After last year's at Runefest I left with a with a definite appreciation for the game’s heritage. After 17 years Runescape has amassed an intimidating legacy. The title is on its full third iteration and last year cracked the world record for the most original pieces of music in a video game. After all this time years, that is no surprise and this record-breaking feat is also testament to the growing spotlight cast on video game music. Long gone are the days when composers crafted a handful of bits into a working tune that could be played ad nauseam. Now, the music from virtual worlds can be an epic affair, following players on their journey through these vast worlds. Huge sweeping scores and haunting orchestral arrangements are now common. You only have to take a quick look on Spotify to find it brimming with albums from the latest AAA releases. Runescape recently joined these and released collection of music that picks from 17 years of this mythical world. At this year's Runefest, we were privy to a very special presentation of this.
At Farnborough International Exhibition & Conference Centre the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra entered Gielinor and introduced attendees to a rendition of Runescape classics in a first for the Cambridge, and indeed any British Studio. Over the evening we were dragged through desolate PvP wastelands and lush vibrant worlds. Runescape Live was less an opening movement to Runefest, as it was a celebration of everything old and new. Mocking, self-knowing, and quirky in its British sensibility, Runescape’s live show was a hoot.
We got a chance to sit down and talk to Mods Ian and Mod Lord about the show and Runescape’s musical heritage.
MMORPG: Watching Runescape Live was a fantastic experience. Where did the inspiration for this come from?
MOD LORD: Really it’s something we’ve wanted to do for some time. I’ve wanted to do this probably as long as I’ve been at Jagex. I’ve wanted to do it every year, but it was a conversation with one of the events team after Runefest last year and here we are a year later. Even better we have the Royal Philharmonic performing. That was the inception of it and since last year, we’ve had a new addition to the event team who has come in and wanted to do something a bit spectacular. Although we’ve planned it over the last year, everything has really gone into full momentum in the last few months or so.
MMORPG: Was the move into a new venue for this year’s Runefest instrumental in allowing you to put on this type of live showcase?
MOD LORD: More than anything it is the stage that makes the difference. You need to get 80 musicians on stage. In fact, it was only the week before the event that we added a bunch of extra percussionists, which pushed everybody forward and limited the room for the actors.
Being in a venue like Farnborough does provide the facilities to put on this event with a proper orchestra including a full PA and a huge stage. It was something that the events team had in mind when they were planning the event.
MMORPG: Organising a full orchestra, video, actors it must all be quite the challenge. How difficult was it to prepare?
MOD LORD: I think, initially, the challenge is writing the music. I know we have new soundtracks but there are a lot of synthetic parts and parts that are done in the studio. To actually perform it live with an 80 piece orchestra took a lot of organizing and rewriting of pieces that we wanted to showcase.
MMORPG: How many songs did you have lined up and how hard was it to whittle down.
MOD LORD: I guess we looked at what we recorded recently that would be easily transcribed to an orchestra and we also looked at some of the classics like Harmony. So, we wanted to have some big themes that really pulled at people’s heartstrings. So alongside stuff that we love, you’ll find a mix of things like the main theme, Harmony and even Born to do This.
Born to do this, for ages, was the login screen music and was always a sign that I’d been logged out the game. To bring that to Runescape Live was a joy and even after re arranging it, it’s still the same piece that plays on your nostalgia.
MMORPG: Any other personal favorites you managed to fit into the performance?
MOD IAN: Harmony was the first bit of music I ever wrote for Runescape, so that was a definite favorite of mine. The main theme is iconic, and it’s gone through a number of iterations, but you can still hear the same song. Some of the most iconic pieces were created years ago and technology has moved on. There have been a few new parts added but they still tend to be very recognizable.
MMORPG: How do you manage to keep those pieces recognisable while you’re fitting them into this new situation?
MOD IAN: It’s the simplicity. I do not write the most complicated pieces. I like to write earworms that get stuck in your head and you can hum. You've got to have that kind of very small sequence of note. Those little series of notes is what defines everything else. Everything on top of it is just to embellish it.
MOD LORD: I remember Hans Zimmer saying, that everything he writes you can just play one finger. That simplicity is key and as soon as you try to overcomplicate things it becomes less memorable.
MMORPG: Just like Zimmer has a very particular voice, do you feel that Runescape has that same particular voice to its music?
MOD IAN: I think it does. On a personal level, listening yesterday like the majority of the kind of pieces in the second half were done by Mod James and there was a couple of mine. I think you can of tell which ones are mine. I feel that my style shows up pretty well. James is fantastic on the big themes, while I’ve got a slightly quirkier, light nature.
MOD LORD: Many composers have written Runescape songs, we’re in the Guinness book of records for the most original pieces of music in a video game. I think that Runescape is a very quirky, eclectic game. It can be deadly serious one minute from the death of a god to doing something stupid, like rolling the cheese down a hill, the next. Pretty much anything goes. We’ve had everything from medieval music to dubstep and orchestral.
MOD IAN: I think we try not to t ourselves too seriously and the music is very much like the game, it is impossible to say it is like or like that.
MMORPG: That seemed to be reflected in last night’s performance of Runescape Live. It was very knowing, with a particularly wry sense of humor.
MOD IAN: Yeah, that is something we love doing. We like to actively take the mic out of ourselves.
MOD LORD: That’s something we wanted to do with the orchestra and they were really up for it. You’d think the Royal Philharmonic is a serious orchestra. They come out in their best evening gear and we're larking around on stage but they were so up for a laugh. They ended up pulling pets out of Tubas and having a bit of banter. You're right. What we wanted to do in real life is something typically Runescape. We wanted to be a bit silly and have a bit of fun, and I think we did it differently to how everybody else has done this sort of event thus far.