Machaut, Ravel meet Tolkien, Tesla
January 27, 2011 6:53 PM   Subscribe

The first thing I was told about Arcanum was the central conflict of the game: magic versus technology. This idea was so interesting and unique that I considered carefully how to best reflect it in the music. […] We finally settled on a sort of musical anachronism: a score centered around the styles and textures of Renaissance, medieval, and early music, but performed by a characteristic ensemble of the Victorian era, the string quartet. Composer Ben Houge and his choir-on-strings score for Troika Studios' (buggy, beloved) steampunk step-child Arcanum (letsplay), in mp3, lossless pcm, and full sheet music.

Also of note are Houge’s subsequent Max/Jitter works installed around and sometimes deleted from Shanghai.

And Drog’s herculean, unofficial, and indispensable Arcanum patches and resolutions packs.
posted by kid ichorous (41 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
The downloads seem to be .exe files?
posted by smcameron at 7:00 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Arcanum was steampunk before steampunk was cool, back in the days (well, toward the end of the days) when sprite-based isometric RPGs could be AAA titles.

It suffers from Troika syndrome (brilliantly realized world, ludicrous depth, bugs everywhere), but get it off Good Old Games, patch over the cracks with fan patches, and get yourself an I ATEN'T DEAD sign.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:01 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

There were so many deeply flawed things in Arcanum, but the music had some really great pieces (the main theme being my favourite). Sierra was also nice in that they released the entire soundtrack from the get-go on the game's website (128/44 mp3) when the game launched... my favourite thing about that site was this little java(?) applet or something, a kind of clock, except instead of time, it was a "strip" of paper with the sun and moon on it, and it'd scroll through the day. The art on it was great, and I wish so much that I could've gotten a copy of it.
posted by curious nu at 7:05 PM on January 27, 2011

A great example for the naysayers (I'm looking at you, Mom) that video game music isn't just a gimmicky afterthought.
posted by jnrussell at 7:09 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

While we're on Sierra, who remembers the CD soundtrack to Betrayal at Krondor? (PS WHAT A GAME)
posted by grobstein at 7:13 PM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

You're absolutely right, smcameron, they look like self-extracting zips, which might as well spell "Windows only." And a .exe in the context of frolicking sprites and sexy cartoons is damn suspicious at best and I'll raise you ill-advised. Thing is, I'm positive that I've successfully downloaded these on something other than a Windows box. I'm still looking for a better link; I sat on this for weeks and I'm really sorry I didn't do a better job of proofing it.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:16 PM on January 27, 2011

who remembers the CD soundtrack to Betrayal at Krondor?

Man, I remember the punishingly bad midi music it made when your level 1 dude attempted to use the lute in the tavern. Like a songbird tangled in an electric fence. I think the crowd at the tavern actually pays you a few GPs to stop. Then I think my party ate spoiled rations and died.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:23 PM on January 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I don't have time to dig into this right now but I saw the word "Arcanum" on the front page and I have to come in here and briefly vibrate because OMG ARCANUM BEST WORST GAME EVER. I loved it. I hated it for the things about it that made it hard to love it. I loved it anyway. I love that, years and years after it came out, I can play it on a computer far too powerful for it and it will actually run decently as a result. I hate that it's still a buggy piece of shit despite that. But I love it. I love it for its Fallout/Fallout 2 heritage, and I hate it for managing somehow to multiply rather than mitigate those game's congenital bugfuckery.

And it ahd a fine, fine fucking soundtrack
posted by cortex at 7:24 PM on January 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

who remembers the CD soundtrack to Betrayal at Krondor?

