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Torchlight II
Posted on May 6, 2011

Every other week until E3, Runic Games is giving you a glimpse of the awesomeness that is Torchlight II! Last time around, we showed you some of the strange and wondrous races you will encounter in your adventures.

This week we are excited to bring you a sneak peek into the music of Torchlight II! We reveal the Torchlight II theme track, photos and a video of recording live in Slovakia, and a Q & A with composer Matt Uelmen and CEO Max Schaefer. Enjoy!

Title Track Preview

Q & A with Matt Uelmen and Max Schaefer

Tell us how the scope for composing for Torchlight II differs from the original; it's a much bigger game; how did that affect your vision for the music?

Matt: It is much bigger than TL. The game has multiple towns, dozens of dungeons, and a ton of open explorable space, with some strong cultural references, especially in the middle third of the game. All of that makes different demands on what the score should do. On top of that, I am really hoping to have some randomization and calibration to day/night cycles in the music for the various NPC hubs, which also has its own set of demands. Generally, it is much more like the work I did in Diablo II and Burning Crusade, in that I am trying to emphasize a sense of progress and travel as the backgrounds change. There was some of this in Diablo, Lord of Destruction and Torchlight, but it wasn't a primary focus of the soundtracks.

How did Matt Uelmen talk you into a live symphony recording: Was that always planned? Or did he have to convince you?

Max: It was a mutual decision. We had actually done this a long time ago for the Diablo II: Lord of Destruction expansion pack, when Matt and I were at Blizzard North. Same symphony, same conductor. It was such a positive experience back then that we'd been waiting for a good opportunity to do it again, and this was the perfect chance.

Why Slovakia? Tell us about that experience. Any anecdotes about the area?

Matt: A small team like Runic doesn't have the option of spending hundreds of thousands recording in a place like Los Angeles or London, so the economics are very friendly, even if the dollar is much weaker than the first time I recorded there a decade ago. That being said, Studio One is one of the best rooms in the world, and the players and recording gear were better than ever. Bratislava has changed a great deal in the past ten years. On the bright side, the old town area near the river is in wonderful shape, and I finally got to see it in the summer, which is fun and an excellent alternative to Prague. Either the gloomier, dowdier aspects of post-communist life are much less, or they have successfully pushed that kind of thing out of the central city into places tourists would never go. Of course, the dark side of that is that place has much more of the pre-packaged consumer culture you can find anywhere else in the developed world.

Complete this sentence: "A funny thing happened on the way to Bratislava…"

Max: A funny thing happened on the way to Bratislava… when we made the short drive from Vienna, Austria. There is the remnants of what used to be a secure border crossing from before the iron curtain fell. Now it has weeds growing all through the abandoned buildings and cars don't even slow down on the way through. It's nice to see a united Europe peacefully co-existing. And Slovakia is great, with beautiful sights and friendly people.

What songs or artists have been getting a lot of love on your iPod (or music maker of choice) lately?

Matt: The easy answer is Marvin Gaye's last few motown works, especially "Here My Dear". That album, in particular, is on a totally unique artistic level, and the only thing more compelling than Marvin's talent was his fearlessness in bringing his personal life to his art.

Describe a typical day in your composing. Do you wait for inspiration to strike? How do you choose what to work on?

Matt: The nice thing about the job is that it really defies too much of a routine. Some days, I'll be making a custom sample instrument out of the orchestral sessions we did, some days will be more about editing live takes, some days will be more about working with stock material like the Vienna library or omnisphere. I don't have the luxury of waiting for inspiration in terms of creating 100 minutes of music while also working on over 50 monsters and things like cinematics and actors, but I have definitely enjoyed the amazing work our artists have done.

We really have made a AAA title in spite of ourselves, and the character and background art can easily go toe-to-toe against even the biggest budget titles in the industry.

How much does the ongoing development of Torchlight II affect or change the music you've already written?

Matt: It definitely shapes the final nature of tunes - the pacing of the game in the big picture is very important, especially in terms of how up-front and beat-heavy the music should be. The current build is funny, in that we have plugged in music from later acts into the opening of the game, so you start out with this gloomy, heavy music in your first time out of town, exploring these pretty green steppes. Avoiding a final game experience like that is a big part of the job, and having the creative control to make sure that placement is done right is a big part of what I love about the Runic experience.

If you could choose, what would the log line to your fan page or Wikipedia page be?

Matt: "There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after."

If your kids decide to be career musicians, what advice would you give them?

