A soundtrack for a tabletop game -- composed as it's played

Great projects can only come from experimentation, and music has always been a strong part of the stories Silverstring Media tells -- from the soundtrack-accompanied fiction of Azrael's Stop to the mood-setting glitchy meditations of Glitchhikers. Today, the media company continues on that path with the launch of Volume II of its experimental soundtrack project The Edge.

Conceived by Silverstring's resident composer Devin Vibert, The Edge is a multi-volume soundtrack created to accompany a tabletop role-playing campaign that he runs. "Basically, we run a session, and in the next week or so I write music that is tied to the events of that day," he writes for Memory Insufficient. "We're into the second volume of music now, which over 33 songs (divided across two albums) documents my player's continuing adventures in a fantasy world of my creation." Once a week, Silverstring Media posts a single track from the album on YouTube, accompanied by a synopsis of the in-game events that occurred and some thoughts from Devin on the musical decisions he made. Meanwhile, the full albums are available to buy from Silverstring's website.

More than just a soundtrack for a game, The Edge is itself an experimental project. Through it, Devin explores the challenge of weaving leitmotifs into his compositions without knowing the entirety of the story he's telling -- how it will end, what will be important, or even who will survive to the end -- certainly a different process from most game scores.

He writes, "I see Volume I as an introduction: the players, the characters, and the music are all struggling to settle into a comfort zone. Volume II is the start of the meat of the adventure, and the music -- finally having figured out what it is supposed to be doing -- is beginning to sound awfully convincing."

Part 1 of Volume II launches today, with Track 1: Departure at Dawn published on Silverstring's YouTube channel, and the full album available to buy from their website. You can read Devin's full thoughts about the project at Memory Insufficient, and you can keep abreast of the latest news and updates by signing up to the Silverstring newsletter at silverstringmedia.com.

So Long and Thanks for All the Felix

This week, it is with a measure of sadness and joy that we wish our good friend Felix Kramer (@Legobutts on twitter) all the best as they leave the Silverstring team to move on to new ventures in new places.

In addition to being a great friend and champion of the company, Felix worked with us in the past on the PR and marketing for our projects. Now, they are moving on to exciting new projects elsewhere.

At the core of Silverstring Media is the creative partnership between Claris and Lucas, but we could not be successful without the hard work and extreme talent of many other awesome people who step in to work with us on different projects. Felix was one of those people, and we will forever be grateful for their help and contribution. Although the parting is sad, it's always nice to see those people move on to new opportunities, and we have full confidence that Felix will do great things in their new position.

Glitchhikers Interviews

In the months after releasing Glitchhikers, we saw a great deal of great critical reception, and are always seeing new people find the game and getting interested in it -- which is a great honour for us. We never thought it would have such a lasting impact.

Over the last few months we've even been asked to do a few interviews about Glitchhikers, and were happy to give a little more insight from our perspective into the design and creation of Glitchhikers, and what we hope people take from it.

Making Glitchhikers, A Short Drive on a Long Road, by Michael Rougeau for Animal New York

It began with a drive that the game’s artist and programmer, ceMelusine, had taken many times before. “I kind of go down to Washington state every year with my friend, and we always end up driving back up to Canada in the middle of the night, like overnight,” he described. “So one of these times we were driving back up and it was like 3 or 4am, we were driving on the highway, and there was a flickering streetlight on a road that was running parallel to the highway. And I was tired and kind of dazed and staring at it, and it seemed like a nice moment, so I sort of pitched this idea of a game that captured that feeling.”
“A big driving force for us creatively is in experimenting with form and function,” Lucas said. “I never want to “only” make games, I never want to be held back by someone’s definition of what a game is or can be, and I don’t particularly care to make the kinds of games everyone else makes. We’re constantly trying new things and pushing at the boundaries, with the only goal of making cool stuff. We also have a very strong commitment to creating diverse stories – furthering feminist and queer agendas especially.”
Were the random conversations the player can have with the hitch hikers in the car inspired by real conversations or were they created along with the game?

”I’ve actually had a conversation with a pregnant alien.”

