Scrolls :: Beautiful, Intelligent, Undervalued

EDIT: I wrote this piece a while back, just before it was announced that Mojang would be ending work on Scrolls and shutting down the game’s servers. I suppose this news gives the below article rather a more melancholy twist than I wanted, but hey. It’s a great game that got too little attention. We SHOULD feel sad.

It’s a shame in many ways that development of Mojang’s Scrolls happened to coincide with development of Blizzard’s own new CCG, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft. Both are extremely well put together strategy card games, but Hearthstone seemed to take a lot of the wind out of its competitor’s sails, and at any given time Hearthstone just seemed like a more polished game than Scrolls did. And that’s not to say either game is not worthy of your time (I’ve played both, and enjoyed both immensely). But I feel that Scrolls somewhat lacks the attention it deserves in many departments. The department I will be focusing on today is its music.

As a game, Scrolls is brimming with personality, and its music and sound design is as much a part of this as the game’s lore, gameplay or striking aesthetic. The soundtrack was composed by good friends Mattias Häggström Gerdt and Josh Whelchel, both excellent freelance composers with backgrounds in OverClocked ReMix and video game albums and soundtracks. Scrolls’s soundtrack has its ups and downs, but all of it is pretty great. Each track places you firmly in the fantastical world of Scrolls, with its tribal warriors, necromantic husks and whirring steampunk machines, and surrounds you with the feeling of the world as you browse through decks or ponder your next move.

It’s a difficult thing to produce enough variation between tracks to prevent it from becoming repetitive, while still making the soundtrack feel like a unified piece. The three different kinds of match music are all very easily distinguishable from each other. “Swamp” relies on pulsing bass and treble strings for a tense piece of battle music reminiscent of the old Zerg themes from Starcraft, whereas “Ruins”, the original battle music before the other two were introduced, creates a more subdued and thoughtful atmosphere through its strong percussion, piano and sitar. But both these tracks, despite their obvious differences, reflect the tension and strategy involved in a Scrolls match, and work perfectly as unified parts of the overall soundtrack. Each track is immersive, inspirational, and easy to listen to.

Scrolls Screen Battle
~ Scrolls has had a great amount of love and detail put into its sound and music design, giving it a fittingly beautiful soundtrack for such an imaginative game. ~

Side One recorded an interview with Josh Whelchel back in March about the development of the Scrolls soundtrack and how he and Mattias became involved in its production. It’s a short interview, but well worth a read. Josh talks about the struggle of keeping music fresh and avoiding repetition, because “this is a game that people are going to sit down with for potentially hours on end,” and “we needed to ensure the players were being inspired and driven by the music that we made, rather than annoyed.” This focus on avoiding repetition clearly paid off; not only is each track diversified from each other track in thematic and stylistic ways, but each individual track is filled with numerous melodic surprises and twists which, even on repeat, prevent the music from becoming tiresome where many other soundtracks would fail.

A particularly wonderful aspect of Mattias’s and Josh’s music is the Deck Builder theme, which alters, Luftrausers-style, depending on the composition of the player’s deck. Scrolls are divided into four factions – Growth, Order, Energy and Decay – and the more scrolls of a particular faction are in a deck, the more that faction’s music begins to override the others. The result is a piece of music, beautiful and immersive even without the alterations, but which transitions through various phases throughout the creation of a deck. Energy scrolls add a dirtier, guitar-driven steampunk vibe to the music, while Decay strips back the layers of instruments and turns the piece into an unsettling, ethereal string composition. Each feels complete and utterly unique, and yet they all belong together.

Scrolls Deck-Building
~ The Deck Builder theme is so wonderful that I often just sit back in the middle of building a deck and just… relax and listen. ~

And then there’s the Store theme, which provides some chipper, more upbeat folksy music during breaks from the battle, and some relief from the tension which builds from listening to the rest of the soundtrack. Yet another example of how well the soundtrack of Scrolls works both as individual elements and as a unified whole.

Whenever I think of Scrolls, I think of its music first and foremost. It’s the kind of soundtrack that delicately ingrains itself into your memory, and fits so perfectly with the rest of the game that to think of one is to think of the other. The beautiful blend of Josh’s more orchestral, high-fantasy-style music with Mattias’s softer, string-driven folk melodies provides a really fantastic soundtrack to an already fascinating and characterful card game.

If you want to take a look at game itself then click here to go to its website. In the meantime, head over to Mattias’s SoundCloud page where he has uploaded a selection of Scrolls tracks for your enjoyment.

~ Ollie