Why It Took 25 Years for the Video Game ‘Tibia’ to Get Sound

Adventurers in the online RPG 'Tibia' have been been playing the game silently for decades, but now, that's changing.
A screen shot from the video game Tibia
Image courtesy of CipSoft

The massively multiplayer online role-playing game Tibia launched before some people reading this were born. The top-down RPG has been active since January 1997, an eternity for online video games. The design and technology powering MMORPGs have come a long way since Tibia, but while other games may come and go, Tibia remains. The game more or less looks the same as it did in the mid 90s, and that extends to the way it sounds, too. Since its launch, Tibia hasn’t had any music or sound effects. It’s silent.

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That changed yesterday, as developer CipSoft introduces (optional!) sound for the first time.

(If you’re wondering why you might’ve heard of Tibia, it’s because of the incredible mystery behind a locked door that took one player nine years to open, only to have that player keep the answers a secret. It took three more years for the rest of us to find out what was inside.)

Last summer, a group of developers at CipSoft started coming up with a list of ideas for the game’s upcoming 25th anniversary. On a long list of ideas, one stuck out: sound.

“I said at the time that we could probably scrap that idea right away,” Tusius, a project manager who led the sound project, told Waypoint. 

(Tusius is an in-game name. CipSoft told me it’s “cautious when it comes to real names.”)

There was no technical reason Tibia didn’t have sound, but once you’ve gone more than two decades doing something one way, why change it? And while Tibia isn’t exactly a household name the way World of Warcraft is, it’s been successful by staying true to its history, and long-running communities can be hostile towards change. 

“Both for the company and also for the player community,” said Tusius, “there have always been more important features that they wanted to see implemented. The longer the game worked well without sound, the more important other extensions became, and sound was also not missed as much.”

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And yet, the temptation was strong, specifically because it felt like a bit of a dare. Management within CipSoft was open to the idea of introducing sound, if the team working on the game was open to it, too. 

Tusius said the team started in a familiar place: looking at what fans were already doing. Much like reading a book and imaging what character voices might sound like, Tibia fans had already been spending their time experimenting with adding sound into Tibia’s world:

“Not meeting the players' expectations is a risk, of course,” said Tusius. “However, we specifically tried to minimize it by looking at fan projects during the early phase of development which tried to bring sound into Tibia, even if it was only in smaller clips. This allowed us to at least partly identify the ideas and expectations of the player base.”

One way to avoid pissing people off, of course, is to provide options. And while Tibia’s developers are adding music and sound to the game, players who prefer the game to stay quiet have the option to turn all sounds off. (It’s really common to watch videos of people playing Tibia to their own music.)

Another challenge for Tusius’ team was the sheer volume of content in front of them. Twenty-five years of game development also meant twenty-five years of items, weapons, worlds, and creatures, and they were trying to finish this ambitious project within the span of a single year. Not everything in this new world of Tibia sound will actually gain sound sentience, but a lot will.

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“When the extent of content and the manual effort required of adding sound to it became clear, we decided against the individual musical setting of content items. Instead, we focused on capturing the mood of the various areas,” Tusius said. “Each area features characteristic, finely-tuned ambience streams that are randomly generated to make sure they are never repeated.”

Some of that random generation includes seagulls chirping and craftsmen chatting. 

On the game’s official website, Tusius estimated it would’ve taken additional years of work to add sound to everything, and in some cases, like walking, it wouldn’t have even made logistical sense, because players are now walking so fast in Tibia that it would sound ridiculous in context.

One of the big milestones came in April, when a bunch of developers gathered together to listen to the sound effects layered into a massive battle for the very first time.

“We logged in dozens of players and monsters and let them all loose on each other,” said Tusius. “Swords clanged, arrows hissed, spells exploded. It was a sublime feeling and the feedback from everybody in the room was very positive at the time. We did not share the concern that the sound effects would prove too much in large battles. We could continue the path we had chosen!”

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On Monday, the developers unveiled the game’s new theme song on YouTube. People loved it.

“I shed a tear, this game will be forever in my blood,” wroteone player in the YouTube comments. “Hail Tibia!”

“Loved it Cip, thank you for this!” wrote another. “it excited me to tears. We love Tibia!”

It seems like the bet, however improbable it might’ve seemed a year ago, is paying off.

“We are all the happier to be able to retrofit sound into the game after 25 years,” said Tusius, “as a gift to the players and, of course, to ourselves.”


Follow Patrick on Twitter. His email is patrick.klepek@vice.com, and available privately on Signal (224-707-1561).