So last week I talked about how Hearthstone’s music changes while the player navigates between the different menus of the game. (It’s actually really interesting, and you can read about that here!) Now I’m going to geek out about how the music changes during actual gameplay!
A Worthy Opponent
But first, you must choose your deck. As I mentioned last week, no music plays in the pre-game lobby. All you hear are various crowd ambiences creating the illusion of the bar you’re playing in. However, once we choose a deck and click “Play”, the music kicks back in. We hear Blizzard’s version of slot machine music complemented by an extremely fast spinning wheel indicating that you are searching for a worthy opponent. The game randomly chooses one of four different pieces each time you search, helping to make each match feel different and to keep you from becoming annoyed every time you start a match. However, the coolest part about this is that the tracks Blizzard uses are excerpts from the music of Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness! These excerpts are then looped, and heavily filtered and processed to sound like they’re coming out of a slot machine. Additionally, this is the only time that the music loops in Hearthstone (although I tend to find opponents so fast I never reach the end loop). Otherwise, every piece plays from start to finish. Listen to Hearthstone’s version, and one of the originals from Warcraft 2!
Once our opponent has been found, the sound effects and screen change covers the fade out of the “searching for opponent” music and the fade in of the “choose your cards” music. As you and your opponent choose your starting hand, a laid back folk groove kicks as a precursor to the epic duel you’re about to have. This track is the same every time and like most other tracks, does not loop! It’s about 30 seconds long and will play out, stop, and then restart just like the main menu.
Let The Hunt Begin!
Now that we’ve chosen our cards, the “choose your cards” music crossfades (rather obviously) into the “ card match” music, and the game begins! There are several different options for what music plays (I think about five?), and all are about three minutes long. Like the rest of the game, none of the pieces loop, and they cycle between each other until the match is finished, with maybe a 15-20 second pause to give your ears a rest. This may not seem like the most exciting interactivity in game, but it doesn’t really need to be. The music never gets old since it never loops, and as a player I’m so focused on the match that music just drives the mood and my emotions.
However, this doesn’t mean that there aren’t dynamic music changes within the match. With every turn, there is only a certain amount of time the player can sit idly while deciding what move to make. After a short time, the narrator will shout “Time waits for no one!” and a burning rope will appear on screen showing that you have very little time left to make a decision before the game ends your turn. Once this event starts, the music crossfades to the “Hurry up and finish your turn music”, which is pretty intense. This piece is synced to the rope burning and builds to a climax right before the sound effects kick in telling you that your turn is over. Then it’s your opponent’s turn, and the music returns to the fun folk grooves and melodies Hearthstone is known for. Having music cues change based upon a time limit is something many games have done before, especially in competitive games. The small change in music is surprisingly effective during gameplay. (Seriously go try it.)
In addition to that piece of music, Hearthstone will play certain stingers, or 3-5 second pieces of music, for specific cards when they are played. These are most often associated with legendary cards, and are generally either just a chord or figuration within the orchestra. These stingers play over the underscore regardless of the tempo or groove, and add emphasis to the cards played. Also, on the left hand side of the screen, you can mouse over the most recent cards played. Doing this dims the other colors on the screen, and applies a filter to the music. This filter lowers the high frequency content, making the music and game feel farther away so you can focus on what just happened in game.
Victory or Death!
Finally, there’s win and loss music! Once the match is finished, either cheering or cries of disappointment follow a huge explosion sound effect as you or your opponent explodes into a giant crater. This sound effect covers the crossfade from the gameplay music, to the victory or defeat music. These cues are both stingers. Each plays for 10 seconds or so, finishes, and then we’re just left with the crowd sounds. Those will loop until you click and game returns you to the lobby.
Hearthstone’s music seems very simple and straightforward, but there’s a lot of depth hidden beneath the surface. All of these small adjustments based on game states such as the menu, the collection screen, the actual card match itself, and time limit help enhance the player experience, and inform the player of what’s going on in game. Although there are a couple small things I would tweak (the menu music looping too often), Hearthstone is an excellent example of tried and true techniques such as crossfading can be disguised and kept fresh, all while making the player experience awesome. Check out the full soundtrack here, and go play and experience the music!