Gaming Frequencies: World of Tanks: Mercenaries, part 1 | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Gaming Frequencies: World of Tanks: Mercenaries, part 1

Jun 26, 2018 Bookmark and Share

For years, World of Tanks had been a game I’d admired from a distance. Already popular among PC gamers for years, I’d downloaded the 360 edition of World of Tanks sometime in 2014 or ’15. As something of a tank nerd – I didn’t know how relatively common we were until visiting the Museum of American Armor earlier this month (but more on that later) – I was excited by the game’s seemingly ever-growing roster of historic tanks, and the developers’ ( devotion to recreating their unique properties in-game. Plus, the game was a free download – and it’s almost impossible not to try something when it’s being given away.

For much of its history, World of Tanks was purely a multiplayer experience. Players would drop into heated, 15-vs-15 firefights, earning in-game currency as they played which allowed them to unlock new tanks or upgrade things they already own. (World of Tanks is free to play, while the studio makes money from the game by selling cosmetic tweaks, special edition tanks and premium memberships which help players progress at a speedier clip.) These games are usually intense, and reward knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your vehicle (and your enemies’) and working together with your teammates. World of Tanks offers one of the most strategic online battle experiences I’ve played, and these big 30-tank matches are a load of fun – more so once you know what you’re doing.

My problem, early on, was that I had no idea what I was doing. In those first few 360 matches, I could barely drive my tank and, once I got going, I seemed to roll right into enemy crossfire. I was bad at the game – and, I’ll admit, I’m not particularly skilled at any online shooters – but compared to how good everyone else seemed to be, it scared me off. Now, I could have familiarized myself with the basics, practiced, and gradually improved, but I never dedicated the time necessary to learn the ropes – that was entirely on me. I just feel like—as in other hugely popular online games—it can be really intimidating to dive right in with those already fully-immersed in the community.

And then World of Tanks: War Stories was introduced last summer, providing the necessary push needed to get my tank treads rollin’.

War Stories was a free update which, most significantly, added single-player campaigns to World of Tanks. Now you could play story-driven missions against AIs, alongside AIs. For someone who was a little too chicken to jump full-bore into the online battles, it was perfect. The War Stories missions offered a gradually-rising difficulty level. By the time I’d played through many of them I was still a long way from being one of the best tank commanders on the online battlefield, but I was more than capable of holding my own. (At least, I was no longer whatever the opposite of the MVP is.) The War Stories missions were like a training grounds that were immensely fun in their own right. The WW2-set missions were conceivably realistic, and it helped that the comic book-like cutscenes provided stories that you desired to see through to the end. For a game like World of Tanks that has an intimidatingly-large playerbase and tank roster, it was hard to imagine a better entry point for newcomers.

World of Tanks: Mercenaries, launching today on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, greatly expands upon the franchise’s single-player experience. The new campaigns are set in an alternate, post-WWII history, where the war dragged on years longer and political borders have crumbled. Battles are no longer fought by nations’ militaries, but by paid mercenaries without allegiances to anyone but themselves and their highest bidder. In Mercenaries, the missions are more dangerous and the lines between good and evil more shaded. Their lone wolf attitude is reflected in the update’s new “Mercenary” tech tree, which features a fleet of armor not based on historical models, but dreamed up by’s tank gurus and hobbled together from real-world parts. These are Frankenstein tanks, and they look and handle unlike any that ever existed – and, they’re immensely cool to play with. (Stay tuned for part two of this feature, which goes into more detail on these new tanks with the game’s developers.)

Polishing off Mercenaries’ presentation and adding to its engrossing, almost-cinematic feel is a score by superstar game composer Inon Zur.

When I think about it, there’s a very real possibility that I’ve spent more time in my life listening to Inon Zur’s music than any other musician’s. His work on the post-apocalyptic Fallout series (Fallout 3, 4, New Vegas & Tactics) has soundtracked a combined hundreds of hours of my life. On top of that, I can tally in his scores for many other great games I’ve played over the years, from Icewind Dale II through multiple games in the Syberia, Prince of Persia, and Dragon Age franchises. The sum may likely add up to months of my life.

Zur is one of the most sought-out composers in the industry. But, here’s my testament to Zur’s talent: never once have I had to mute those games and flip on the stereo or override their audio with the Spotify app. (Even after more than 100 hours wandering Fallout 4’s New England wasteland, I still get a little thrill at hearing Zur’s iconic theme when I load up the game’s starting menu.) Most video game scores will grow stale, given the length of time spent in-game compared to the relatively smaller amount of music recorded for it. Zur’s never do.