You can get MIDI versions here as well as a version recorded by someone with a decent MIDI synth (although that version is in Ogg Vorbis).
posted by jedicus at 7:26 PM on January 27, 2011

Here's where the unzipped mp3s were originally hosted. The sheet music still appears to be up, but the mp3 links are down. I'm really sorry guys.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:31 PM on January 27, 2011

While we're on Sierra, who remembers the CD soundtrack to Betrayal at Krondor? (PS WHAT A GAME)

I can hear it all in my head and I haven't owned a computer that could comfortably run it (goddamned Extended Memory!) in years.
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:37 PM on January 27, 2011

Man, I miss games like this, Baldur's Gate etc. Do they still make games like this? Maybe I'm not the same person any more but damn I could have played games like these for the rest of my life and never needed another game.
posted by smoke at 7:38 PM on January 27, 2011

The mp3 directory is linked to directly in the forum post linked in the FPP. I'm looking forward to listening to the whole thing.
posted by des at 7:39 PM on January 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Thanks so much des. And 128kbps is just as good as I've found mirrored anywhere else. That's perfect.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:46 PM on January 27, 2011

This is my all time favorite game ever. I loved it. Did anyone ever investigate the skulls of the siamese twins? I remember wasting so much time trying to unravel that mission, only to find out it basically led to nowhere and the mystery will forever remain unsolved... I loved the dog you could find and have join your team too. He was my favorite team member.
posted by rainygrl716 at 8:15 PM on January 27, 2011

Do they still make games like this?

Aside from the Book of Eschalon series and the Geneforge games there isn't much in current development (of which I'm aware at least), and I can't vouch for those as I haven't played them, but they get good press.

'Course you can always head over to nd pick up all the Baldur's Gate games, plus Arcanum, Fallout, Icewind Dale, and a bunch of other really great RPG titles for good prices, and they work on Windows Vista/7 (sadly no Mac support).

They even have Betrayal At Krondor!

Now excuse me while I go re-install Windows 7 on Boot Camp so I can play Arcanum for like the fifth time.
posted by jnrussell at 8:19 PM on January 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh god what a terrible, horrible, brilliant game. This brings back so many great memories. Gotta go find a copy now and get pissed off at all the bugs all over again now.
posted by dazed_one at 8:56 PM on January 27, 2011

Wow, thanks for bringing me memories back to Arcanum! Lovely game, brilliant design, but oh so so buggy. It seems so much rarer to see games with art and music instead of "fancier graphics" or "improved sound." I never did manage to finish it, due to bugs. I have the CD on the shelf to my left right now, I'm really torn over whether or not to reinstall and apply fan patches. Bioshock was a throwback with superstar backing, but I couldn't really get into the gameplay (although I enjoy other fps's).

Another amazing game that just didn't work out right was Arx Fatalis. Intended as an Ultima Underworld 3 successor, couldn't secure the rights, showed so much promise but imo, couldn't get it done. Another game that I never ended up finishing due to bugs.

Sierra was a powerhouse in my youth. I still have a typewritten letter that the creators of Hero's Quest (before it was renamed to Quest for Glory), replied to my then 8-years old fan letter, enumerating what they had to cut from the game and extolling the future of games in general when Compact Discs became a viable distribution medium. Betrayal at Krondor ... was almost like the froth when the high tide is starting to recede. It was such a compelling game that I went to read the books. The game was better. The sequel was bunk.
posted by porpoise at 9:01 PM on January 27, 2011

Oh WOW, des!

I played a lot of those old Sierra games with "PC Speaker" and later, with a SoundBlaster Pro. I always pined for a Gravis Ultrasound for the better midi samples; I'm assuming that the mp3s for a lot of the older games are midis played through a... roland? Anyway, a much better sampled midi device. Such a completely different listening experience.

Ok. I just played the Space Quest 1 one. I take it back. Then again, the Police Quest 1 one brought back *really* good memories, sounding exactly as I remembered it.
posted by porpoise at 9:11 PM on January 27, 2011

magic versus technology. This idea was so interesting and unique
Wait what.
posted by wayland at 9:11 PM on January 27, 2011

While we're on the subject of early steampunk games, let's not forgot the wonderful Thief series.
posted by jnrussell at 9:17 PM on January 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

I love "here's what I was thinking and what approaches I used when I made this music" posts! Plus I learned the word tessitura, so double thanks!
posted by chaff at 10:26 PM on January 27, 2011

I loved Arcanum. Played it for ages. Loved the music. When I finished Diablo 2, it was nice to have another game that suited my very particular tastes. This was in the days of Counterstrike when such things were hard to find. To think I almost paid to play Everquest back then!

