Firing Squad with Benjamin Loomes of Syrinscape

March 2014’s RPG Blog Carnival is focusing on Virtual TableTops and Online Gaming. I invited VTT creators to chat with me briefly about the state of VTTs, and what’s the future of online RPGs.

This evening I sat down for a brief chat with +Benjamin Loomes, lead developer of Syrinscape, a program that enables playing thematic background sounds and music to enhance the tabletop roleplaying experience. We spoke for a bit less than an hour, and he gave me a pretty detailed walk-through of the program. We spoke about Pathfinder-native content, as well as more generic sounds.


In any case, here’s the interview!
Text Transcript
Douglas Cole (Gaming Ballistic): Good evening and welcome to Gaming Ballistic’s Firing
Squad. This evening we welcome Benjamin Loomes – who is from Syrinscape – which
was designed to create background sound and music for in-person tabletop
gaming.
That being said, this is
part of a continuing series of interviews for the March Roleplaying Game Blog
Association Blog Carnival. Whose topic is virtual tabletops, online gaming, or
computer enhanced role-playing.
So Benjamin thanks for
joining us this evening.
Benjamin Loomes (Syrinscape Creator): It’s a pleasure. It’s fun. It’s the middle of the day
in sunny Sydney here.
Doug: And
coming on 10 o’clock PM here in Minnesota, where it freaking snowed again here
today! Come on, really?! This is just uncalled for, even for Minnesota.
So just broadly, before we
get deeply into Syrinscape, talk a little bit about how you got into
role-playing. Clearly your interest in music stuff for the game comes from love
of the game.
What got you into
role-playing and what current games do you play?

Benjamin:
Yes. Cool. So in about 1980 or something – it must have been a bit later than
that – when I was about 10, yeah it must have been later than that. It’s back
in the distant past.
I was 10 years old on a
camping holiday on Smith’s lake, which is above Sydney, and my parents gave me
the red box, the original red box, with the crayon that colored in the numbers
on the dice (and you wiped it off).  And
you went on a little self adventure with the cleric, who you got friends with,
and she healed you, and she died and all that stuff.
So I read that red box and
it totally blew my mind. I just really fell in love with the whole fantasy
genre obviously. I read lots of stuff, I read lord of the rings when I was
young. I’m still a bit of a sci-fi and fantasy tragic: Star Trek or Lord of the
Rings or Star Wars obviously, anything, just give it to me!
So I started playing when
I was about ten, I played as teenager, not a lot of incredibly immerse
role-playing when I was a teenager, lots of dice rolling and collecting massive
amounts of gold pieces off dragons and stuff.
And then I probably took a
bit of a break from role-playing while life took over, and Uni and all that
stuff. Maybe from 16 or 17.
Late 20s I got back into
it, just when 3.5 starting coming out – which is really great, and I fell in
love with that.
Since then we built up my
gaming group with a bunch of really creative people. I’m a composer and
classical singer and musician, so I’m surrounded by actors and directors and
writers – so we got a fantastic gaming group.
Now we play incredibly
emotional and story-driven epic role-playing games, whether it be Star Wars or
Pathfinder – we play lots of Pathfinder – Call of Cthulhu, all that stuff.
Amazing activity.
I love role-playing
because of the social aspects, sitting around the table, looking at each other,
laughing at each other, being stupid, telling those big epic stories.
Does that answer your
question?
Doug: It
does.
It’s funny you mention. .
. I had forgotten about the crayon – because I have a similar role-playing
history to you. I started with Dungeons and Dragons, actually, technically it
was probably Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, because I played with a friend.
Again, it was 1980 or 1981,
I was ten, I asked for it for Christmas. I think my parents got me the red box
and the blue box, the basic and expert set.
I remember sitting down
with my father, the one time he ever
played. “Here’s all the characters you can do and you got this. . . ” and he
goes “I want to be elf.” And I didn’t know that he was fairly voracious
consumer of the Tolkien books. I think that they got thrown away, but I had a really early edition of Hobbit and Lord
of the Rings paperback. Probably you know one of the first couple with the very
odd sketchy cover that was really interesting.
Benjamin:
From what I read I remember a brownie cover which was very cool.
Doug: yes.
Exactly. So I played and whatever, but it sounds like you got a interesting
game going.
I also heard of this thing
called “The Dicestormers” to bring role-playing games to anyone who wants to
watch. Tell me a little bit about Dicestormers.
Benjamin:
Yeah, so about 18 months ago, our gaming group – who are pretty much stagey
people whether we are salesmen or composers or directors or whatever. We just
grabbed a couple of cameras for a lark and filmed our games.
