Last month at PAX Australia 2015, we had our now-annual catch-up with Benjamin Loomes, the man behind the Syrinscape tabletop audio engine.
Ten Copper: I’m just going to rub my face for a second because I’m very tired. If you could fill while I do that would be great.
Benjamin: La-la-laaaaaaaaaa. How was that?
Ten Copper: Fantastic. How are you, Benjamin Loomes, creator of Syrinscape?
Benjamin: I’m well! Thankyou.
Ten Copper: It’s been a year since we last spoke. There’s been a lot of stuff going on. Walk me through the last twelve months of Syrinscape and the biggest changes.
Benjamin: Wow. Well. Did I have the Paizo license twelve months ago?
Ten Copper: You did! And now you’re at Gen Con, recording voices, the whole works.
Benjamin: Right! So we completed the official Paizo sounds for the Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path modules, which is their most popular Adventure Path, so basically people can now play Rise of the Runelords, stepping through pretty much the section titles of all the encounters, with a single touch, going through each Adventure Path, which makes the preparation level for running Rise of the Runelords using sound really, really low. Which is kind of the whole point of Syrinscape!
Ten Copper: The whole point of Syrinscape’s partnership with Paizo, at least.
Benjamin: Exactly! And if you’re playing Rise of the Runelords, then that’s fantastic. Since then we’ve also done Dragon’s Demand, which is one of their most famous beginner-level Pathfinder Adventures, which is really great, and we’ve just started on the one they’re releasing at the moment which is called Hell’s Rebels, which is super cool.
What that also means is every time we — we’re basically using the Adventure Paths as an excuse to touch on all the classic fantasy monsters. So one of the recent soundsets, Dragon’s Demand, in that was — I’m so not coherent this early in the morning — is a green dragon, a fantastic green dragon, a kobold lair, several other really iconic fantasy monsters. So they get pulled out as separate soundsets, so if you’re actually going to fight a green dragon but not doing Dragon’s Demand, well green dragon is under ‘G’ and Kobold Lair is under ‘K’ in the app and so on. We did a gibbering mouther which was totally disgustingly gross but really really fun.
All that content comes out for generic play, but also we’re doing those Adventure Paths. The Sci-Fi Player we probably also released since last time I saw you, we’ve got regular content there. We’re in closing negotiations with a couple of different companies to produce licensed sounds for the Sci-Fi player which is really really fun.
Ten Copper: Can you name any of them?
Benjamin: I can’t! I cannot.
Ten Copper: For example, any games which relate to… moving fast in a… dimly-lit environment?
Benjamin: (laughs) I can’t say anything. I’m sorry. Suffice to say that already we’ve got Sci-Fi Market Streets, Light Sword Battles, Blaster Battles, Abandoned Space Stations…
Ten Copper: Can you tell me why the Sci-Fi app is different to the Fantasy app and they’re not just one big glorious app?
Benjamin: We’re actually looking at unifying them in the next year sometime, having them as one big player. Well you already have the SuperSyrin Subscription which already gives you everything we do, including access to the Soundset Creator, which will be the tool with which you can make you own soundsets. That’s the really exciting thing. That should come out of beta, it’s been in beta and been really successful, I’ve been using it for six months to build all the content we’ve been releasing, and the public will have access to that in December. And of course we’re always adding new features on a month-by-month based on what people whinge about.
Another thing we’re doing is that the next version of Syrinscape that comes out will have a text search box on the top of the left-hand column, so you’ll be able to type in ‘Goblin’ and it’ll bring up the five Goblin-related soundsets. Oh! And you also wanted to know about the samples we were collecting, so, yes we were at Gen Con and we asked people to come and contribute samples. And Wolfgang Bauer came and gave us the kobold for our Kobold Lair which is totally, stupidly cool. He’s the most official kobold in the world. And this other guy came and did a green dragon and we used his voice in the official green dragon soundset and it’s just… huge, and bubbly, and really, really frightening.
We’re also making — can I announce this yet? — we’re making a Gen Con soundset, so people will be able to go to Gen Con in their living room and hear the sound of the crowd raving on. And we have individual sound effects as well, so people will hear things like ‘Oh my god, look at that cosplay!’ and other people say ‘Oh, my swag is so heavy!’ and this little girl came, and she just stands there and she says ‘Mum, can I have an ice cream? Can I have an ice cream? Can I have an ice cream? She has one, can I have an ice cream?’ over and over again. It was really awesome.