I'll always remember how I first learned of Arcanum's existence, more than a year before it came out:

PVP Online, March 1, 2000

"Elf babe in a zeppelin!" was my battle cry.
posted by kostia at 10:27 PM on January 27, 2011

I never had a game that I would lose my self in its world before I played Arcanum. The soundtrack was a big part of that.
posted by Dagobert at 10:56 PM on January 27, 2011

God I loved this game. I tried playing almost every combination of character, with the exception of the backgrounds that gave you trouble with speech. The sound was truly fantastic. When I'm playing a game, I usually mute the sound and listen to an audiobook. I never had that desire with Arcanum.

Although for the number of times I played through, I don't think I ever met, let alone recruited Franklin Payne.

Of course, it was also a buggy piece of shit. The AI was beyond horrible. But god I want more games in that universe.

The disks are at my parents place. I should go get them and actually install those patches.

As to games like it, the closest I've seen recently was Dragon Age, although apparently the sequel is going to be much more mass effect like. The Geneforge series is great, although #5 is really making me wish I'd bought a hint book. They get more and more intricate as the series progresses and the story and setting are truly amazing. (Imagine a magical world where the ability to manipulate genetics was created.)
posted by Hactar at 11:03 PM on January 27, 2011

If they're self-extracting zips masquerading as exes then unzip on Linux will happily spot that the file is really zip data with an executable bolted on the front & extract the data.
posted by pharm at 12:23 AM on January 28, 2011

It sounds lovely - I'm not a game-type person, so I'd not have heard these otherwise: thanks! I baulked at the .exe thing (I'm on OS X) too, but it seems they'll extract fine in WINE if you've got that installed.
posted by Grangousier at 1:14 AM on January 28, 2011

I loved, loved, loved Arcanum. I must have played through it about 8 times. The bugginess went away with enough patching.
posted by unigolyn at 1:17 AM on January 28, 2011

porpoise: "Sierra was a powerhouse in my youth. I still have a typewritten letter that the creators of Hero's Quest (before it was renamed to Quest for Glory), replied to my then 8-years old fan letter, enumerating what they had to cut from the game and extolling the future of games in general when Compact Discs became a viable distribution medium."

(I feel like such a dork for even asking but...) You don't happen to have a scan or something of this, do you? I was a massive HQ/QfG nerd back in the day, playing all of them to death. Apart from Dragonfire. That got a thief (the One True Class) playthrough and nothing else. Damn, I miss those games. I tried them on DOSbox recently, but it just doesn't work properly, and I don't have the time to really get it up to scratch.
posted by Magnakai at 2:41 AM on January 28, 2011

That EXE file is actually a self-extracting RAR, rather than a ZIP. I downloaded, extracted, and recompressed the MP3 version, and put it in my webspace here as a regular ZIP file. Right-click and Save As to download it.

I don't see any sign that the EXE is unsafe, but if you're paranoid, the ZIP should be safer.
posted by Malor at 2:43 AM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let's hear it for Dog, yo.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:47 AM on January 28, 2011

Like all the other fanboys- Arcanum, ahh. So many bizarre ways to do things.
posted by LD Feral at 6:00 AM on January 28, 2011

Great game, but it needed balancing. Backstab + Dagger of Speed was so dominant it felt silly to use anything else.
posted by echo target at 6:39 AM on January 28, 2011

To further ruminate over what made Arcanum so great, the setting wasn't really steampunk, despite having plenty of steampunk/Verne-styled elements to it. Here's the deal: We're all familiar with what Terry Pratchett calls the "consensus fantasy universe." We've read Tolkien, we've played Dungeons & Dragons, we've internalized all the tropes of the setting. What the writers of Arcanum realized is that the CFU, as a rule, seems to exist temporally somewhere around our 12th or 13th century, with the technology and social structures that were prominent in that era.