The first one we filmed was
Star Wars d6 and put it up on YouTube. It just got heaps of views, and then
straight away they started commenting and demanding more content.
And we’ve just stick the
cameras up whenever we play now, we got more cool stuff, we have four cameras
generally and a really good audio recorder, and we edit the games after.
I have a fantastic set up
at home where I have a projector that projects – a normal theater projector –
but we stick a mirror up on the roof, and it bounces the maps back on the
table. And we’ve now got 3D maps, because we have little white blocks built up
on the table, because it actually projects the cover on the top of this 3D
terrain.
Doug: Oh,
wow.
Benjamin:
And yes, we’ve been videoing. . . and it’s just gone bananas there are so many
people watching, there is about 10x people watching as minutes that go past.
For every minute that goes past this interview, 10 people are watching a minute’s
worth of video.
And we’re getting about
30,000 views a month now, and what’s fantastic about the game community is real
connectedness right across the world, people are always commenting on a videos,
and encouraging us, and picking up rules violations, and asking for more stuff.
This incredible community
has grown around us. Dicestormers, all one word if you search on YouTube, you
can’t miss us.
We’re coming up really
high: if you search for Pathfinder RPG, I think we’re like the second hit from
the top or something.
As you said it’s. . . we
almost feel like you’re modeling one of the ways you can role-play. Quite
cinematic. Quite epic. Really storytelling focused. Lots of dice and all that
stuff. Lots of stuff happens, and lots big successes and epic fails.
I feel like a lot of young
players are looking at us and saying “Wow, I’m really learning from you. Which
is really cool, and quite humbling as well. It’s such an amazing hobby,
anything we can do to make it stronger and better is good for us.
Doug: I
agree. It’s not just good for the hobby, and the more people that play and more
immersive and – popular is the wrong word – but the more people play, the more
easier it’s going to be to have the market base to have innovation within it.
If there s enough market
out there so that someone can try something, and do well enough to encourage
them to try again, you can get enough failures to get the real successes out
there. You got to try stuff: very few people are going to walk into the first game
mastering experience – sometimes even their first roleplaying experience – and
are going to go “I am a natural game master and everything I do is soaked in
awesome, all the time.”
[Benjamin laughs] You have
to have the epic fail out there as the game master, where you have six people out
there looking at you like this [mimes disbelieving look]. “What just happened?
You really want us to do that? No?”
Benjamin: We
get those on our channel, people get to see us making actual genuine mistakes.
There is a classic moment
in one of our games recently – where we actually played four games in a row on
the international tabletop roleplaying game day theme and I was GMing at like 12:30 am in the middle of the night – and
I had this remorhaz miniature, and I was like “You come over the hill, and
there’s a remorhaz there . . . and it attacks you.”
And I’m like “Oh, that
wasn’t very a. . . maybe it wasn’t there . . . can I take it off the table?”
Everyone was laughing and
laughing, it was the worst set-up for a non-dramatic battle that you could have
possibly have wanted.
So people get to see us
play, warts and all which is really cool as well.
Doug: Tell
me a little bit about. . . so you’ve got your projector, and you flash it up,
and you got this really cool set up, and that’s neat for a face to face game – but
to what extent do you use computer aids to enhance your tabletop games?
Obviously, you’re
broadcasting over the Internet, so there is something going around there with
computers – even if it’s just a proxy for a pair of eyeballs, or a audience.
What. . . do you think
that’s going to be core to the future gaming experience or do you think it’s just
kind of temporary?
Benjamin: I
think. . . apart from Syrinscape, which we’ll talk about, with the whole audio
thing which is totally computer-based.
For me, sitting at the
table, the ability to search rules and . . .  let’s go back a step actually.
In preparation I’m using a
computer lots. I’m brewing up an individual description of a monster, or had a
template applied to it. I can print out individual sheets of all my counters
all ready to go from the computer. I can bring up a rule clarification really
really fast, and that makes a big difference.
One of the things that filming
our games for the public has done is those dead spots, flat spots. I’ll look
through the book a while, and try and find the rule – no one is going to want
to watch that. The ability to do text searches on games is really fantastic,
and that’s totally computer-based, Internet-based.
The sharing of ideas
across a social media community helps us. People are pushing for what they
think might be cool, or they’re suggesting things, and it’s actually – our
gaming group has become a worldwide interaction, with everyone out there
contributing in their own way, which is really cool, and that’s totally
dependent on computers as well.
