For almost a year now, over 300 Australians, two noted Japanese gaming personalities and Sony Japan's record label have been hard at work on a project with Blizzard Entertainment. This project encompasses World of Warcraft. And Starcraft. And Diablo. It has absolutely nothing to do with the development of a game, and absolutely everything to with developing one of the most indulgent pieces of fan-service we've seen in a while.
It's called Echoes of War. Or, to use it's full name, The Music of Blizzard Entertainment: Echoes of War.
Put together by the team behind the popular Eminence concert series, Echoes of War is, as the name suggests, the soundtrack to Blizzard Entertainment. Not the soundtrack to a single game. The soundtrack to the developer, and (almost) all the game's they've ever put out. Warcraft. World of Warcraft. Diablo. Diablo II. Diablo III. Starcraft. Starcraft II. And, heck, even games they haven't put out, like Starcraft Ghost.
Considering there are now millions of adoring, cashed-up Blizzard fans the world over, and considering this is one of the most sensible and well-crafted pieces of game-related produce to be offered in recent memory (ie it's not a statue or an action figure or an action statue), I figured I'd catch up with Eminence's Hiroaki Yura and find out a little more about how the project came about.
"This project came to being when I met Russell Brower last year in LA", Yura says. Brower is Director of Audio at Blizzard, and is also the man behind many of World of Warcraft's signature themes. The two, being game-related music types, had spoken before. Yura, being a Blizzard fan, pitched the idea of Eminence doing a Blizzard homage/soundtrack with their full orchestra. Brower, and Blizzard, said yes.
The pitch was no spur of the moment decision from Yura. Eminence have been holding both gaming and anime-focused concerts in Australia for five years now, but for a while have been working towards something bigger. Indeed, the group's ultimate goal, as lovers of both symphony and video games, is to "spread orchestral music to the younger generation of people by performing music which appeals to them".
Part of this "expansion" has been to start working on game soundtracks. Not the ones you buy, mind, but the actual in-game score. The team impressed Namco Bandai enough with their previous live work that they were given the opportunity to provide the soundtrack for Soul Calibur IV. And their work on that, coupled with their relationship with Blizzard, has led to the team being given the job of producing the soundtrack to Diablo III.
Eminence's relationship with Blizzard is evidenced by how closely the two groups - Australian musicians and American developers - worked together on this, by far their "biggest" project to date. The attention to detail would put most actual games to shame. "We have flown to Blizzard to speak with all the composers there on arrangement approach", Yura says, "and Russell Brower flew to Sydney to oversee the recordings. Even the titles were made in conjunction with the Blizzard historian from their Creative Development team".
"Of course, the art and cover designs have also all been approved by multiple departments at Blizzard, ranging from cinematics team to the Visual Arts guys" he continues. "We wanted to make sure we deliver this album in a very true way to all the Blizzard fans out there".
Echoes of War features the work of not only Eminence's own team of composers and musicians, but also a few famous (at least in the game soundtrack scene) guests as well. One is famed Gundam and Shadow of the Colossus composer Kow Otani, who contributes a free composition of the Diablo theme, and also a Diablo-themed bonus track with Japanese vocalist Aika to the album. Go Shiina, famous for his work with Namco Bandai on the Tales series, also appears on the album. "Mr Shiina did a special arrange/additional composition on the Zerg track "Eradicate and Evolve", Yura says. "His piece involved a state-of-the-art Protools system, one being slaved to another to cater for all the tracks".
Wait, two Japanese composers? How'd we end with an Australian orchestra working with two noted Japanese guys on a Blizzard soundtrack? Same way Eminence got the gig with Blizzard in the first place. Yura says all he needed to do, having worked with the pair on gaming concerts previously, was give the two a call. "They both knew of Blizzard's games, even in Japan, and were very interested in the project" he says. "Also they had a lot of interest from an artistic point of view".
And so they both contributed. And to continue the Japanese influence, the CD has been manufactured by Sony Japan's record label. It's a unique combination, but one that seems to have done the job for Blizzard, who are only too happy with Eminence, and the end result.
As for the future, Yura says Eminence are hoping to take Echoes of War on the road, both nationally across Australia and internationally, and are currently in discussions with "two major publishers/developers in Japan" for further, similar projects (Square Enix and Namco Bandai, perhaps?). The group are also keen on expanding on their work on Soul Calibur IV and Diablo III by doing more original work on the actual in-game soundtrack to games.
But that's the future. For the present, Echoes of War is due out this month in two flavours. The "standard" edition will ship with 90 minutes worth of Blizzard orchestral scores over two CDs, and is due out on November 22. A much fancier Legendary Edition was released this week in very limited numbers, and comes with the CDs, a book, art cards and a bonus DVD including a "feature-length" behind the scenes documentary.