Don't forget to check out Glitchhikers for yourself! glitchhikers.com

Critical Games Publication Memory Insufficient joining forces with Silverstring Media

Smart games criticism is a vital part of a healthy industry culture, and Silverstring Media is committing itself to helping keep it alive. That's why we're bringing Memory Insufficient, a critical games publication created by Zoya Street, under our umbrella. Street will take on a position as Editor-in-Chief of Silverstring’s new critical publishing arm immediately, with Volume 3 of Memory Insufficient launching on a new site in April 2015.

Memory Insufficient has been featured in New Inquiry and Critical Distance as an exemplary project in games writing, particularly for its focus on feminism and minority issues. Until now it has been a monthly PDF ezine collecting themed essays on the intersection between history and games. In April, volume 3 of Memory Insufficient will be launching on the Silverstring site as a new multi-format experience, designed to challenge established modes of reading and sharing content online, encouraging relaxed long-reads.

We are deeply committed to healthy and critical discussion of games, interactive experiences, art and culture of all sorts, and are hoping to help create a strong intellectual community for  game developers and creatives.

"I have long been interested in the analysis and criticism of videogames and other new media, especially approaching the endeavour as a creator" says Silverstring partner Claris Cyarron. "We, as an institution, are looking to help close the gap between creation and criticism, fostering more and deeper feedback between the act of 'reading' a work and the act of 'writing' one."

Zoya says: “I’m thrilled to bring games history into closer contact with game design practice. I founded Memory Insufficient two years ago in part because I had been reflecting on how designers in other fields benefit from critical and historical studies into their own craft. Today, there’s a growing body of critically-engaged game designers doing cutting-edge work. This partnership is another important step in that direction."

The launch of Volume 3 of Memory Insufficient will officially happen in April this year, but until then, the Silverstring team will be posting critical essays on our temporary Memory Insufficient blog, where you can also find our new publishing manifesto and official announcement. And remember, you can always keep abreast of the latest news and updates by signing up to the Silverstring newsletter!

Intent and Ideology

We're a relatively young company and although we've had some great successes over the past year and a half, our name is still not known by many in our industries. Recent events have thrust our company under a spotlight and we would like to take this opportunity to welcome you, new visitor, and tell you a bit about us, our goals, and our commitments.

Silverstring Media makes art. We are a game developer. We consult with other game devs to help them write better stories for their games, and we make our own games – like Glitchhikers (and everything on this page).

We're a small team, just a few people working together to make cool stuff and try to make a difference. We're proud of the team we've built, and the people on it are the best we can find. We've also been super fortunate to have the support of some amazing advisors. We're really proud of how far we've come in the last year, and we have lots, lots more that we want to accomplish.

The projects we tend to work on have two major goals: to support diversity in art, and to push the boundaries of what games can be and can do through experimentation.

We are a feminist company. We've said it before, but we believe that all people deserve to be represented in art, games, and media, and that too little out there does so. We will make stories about women and LGBT people and people of colour because it's important. Period.

And, as part of that, we want to help support the artistic, critical, and experimental communities in gaming (and in other forms of media), a culture in which innovative and meaningful works are made and are seen and are given the recognition they deserve. We also want to work to expand those communities, give them additional strength, flexibility, and diversity.

Part of working with a feminist ethos is working to create networks of support in the place of systems of oppression. We want to see people thrive by working together and standing in solidarity with each other, without demanding conformity and marketability in order to succeed. Nobody who wants to contribute to this network of support should be shut out from it.

To the controversy of the last couple weeks, there are a lot of issues involved that other people have written about far better than we could.

As usual, Critical Distance does a fantastic job of summarizing the story of the last couple of weeks.

But we specifically want to call out a few articles in particular:

The games industry is still wrestling with what it means to be art. How to recenter marginalized voices. How to encourage ethical practices while nurturing the close communities that allow creative work to thrive. This process will take time, but we are committed to constantly fighting for positive change in our communities, our culture, and our industry. We will never let ourselves back down from this cause.

We Interrupt this Broadcast...

Hello everyone!

We are thrilled to announce that Memory Insufficient editor Zoya Street has agreed to step onto our board of advisors. Effective immediately, Zoya will be offering Silverstring his immense academic expertise on games history, design history, and material culture studies. Additionally, we also expect Zoya's experience as a journalist covering free-to-play games, and his industry savvy as an analyst of changing business models will also prove invaluable.