Doug: More
broadly, what do you think that that means for the roleplaying game industry –
the content creators, the marketing, or dice manufacturers? I don’t know.
Whatever.
As far as an industry, you
got the game guys, but do you think there is a lot of room for a healthy cloud
– to use an overused word – or peripheral support pieces, as a part of the
gaming industry?
Benjamin:
From the very top, for a starter, it was Paizo who really got into the whole
beta test online, actually directly starting a conversation with users, rather
than delivering what the user was supposed to like, and it would be the next
thing for them to take.
Paizo really asked the
users, and extended beta test on that Pathfinder game, and developed a
community around themselves – and they basically do that every time they
release a book. They’re not just doing a pretend beta test – it certainly
appears genuine, and the ideas of the users and the community get incorporated
into their new books.
Then going to the actual
question, the thing with PDF you can publish a book or gaming content
incredibly cheaply. I’ve bought and paid for cards, printed out, of all the
monsters you can summon.
Which is fantastic,
because I barely used to summon things because it’s a pain in the butt.
Especially if you’re playing a celestial template, or augmented template, or
whatever, and I can support a tiny little publisher who went and set all of
that out correctly using the OGL – and I can give them money for the work
they’ve done.
Then you’ve got publishers
publishing physical gaming aids, like spell cards, which are fantastic, and I
used for a long time . . . plus you got apps. Most of my guys, now, when they
are casters, they got a little app on their phone that brings up all the spell
details.
Yeah, there is a whole big
set of companies that now can survive. From the very top ones, who are using
all those online things, and smaller and smaller companies who are able to do
it on a hobby basis to support it on the costs they got.
And I think that’s really
exciting and it gives us more great stuff to play with.
Doug: It
does seem a little bit that the key to that is some kind of – whether its open
gaming or a system resource dictionary – it’s some amount of content that’s out
there for anybody to use, reuse, repackage and make some money of off it in a
unique way, without bringing the holy wrath of Paizo or Wizards of the Coast,
or someone, down on them.
Benjamin: And
that was the genius of the d20 system and that whole open gaming license, which
just happened to be when I came back to gaming, and I think that’s lucky for me
and wonderful – and that’s what Paizo, obviously forced into the situation, had
to then develop a game within that system.
There is obviously a big
crossover from people who had the concept of the OGL originally, and those
people who were in Paizo when they lost the magazines and all that stuff, so
it’s a logical continuum for them, and a gaming industry philosophy for them.
But I think it really is
the way of the future, and it’ll be interesting to see what happens with D&D
Next. They’ve tried to do public trials of their rules and everything, and got
some big decisions from what they do then release-wise. That’ll be really
interesting to watch and how they sort of structure their business.
Doug: Yeah,
I was impressed. I’ve obviously been playtest leader for a couple of GURPS
books, and those playtests are like . . . my book was I think twelve people.
Tactical Shooting was twelve or fifteen. High-Tech was maybe a few more. I’ve
been participating in other Steve Jackson Games playtests where you got about a
dozen or maybe two dozen in the past playtests, but not many, and I guess that D&D
Next or 5th edition – which is “Dungeons and Dragons” I guess is
what they’ll call it – had a quarter million people or something like that.
I’d be very interested to
hear their impressions, afterwards, of the signal-to-noise ratio for a playtest
that was that broad.
Benjamin:
[laughs] Yeah. We say on our website that Syrinscape is developed as part of a
community, the only reason it exists is because people demanded it, and
demonstrated a desire for it to go from the next level as the little thing that
it was that I had – that was a homebrew kind of thing.
The market created its own
market research, and its own clear stats about how many people were probably
interested in using it, and that helped me get the funding and financial
backing to develop Syrinscape to the next level.
It really is a user-demanded
system, and because people are so engaged in this community, they will
criticize, or complain, or write, or encourage – especially encourage. I’ve
found 95% of incredibly positive, encouraging, thankful, and grateful comments.
Every single day I’m waking up to more people thanking me for making Syrinscape,
and what it does and what I’m adding to people’s table, and it basically
motivates.
Doug: I was
going to say that’s a perfect segue: what is Syrinscape? What’s it do, and why
would you write it?
Benjamin:
That’s right, as I said earlier, I’m a musician and composer, and I love
computer games with their big thundering scores, and all their roars and sounds
like that.
We all know that if you to
a movie and turn off the sound, then the noodle kind of drains out of the
noodle.
I’ve seen things where you
put different soundtracks behind the same footage, and you can completely
change the interpretation. Someone is cutting up carrots in the kitchen, and
there is nice happy music, then you think “It’s nice happy carrot cutting
music” or if you put a spooky sound behind you, the imagination immediately
paints this monster creeping up behind them, or stab them, or eat their ankles,
or something like that.