Ten Copper: Did you ask her to record that, or did she just show up and start asking about ice cream?
Benjamin: Oh no she can do this on cue! It was frightening manipulative for a seven year old. And what’s going to happen in that soundset is that monsters attack, so there will be zombies and screeches, and so on.
Ten Copper: So this is for when the players are at a convention, and monsters attack it?
Benjamin: Right. Which is, you know, totally normal and commonplace.
Ten Copper: It happens.
[both look around nervously]
Benjamin: I’m also managing to use those sounds that people contributed as lots of different monsters in Syrinscape. So someone came and gave us some hideous throat-sucking vocal chord-shredding screeching sound, which we used for this monster called a grioth, which does this kind of hideous wail thing. So I used that and now I can credit that fan and also they get that content free, which is super cool. We’re doing that at PAX AUS as well, we’re finishing off our Peasant’s Revolt soundset so we’re gonna have people ‘Come and see the repression inherent in the system!’ that sort of thing.
Ten Copper: ‘Smash the state?’
Benjamin: ‘Down with the clergy!’ That sort of thing.
Ten Copper: It feels like the amount of Pathfinder-specific soundsets that there are now actually outweigh the vanilla ones, in terms of tabs on the side. Did you envision this when you started developing?
Benjamin: I think we’re gonna have to add a tab. Or two tabs. One that shows Adventure Paths and one that hides them all.
Ten Copper: I don’t know what your license is like with Paizo, it’s probably exclusive, and you probably can’t tell me about it. But do you feel like this makes it hard to use Syrinscape for other systems?
Benjamin: Well, no. As I said we’re just hitting those fantasy monsters one by one.
Ten Copper: A lot of them are really specific situations though.
Benjamin: Yeeeesss, well, what have I pulled out. So recently I’ve pulled out of the Adventure Paths, a Magical Stone Circle, a Mountain Pass, a White Dragon, a Green Dragon, Kobolds, Ogres, the Black Magga… any great big water creature there. Gosh. A desert town, I think I actually did that by itself because people wanted it. I mean that’s literally how it works, if people want stuff because it’s not there yet, then come and whinge on the forums and nudge and suggest. When enough people happen to ask for it then I get around to it. So. Yes. Certainly what’s wonderful is that D&D has now re-emerged from nowhere, sort of, which is really fantastic–
Ten Copper: I also think of 4th Edition as ‘nowhere’.
Benjamin: That’s right. And 5th Edition is really successful which is fantastic, it’s great. It’s totally true that saying, that fantasy gaming needs a really healthy Dungeons & Dragons, because it’s the flag-bearer of the concept.
Ten Copper: Pathfinder outsells is something crazy doesn’t it, though?
Benjamin: Well it does! That’s right. And I’m still a massive total devoted Pathfinder fan because I love the high level of customisability. I can really express my current character concept mathematically, so I actually have an advantage for the thing I want my character to be good at. Which is not something you can do in D&D 5 yet but hopefully in the future. Or maybe that’s not the point of the game?
Anyway Syrinscape now has the obvious task of selling ourselves to Dungeons & Dragons players and saying ‘We’re not exclusive to Pathfinder’. Obviously Pathfinder is my game of choice, I play in a group where Dungeons & Dragons is one of the other guy’s systems of choice. So when he runs the game it’s D&D 5, and when I run the game it’s Pathfinder. But we play Cthulhu, and Star Wars, and Cosmic Patrol, and everything, you know, and I think what’s happening with roleplaying is that it’s all growing.
Ten Copper: It’s a good time for you to get in on the Star Wars official licensed sound stuff.
Benjamin: (laughs) Well it’s something to think about it! And if this Star Wars film is a big success, then that’s wonderful. Like Lord of the Rings was a big success, it got people into the mindset of fantasy gaming. Very cool.
Ten Copper: So you quit your job last year to focus on Syrinscape exclusively. Was that the right decision? Is everything working out? You’re not starving to death?
Benjamin: Yeah! No, wait, no, not starving. Totally. Syrinscape is… we’re moving right now from the early adopters into the people who do the thing that’s normal.
Ten Copper: What do you mean by “the thing that’s normal”?
