The latest developer diary for Age of Wonders 4 is brought to us by Michiel van den Bos, the game's composer who you may know for his contributions to the earlier Age of Wonders games and the Overlord series. Apart from sharing the complete soundtrack with us, the diary also features a quick intro for a decent number of the tracks.
This dev diary was contributed by Michiel van den Bos (@Michieldvbos), the composer of the Age of Wonders 4 soundtrack. He also composed for previous instalments in the Age of Wonders series as well as the Overlord series. His work was most recently featured in Age of Wonders: Planetfall.
In the years of composing soundtracks for Age of Wonders games, there was always something at the forefront: Traditional orchestral sounds drenched in synths, either subtly or pronounced. This has been the norm since the original when, due to its Tracker origins, options were very limited and the mixing of those two elements was a matter of necessity rather than choice.
With Age of Wonders 4 the process of finding the right 'feel' was a slightly longer one. The initial run of songs contained a lot of traditional medieval folk instruments without much processing added, resulting in a much more in-your-face sound. This was by choice at first due to the aesthetic and setting of the game but that was soon decided to become grating for the player when listening to it for too long, though a few of these songs remain on the soundtrack.
As the preliminary phase of production went along, I started to add more processing to these instruments and reintroducing synths, though at a far more subdued level than in previous entries in the series.
The result is a soundtrack that definitely feels rooted in the Age of Wonders tradition, but with a style of its own that sets it apart and fits the setting of this iteration of the game.
Where Age of Wonders 3's soundtrack was a mixture of original work and remixes or re-imaginings of the original's songs, this one is predominantly comprised of completely new material with a few winks and nods to legacy songs, though very difficult to spot.
I'm very proud of what we've come up with and I hope you enjoy listening to it and playing the game along with it as much as I've enjoyed creating it.
For those interested, these were some of the main tools in my arsenal while making this soundtrack (some omitted due to limited use):
- Cinematic Studio Strings (Cinematic Studio Series)
- Spitfire Symphonic Strings (Spitfire Audio)
- Spitfire Chamber Strings (Spitfire Audio)
- Spitfire Solo Strings (Spitfire Audio)
- Spitfire Symphonic Woodwinds (Spitfire Audio)
- Spitfire Percussion (Spitfire Audio)
- Albion 1/ Masse/Contemporary Drama Toolkit /British Drama Toolkit (Spitfire)
- Cinebrass (Cinesamples)
- Cineperc (Cinesamples)
- Damage 2 (Heavyocity)
- Stormdrum 2 & 3 (EastWest)
- Omnisphere 2.5 (Spectrasonics)
- Rinascimento (Fluffy Audio)
- Groth (Wavelet Audio)
- ERA II / Forest Kingdom II (Eduardo Tarilonte/Best Service)
The Highlander (Main Title)
In stark contrast to other entries in the series, this track was written quite late in the development cycle whereas the main title songs for other games have been made early on. In this case, it fits because it's sort of the culmination of all the different styles incorporated in the map tunes. It's a laid back track that doesn't intrude too much while the player creates a character.
A Magnificent Vista
One of the earlier tracks referenced in my little writeup. A more in your face approach used in the early game. The tracks become more sprawling upon progress, but this is a nice, quite happy little song that fits the early game atmosphere.
A Settlement Rises
A breezy, easy going song in the tradition of the old March of the Halflings. A searing melody atop a bed of subtle orchestral short notes.
Gloomy, atmospheric track with an emphasis on percussion. In pure van den Bos fashion it switches gears in the second half. I tried staying away from that for most of the soundtrack, but there are just times I can't help myself.
Another song composed in the early days of development but finished later on so it has a more sprawling feel to it. It's really quite beautiful and has no percussion at all.
A long, mystical intro morphs into a song with a rather simple undercurrent and a lovely woodwind melody layered on top. More instruments are gradually introduced.
Totally my jam. Melancholy melodies that linger in my brain long after I'm done composing the track. One of my personal favorites.
Another track where the foundation dates from the early days of development but finished and touched up much later. It feels breezy and threatening at the same time with a nice crescendo building towards the end.
Percussion heavy song that evokes an image of a large caravan making its way across the desert. After listening to it more often, it definitely ranks among my favorites for this game.
Quite a heavy one conjuring a vision of lands enveloped in mist as viewed from a mountain top. This one builds subtly to a sweeping climax.
Our Work Shall Commence at Dawn
Getting up in the morning is always hard and this song evokes just that feeling, especially when you need to spend your day building roads and bridges. The second part of the song is more the labor part, whereas the intro feels like looking across vast plains in the cool morning air.
Return from Heartwood
Made in the later stages. Another one of my favorites and it subtly mixes melancholy with optimism. A very good example of how the solo instruments were processed to blend with the larger string sections.
Seizing the Day
Grandiose, expanding song that feels like the player is working towards a clear goal of domination.
This one has undergone many changes since it was introduced at the beginning of the development. It's a droning, slowly building composition deeply rooted in Norwegian folk influences. It's your hero's theme song basically.
Sphere of Influence
Another folky, slowly expanding song signifying the growing reach of your rule. An earworm that definitely ranks among my favorites.
What starts out as a simple melody becomes ever grander. Dark, yet uplifting. Uneasy, yet carefree. Don't quite know how I managed it but it works. One of the more modern sounding songs on the soundtrack due to the percussion introduced in the second part.
Tales of Old
Aside from the occasional flourishes of symphonic splendor this is a very subtle song fitting most scenarios.
Another pretty little ditty that grows in intensity over its playtime. More precussive than most maptunes but still subtle enough to let the instruments breathe.
Mystical and spacious, this has the feel of a combat track due to the fast percussion but it has been pulled back enough to let the song come into its own.
What Lies Beyond Those Hills
An early team favorite and probably my own personal favorite as well. This is one that sticks with you long after with a signature interlude that I love to incorporate in my songs if I have the opportunity to. I sometimes get some criticism for putting two songs in one, but sometimes it just works so well that I can't stop myself.
Whisper of the Gods
Just really damn pretty. Another personal favorite. A very subtle nod to two old classic are in here. It has a melody line I woke up with one morning and couldn't shake until I had laid it out in Cubase.