I was playing this tabletop
roleplaying game, sitting at the table, and there is no soundtrack at all,
obviously. And lots of people have done what I did, which was to start to use
computer game soundtracks that I was stealing, ripping off the games I own, or
using movie soundtracks.
And they’re pretty good,
but a lot of these soundtracks have really strong associations with particular
plot points, and I was finding the wrong music coming at the wrong time, or it
was evoking. . .  You can’t be putting on
Lord of the Rings soundtracks without being there in Hobbiton with the actual
hobbits. Are we Aragorn or are we something else?
Movie soundtracks are
written specifically, and they have rises and falls. That was working
reasonably well, so what I started doing was making 10 minute audio tracks,
which actually a lot of people are doing on Kickstarter now, where you got ten
minutes of environmental noise sort of going on, maybe with a wind loop behind
it or maybe a music track.
We found really quickly,
because you might spend an hour in a particular environment discussing the way
you’re going to skin the goblin you just killed, or whatever. You start to
notice patterns really quickly, and I was actually surprised, but if you get a
sort of [mimes bird and monster noises]. Once you’ve heard that five times in a
row you start to notice it and it starts to pull away from the table.
That’s what we are
designed to do. Human beings are designed to notice patterns. That’s really
important for our survival, and we’re really good at it.
So I sort of extended the
passages, and I was mixing them out on a sequencer, Q-bass, so I made them 20
minutes. But that becomes a lot of work, and then you still notice the patterns
pretty much.
So I started looking
around for something that would do generative sound playback of samples. There
were a few products, some of them written in the past, but a lot of them were
abandoned, or weren’t flexible enough, the sound was dodgy, a lot of them were
too dense.
You put in a wolf and it
pretty much goes “Woof! [pause] Woof! [pause] Woof!” and you’re like “Ah!
Stop.”
Not being able to find
anything else, I’d done a bit of programming in the past, and I found a
programming language that seemed appropriate, and programmed my dodgy, home
version that would do something like what it did.
So of course, because it
was an online world, and I lived in a community, I just shared it. And the
reaction was just amazing, and so strong, and people really really liked it.
I haven’t really explained
how it works. The reason why Syrinscape works well is, what it does . . . take an
element, okay. In fact, should I show you this on the actual interface?
Doug: Sure!
Go ahead. Yeah.
Benjamin: This
is Syrinscape in a bar fight, and I need to turn the volume up so I can hear
it..

A lot of the way this
works is that things are subtle: I’ll use this one, [the sound of breaking
glass can be heard].
What it will do, this
smashing glass element, will just play a sound every now and then, it picks up.
I’ve got a whole lot of samples in there of various different smashes, you need
kind of about 10 or 20 [laughs, more smashing noises], and as it plays back
it’ll actually pick up one of those sounds, it’ll pick up one of those sounds,
put it out in the 3D spectrum in surround sound, at a randomized distance that
I can set up, and it will play that sound.
That little element will
sit there playing, and you can turn on grunts and shouts as well, and it will
just sit there playing. All of these elements add up, eventually, to what you’d
have in a movie as sound design.
If there is a bar fight
going on: You might have someone whimpering under a table, you might have the
sound of people chatting, so that’s all the elements of the sound design. They
are all completely dynamic. All completely randomized, you’ll never hear the
same sound twice and it will just keep going and going and going.
Now you don’t have to turn
those on and set all those. So over here, on the second panel, are presets, and
it will set up this mixer where sliders are moving.
The music will start in a
certain place, and it will just play the fantastic sound of a bar fight in the
background, until you are satisfied.
On the right hand side
you’ve got one shot sounds, which sounds you can actually set off on a sound
board, like this sound [makes a dull thump], which are all punches sounds. Or
this one, which I like of course: The Wilhelm Scream, which every game
absolutely needs.
There are a lot of spells
here. But the main point of Syrinscape is. . . let’s say you’re in the
Witchwood . . . you just click that,
that’s all the clicking you have to do. Syrinscape will just slowly transition
though, and everyone can try this. It’s free to download and everyone can play
with the top two sound sets.
It’ll just sit there and
keep playing, and every now and then a distant roar or growl or whatever. It
won’t fill up the whole room with lots and lots of sounds, but just be really
really subtle.
So we’re about to have a
bugbear battle, so we click on the bugbear battle sound set. And then suddenly
we’re in a battle and the music will play, there we go, that’s a bit louder.
