So everyone seems to be playing Fallout 4 right now – and rightly so… it’s frackin’ magical. Only Bethesda can make a post-apocalyptic wasteland seem so beautiful. I’m also a big fan of the music of Bethesda’s Fallout games – from the charming irony of “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” by the Inkspots wofting through my Pipboy’s radio, to the eerie ambience of Inon Zur’s score that somehow makes the world far more terrifying, and not a little melancholy.

But there is one thing that bugs the hell out of me – Inon Zur’s main theme.

Now, I shall preface this by saying that the theme writing itself is AMAZING. Those iconic chordal shifts from major to minor are an iconic part of modern game music – as much as Jeremy Soule’s ‘Morrowind’ theme forever shall be (at least in my opinion). So, I’m fine with the writing. The bone I wish to pick is something very specific – perhaps too specific for anyone to give a damn (except myself, and maybe a few of my old virtual instrument composer buddies).

My bone is Inon Zur’s string patch choice, which begin in this video at about 0:40.

The strings patch sucks.

The patch has a really slow, nebulous attack (the first part of the sound), which means that the patch doesn’t keep up on some of the quicker parts of the melody, creating a sort-of ‘sucking sound’. It’s the classic ‘synth string’ problem which has plagued virtual instrument composers and arrangers the world over for generations. It used to be a greater issue with older virtual instrument libraries, which lacked of decent patches or programming to deal with this problem. But even then, it was always possible to play with patches, or blend them with others to make convincing strings for a particular melody. However, these days it’s relatively easy to make a simple string melody (like in this theme) convincing and appealing – given the great choices of libraries now available.

Yes, I know – I’m being a nitpicky bastard. But, for a game that allows the player to ignore the rest of the score by simply listening to the in-game radio – the Fallout theme was Inon’s one major chance to produce a compelling, moving piece that captured the mood of the game. It does – for the most part (dat piano… Mmmmm). Sadly, I think the strings really let the theme down, and give the impression that it comes from a much older game; and that disappoints me, because the rest is fabtabulous.

What could Inon Zur have done better? Well, for starters – either use a string patch with a quicker attack, or invest in one of the myriad of new-gen string libraries out there that can pull off a convincing, legato string melody without much work. Alternatively, he could have recorded the theme with some real string players (which needs a budget, I know – but let’s face it, Bethesda are gonna make a bazillion of this game).

It’s always so hard to critique a giant in the game music industry, who has had a long history of delivering great scores for great games. If you ever read this, Inon – I still love your work. Maybe just reconsider your choice of string patches in the future… 😀

-Scott.