Awesome Video Game Music: Morrowind Main Theme

When done well, there’s something special and transportive about a classic fantasy setting. The Elder Scrolls games have arguably been among the best video games at creating such experiences, and their music has been as instrumental as anything in establishing such an iconic environment. Perhaps my favorite theme from the series is the Morrowind Main Theme.
  

 
When I think of a fantasy setting, I generally think of sweeping, epic, orchestrated music. That’s exactly what the Morrowind Main Theme is all about. It starts out with some almost war-like drum beats, which are more or less the driving force of the song- this is what keeps things moving forward. But the main melody that quickly kicks in is the real appeal. It starts out quiet and subtle, representing the humble beginnings that are true of even the grandest adventures, Morrowind included. It then steadily escalates, using fuller instrumentation and rising in volume, adding that epic quality to an originally melancholy tune. The whole thing just swells in a way that acknowledges the scope and scale of such an adventure, which to me has always been the biggest draw of the Elder Scrolls series. Games like Morrowind are about exploring a rich fantasy world, and its main theme does as much as anything to make the adventure feel as grand as possible.

Equally important, this is one of those songs that I just find both pleasant and exciting to listen to. The notes, the rhythm, the chords- I find it all beautiful. And there’s not much more to say about the Morrowind Main Theme. There’s nothing too fancy going on here- this is simply a beautiful, epic piece that captures the series’ fantasy vibe incredibly well, and the game is all the better for it.

For additional information on this blog, or to view other entries, click here.
Start the Conversation
9 Comments
Posted by MajorMitch

When done well, there’s something special and transportive about a classic fantasy setting. The Elder Scrolls games have arguably been among the best video games at creating such experiences, and their music has been as instrumental as anything in establishing such an iconic environment. Perhaps my favorite theme from the series is the Morrowind Main Theme.
  

 
When I think of a fantasy setting, I generally think of sweeping, epic, orchestrated music. That’s exactly what the Morrowind Main Theme is all about. It starts out with some almost war-like drum beats, which are more or less the driving force of the song- this is what keeps things moving forward. But the main melody that quickly kicks in is the real appeal. It starts out quiet and subtle, representing the humble beginnings that are true of even the grandest adventures, Morrowind included. It then steadily escalates, using fuller instrumentation and rising in volume, adding that epic quality to an originally melancholy tune. The whole thing just swells in a way that acknowledges the scope and scale of such an adventure, which to me has always been the biggest draw of the Elder Scrolls series. Games like Morrowind are about exploring a rich fantasy world, and its main theme does as much as anything to make the adventure feel as grand as possible.

Equally important, this is one of those songs that I just find both pleasant and exciting to listen to. The notes, the rhythm, the chords- I find it all beautiful. And there’s not much more to say about the Morrowind Main Theme. There’s nothing too fancy going on here- this is simply a beautiful, epic piece that captures the series’ fantasy vibe incredibly well, and the game is all the better for it.

For additional information on this blog, or to view other entries, click here.
Posted by ZombiePie

Also there were accusations that Pirates of the Caribbean "borrowed/plagiarized" the Morrowind theme:
  

Moderator
Posted by ahoodedfigure

Yeah, I'd always sort of pause when I hear this theme start up again. It's a pity that it feels over-used in the main game, to the point where you're wondering WHY this epic music is playing while you're in the middle of trudging through ashen hills. As music it's great, but it's sort of like having a soundtrack running while you're playing. That's more the fault of the game structure, which will suddenly stop some beautiful music on a dime to switch to battle music, even if the enemy is far away and unable to reach you.  It mimics the language of cinematic music, but not so much the language of cinema itself, which would try a bit harder to marry what you see with what you hear.

Actually doing that in a smart way, though, might take designers a while to figure out.

Posted by Mooqi

Great job! This is not just an epic and amazing piece of music. It also awakens very pleasant memories. Playing Morrowind was atmospheric and intense at the time and the game is still somewhere on top of my all time favorites list (much higher up than Oblivion).

In addition to that, the "remixed" themes of Oblivion and Skyrim keep the feeling of the original but develop it. It is a great way of connecting the whole franchise through its fantastic soundtrack.

Posted by MajorMitch
@ZombiePie:  Hah! I've listened to the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtracks before, but never noticed that!
Posted by MajorMitch
@ahoodedfigure:  That is sometimes the downside of video game music, you can hear it over and over again, sometimes in weird places. Even awesome themes like this one can be overplayed. I do agree with you that it's more of a game structure thing (the composer's just focused on making great music after all). It's got to be tough making smooth music transitions, or just providing enough variety in general for games as big as Morrowind, without making the game 100% scripted. I'd love to see someone come up with some new, effective ideas and implement them in their games though.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@MajorMitch:  There have been a few that have tried to make soundtracks more dynamic, to mixed success. I think there's a tradeoff when you have department-style development: if you have someone who is a brilliant composer just compose, but be isolated from the game design process, you'll get a game design decision that forces the score to cut off (or fade out, which I think would have been better than an abrupt halt).

I think what would lie on the horizon, but would take some work, is for designers and composers to work together more closely and come up with a system that has themes based on things the player can see and experience, and have it all woven as a single score. I'm thinking stuff like Wagner's tone poems.  So, say in Skyrim your character would be walking through a peaceful plain. You'd get pastoral music, maybe mimicking birds or light breezes, then you get on top of a hill and can see mountains far in the distance. The mountain theme would activate slowly, maybe deep, distant french horns that complement the major pastoral melody. The closer you get to the mountains, the more prominent the french horns would get, even if you weren't looking at them directly.  And if you had an encounter while traveling, you would get secondary musical themes for that particular encounter (bandit, wild animal, mythical beast, whatever) that would not interrupt the main score so much as alter it to fit the current situation, and only when your character would be aware of it, either by seeing the threat or being attacked.

So, being near to something geographical would blend those themes together, while active encounters would be more incidental to HOW you interacted with them. Sorta like an actual movie score would be.
Posted by MajorMitch
@ahoodedfigure:  Dude, that sounds awesome! I would love to have music kind of shift and alter itself to fit the situation like that, rather than just switching tracks. I'm sure it's not easy, and it would take composers working super closely with the designers like you said, but one can hope people will start figuring stuff out sooner or later.
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@MajorMitch:  Thanks. I think the problem with high concept stuff is that people are already ready to do it and just need the will, or they need some sort of analogical cap to cross. If it's the latter, I'd tell them that you already have ambient sounds in games, where, say, a waterfall makes noise, getting louder the closer you get to it based upon distance and possibly any intervening structures.

When you have a looping sound effect, you've already sorta got a timed musical structure for that object. One needs to compose, then, everything based on the same template, where you could, in theory, have every musical piece playing all at the same time and it would make some sort of structural sense, even if it was a cacophony.  Then you have certain structures which are mutually exclusive (city vs. wilderness) fill out certain parts of the theoretical score, with the deep rousing stuff emerging from one set of parameters, and then, say if you're in a city, there might be a city that's well-integrated into the surrounding forest, so you might combine a light forest theme with the proudness of a frontier city, and then that same suite would be different in a bustling, wholly urban capital.

It WOULD be a lot of work, but I imagine modern conceptual composers jump through these sorts of hoops, and I'm betting at least some game composers would jump at the chance to be challenged like this, as would programmers (maybe).