It’ll just sit there as well, you don’t have to do anything, you don’t have to
touch it. I really don’t want to take any attention away from the games or the
players.
Let’s say we’re in a
spaceship, we’re bringing out [space lasers and ships can be heard in the
background]. That’s cool. I don’t know how that’s coming through the speakers,
but it’s coming through over here.
Doug: It
sounds vaguely Star Wars-y.
Benjamin:
You can have thunderstorms, all sorts of stuff like that. Does that make sense?
Doug: It
does. It’s something where you’ll do a couple of presets, or pick some presets
that someone has done for you, and it creates some background ambiance to help
set the mood.
Benjamin:
That’s right. It just runs in the background, and is putting on that movie
soundtrack.
The music that you get,
which plays every now and then, and all the background wind, which is kind of a
continuous bed of sound, and also those individual events that occur every now
and again like distant roars, or wolf howls, or crash of thunder, or goblins in
the distance, smashing stuff up, or whatever you need.
So that’s it. That’s
Syrinscape, it’s available on PC, Mac, and Android tablets and iPads as well,
so people can try it out on all those devices.
Doug: That’s
pretty cool. So I was wondering, in terms of the overall theme of what we’re
talking about this month, do you see a web-based or client-based version of
this in the future?
Benjamin: So
yes, we built it in the unity engine – it can work in a whole lot of different
contexts, there is a web-browser version, we’ve had a lot of people telling us
lately that we should be integrating it with the online gaming systems, because
there are some solutions. . . Roll20 for instance you can play tracks off Soundcloud
and stuff like that.
They’ve sort of got a free
player kind of thing, with integration of premium content in their business
model. This is the same sort of thing.
You download the player
for free to run within a few games, and if you want to buy more stuff on top of
that, you can do that. Integration into one of these devices makes a lot of
sense in the future.
At the moment it is built
primarily for my tabletop game, but it makes absolute sense online. You have it
on a tablet and you can feed it through a mixer.
Doug: Sure.
It just seems like it would be almost a perfect – and we’re talking in Google
Hangouts on Air, and Roll20 integrates perfectly with Google Hangouts, and it
seems like this would be a fairly straight forward inclusion into a Hangout
environment.
Benjamin:
Yeah, definitely. That’s something we need to get on to.
What we’re working on at
the moment with Syrinscape is we’ve got the Fantasy player – all that content
is all set up and being built. At the moment we’re concentrating on getting our
Sci-Fi player out, which has some of those sounds that you heard there that I
played.
And we’re looking at
getting an editor, because in my original version of Syrinscape, everyone could
build their own stuff. It’s very important on getting the community involved,
and building stuff again in this version.
That’s. . . hopefully
we’ve got a beta of that in April. Once again, we can get that whole community.
. . they can build what they want, and be contributing, and they can make it
grow as a community.
Doug: Are
you going to publish a set of Syrinscape standards? Your noise level has to be
this. You have to have this clean.
I’m just trying to figure
out how you can make sure the sound quality. . . for example, you were talking
about. . . let me finish that sentence actually.
I have a tendency to go
from one thought to another, and it makes the transcriptions really odd.
You want to make sure that
the content that is being community provided is at least at certain standard of
quality, because otherwise – fair or not – Syrinscape gets the knock for not
providing an immersive environment because somebody is doing something with
sound effects and flushes the toilet in the background or something.
Do you envision some sort
of standards set?
Benjamin:
Yeah, totally, yeah. I think what we’ll do is we’ll greenlight.
The current concept is –
and this is open to discussion and argument amongst us – that we would probably
let you build anything you want, and that automatically syncs with your server
home online, and that means you can have it on all your devices when you log in
as you.
Then probably what we’ll
do is to be able to propose the addition of what they built to the community,
and then I think we would have people vetting them.
We also have copyright
concerns as well you know. We need to make sure people don’t just go in and . .
. people can use community commons sounds, as long as they credit them correctly
if there is an attribution license, and that’s so great to be able to pass on
that credit.
So as long as all the
sounds are edited, as you say, if the quality is good enough as you said. I
think that’s really important.
Doug: Yeah,
because otherwise I could see where:
“Doesn’t that sound a lot
like the Avengers soundtrack?”
“Yes. . . yes it does. Yes.
. . that’s going to be a problem.”
The safeguarding of IP in
digitally distributed world is difficult; especially . . . Some people don’t
get too exercised when a fifty billion dollar corporation has a song go public.