We are so proud to be surrounded by such amazing thinkers, creators, and activists from a variety of fields. We look forward to the many ways Zoya is sure to improve our work.

The second announcement is also about Zoya -- quite a popular chap these days, isn't he?

Zoya needs your help! He is currently crowd-funding his next work of game design history: a book on the history of mobile games that begins in 1998, shortly after Snake was released on the Nokia 5110 (the first cell phone to feature a game), and goes until 2008, the year the App Store was launched.

Examining this period of time is critical to understanding how personal, portable devices have changed our culture, our societies, and our lives. We are extremely excited that Zoya, a thinker that we have a huge amount of respect for, is going to tackle this subject. Both of his previous books, Dreamcast Worlds (a design history of the Dreamcast console, and close reading of 3 seminal videogames), and Delay (an examination of energy mechanics, microtransactions, and immersion) were absolutely fantastic.

Zoya has been diligently updating his campaign with short interviews, insights, and essays, including this fantastic sneak-peek at the kind of examination he is looking to craft. We cannot encourage you enough to check out and support his campaign! It is so so important that we as a community support this kind of work.

Bombs, Silence, Building a Better Culture

Let us be plain for a moment. Silverstring Media is a feminist studio. We believe that women are entitled to equal opportunity, pay, consideration, and respect in the gaming community, and everywhere else. We believe that women have the right to control their own bodies, and their own lives. We believe that people of color are still at the mercy of systems, institutions, and architectures that are inherently set against them, and we are committed to challenging this institutional and structural racism and sexism whenever we see it, and whenever we can. We believe that people of any and every sexual orientation are entitled to have their choices and identities respected, and they will always have our support. We believe that trans* and genderqueer people also deserve to have their identity, their bodies, their experiences, and their existence respected and acknowledged, and we pledge to do just that.

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Ultra Chill Driving Simulator 2014

Glitchhikers was supposed to take about two weeks to complete. Or at least, that's what I initially told Lucas and Andrew. Instead it turned into the longest project I've completed outside of my day job as a mobile developer. Some of it was difficult. Some of it was downright painful. Most of it was the best experience I've had working on a game. What follows is the closest I can come to writing a design post-mortem.

 

Night

It's a dark September night and I'm sitting in a dingy bar underneath an old hotel. There are red curtains on the walls, an over-abundance of PBR on the tables and I'm having a truly bizarre night. The band onstage is good. Really good. It's the kind of show where you can tell their putting everything they have out there for the audience. But some malaise has struck, and my partner, my sister and I aren't out on the floor where we would normally be when watching a really good show. We are all sulking at the back. Some spirit has hijacked our evening. We sit there until well past midnight, until the show is over and the bar is closing. No one seems to want to talk about it until we are outside, waiting for the bus home. We never exactly figure it out.

 

It's a month earlier. Late August, not even a full year ago, and I'm sitting in a restaurant across from Andrew and Lucas. I'm trying to subtly convince them to play a game I've just made for a three week long slow jam. The game is pretty simple, all things considered, but it had ended up being a stupid amount of work. I'd elected to do the whole thing by myself after a bad experience with a programmer during some off hours game development earlier in the year; an experience I still hadn't fully recovered from. Only a few weeks before this restaurant meeting, I'd had a minor panic attack on my way to a game jam. Still, I'm feeling like I need to make some connections again. Andrew makes a comment about my game's colour palette. Lucas asks me what he describes as "a blunt question". They seem cool. We decide to work together on something.

 

It's ɫʉʡʮɟȻ and I'm lost in a dream. It's very dark and although I can see and hear the heavy rain coming down all around me, I can't feel it. Something is moving in the sky, but I can't look up. I'm too busy trying to figure out what all these weird bubbles in the mud are meant to signify. Maybe they are footprints? They certainly seem to be arranged like them. But why do they puff out, instead of caving in. For some reason, I become convinced that they are moving around. Is there something alive under there? The mud stops mattering a moment later when I realize that there is a figure standing before me. It says something horrifying that I'll try, and fail, to remember later. In my dream, I try to call out, but something is choking me. I wake up screaming.

