Creative Commons Music and Your Text Adventure
May 16th, 2011 by Ice Cream Jonsey

The game I am just about finished making couldn’t have existed without Creative Commons, and I’d like to take a sec to explain how it worked for me, and how it might benefit your game in the future.

I’d dabbled with music in my text games before. When I began to code A Crimson Spring, I found that Hugo allowed me to incorporate graphics, sound and music easily. I had played in a band in college, and had played tenor & baritone saxophone and, er, the oboe before college, so creating my own music for a game was possible. But difficult from the perspective of time as a resource. If I had the talent and ability to just whip out hours of appropriate music on the fly none of this would really be an issue, but I can’t do that.

I am a slow coder. This would be acceptable if I were also an extremely accurate coder, but that’s not really me either. I’ve become better over the last couple of years, because I’ve both taken the time to try to really understand Java and design patterns (which are fairly applicable in many ways to Hugo, honestly) and because I have had mentors at work that have explained concepts to me in ways that clicked. It took about a year to make A Crimson Spring, and in my experience in college, it takes several months for me to write, perform, record and mix original songs. I can do one, of writing code/making music, and still have some semblance of being productive, but not both. So I tried to find songs created by others that would fit.

I didn’t know about Creative Commons back then. Their website states that the licenses began to crystalize around 2001 and 2002, which was a couple years after I made ACS, so it wasn’t really available to me, although I’d bet there were similar methods of sharing content out there. I was brought into contact with the band URT, who generously allowed me to use a couple of their songs. Rybread Celsius and Ben Parrish did as well. This is great, except that it’s very slow going: you have to directly contact the artists, and there’s certainly no situation where you can take an evening to sip scotch (the official beverage of Hugo, everywhere) and listen to dozens, if not hundreds of songs, and find ones that fit.

In 2011, thanks to Creative Commons, I was able to listen to hundreds of songs and pick the ones that fit for my work in progress. As long as I released my game with a similar license, it was all cool. I was also able to be a bit more discerning in style — I wanted songs that had a minimum of vocals, as I have been told by players that listening to singing and reading the game text at the same time is less than ideal.

To that end, there are sites out there that are very helpful. FWONK is a music label that specializes in mostly vocal-free electronica. The Internet Archive was also extremely clutch. I was able to use a search term like “Blade Runner” or “Vangelis” or “Look Goddammit, I Want This Game To Sound Like Blade Runner” there and find songs that fit. CC Mixter has a wonderful search-by-tag mechanism in place. I had success with Soundcloud and 8bc as well.

(There is one bit about Creative Commons I don’t get, so perhaps I’ll do some more reading on the subject. It’s pretty much expected that computer programs release their source code. Pieces of music don’t need to have their sheet music posted anywhere and movies aren’t required to drop the raw footage on the web, but there’s been a couple instances where people are appalled that a CC-licensed game or application hasn’t done so. I don’t quite get it, but I haven’t actually read up on this fully either. Regardless, after a couple months to fix any bugs that I become aware of, I am going to release the full source of Cryptozookeeper to the IF Archive.)

There is one other thing about music that has nothing to do with Creative Commons — in ACS and Necrotic Drift, I was starting songs when players reached certain areas. If you got to a scene in less time than it took for the first song to play, the second would start over it. It was more typical that the song would end and there would be silence — the worst of both worlds! If a player likes to have music going on when playing text games, having it randomly start is an awful way to do it. In Cryptozookeeper, I wrote some code to check when a song should be finished, and play a new song when that happens, after the player moves again. This cuts down on silent space during gameplay. This is good news! For Hillary!

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