What if, said the Arcanum writers, we took that CFU and brought it forward about six or seven hundred years, so that we're somewhere around 1880? Suddenly we have some pretty sophisticated gunpowder weapons, cities are lit by gaslight, steam-powered locomotives are chugging their mighty ways across the continent, and a handful of inventors are doing some very interesting things with electricity. Socially, we see clashes between liberal and conservative philosophies as radicals publish pamphlets promoting equal rights for women and racial minorities, while the entrenched power structure doesn't think these are very good ideas.

Other settings have used the magic/technology clash before, such as Shadowrun, but it's generally been the case that magic is suddenly reintroduced into a technological, mundane society, or that it's hidden underground for so long that it's been reduced to folklore. Arcanum's brilliant conceit is to make that conflict just one more part of the broad, sweeping changes that happen to all civilizations with the passage of time.

It's an amazing setting with limitless potential for exploration in story, but it just didn't work as a computer game. Anyone who adapts the Arcanum universe to a tabletop RPG setting will be a hero.

(As an example of the care taken, the Arcanum writers filled the game with huge quantities of in-universe writings on issues both historical and contemporary. All of this is now locked away in old code. Can it be extracted and read independently?)
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:16 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I gave Arcanum a go a couple years back but just couldn't get into it, and not because of the bugs. It didn't really grab me. Selecting my PC's background was about the most fun I had with it (Raised by Snake Handlers!). But reading a bit more about it and listening to the music makes me want to give it another shot.

I also really enjoy that Max/Jitter stuff. Thanks for posting it, kid ichorous.
posted by cog_nate at 8:05 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Goddamnit, now I want to get this and Planescape running on my linux box. And I don't even play games anymore.
posted by Stagger Lee at 8:06 AM on January 28, 2011

Above and beyond the bugpatches themselves, was there ever a mod that made the core gameplay mechanics, especially combat, into something that managed to be NOT ABSOLUTE SHIT? Because I really wanted to love this game, but even when it wasn't crashing, it was still like trying to make out with a boot that was kicking my teeth in.
posted by FatherDagon at 8:25 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I just replayed Arcanum last year, finishing up no more than three months back. Buggy as it was, I'll still take a game like that over the glorified "shooters-with-guns" that pass for RPGs lately.
posted by JaredSeth at 9:06 AM on January 28, 2011

Arcanum's combat is odd because they attempted to balance it between real-time and turn-based, with the option to switch between at will. The game is radically better if you do the combat turn-based like the Fallout games that it draws so strongly from, but occasionally you'll want to tap spacebar to drop to real-time for a moment, like when you're fighting in a populated area and the game gets into some kind of fugue trying to simulate what everyone in a ten-mile radius is trying to do. Tapping twice, to drop to real-time and then hop back into turn-based, resolves the issue.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:04 AM on January 28, 2011

The temptation to spam enemies with damage spells before real-time kicked in was far too great. So long as you had the mana far it, your spellcaster's lack of defensive skill became irrelevant. Once real-time started, it was like "wait, I only get one shot per six enemy sword strikes? Screw this."
posted by lumensimus at 1:06 PM on January 28, 2011

I have to admit that the battle engine of Arcanum is so s-l-o-w that I've only managed to play it together with friends so we can be talking while the characters m-o-v-e and hit. Amazing setting, however.

My favorite late Sierra game was Birthright, a mix of strategy/RPG based on the self-titled AD&D setting that was supposed to have had 2 sequels... however, after Half Life dominated in 1998, Sierra canceled the sequels along with many other games. Does anyone actually remember Birthright?

While we're on Sierra, who remembers the CD soundtrack to Betrayal at Krondor? (PS WHAT A GAME)

There you are.
posted by ersatz at 8:12 PM on January 28, 2011

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