 

Day

It's October and there is a game stuck in my head. I remember noticing this game. I remember playing it. I do not remember how or when it came to be riding along with me. I'm not sure when it started talking to me, questioning me. I won't be able to shake it for a while--let alone, understand what I find so compelling about it. Not until it's November and a friend starts talking to me about it. It doesn't matter though. The game has done its work, whether I know it or not. A new path, an empty highway, has been opened for me. A path that leads tantalizingly away from the set of dull gray rules that I'd been following obliviously for longer than I care to remember. I don't know it yet, but I've been freed.

 

It's sundown, a few years earlier. I'm sitting in the passenger seat of my friend's car as we zoom down the back roads in the middle of Washington state, trying to get to the highway ahead of the rush of cars that are also exiting the field we've been camping in for the last three days. We'd all gone to a big music festival together for the first time since we met in the crappy dorms at UBC. We'd had fun, but the combination of three days of sun, drinking and little sleep has left us all pretty quiet. The driver turns on the radio, possibly just to undercut the silence we've been sitting in. I hear the words "Roll credits..." from the back seat. It's a corny moment, but also a really nice one. A symbol that ties us together and ties the trip to a close. It's the kind of thing that'll stick with me for a long time.

 

It's May again, and I'm walking across the Cambie Street bridge with Andrew. We've got a pretty good view of the downtown and an even better view of the giant glass sphere that stands over False Creek. Glitchhikers comes out tomorrow and I'm in limbo. I've been busting my ass on the game for weeks but there's finally nothing left to do except wait. The problem, of course, is that I'm impatient, and lacking work has left me with nothing to do but be anxious about whether people will even want to play it. Fortunately Andrew is doing a good job of assuaging my anxiety. We talk about what roads we want to travel next. We talk about where Glitchhikers has taken us, both personally and professionally. We talk about how I've only known Lucas and him for just under a year. We talk about how this seems like an impossibly short time to us given the connection we've all made. After a while, I tell him I don't know what to write about. He tells me to write about the conversation we've just had. It seems like sound advice.

 

Things Betwixt

It's late at night and I'm driving down the I-90 towards Seattle with a good friend by my side. Or maybe its Highway 1 and I'm weaving through the Rockies at the end of summer. Or maybe I'm just hallucinating in front of my computer. Or maybe I'm dreaming. Or maybe I'm staring up at the night sky from on top buildings, or in the middle of a field somewhere. Wherever I am, the moon is bright and I can just make out the faint sound of music calling me forward. It's a nice night for a drive.


 

Klef and Global Game Jam '14

klef screenshot 1.png

Last weekend was the 6th annual Global Game Jam, the largest game jam in the world, in which over 20,000 people all over the globe simultaneously made games over the course of (less than) 48 hours. This year was the biggest yet, and over 4000 games were made in one weekend.

Well, not quite. Maybe next year?

Well, not quite. Maybe next year?

And as our 3rd ever game jam, Andrew, Devin and I participated by putting together a little puzzle game called Klef, with help from Jesse Davidge, William Busby, Jeff Herron, and the voice talent of Jacob Burgess.

Andrew and I wanted to do something a little different this time. Both of our previous game jam games were very narrative-based -- and generally, we’re a very narrative-based company (I am, after all, primarily a writer). But Andrew’s an architect, and we decided we wanted to try something more on that end of things this time, something a little more spatial, a bit more mechanical.

Originally we were thinking something along the lines of Andrew’s recent interest in collapsed/projected space -- the currently in-vogue idea that the crazy complex 10-dimensional universe we live in is “holographically projected” from a “simpler” 1-dimensional set of rules and relationships. (Before he studied architecture, Andrew was a student of theoretical physics.) We sought to maybe simplify that and make a game where you’re trying to manipulate things in a 3D world by moving around objects in a 2D or 1D world. Part of the challenge would be figuring out how exactly the “collapsed” world affects the 3D world.

But we didn’t quite know enough about it all to come up with a really solid concept, we were afraid it wouldn’t actually be fun to play, and also we didn’t have enough Unity experience to think we could pull it off. Which is when I hit on another idea -- what if, instead of manipulating a 2D world to change a 3D world, you manipulate something else entirely? Like sound.