Benjamin: (laughs) Sorry! The thing that’s normal is ‘to have sound at your gaming table’. Everyone knows, everyone’s been searching for the last ten years or even longer for a solution that is, that doesn’t take the attention of the Game Master off the players, is non-obtrusive, is non-annoying, doesn’t repeat every ten minutes, and everyone’s trying still for all those solutions. Syrinscape is very much at the point where we market it, at a show like this, and half the people who come say “Oh my god, I’ve never heard of this before — this is amazing, I’ve been looking for this for ten years. This is exactly what I wanted. Here, take my money.”
So that’s fantastic for us. But it obviously shows that a lot of people don’t know about us yet. And so obviously the licenses we’re signing, with different people, and as we expand we’re starting to pick up those people who weren’t just looking for the brand new thing but are people who are looking for ‘the way you do gaming’. That’s where we are at the moment. People grab the book, they grab the dice, they grab the sounds, they sit down and saddle up and they go. Whether it’s our sounds or someone else who is doing a really great job with it as well.
Ten Copper: There are a lot of solutions in this space coming online now. Tabletop Audio is one, Plate Mail Games too.
Benjamin: There’s a lot of great sound design happening. Obviously Syrinscape deals with two extremely important issues. One is the repetition issue. If you are in the medieval town and literally every ten minutes you hear the same hawker say ‘Three for a dollar!”… I specifically wrote Syrinscape because of that specific issue. That takes the attention away from the narrative. It breaks the fourth wall and makes people realise they’re playing a game. That’s a really severe issue for me.
And the other issue is price. Tabletop Audio is free so that’s a big advantage they’ve got over us. Another really extreme issue is the adaptability. The customisability of Syrinscape. You can have your Green Dragon, add a bit of rain, turn the thunder on, take the swords off, add a few Kobolds in there, save that as a preset and then you’ve got an entire battle sequence all available from one click. And that’s something you can’t do with some other sound design.
The guy who’s making our sci-fi is Gil Luna, a genius sound designer. He did four Kickstarters, making fantastic sci-fi settings with fifty-minute audio loops. We heard them, we loved them, he’s been super excited just to take all his audio, break it all up into bits and port it into Syrinscape and let the amazing Syrinscape machine bring that audio alive. And now it never stops and never has a seam and never repeats itself.
Ten Copper: Is there a reason you brought in somebody else to do the sci-fi audio and didn’t handle it yourself like normal?
Benjamin: Just workload. Literally workload. And I’m on the cusp of needing someone else right now as well. So there’s so much stuff that could be great, if we get a couple of these licenses with the people we’re talking to at the moment then we’re going to need to pull someone else in, again. Which is very cool. The Hell’s Rebels music theme is done by someone else, which is really great, it’s completely different sound, it’s fresh. Another thing you can do with Syrinscape is you can take that Red Dragon battle that I did, you can have the music in that soundset run for a while, then you just turn that music off, turn on the Hell’s Rebels music — completely contrasting, but still high-energy, still beautiful — save that as a preset, you have Red Dragon with Ben’s music and then Red Dragon with Kyle’s music and you keep that freshness going and stop the repetition.
Ten Copper: I feel like this kind of speaks to a theme that I find with Syrinscape compared to say, Tabletop Audio — Syrinscape gives you a really good result with a lot of prep, but Tabletop Audio is more of a case of being able to set and forget, ‘I need a scene for this’ so I click and go. You know exactly what you’re getting because it’s very low key. In Syrinscape I can get a better, more detailed result, but it has to become part of my prep work, my routine, of making sure I’ve spent time listening to it and getting it ready for my players.
Benjamin: I won’t criticise Tabletop Audio! (laughs) But if you want to draw that contrast, that’s fine.
Ten Copper: (laughs) No! No, not like that. They’re both useful tools, they’re just different tools for different situations.
Benjamin: For me, there’s a whole lot of dev work, and an incredibly sophisticated app with an amazingly powerful audio engine and some really incredible algorithms, and a lot of professional sound work and design that’s gone into the Syrinscape app. So that’s why it costs money, and that’s what you’re gonna get. People can make that decision, there’s no problem with there being multiple people in the market!
For Syrinscape we’re at the point where we need having audio at your table to be the normal thing, and as it becomes the normal thing, then everyone in the market is going to prosper.
Thanks to Benjamin for chatting to us! Check out Syrinscape here.
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