All right let’s talk about Hearthstone! This is one of my favorite games currently, and I could rant about it for a VERY long time. There are so many cards, characters, and types of decks… but today I’m going to talk about the music interactivity!
As you may know, Hearthstone is Blizzard’s card game based off of the Warcraft lore. Every card and character ties back into the lore somehow, tying all of the Blizzard games together. However, the music is done by Peter McConnell, a composer not part of Blizzard’s in house audio team. He’s best known for his work on Broken Age, Psychonauts, and Sly Cooper, and his Hearthstone music is great too!
“Come on in! It’s cold out there.”
So back to Hearthstone itself. I launch the game, and am welcomed into an inn/pub by a cheery dwarf who tells all his friends to make “some room by the hearth would ya?” As this opening dialogue takes place, the menu music enters simultaneously. This is the first piece of music we hear, and it beautifully draws you into the inn/pub atmosphere with acoustic guitars, solo violin, and various hand percussion. This music is only heard at the main menu, and doesn’t loop right away. (In fact, none of the music in Hearthstone loops! All of it has natural endings and waits a set amount of time before the next piece enters.) After it finishes, you hear crowd sound effects to create the illusion of active pub, and then maybe 15-30 seconds later; the main menu theme starts all over again. While this is a great piece of music, I wish it didn’t keep looping. Considering every time I return to the main menu it starts to play, I would prefer it to be quiet while I’m idling on the main menu screen.
From here, we can click on several options, almost all with different music associated with them! (Except for “Shop” or “Quest Log”. These menus don’t change the music.) Regardless of what I choose, the music will fade out as another piece of music fades in once I click one of the options. This is known as crossfading in the game audio world, and is a common way to handle interactivity. Let’s say we click on “My Collection”. The sound effect of the click will mask the crossfade as we move to the next screen. Then once we’re in “My Collection”, the music will play through, finish, wait a few seconds, and restart, exactly the same as the main menu. This feels a little more justified to me since the music is more subdued than the main menu, and it fulfills more of a background role and ambience. Once you decide to move back to the main menu, the same crossfade will happen, and the main menu music will start again! Additionally, they opt to use the same exact music and techniques for the “Open Packs” screen as well, but since most players spend less than 30 seconds here and there are tons of sound effects, the music is hardly noticed.
Choose Your Hero!
Once you decide to play a match though, Hearthstone does something I really like! Once you enter the game lobby through either “Play” or “Solo Adventures”, the music fades to silence, and you just hear crowd ambience. This is a great choice because the silence makes the next music you hear more impactful. When music just lingers forever in a game, it becomes super annoying and less meaningful. Having this moment of silence gives our ears rest, something that all games should take into account. The only time there is music in the game lobby is when you choose to play the Curse of Naxxramas Expansion. Here they have an eerie loop unique to this menu that emphasizes all the creepy crawlies that you’ll soon encounter. This is a great way to get the player in the mood for this game content, and I hope they continue to do that for the next expansions!
Hearthstone is one of the few games I know of that has so many different states in their menus before you get to actual gameplay. It also doesn’t loop music – at least not right away. This gives each piece a clear form and structure, making it satisfying to listen to.
Thanks for reading, and next week I’ll explore the interactivity during gameplay, and see how Blizzard chose to tackle that! In the mean time, come duel me.