The Problem With GW2 Limitations And How We Might Fix It

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The Problem With GW2 Limitations And How We Might Fix It

Postby Gravenblade » Sun Jun 26, 2016 12:27 am

Hello forums and all who inhabit it! Firstly, I would like to give a big "thanks" to Proteininja for making all this possible. I wanted to give a heads up, too, that this is an educational post. I've been seeing a lot of fantastic work made for GW2, but also a few songs that are a little disappointing but not on any fault of the composer, and I wanted to help everyone here understand why some songs we love sound so good and why some sound so wrong when written for the GW2 instruments. Also, apologies for this very, very long post. Onto the meat of the topic!

I love music. I've been a student of it in some capacity or another for nearly half my life and I love what it can do to and for people. I think all of us here enjoy music, otherwise we wouldn't be here writing and requesting songs, but I feel like there's an elephant in the room that we should address. We've all heard a song that we love get rendered into a playable format for GW2 instruments but it just doesn't sound right, right? Well the problem rests on how GW2 has allowed us to play instruments. I'll try to explain as best as I can, and cover the basics.

The songs that we listen to are written in what are called "keys". These keys refer to a pitch center, and while the music we listen to use all kinds of keys, unfortunately GW2 only lets us make use of two very specific keys. To break it down further, a key can be determined by what lies within an octave. Typically an octave, as the name implies, has 8 notes in it but that's not always the case. A major key, let's use C Major, has 8 notes in it: C, D, E, F, G, A, B, leading back again to C. A good example of a major key song would be Hey Jude, by the Beetles. This is the key that GW2 lets us use, but here's where problems begin: Most of our favorite songs don't use this key! To demonstrate, let's move on to the second key.

Major keys are easy, there's one for each note in an octave, but an octave doesn't always contain the same 8 notes as our friendly C Major. Minor keys can get much more complicated. Let's take our C Major and turn it into a minor key, and we can do that one of two ways. Let's take the easy route: Count down two notes from our starting point of C, C to B to A, and now let's call this new key A Natural Minor. A Natural Minor shares the exact same notes as C Major, but this time we start at A: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, and finally A again. There are plenty of songs that are in this key as well, but again we run into a problem: This is usually a very boring key center. See, when musicians talk about Minor songs we rarely mean Natural Minor, we're usually talking about Natural Minor's older, hotter brother, Harmonic Minor.

Harmonic Minor introduces a new concept: an Accidental. So far we've dealt with Major and Natural Minor, but they don't have any Accidentals in them. So what is an accidental? Let's return to our good friend C Major and break it down while trying to keep things simple. C Major has 8 notes in it like we said earlier, but how exactly do those notes work? Well, notes are relative to each other, but they also each get their own names depending on what they're doing. In reality there are 12 notes in an octave and to show them all we have to introduce our good friend, the symbol we all know from Twitter, the octothorpe. Also known as the pound sign and, more recently, the hashtag, so too do musicians have our own name for "#": We call it a sharp sign. Sharp signs, shortened to sharps, raise a note by half a value. "But Graven," I hear you saying in a voice eerily similar to the one inside my head, "What do you mean half of a value?" To that I have to sigh, realize the mess I've dug myself into, and trudge on through this already hopelessly long post.

Going back to C Major yet again, let's really break it down. Scalar notes, notes that occur in the order that makes up the notes to a key, generally occur in one of two values: A half step and a full step. The best way to visualize this is with a piano keyboard, and I'll include one right here to demonstrate exactly what I'm talking about. http://www.ukuleletricks.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/c-major-scale-piano.jpg Go ahead and take a look at that, I'll reference it from here on out. The white keys show us our good old C Major scale. As you can see, there's an order to how the intervals, the number of steps it takes to get from one note to the next, appears. Between C and D is a whole step, equal to two half steps, and you can tell because between the two keys is a smaller black key: C#. C# is what happens when you add only one half step to C, but not all notes do that, there are two exceptions. You'll notice that between E and F and again between B and C there is no black key. These are what we call naturally occurring half steps, which is just fancy talk for saying they don't have a black key between them. If you go up from E by a half step you don't get E#, you just get F, but if you go up another half step from F you do get F#. Confusing, I know, but that image is going to become your best friend. I promise it won't try to kill you with friendly pellets.

"But Graven," I hear you say again, "What the hell does any of this have to do with what you were saying 10 minutes ago?" Well, everything I'm afraid. Music isn't a simple topic, that's why pop songs all use the same four chords. Now we can move on to the steamy Harmonic Minor. It can be eerie, tense, or just plain satisfying, but what really distinguishes it from Natural Minor is the use of one accidental: G#. Normally F to G is a whole step and G to A is also a whole step, but a long time ago musicians found that this sounded very boring in music so they changed it. In Harmonic Minor we use F to G#, which is three half steps, and from there G# to A which, as you might guess, is only one half step now. But that one note makes a lot of difference. Without getting into what chords are, if you were to play an A Natural Minor scale it would sound a bit hollow, but add that G# to make it Harmonic Minor and you've got yourself something far more interesting. But there's a problem.

So let's take a look at what GW2 lets us do. Let's see, we've got our C Major scale, but. Well, that's all we have, isn't it? We can play an A Natural Minor scale because they have the exact same notes but what about everything I just said about Harmonic Minor? And this leads right into our big problem, the same problem that makes some of our favorite songs sound wrong when written for the GW2 instruments: There are no accidentals that we can use.

Try this: go out and Google search Undertale Heartache Musescore. Eh, I'll go ahead and link it. https://musescore.com/jestermusician/undertale_heartache This website, and its associated program, are a great resource for writing songs if you can read sheet music. If not, well, this post is already far too long for me to cover that, but bear with me here. Go ahead and hit the play button and follow along with it. You'll notice for a while that you don't see any sharps or flats, what happens when you lower a note by a half step except C and F and are notated as "b", except the ones contained in the key signature. This song looks very diatonic, which is fancy musician speak for saying everything is inside the key, but then we hit measure 31 and we see a flat written in right in the middle of the measure. That's an accidental, a note that's not within the key, and they just keep showing up after that. We can't write that in GW2, and there's our problem.

So to wrap up what will likely be the most obnoxiously long post these forums will ever see, here we have revealed our problem: GW2 does not allow for us to write in accidentals, and that's a huge limitation. So many of our favorite songs, especially for us gamers, rely on accidentals to make the music more interesting. Even the main theme from the first Final Fantasy includes accidentals. This is why so many of our favorite songs aren't included among the Music Box archives, but when they are they just sound wrong and for no fault of the person who wrote the song.

But what can we do about this? We can step up and make our voices heard. We can send in requests to Arena Net asking, without being rude or mean, that they devise a system where instruments may include the full 12 note octave, not just the C Major scale octave. How might they do this? Well, let's take a look at two of the best candidates: Guardians and Mesmers. They have at any time multiple class skills they can make use of, and I think that's the best way we might ask for them to include accidentals into the instruments. We need only request that they include C#, D#, F#, G#, and A# using a system similar to what we see on Guardians and Mesmers, but we'll need to do so as a community. If we can get this change made we'll open up a world of possibilities. We'll get to have our Final Fantasy songs, our Undertale songs, our Adele, and whoever and whatever else we please!

So please, now that you know what our limitations are currently, let's step up as a community of people who love and support this game and help to shape it into something even better. I hope to one day look back on this post, this long, long post, and be able to thank you all for making these words and pleas obsolete with a future update. Happy composing.
Gravenblade
 
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