Thus the concept for Klef was born. It’s like a game where you first input a string of musical instructions, and then hit “play” and see how it plays out -- and then alter those instructions as necessary. But instead of one instruction being “go up”, the “instructions” are just audio clips. And you have to figure out what audio clips do what to your character. (In this case, for example, a flute playing a C and then playing the D above that will make your character go up!)

You then use these musical pieces to navigate your way across a variety of levels -- and with the variety of musical fragments we give you, and the uniform musical theory behind why certain bits of music do what, the game isn’t just about solving the puzzles and getting to the next level. It also gives the player the opportunity to actually compose music, to create a phrase of song that sounds good. (We ensure it will sound good by keeping everything in the same key and using the pentatonic scale.)

With Klef, I think we realized that the concept certainly does have legs, and with the right UI and playtesting, opens itself to endless possibilities in music, puzzle-making, and design. And we might even go there at some point.

You can play Klef for yourself now, by heading to our GGJ game page.

This was Silverstring's first time participating in a Global Game Jam. It was amazing to be in the same room with so many jammers, and the fact that there were dozens of other sites really made us feel connected to the worldwide effort of game creation!

We love game jams because they give us an opportunity to experiment with ideas and concepts that we might not ever try otherwise, and they give us an excuse to do things normally outside our comfort zones, both technically and creatively. We go into game jams with the goal of answering a question for ourselves -- will this concept be fun? Does it need to be fun? Can we pull this off? How can we best accomplish this? Answering those burning questions is the primary objective; having a game to play at the end is a bonus!

Thanks a whole bundle to Vancouver’s own Kim Voll and the entire Global Game Jam team for putting together an amazing event. We can’t wait for next year.

- Lucas

Experiment: The Edge

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Today's post comes to us from our Musical Director, Devin Vibert, who is launching a new experiment called The Edge!

Devin Small.png

About ten months ago I started up a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign with some friends. It was an interesting mix of people; some of us were veterans of the game and others had never seen an icosahedral die before in their lives.

As the players drew close to completing their first adventure together, I thought it would be a neat idea to reward them by creating a couple of songs thematically tied to their adventures. It originally started as four songs, but I quickly realized keeping a record of their adventures in music had the potential to be something more than a small token for the players.

In my experience with roleplaying games, I'm usually having so much fun that when the game concludes I feel the equivalent of a book hangover: that feeling of longing where you want nothing more than to go back to that world and devour more content. Writing music to go along with their adventures, then, seemed like a way to give the players what I never had - something to hold on to once the in-game events had concluded.

My intention is to have the music serve as 1) something that immortalizes the player's actions in a very tangible way, 2) legitimizes what has already occurred in-game, and 3) acts as a mood-setter for whatever is yet to come. I think a piece of music can help a player develop an emotional attachment to a game or campaign (serious or goofy or otherwise) that might not otherwise have existed. I also believe that in time it can give a player even more positive reinforcement when they make a positive impact in-game - "I did that, that part in the music is because of me." And really, if the players are happy, they're having fun, and if they're having fun ... mission accomplished.

It has also been a challenge at times. On several occasions I have been punished twofold - both as a musician and a GM - when I made the mistake of planning too far ahead of the players. I expected events to transpire a certain way, became excited about the prospects, and then made the horrid mistake of writing a song before the event had actually happened. Invariably the party would do something I'd never anticipated, and then a song would be rendered completely irrelevant. Most of those rogue songs were deleted immediately out of sheer disappointment, but I've kept one or two which serve as a harsh reminder that it's not my story, it's their story.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this experiment is that I am attempting to write the soundtrack to a story without knowing how it ends. I can't sneak in hints of what's to come into the music because I haven't a clue what's to come. I mean, I certainly have vague ideas of where the party will be in a few sessions, and there is an overriding plot that I hope will be realized, but beyond that, I'm forced to write about the here and now. My hope is that as the characters change, mature, and settle into a comfortable role, the songs will follow suit, and at the end of it all the music will evolve in an organic manner that no composer could ever have duplicated if they'd known the fate of the adventuring party beforehand.

So, I welcome you to join me on this musical adventure. I don't know how it ends, and neither does the party, but at least when all is said and done, there will be a great tale to tell, both in-game and out!

- Devin

Check out the first entry below, then subscribe to our videos here or buy the whole first volume here!