunting, ominous ambience. One way we achieved this was through the use of triggers: atmospheric sounds that only happen when the player enters specified map tiles. By doing this we could create environments sound from the player characters' interactions with environment features: rattling metal when you walk under hanging chains; a rattly thump when you step onto the large air vents in the built up areas; and the sound of human bones being kicked around when you walk through the many skeletons that litter the ground across the whole dungeon; and the crumbling debris of falling rock when you walk up and down the worn flagstone steps. These all help to make the dungeon more interactive and immersive.

Of course there's plenty of bubbling lava and cavernous wind thrown in to give a continuous bed of sound. As with Elite Dungeons 1, a core mechanic for progressing through the laboratory is killing the right baddies to open magic barriers to allow you to progress deeper into the dungeon.

NPCs

Many of the NPCs in the dungeon were using legacy sound effects, so one of our tasks was to give these a bit of a makeover. The laboratory Slimes were a prime example: these NPCs were derived from an older NPC and came with synth-based sounds made with our in-house tool used for Old School RuneScape. We recreated the SFX for these using squishy sloppy sound elements from our sound library. Here are some before and after examples:

slime image

Bosses

For Astellarn's sound effects I wanted to try and sell the idea of the dragon being a celestial being. It still needed some power to it's sound as it's a big creature, but I added a fair amount of reverb to give the sounds space and depth. I also added additional sparkly/bell-like tones which gave it a shimmering quality. Hopefully I've captured some of the otherwordly nature of this boss and made it more of an individual.

That just about wraps up this first blog. We hope you’ve enjoyed reading it and it gives a little glimpse into what goes into making audio for our content updates. Feel free to send us comments and suggestions on our forums, Reddit or on our Twitters accounts. Another blog will be coming soon, until then bye for now and happy 'Scaping.