James Hannigan and RuneScape 3 on Top Score

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
August 22, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — British composer James Hannigan has scored just about every type of game imaginable, from the final four Harry Potter games to terrifying Dead Space 3. We talked about his newest project, a big online fantasy game called RuneScape 3.

Initially, James wrote an orchestra-heavy score, but the developers wanted to highlight the more intimate moments in the game.

"So the orchestral music is mostly used in cutscenes and menus, and to set the scene. But the music that you'll encounter while you actually play the game is much smaller in scale there's very little orchestral music there. It's mostly, as you noticed, this sort of folky, small ensemble music, featuring a quintet, woodwind trio, that kind of line up."

As a result, weightier orchestral music is balanced with elegant, simple chamber music. One such piece is called Sunrise.

"My initial title for that piece was Circle of Light. I was just imagining a kind of open plain, a kind of sunrise scenario, tranquility, dawn in this village. There wasn't a specific setting for it. As with a lot of games, the music is situational so it's not always attached to a certain location."

"It is very, very minimal, and in all honesty, if I was left to my own devices a little more, I'd probably write more music in that direction. I am a little bit of a minimalist, I feel."

"I just listen to the music in my mind and it sounds as bit of a cliche, but I think it really is like that. I guess I try and tune in to whatever's going on inside me, and try to externalize that as well as I can."

You can play RuneScape 3 online, and the developers — a company called Jagex — are constantly adding new elements to it.

"This is the beauty of an online browser based game, is that it's very easy to update music, because it isn't distributed physically on a disc. So they have a dedicated audio server at Jagex, and it's a case of just swapping music files. If you want to tweak something, you can replace it that day and it'll wind up in the game."

James Hannigan returns next week to discuss his beautifully terrifying music for Dead Space 3. In September, James is leading a group of composers in a series of events designed for fans and aspiring writers of video game music, called Game Music Connect.

Hear James Hannigan and his music for RuneScape 3 on the new episode of Top Score from Classical MPR, also on iTunes.

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