Matt: Try to marry into money.

What did you hope to do differently or expand on from the Torchlight I soundtrack?

Max: We recorded live music this time with a professional symphony in Bratislava, Slovakia. There's no way to duplicate the sound of a live orchestra, and the sound from our sessions is amazing.

You worked with a live symphony in Slovakia. What was that process like?

Matt: It wasn't quite a full symphony - just a very big string section and big percussion section. It was my third time writing for this group in Bratislava with Kirk Trevor, so there was a little less novelty to it.

Instead of trying to just get a big orchestral sound and do some pastiche-type work with my favorite moments from Wagner, Debussy, et cetera, I was trying to dig into the strings and make something a little more mature and original, though I did use a quartet from Smetana as a basis for the second half of what should be our title theme. As always, even though I had a little bit of very primitive midi previewing in my writing this time, the process is rewarding but very nerve-wracking.

As a small studio we face some limitations, but those can also be our strengths. How did this factor into deciding on the scope of the soundtrack for Torchlight II?

Max: As a small studio, we look for good bang for the buck all the time. We can't afford to throw money at everything, so we have to pick and choose where it will make the biggest difference. We think this is a slam-dunk, the music really immerses you into the world. Recording in Slovakia gave us both the talent we needed and the reasonable price point. We can't wait to do it again!

What music from other games inspires you?

Matt: I am sure I will spend my entire career just trying to live up to the high standards and creativity that Blizzard had when I was there. In retrospect, even if that team had its frustrations, the vanilla WoW team was really an all-star group that, in its strengths, had everything you could ever want from game composers. Trying to make music with the spiritual quality of Hayes, the intellectual fiber of Duke, the drive of Stafford, the textures of Bush, will be a challenge that will last a lifetime, and knowing those guys personally and a little bit about the way they made that music is the kind of education money can't buy.

Will the soundtrack be for sale?

Max: Undetermined at this time.

Other than Torchlight, what’s your favorite in-game soundtrack?

Max: Diablo! :D

Favorite cartoon as a kid?

Matt: Probably the dungeons and dragons tv series.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Max: Ever since the first recordings, we've been chomping at the bit to let the community hear it. Now that we can finally release a taste of what we've done, we can't wait to hear what people think. Music is so often a neglected part of video games that we feel great about putting more effort into it.

Music Teaser Video

Torchlight II
Posted on April 22, 2011

Every other week until E3, Runic Games is giving you a glimpse of the awesomeness that is Torchlight II! Last time around, we showed you some of the new monsters you'll be facing in the wilds of Vilderan.

This week, we're showing you some of the strange and wondrous races you will encounter in your adventures - including some familiar faces, some not-so-familiar ones, and some that will come to haunt your worst nightmares.

Sturmbeorn feature

The Sturmbeornen

In the far north of Vilderan dwell the Beornen: a race of bear-men who have developed a primitive culture built around exploration and trade - and, from time to time, plunder. These raiders, or "Sturmbeornen," cross the northern channel and ravage the coastline settlements, pillaging and slaughtering in their quest for power, glory, and battle.

Most of these raiding parties consist of a few dozen bear-men, but a veritable army of Sturmbeornen has recently arrived in the Estherian Steppes - far outside their usual range. Led by the fearsome warlord, General Grell, the Sturmbeornen push ever nearer the Enclave, the last city of the Estherians, and not even the might of the Vanquisher Corps can stop them.

Ezrohir feature

The Ezrohir

Although the Zeraphi finally recognized the dangers of Ember and gave up their war over the Estherians Ember, one faction refused to lay down arms. The Ezrohir pursued the retreating Estherians, seizing their mines. With the Estherians Ember, the Ezrohir eventually perfected their own process for encasing souls in suits of armor.

But the process was flawed. The Ezrohir gained immortality - but the corrupted ore burns out over time, and the Ezrohir die unless they can procure more Ember. Their insatiable need for Ember led to a disastrous war with the Zeraphi, and the Ezrohir were driven out into the Mana Wastes, forced to hide in their ancient fortresses. For centuries they have waited, and plotted ... and their vengeance is finally at hand.

Dwarves feature

The Dwarves

The oldest myths of the creation of the world always mention the dwarves: Short, stout beings who discovered the secret of Ember-powered clockworks, and, with it, conquered all of Vilderan and much of the rest of the world. But their lust for Ember led them to make war on the dragons, and, ultimately, brought them to the brink of destruction. As the dwarves power waned, the races they had subjugated rose up and decimated them, sacking their glorious cities and plundering their precious Ember-powered machines.