It’s a different story when having that song go public is one of 15 songs in an
artist’s repertoire, and “Oh, I’ve downloaded this great song!” Well
congratulations, that person is now eating twice a day instead of three times a
day.
As a writer of a book that
has maybe sold 300 or 400 copies, having a few free downloads done at a couple
bucks a pop is a –  relatively speaking –
a big deal.
GURPS
Technical Grappling
will never
have me quitting my day job, but for those who might wish to make a career out
of the gaming industry – although I think many gaming industry professionals
will give a word of advice, which is: “DON’T.”
It’s like joint ventures:
just don’t. You still want to? DON’T. You still want to? It’s like converting
to Judaism – you have to be convinced three times. [Benjamin laughs].
Once you get into that you
want to make sure that, yes, you want people to enjoy your product, but you
also want to make sure the artists are getting compensated both intellectually
and monetarily for the work that they put in.
Benjamin: Absolutely.
The thing is, the community on the whole is really really keen to support
innovation and things that are going to make the game better, and they want to
have a mechanism to do it.
And that’s what
Kickstarters have shown if nothing else. Once there is an idea that catches the
imagination, this community is really keen to put their money behind it. Which
is great.
I think what we’re going
to do is build a subscription model, where they become a supporter and they get
access to absolutely everything that they can possibly get access to. And we
get to have a steady stream, and know how big our base is, and adjust our
business model on the basis of that.
I think that makes sense,
and people are asking for that. People don’t want to have to go to a shop and
buy all the different bits and that sort of stuff. They just want to go “Yep. I
believe in that product and I want to make sure it still exists and we can all
keep using it.”
Doug: Right.
I see where that would go, and it’s somewhere between Kickstarter and . . . Patreon
is the other one where you’re just basically funneling money. . . it’s like
buying a subscription to a content creator.
It’s. . . .instead of
saying I’m going to buy Pyramid magazine, and I’ll buy that issue or this issue,
or that issue or Dungeon Magazine or Dragon.
I’m going to throw $10 a
month to Bob the Game Designer, and if enough people do that he’s got a secure
living doing good content. And if that content starts to be not-good, then the
subscriptions go away, and it’s a very active . . .  “Yay Capitalism! Yay!”
(If you’re an Austin
Powers fan. “Oh, we won. Yay! Hey comrades.” I need to rewatch that movie. The
first time I saw that I nearly busted a gut. I was a huge Ian Fleming James
Bond fan, and he [Mike Meyers] did such a great job of doing a homage to both
the books and the movies that . . . the first one was wonderful to watch from
that perspective. Anyways, I digress; see I told you I digress.)
So you’ve mentioned Paizo
a little bit, you’ve got some great fantasy bar fight going on. I hear that
there is something in the works, and I hear that because you sent me an email
saying “something is in the works.”
So why don’t you tell me
about that?
Benjamin:
Yeah, so I’m a really strong believer in the Paizo model, the community base,
and the OGL concept and everything like that. I really love what’s been done
with Pathfinder, and I love the game world, and love the quality of their art.
Some sort of licensing relationship
with some of the big companies has always been obvious for Syrinscape, the big
one for us was Pathfinder and Paizo, because we feel a real connection with
their business model and philosophies.
We just approached them
and said “We have this fantastic product, we think that people need to have it
on the table and we’d really love to be able to build content for your game and
directly support Golarion, or just directly support all the monsters in the OGL
which is the Dungeons and Dragons-cum-Pathfinder monsters.”
They liked the product – any
digital product that actually turns up
and is done is a bit of a massive
achievement in this industry. There have been many attempts to produce physical
products some of which have never emerged and yeah, I basically went to PaizoCon
and asked for a meeting. Give me 10 or 15 minutes of your time.
And we set down with the
guys and said “Look at this” and they were like “Oh! That’s so cool.” They were
pushing the buttons, and making the roars, and we entered into a conversation
with them, and have agreed to build licensed content for Paizo – and that’s all
official and signed up.
So the last couple of
months have been building whole other content – which I can’t mention what it
is – but once we’re ready for release, we’re doing the final polishing for all
that stuff. Then it’ll start rolling out, and as I said, it’ll be a
subscription base, you’ll be able to get to the ever widening support for every
tabletop experience you want to get going.
Doug: I can
easily see – you can smile mysteriously, because I know you’re probably under
nondisclosure – but I can easily see areas of Golarion each having their own
theme song.
I can see starting with
the most popular monsters, whether it’s a beholder, or a remorhaz, or a dragon,
or a troll, or goblins, those guys have a certain theme song or certain noises:
the goblins getting angsty or getting angry would have a certain background
noise. You can have a troll thump thump thump.
