Nestled in the shadows of Westmarch, the Blood Marsh may appear to be no more than a simple swamp to many who pass through its mephitic trenches—an unforgiving mire with an unnatural complexion, but one possessing little significance to Sanctuary or the Eternal Conflict.
But the marsh itself is far from ordinary, boasting a history as deep and furtive as the ruins which lie beneath its murky surface. It is a place of corruption and sorrow, of memory and magic. And, recently, the wetlands have become a refuge for an entity of great power. . . and great evil.
We've already delved into the lore and visual landscape of the Blood Marsh, but there's still one more important design element to explore: its music. To whet your auditory appetite, we've put together an exclusive preview track featuring just a small sample of new melodies you'll hear as you adventure through this haunting environment.
To get a better understanding of what goes into creating a soundtrack for a game like Reaper of Souls™, we also sat down with Diablo III Music Director Derek Duke for a quick Q&A.
Q. Alright, before we get ahead of ourselves. . . Tell us the truth: Do you ever light candles, chant ancient lore, or perform any arcane rituals to help get into the mood before you record?
Derek: I do admit to burning candles when I was playing Diablo III. But for mood, certainly turning the lights down is the first step.
Q. On a more serious note, what sort of prep work or process do you have in place to get ready to write music for Diablo III?
Derek: At the early conceptual stage, it's really about getting in the mood and the right head space. Immersing myself in everything Diablo is important, from playing early builds and perusing concept art, to studying the story and all other the sources of lore that are only available behind Blizzard's iron gates.
There's also quite a lot of scribbling in notebooks, drawing on manuscripts, singing into the phone, and talking to people. All that, gathered together, is key, so when it's time to make the musical and artistic commitments, the emotion, mood, and story have become part of my subconscious enough that they can influence the music without me "forcing" anything.
Q. When setting out to create the soundtrack for the Blood Marsh, where did you begin? What inspired or influenced you for this particular area?
Derek: The Blood Marsh actually went through a lot changes, both artistically and from a design perspective. Musically, we also tried a lot of things. On one tangent, we recorded a bunch of really crunchy, long electric guitar tones, trying to get at that swamp vibe. Didn't work. Banjo. . .nope. I could never boil it down to any single simple idea.
In the end, what worked was actually scoring to the Blood Marsh's theme of a lost history, and the emotion and drama of events that take place there. I don't want to spoil the experience for players, so I'll refrain from sharing too many details. The preview track does a great job of capturing the over feel of the zone, however.
Q. What's unique about the music for the Blood Marsh? Are there any instruments or themes that are specific to the zone?
Derek: The very first time you enter the Blood Marsh, you'll hear women intoning a sacred text. And you'll begin to hear more and more of these texts sung and chanted in game from this point through the conclusion of Reaper of Souls. (Fun fact: Much of the game’s music was inspired by and written to these texts.)
The Blood Marsh is also the first place the "inevitability theme," or "Chains of Fate," returns since its debut in intro cinematic. Down in the Ruins of Corvus, you'll also make first contact with some of the quasi-"aleatoric" (semi-random) music in the game. They are extended creepy, textural pieces created from a very different way of working with the orchestra.
Q. The world of Sanctuary is so diverse. When creating tracks for specific areas, how do you make sure you're creating a unique identity while also providing a cohesive sound across the game?
Derek: It's certainly a challenge, and hopefully one we've done well in Reaper of Souls.
One of the ways we've tried to bring musical cohesion into the Diablo franchise this time around was to filter all the music through a single person and process. The Diablo series was originally scored by a single composer and, while the other Blizzard franchises have benefited so much from having all of Blizzard's unique musical personalities contribute to a project, it really felt like Diablo—and Reaper of Souls in particular—wanted a single voice.
While writing a majority of the music myself, I was also able to leverage themes written by Russell Brower, Jason Hayes, Joseph Lawrence, and Glenn Stafford. Those themes were then built upon, arranged, stretched, and orchestrated to sound as though originating from a singular musical voice.
In addition, all our music was recorded with the same orchestra in the same decommissioned church with the same team over two years.
Q. Can you tell us a bit about the track you're sharing with us today?
Derek: It's an edit of quite a few things, starting with the bells tolling, into some of the creepy, textural orchestral music of the dungeons, then an ancient text chanted. Next, you'll hear some darkness and another choral text into an earlier musical progression from when the Blood Marsh (originally called "The Bog" within the team) was first being worked on. The piece then concludes with a version of the inevitability theme, mentioned previously, heard as a duet of solo violin and oboe over the descending four notes.
That solo violin, heard so much in Reaper of Souls, has always represented to me the hero's personal, solitary decision (and commitment) to fulfill his or her destiny. It's a great symbol of that singular choice to do what is needed to save Sanctuary and the whole of humanity.