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!

Actors in Text Games, Part One
Jun 24th, 2008 by Ice Cream Jonsey

When I made A Crimson Spring, I was learning a new IF programming language, drawing comic book-style art after a lengthy layoff, getting music integrated, and displaying graphics. I didn’t have nearly enough time to get all that stuff presented professionally before the 2000 Competition deadline.

So when it was time to make the next game, I decided to use actors and eliminate music. I had learned how to use Photoshop a few years earlier when I was working as a printer driver tester at Xerox. I was just basically hitting a print icon over and over, so there was, ah, a lot of downtime.  I knew I wanted the graphics to reflect the distorted reality of the protagonist (Delarion Yar, in the game Fallacy of Dawn) and the effects that Photoshop came with were pretty good for this goal.

I did not have a digital camera in 2000. I bought a scanner for A Crimson Spring and that was the extent of how futuristic I felt like getting, so for FoD, I just used a regular 35mm camera for photos. It was about December of 2000 when I started taking pictures, and it was snowing, so that is why Fallacy of Dawn is set in the winter. (The game’s design doc says that it takes place on December 26th, 2014, a Friday. I think I picked that day and then forgot about it while developing, since nobody asks anyone else what they got for Christmas. Presumably because nobody cares enough to give presents? An unintended side effect of a dystopian future!)

But I also needed someone to play Delarion, someone who I saw all the time and who would put up with the enormous hassle of being told things like, “wear this shirt and sometimes hold a fake, orange gun up to the camera.” This person became my brother Michael, since I was living with him at the time in Fort Collins.

It actually annoyed the hell out of him, too. But he was also very, very patient with me, and very forgiving. The shirt I used was a Cafe Press-printed, long-sleeved shirt with an “Old Man Murray” logo on the front. The cut of the thing is just crazy, quite billowy, and it really does seem more like pajamas than anything else. To this day I am not 100% certain that my brother knows what the game was about. But with someone you are very familiar with, it’s pretty easy to set up scenes and go on location and get the shots you need.

I also enlisted the help of several friends that dropped by our townhouse. It has been my experience that people are glad to help you the first time you ask them to act in a video game, the trick is to just not make it take multiple sessions, where you are dragging them back and making the process tedious. This is somewhat problematic due to how I put together the plot for my games – I essentially have an outline of the various scenes, and the bare minimum of what needs to be said or communicated to advance the plot. I leave myself a lot of room for how the scene develops, because I can’t stand looking at a batch of strict requirements and then having to creatively write to it. So with IF, I just jot stuff down like, “at the end, the player must have a piece of paper that says THIS IS A CLUE.” I try to develop a couple ways (at least for my current work-in-progress) for the player to arrive there. Of course, I find that 90% choose the same way when there are options, but what the heck.

Anyway, this does sort of leave game photos and the state of the plot at odds. It’s difficult to tell a potential actor that you want them to investigate a dead body in a very specific way, weep openly at someone very close to the PC dying, and to then eat some Ice Cream Cones cereal… when the programmer only has “FRIEND DIES, FUNERAL IS ONE WHERE YOU EAT AT” written down in his design document. Oh, and the friend hasn’t been cast yet.

So I try to take lots of shots of locations – those are easy to get, easy to manipulate, and you do not have to worry about someone looking fat when it’s just a brick wall with a mud splatter on it.  There is also a fine tradition of first person shooters giving you a first-person perspective of the action.

I have many more friends that live outside of Colorado than within, so this also has me writing text files for potential actors and actresses, with the best approximation of scene descriptions at a given time. The longer I wait to send those out, the more in-step the pictures are with the game, but when I close out a given room, I like to have the pictures completely taken care of. I find that my memory gets poor the longer I am away from a room or scene, so I am somewhat reluctant to go back and integrate a late batch of pics. It’s a juggling act, I guess.

I did finally get a digital camera. Well, Dayna has one, so I just borrow hers. It’s nice, it shoots up to something like 2,000 pixels by 2,000 pixels. While I eventually bring the graphics down to a 600 pixel-wide rectangle, I need a lot of source material to get the effects right. But while in Vegas last year I had a chance to take some photos with Jason Scott’s freaking uber-camera, while shooting Jon Blask for the next game. That was an absolutely amazing piece of modern technology. The difference between our Canon A60 and that was much more dramatic than I had thought. Which is a bit unfortunate, as I really, truly do not need to add photography to the list of hobbies and interests I have going. I totally can’t EVEN afford to, and I am sure I will convince myself that it’s “just one camera, that’s just one thing!!” before I tackle the next graphical adventure, because I have unbelievably poor impulse control and a crippling case of the gimmie-gimmies.

OK, for part two I will try to link some specifics between what I scribbled down in a game’s design doc, and the actual photo taken.  

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