WarCraft II – “Orc Battle 2” (Glenn Stafford)January 21, 2010
remember being introduced to WarCraft II – Tides of Darkness (1996) back in the late 90s by my best friend from middle school. This game was amazing: you built empires, deforested entire continents, trained soldiers, and then had them go out and slaughter each other. It was absolutely brilliant design because at every moment of the game, there was something that it would prompt you to do or to worry about (are my peasants gathering enough gold; is my town being attacked; are my weapons being forged; is my army being trained large enough?). I think that was the great thing behind its design and the reason why it would suck away so many hours of your time. And out of all those hours of time it sucked away, you would be listening to some wonderful medieval battle and drama music by Glenn Stafford. My favorite of these has to be “Orc Battle 2”.
“Orc Battle 2” is built around a core of some powerful war drums and war horns which initially serve as a melody section but then transition into percussion to be replaced by clarinet. There’s also a harpischord running in the background keeping a constant pace of little orc feet scampering about the green hills to head out on raids and carry back all that war booty. The strings add some nice drama to the mix, though this is something the slower tracks do a little better. Add some choral chanting into the mix, and it’s a perfect match for those bloodthirsty orcs.
WarCraft music has to move between these different instrumentation sections to provide variation over a long period of gameplay. Again, the music has to match whatever the player is doing at the time, and so it has to be varied to fit the scenario. As a result, it isn’t merely ‘music that plays in the background’ but is meant to color and match the feel of the situation.
The instruments are also designed to match the races. The humans’ music is very metallic, recalling military marches, the forging of swords, the clang of blade against shield and armor, and the toll of church bells. Orc music, on the other hand, feels more like bone and hide, war horns and battle drums; the harpischord adds a great exotic feel – who knew the orcs went Baroque! Though I suppose their brutality recalls a more Rococcan art style… Anyway, Glenn Stafford later went on to compose WarCraft III and World of WarCraft where he uses a similar set of instruments to differentiate between the different races. That audio feel is really necessary to grant greater uniqueness to each of the races and their gameplay styles.
The interesting thing to note about the WarCraft II soundtrack was originally written in midi. MIDI is incredibly difficult to emulate because you need the original sound libraries as well as some sound card emulation to get the song playing how it was intended. These were meant to run on a Yamaha or Roland sound card, ca 1996. This is why it’s great when we have access to CD recordings by the company which tell you how it was supposed to sound. Just pull out the midi version here and then play it. Even if you have a top-notch sound card, chances are it’s not going to sound like the MP3.
Finally, I know a lot of people think MMORPG these days when they think WarCraft. While that’s ok for those people, it’s kind of sad that the series is no longer known for being an RTS, particularly the defining game in the genre. To me, WarCraft will always be about that. You can have your questing and your magic swords and your raids, but to me, the series will always be about building large armies and then smashing them together. There’s just something inherently fun in doing that.