Dissecting the Score: A Conversation with Arena of Valor Composer Matthew Carl Earl
Composer Matthew Carl Earl has a pretty lengthy resume to say the least. From being part of the rock band, Xanthochroid, to serving as lead composer at Hexany Audio, it’s certain to say music is Matthew’s life. His recent game titles include NetEase’s FortCraft and Tencent’s Arena of Valor and Moonlight Blade. We spoke with him about these titles, the challenges of an adaptive score and more below.
-Two of your recently scored video games are Moonlight Blade and Arena of Valor. Can you tell us a little bit about these games and what inspired you to take on these projects?
M: Sure. Both Moonlight Blade and Arena of Valor are published by Tencent Games, with whom we’ve worked on numerous projects for a couple years now. The first game of theirs I had the pleasure of writing for was an MMORPG called Iron Knight. While working on that game, I saw some of the advertisements and such online for their other MMO, Moonlight Blade and was totally floored. I thought it looked absolutely beautiful. I specifically remember showing Richard Ludlow the game and said something like, “Look at this! I want to write for this game so badly.” I think it was just a week later when they reached out to us to provide some music for the game. 2 years later and it’s still one of my favorites to work on.
Arena of Valor on the other hand was supposed to be an international version of Tencent’s existing MOBA title Honor of Kings, which dominated the Asian market in number of active players. They reached out to us pretty early in the development and asked if we’d like to be involved. I was already aware of the title because of the fame surrounding it and was incredibly honored to be able to take part in this new version. These just aren’t the kind of projects you can say ‘no’ to!
-Did you get to play these games before starting work on them? If so, what specifically do you pay attention to most during this process?
M: For Moonlight Blade, yes. Because the game was already in public beta by the time we started working, we were able to make an account and experience a bit of the world. One of my first tasks was writing for the main cities in the game and it helped a lot being able to actually run around and experience them.
For Arena of Valor, yes and no haha. When we began work we didn’t have a build of the game, but we had tons of art and video reference to go off of, so we had a very clear idea of what the intent and purpose of the tracks were. Now that the game is released I get to play it as much as I want and I am still supporting the game post launch with new music for characters and updates.
–Honor of Kings has been widely successful in China and now that Arena of Valor is launching in the West, Tencent decided to give the game an overhaul to make it more relatable to Western players. You have scored both of these expansions, has the music adapted at all with the game?
M: In some ways; yes, and in others; no. There are some overlapping themes that we keep similar musical styles for, but with AoV, there were a ton of exclusive additions that definitely needed their own sound. There was also the big push to make the music more accessible to the world market and also keep the e-sports potential in mind.
-If it has adapted, have you made your score more Westernized?
M: I think the style and mood of Arena of Valor being a bit different from Honor of Kings helped inform the music into naturally being more ‘western.’ There are also a lot more characters that break out of the traditional Chinese themes, which sways the music into suit.
-Do you have any idea when Arena of Valor is going to be released on Nintendo Switch?
M: I really don’t. My guess is sometime this year as they have already opened up beta testing for the switch version in certain regions.
-Why did you choose to focus on adaptive music?
M: Adaptive/interactive music is just something you can’t ignore in video games now. And to be honest, it’s one of the main reasons I love working on games. The fact that the music can change and evolve based on what is happening in your gameplay experience is really the coolest thing and helps the player feel important and part of the world.
-What are the challenges of having an adaptive soundtrack in a video game?
M: I think the biggest challenge is overcoming the ‘interactive music style.’ The simpler and more ambiguous the music is, the easier it is to fit into these adaptive music systems. The real challenge is creating music that is still interesting and has intent, yet still morphs and follows the player almost as if their musical experience was custom tailored just for them.
-In the last few years has there been a video game soundtrack that was really memorable to you?
M: There have been some killer soundtracks recently; Mick Gordon’s work on Doom really spoke to my metal side. Jessica Curry’s work on Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture was honestly my dream score; it is one of my favorite collections of music ever. Everybody’s work on the Blizzard Entertainment stuff is always unreal; some of the tracks added to World of Warcraft: Legion’s ‘Argus’ patch were on my listening rotation for some time. I could really just talk forever about all the amazing music people have written lately.
-What projects do you have coming up?
M: I’m still supporting my usual games like Arena of Valor and Moonlight Blade as well as some newer stuff in the works with Tencent. I also recorded an orchestra at HUGEsound in Salt Lake City just this last week for another project that is unannounced currently. There is also another unannounced indie title I cannot share much about yet, but I am super excited to show it off as it is challenging my usual musical styles in a great way. Hopefully I will be able to share some of that later this year!
Learn more about Matthew here: https://hexanyaudio.com/about/mearl/
Photo credit Piper Ferguson