All that is left now of the once-mighty dwarven empire are their dead, grotesquely animated by the corruption of Ember, and their wondrous machines; all still steadfastly defending their deserted mines and ruined cities from invaders who never come.

Varkolyn feature

The Varkolyn

After dwarven civilization collapsed, their oldest enemies, the Varkolyn, crept from the shadows, claiming the ruined keeps and palaces as their dominion: the Kingdom of the Dark. For centuries afterward, the Varkolyn ruled over the dwarven ruins, making war on their neighbors and preying on anyone who strayed within their territories. Ultimately, they failed to grow their civilization: The First Great Varkolyn Empire was also the last.

For all their pretense of civilization, for all their glorious plans, the Varkolyn lack the expertise to carry them out. Those on the fringes of Varkolyn society have a tendency to backslide into barbarism, splitting into feral clans and even going to war with their more advanced cousins. All that still unites them is their utter contempt for other races.

Torchlight II
Posted on April 8, 2011

Beginning today, and every other week until E3, we're pulling back the curtain just a little bit to tease you with glimpses of Torchlight II! So fire up the rumor mill, because we're about to let slip the first behind-the-scenes look at what you'll be seeing in Torchlight II - starting with the monsters you will to learn to fear!

The Yakotaur

The Estherians tell stories of brutal snow-beasts that ravage the Estherian Steppes, leaving behind little more than the crushed and mangled corpses of those unfortunate enough to encounter one. Part mountain yak, part yeti, the Yakotaur is a towering behemoth with a vicious disposition. The Estherians claim they are fury-filled nature spirits, and that their bellowing challenge is a cry of rage from the very mountains themselves. But those who have survived their savage attacks say that they are all too solid—particularly their ram-like horns.

The Manticore

As immortals, the Zeraphi and their armored counterparts, the Ezrohir, fear very little in the Mana Wastes. But even they quail before the might of the dreaded Manticore: one part lion, two parts dragon, and altogether savage. Manticores lair in the darkest caves and caverns, sheltering from the blistering heat of the desert sun—but emerge frequently to sate their ravenous hunger. Although they mostly prey on beasts of burden and the like, from time to time they pounce upon an unwary traveler—and, the hungrier the Manticore, the more savagely it mauls its prey...

The Witch

Long ago, in the fetid Blightbogs, a cult of demon-worshipping primitives made a dark pact with the diabolical Netherim, gaining power undreamed of with which to inflict cruel suffering on their enemies. They sacrificed anyone and everyone to power their foul rites, including, ultimately, their own humanity. And now, with souls forever blackened by corruption, Witches are horror personified. As their bodies succumb to the taint of their evil, they build makeshift limbs to animate. And when their hands are no longer up to the task, they fashion malevolent little puppets to do their awful bidding.

The Gargoyle

Who can say they have never looked up at a grotesque statue, perched upon a parapet, and wondered, just for a moment, if it weren't looking back down? And who, looking into those baleful eyes, hasn't felt that same primal dread that prey has when gazing upon a predator? The Gargoyle is that stony fiend, brought to perverse parody of life by ancient magic and an enduring malevolence that has seen centuries of blood-soaked carnage pass by. Their harsh forms line the walls of Grunnheim's eldest ruins, peering patiently down, ever waiting for a fresh victim to pass below.

Dwarven Automata

When the dwarves ruled the land, they built armies of Ember-powered Automata to act as servants, and sentinels, and even armies. Their clockwork armies helped them conquer and enslave countless other races, who they then forced to mine more Ember, to build more Automata, to conquer even more races. The Automata were the dwarves' most efficient tool for building their world-spanning empire. But today, the Automata continue stumbling and clanking along, still following commands given thousands of years ago, still guarding the crumbling bones of their masters ... with a murderous efficiency.

Spectral Dragon

The dragons are all but gone from the world. In the waning days of the dwarven empire, when Ember became scarce, the noble beasts were hunted, enslaved, and harnessed, so that the dwarves could siphon off their energy to power their machines. Then, after the dwarves died out, an ancient cult of Estherian zealots found the enchained dragons, and worshipped them as captive gods, feeding them tainted Ember, until they were mad with corruption. The dark Estherians slaughtered the dragons when they became too dangerous, but it was too late: Their Ember-fouled spirits lingered on as Spectral Dragons—maniacal, feral spirit-dragons, with an insatiable hunger for magic ... and for those who use it.