Inon Zur took some time to answer our questions about his two-decade career in game music, the changes he’s seen over that time, and his work on the Mercenaries and War Stories campaigns in World of Tanks.

Austin Trunick [Under the Radar]: The possibilities for video game music exploded when games moves from disks and cartridges to CDs and DVDs. Now that we’ve moved into an era where there’s virtually no memory limits for a game, have you seen the options available to you as a musician continue to expand?

Inon Zur, composer: Memory is always a good thing. The more memory you have, the more music variation you can bring to the game. I remember when we did music for the PlayStation 2, even then many games were limited to a single stereo stream, so we didn’t have the possibilities or opportunities to make the music so interactive. They either had to loop or stop and start, so it was quite limiting compared to what we can do now. The more powerful the machines, the bigger the database of music that we can utilize to enhance the whole gaming experience.

You’ve composed scores for settings varying as widely as a post-apocalyptic future America, 9th Century Persia, and Middle Earth. With projects like War Stories and Mercenaries, where the scenarios are set in or closely inspired by a relatively recent period of history, how much does that setting affect the way you approach the music?

Of course, before you start composing the music, one of the first things to establish is the setting and background story as you need to create a musical palette that will reflect when and where you are. We need to inform the gamer through the music, although on Mercenaries we tried to stay away from WWII-era music clichés and focused more on the emotions and atmosphere, the fear, darkness, and anxiety. We wanted to portray these feelings with a more modern musical sound and style but at the same time try to establish enough familiarity that will tell the player where we are. The balance of these notions is what we combined in creating the score for Mercenaries.

You scored War Stories, which came out last year, and now the brand new Mercenaries series of missions in World of Tanks. It’s not the first time you’ve revisited a game to score new DLC. On a project like this, is it challenging to find a balance in making sure the music ties back to what you composed before, but also stands on its own as a new work?

Yes, it’s always a challenge to try to maintain continuity on the one hand and to introduce new elements. However, since the new story is already introducing new elements then you will always bring some sounds from the past just to make the connection for the player’s ear so they’re a little bit more familiar and they’re not going to be thrown by a change in direction. You do it in all sorts of ways and one of the ways is with the music. So the music definitely needs to be somewhat reminiscent to what was there before, at least at the beginning, but then we can launch from this familiar palette as a platform to go beyond and explore new artistic directions.

I’ve read from prior interviews that you’ll often playtest a game before release, to make sure your music is achieving what you set out to do. Have there been times you’ve gone back and changed things based on those experiences playing?

The experience of playing the game definitely influences my writing. There were some cases where we changed things because sometimes sound effects and music conflict and I wouldn’t know that until I actually played the game. Sometimes the mix doesn’t really help because they’re in the same spectrum. So something needs to be adjusted and usually we need to make some changes with the music because sound effects are realistic so they should remain concrete. Sometimes the tempo of the music reflects the overall motion and the movement in the game doesn’t complement. So perhaps you need to go back, revamp, change the tempo, change the pace, make sure what you play and what you hear actually co-exist nicely and support each other.

Vinyl’s return to popularity has led to video game soundtracks, possibly for the first time ever, seeing release on an analog format. As an artist, has it been particularly exciting for you to see some of your work released in deluxe, 12” formats?

Definitely for me growing up in the vinyl era, it is hugely exciting to see its resurgence. For me, from a sentimental and nostalgic point of view, it’s really amazing. I don’t know how much it means for younger composers who did not experience the format when we only had vinyl in the pre-cassette era. Vinyl also has a specific sound that is hard to explain but it can sound more noble. And I guess it’s always psychological because this is the way I used to listen to music and suddenly when you hear it again, it reminds me, yes, that’s the right way to hear music. It’s a big honor to have your music released and so it means a lot.




World of Tanks: Mercenaries rolls out on consoles today. Stay tuned for part two of this piece, in which the game’s developers answer our questions about World of Tanks’ sound design and Mercenaries’ new armor designs.


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June 28th 2018

NOTES: Atlanta was held to 17 yards rushing. ... Falcons rookie wideout Justin Hardy was active for the second straight week and made four catches for 17 yards in place of Leonard Hankerson, inactive because of a hamstring injury. ... Atlanta nose tackle Paul Soliai suffered a head injury and safety Robenson Therezie injured a hamstring late in the first quarter and didn’t return. ... San Francisco FB Bruce Miller had his first carry of the season in the third quarter.
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