Meet the Fiddle - Developer Diary

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Meet the Fiddle - 7 March 2018
by Bill "DarthCeltics" Champagne
The fiddle! This has been an instrument that I've wanted to see in game for many years now, and I'm thrilled that we're able to finally introduce it in our latest update.
When I started the process of figuring out how I could bring the fiddle to life, I came to the realization that recording one set of long notes (as other instruments have been sampled over the years) couldn't really do the fiddle justice. When it comes to there being many different ways to play an instrument, the fiddle ranks right up towards the top of that list. As a composer I often marvel at the various amount of samples I get to play around with to create my music, and I wanted to give you that same feeling, that same ownership and control over the music that you can make in LOTRO.
So I figured I'd ask our wonderful violin player to record many sets of notes for us. Long notes that can swell. Vibrato notes that can add extra emotional impact. Short notes to play fast music. Pizzicato notes for that extra bit of pluck. As well as other sets of notes we've yet to use. The end result is that hopefully, when combined, you'll be able to create reaslistic sounding fiddle music.
The recording process itself took a couple of hours back in October. Our violinist came in and recorded many notes for us, as well as some sound effects and melodic fragments for Minstrel skills. Once we had the various notes for the different fiddles, there is a bunch of work involved in getting everything working properly in the game.
We had to set up a fiddle instrument for each set of notes and tweak those notes to fit within the existing instrument set in terms of volume, duration, and sometimes pitch. The Student Fiddle in particular caused some balancing headaches because of the way the note swells. It starts out soft and gets louder in the middle before getting softer again by the end. That means that balancing had to be based on the mid-point of the notes, which in turn makes the instrument less than ideal for fast playing, because the start of the note is quiet. (This is just one of those things that hopefully other fiddles can make up for.)
Our Art team created several fiddle appearances so these instruments could look different while you were playing them, and an animator was tasked with creating an animation set for playing music on the fiddle.
New Fiddles
Don’t forget that musical instruments are an integral part of the Minstrel class as well as being a means to make music. So once we had the fiddle musical instrument well underway, we also had to make a combat fiddle. This meant selecting recording sound clips for each unique minstrel skill that uses an instrument. It also meant asking our animator to make several minstrel skill animations work with a fiddle and doing our best to fit the music bits and animations together. And finally it meant adding a crafted fiddle for high level minstrels to use.
The fiddle doesn't come without a major technical limitation within our music system, however. That limitation is the range of the instrument. The lowest note it can play is G3 (or G2 within our ABC system). That leaves seven notes below it that don't produce any sound. As much as I'd love for the instrument to have a full three octaves, doing so would have required us to either synthetically pitch down notes to fill in the gaps (notes a real fiddle can't play), or cut off the bottom notes (G3-B3) and add on notes to the upper octave (which is less than ideal because the low notes have nice resonance and the higher you get on the instrument the thinner the sound becomes). The unfortunate side effect of this technical limitation is that the fiddle doesn't always plug in nicely to all existing ABC files that you've created, and will require some effort on your part to tailor your ABC files to best utilize the fiddle. While this is something I wish we could avoid, I also want to make sure you have the instrument in its most comfortable range while remaining as faithful to the fiddle as possible.
One thing we thought might be creative and fun would be to fill those empty spaces at the bottom of the instrument with cool sound effects; scratches and knocks and taps. The feedback on this wasn't overly positive (which I can understand why you wouldn't necessarily want your music full of knocks and scratches when playing with existing ABC files not tailored specifically for the fiddle), so they've mostly been removed for the time being. It is something we hope to re-introduce at some point, but have not yet figured out the way to best utilize them.
Ultimately I hope that the fiddle is something you can use to enhance your existing songs and maybe compose new songs around. We hope you enjoy using a fiddle and are as excited to use them as we were to make them! You can get your first fiddle from the Bard, and you can pick up the other fiddle variations during the spring and anniversary festivals.
And who knows what the future holds? There might be more fiddles on the way, as well as another much needed woodland instrument.