You could really easily
see where something like a . . . you’d load in. . . I just did an interview
with the gentleman from Fantasy Grounds – Doug Davison – you could see, for
example, when you load in these monsters: a bear, 3 dire bats, and a troll, that
it brings in the bear, dire bats, and the troll sounds. And starts playing some
background music.
Benjamin:
Yeah, integration with some of these products is really good.
Syrinscape is running as an
API at the moment. We’re just building the native interfaces, so the skin that
you saw before is just a surface controller, and there is no reason that any
other program or web device or whatever can’t control that API. Yeah.
Absolutely.
That’s something certainly
that . . .  there have been a few chats
with a few people about it about that sort of stuff and once we find the right
match then I think that’s definitely something that should happen for sure. And
it’s really easy to do as well. The elements are there; you just need any
device that turns on the element that’s the goblin noises, and any sort of player
interacting with clicks, or automatically attached to an icon you put down on
the table, are all possibilities for the programming.
Doug: Another
fun thing that would leverage the power of automatic searching as well as some
of the speech-to-text capabilities that are found on iPhones or whatever would
be something where you’re actually at a tabletop (or online) and it’s listening
to what you’re saying. “Yes, and there are three trolls” and it hears the word
trolls and goes out to the database, comes back with crunching sounds or [makes
growling noises] or something.
Benjamin: These
are the “stupid” ideas that people come up with, and people say “oh, it’ll
probably go wrong and play the wrong thing at the wrong time” and somebody
makes the thing, and it works, and it’s like “Way cool, why didn’t I think of
that?”
Lots of people thought of
it, but only one idiot went and did
it.
Doug: Right.
So with that in mind, let me ask: For your tabletop-enhancement environment,
what are you satisfied that exists that enhances your tabletop experience? Can
be Syrinscape, can be anything, but just as someone who is creating content to
make a better tabletop experience and by extension, a better online experience.
What’s good that you like
that’s out there already? What needs to be out there to enhance the experience,
and how do you see that evolving over time?
Benjamin:
Mmmm. So I think I’m satisfied audio-wise because I built exactly what I
wanted. I really want Syrinscape to be a community with shared content, so we
get really great content instead of relying on one central team building stuff,
though as long as you control the quality that’s going to work really well.
What’s still lacking for
me at my table is a really useful, easy way to control the maps at the table. A
lot of the mapping programs are focused for online play which is cool. . . but
if people go and check out the Dicestormers on YouTube you’ll see that what
we’re doing at the moment with maps – and I’ve actually been using PowerPoint
to do my maps to control position and the scale, to apply grids and un-apply
grids, and then to be able to show and hide various different areas in an
effective way.
I was using MapTool, which
is amazingly, fantastically powerful, and to be able to move your digital
miniatures around so that it automatically does lighting and all that sort of stuff,
it’s really cool.
But when you’re using
physical miniatures, that doesn’t really work very well, because you’ve got to
move the digital miniature to match the physical miniature.
It takes a really long
time to do all the walls and everything in it in a program like MapTools. So
there is a lot of prep time, so whether there is a better way of sharing maps once
their built – getting excited now.
So also, when I’m taking a
map from a digital product that I own, say a module and then wanting to import
it into any program projector, the resolution is always a problem.
I absolutely love what Paizo
has done recently, where you can turn off the room numbers and hide the secret
doors. So you have a player version of the map, which I can easily project on
the table, but the resolution is nowhere near what it needs to be, it’s just
because they put in a PDF and they want to keep the PDF size down, so they lack
a higher resolution.
But the really big thing
for me, that I haven’t been able to find online at all, is animated elements to
put on my maps.
I would love to be able to
place down easily on my digital map, on my table, a fire element and just draw
an area and have it sort of burning. That’d be so coo-ool! And also a flowing
river just to designate. . . just draw right across the map and automatically
flow, that would be fantastic. Or to be able to have it snowing and wind.
I’m sort of doing things
like that at the moment, just cobbling together things, but I’d love that to be
there in the future, hopefully I’ll get fed up enough and do it.
Doug: So I
was taking a look at the Battlegrounds demo, and it has some of that. It has dynamic
lighting where you have a fire, and it flickers, and you actually see a flickering
light in two zones. The bright zone and the dim zone.
I’m fairly sure it’s got a
robust dynamic lighting module to it, it seems to be a little bit ahead of some
of the other dynamic lightning introductions.
I do know that Roll20 – I’m
not experienced with it yet – but I think it’s part of their rugged reroll
upgrade, they’ve done some neat things with dynamic lightning.
