28 June, 2011

Unexploited Resource #5: Music

Looking through my old posts, I see a few ideas that really need re-addressing.

One of those is the "Unexploited Resource" series.

So to resume the concept, here's an idea I've been thinking about for a while. Music in games.

I remember a few years ago, actually it was the mid to late 1990s. It was the traditional "end of convention" trip to the pub...a common occurrence that still happens at Australian RPG conventions. A friend of mine was sharing an idea over a drink. He had recently placed a computer game in a regular CD player on a whim,and he found that the background tracks and theme music for the game were readable as music files on the CD player.

This game him a few key music loops that might have proven useful as introductory fanfares for specific NPCs, but more interestingly, the game included a heartbeat.

In the computer game, the heartbeat soundtrack sped up as the character became nervous, excited or stressed, and it slowed down when the character achieved a more peaceful state of mind.

The friend was discussing the idea of having this track on constant single-loop throughout a game, when player characters became more agitated in the game he'd ascend to the next track and loop through this, gradually getting faster with each track progression, or moving back through the looped tracks when things were calming down.

I don't know what game it was (I vaguely think it was something in the "Battletech" game line), I can't remember who suggested the idea, and I don't even know if the idea was put into practice.

What I do remember thinking was that the concept sounded awesome to me at the time. Especially if used in conjunction with other soundscaping ideas.

I did run in one convention game where a GM used music to great effect.

Vietnam War setting, so he used the movie soundtracks to "Apocalypse Now", "Good Morning Vietnam" and a few other great period songs to set the tone for the game.

In this way, music isn't really a way to mechanically change things up, instead it's a tool for characterisation and mood.

I ran an infamous Sabbat Game for White Wolf's Camarilla around 2002 (where I spent a bit too much hiring a pair of high-class strippers for the gamers...the strippers were more freaked outthan the gamers...but that's another story). In this game I went through my MP3 collection and picked as many death related songs as I could, gradually building up the intensity over the course of 3 hours. Then finishing off with the classic disco song "I Will Survive" for the ritual climax at the game's end.

A few people remarked on the song choices, most didn't even notice them, but it was a great way to add a bit more texture to the game, beyond the specific events occurring physically around the players.

I've been wanting to use music more in my games, and It's certainly something I've haven't seen used enough in a roleplaying context.

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