Benjamin:
They’ve been talking about animated icons for a while. The last time I looked
was maybe a month ago and everyone saying “Well, yes, we don’t do it yet, and
it’s difficult for this reason.”
I totally understand that,
it can take a lot. . . sometimes when you have to reengineer the whole way the
graphic system works in order to incorporate something like a animated gif or
whatever, it can be really major.
I just want one of these
people to do it, and soon as they do, they’re going to go off, if I can just
chuck down fire and burns my players are going to salivate all over the table.
Doug: The
other thing that would be kind of neat, just thinking out loud: They have these
things all over the place in malls, and in our Minnesota Zoo. It’s a projector
that not just projects, it senses, so if you go [mimes a hand swipe] like this
over a projector screen, and it interacts with the images.
It would be interesting to
have such, if you’re doing it on the surface, or if you put an actual miniature
on there it can sense that. . . there is a barcode on there or something, and
if you move it, it moves the map or scales to the map.
You could have an
interactive system, you’re moving your miniatures on the table, the projector
receiver is finding out where they are, and giving it back to the GM’s screen,
so you can have hidden things or put a river here and you actually draw on the
computer screen touch screen and it shows on the map.
Benjamin:
The Microsoft Table Surface thing did that really well, didn’t it? But there
like $20,000 or something. I want that, to take an icon or miniature with a barcode
and draw on a table and say “That’s a shadowed area or whatever.” That would be
so cool.
Doug: It
seems that the capability to not drive it. . . you’d need that special
projector. . .
Maybe you wouldn’t need a [special]
projector, you’d need a webcam, you’d need a [dumb] projector, and you’d need a
tablet that you could receive it to. You’d probably want a full computer with a
touchscreen like some of the new Dell’s. What was it? A 27” touch screen, the
Dell XPS or whatever, and you can do all that and interact with it, viscerally,
and have that experience.
I think we’re coming down
to the end – if nothing else because of the conference call I have in the
morning.
Unfortunately I can’t keep
chatting, although you’re really fun to talk to, but I always give my guests
the last word, so I’m giving you the last word:
What do you want to leave
anyone who’s watching this about Syrinscape or the future or the community or .
. . what do you want to let them know?
Benjamin: Yeah,
look: Just get involved in the community. “Make your voice heard.” It is what
drives us I think, and if any of the stuff we’ve been talking about catches
your imagination, talking about it will make it happen. Workshopping these
ideas online.
So go download Syrinscape,
it’s free, you can try it out, so jump on Facebook or Twitter and hammer me
until you get it looking the way you want it to. And we can enter a discussion
and we can argue about things.
Definitely check out the
Dicestormers, people are always saying “You guys should be known more, because
you’re heaps funny and embarrassing.” Just go on Dicestormers on YouTube and
search that out. Then yeah, make comments and pick up all our rule errors and
make jokes about us. We had someone make a special cut of one of our
Dicestormer videos the other day, because Murray’s character was chopping ears
off things and giggling in a slightly maniacal way. They made a video of just
that one slightly scary moment and we totally love that stuff. Community,
community, community.
Most of all: just game!
Get out there and game more! Because it’s good stuff, and it’s fun, that’s me.
Doug:
[laughs] Fair enough.
Alright, I want to thank
you for your time.
This, just so you know, we’ll
be transcribing this and will show up in a couple of days. I want it to come
out before the end of March, so it’s in time for the Blog Carnival.
Everyone who is watching,
get out there and write posts about this stuff, because it’s part of the “community”
piece: The more people talk, and the more it’s shared, and all the different
videos. . .  You yourself should stop by
the firing squad if you haven’t already, because some of the features you’ve
just talked about, John Lammers talk about some of the things Epic Table can do
and Doug Davison walked me through Fantasy Grounds.
If you’re really into
immersive, deep, epic storytelling, Liz Theis walked me through Realm Works
which is by the same company, Lone Wolf Development, that did Hero Lab. Realm Works
is this huge, scripting, story-driven, mind-map, relationship web. You can do
mapping, you got all this stuff you click on it to share with players. It’s
really neat and for people who do big stories, it’s actually technology that –
and I said this in my post about it – I expected to be unimpressed. It totally
impressed me. When I do my campaigns, I want to do it in this so it’s there and
easy and don’t have to do your prep twice. It was really kind of neat.
Syrinscape is another
capability that you’ve developed to add to the immersion experience for either
people at a table, and hopefully, eventually, people online as well. Thank you
for your time!
Benjamin:
Thank you for having me!

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