At Gen Con 2016, I had the opportunity to talk to Benjamin Loomes about Syrinscape, the program that creates unique background sounds for GMs to up the immersion of their games using an expansive library of sounds for many settings.
GI: For those who don’t know about Syrinscape, what is it and how does it work?
BL: Excellent, Syrinscape is an app on iPhones and iPads and Android Phones and Tabs and PC and Macs, that makes beautiful, immersive background sounds for tabletop roleplaying games and also board games now. So rather than just putting on a 15 minute loop recording of a medieval town, it’s actually an app that creates the entire medieval town with seamless endless action. So random carts might come past, a hawker might call out now and then, a bard might play a song. If you don’t like the bard playing the song you just switch off the bard and he doesn’t sing the song. If you want some rain you can pop over the the storm sound set and turn on some rain to mix that in. Then when you’re ready for the dragon to attack, you just go “Red Dragon City Raid” and go “Pop” and just suddenly it explodes into flame and high energy music starts. It’s really really easy to use, takes hardly any attention for the GM to run, but creates incredibly realistic and beautiful background noise.
Now you can pull up the creator, use all the sounds: the fantasy sounds, the Sci-Fi sounds, the board game sounds and mix them all together however you like.
GI: We talked to you about it at GenCon last year, and you mentioned you’re doing board game sounds as well now, so what has changed for Syrinscape in the last year?
BL: Two major things: number one is the board game player so we have a license with Catan with official sounds of Catan. So the next time you play Catan you start the game and you’re immersed in the beautiful island of Catan with chirping birdies and sheep baaing and everything.
And then when you roll a seven, unlike before, there’s now a Robber one shot trigger roll sound so you just touch the Robber and there’s 60 different smartass comments from the Robber. So you can really really mock your fellow players when you get that number seven. So seven now is a real event.
I have a license now with Boss Monster, which is a fantastic sort of 8 bit, grungy card game. Also Blind Ferret’s Orphans and Ashes, RnR’s Spellcaster, and more and more board games so that’s really cool.
And then we’re also releasing, going live this weekend, is the Syrinscape Sound Set creator. Which is really huge because people for ages have been asking, “Can we pull in our own sounds?” and yes now you can, now you can pull up the creator, use all the sounds: the fantasy sounds, the Sci-Fi sounds, the board game sounds and mix them all together however you like. Then grab your Neverwinter Nights soundtrack and pull in that music, and do some sound like the evil speech you’ve got ready for your game. It uploads to the server and becomes a sound set that you have access to across all the devices I mentioned before.
One of the really important things in Syrinscape is getting enough variability in the source sounds.
GI: So most of what we do at Geekly Inc is focused around podcasting and often we have people who are playing games online instead together in a room. How could Syrinscape help people get immersed into an environment and stay in the game, when they’re not in the same room?
BL: Yeah, really really important. It’s got really fantastic integration with D20 Pro, with Fantasy Grounds, and with Realmworks where you can actually trigger Syrinscape from within the app. Either on the players remote machines so you can actually set off a certain location like I was saying a Red Dragon or a medieval town, or if you want to cast a spell and hit the fireball one shot. Suddenly on their machines everything’s going to be exploding and blowing up and screaming. Or with other virtual tabletops you can actually route the audio of Syrinscape through whatever Teamspeak or Skype you use. And that’s working really really well as well.
GI: Could DM’s theoretically send a sound to one party member but not the others?
BL: You can’t do that yet, that’s where we’re headed. So we have our souped up version of Syrinscape next year where you’ll be able to have a Master/Minion setup so all the players will have little Minion players and the GM will have control so they can set off some sounds. Or the players on their little minions can set off some of their characters spells and that gets broadcast off to the rest of the table. Which is really cool.
GI: Do you have a white whale of sounds? Something that you’d love to get but just can’t? Too difficult or haven’t found a way yet?
BL: Ah, is there a sound that we can’t get? We made airstrike sounds, and in the end we made that from me swooshing a stick past a microphone and me banging my hand on the desk and having the ruler of the edge of the desk going dgadgadgadga so there’s this swoosh, dunk, dgadgadgadga. And I’ve hunted Youtube for videos on foley, which are all the geniuses who create sounds. So my armor foley in Syrinscape is literally my laptop bag and by shaking it, you get the rubbing of the fabrics through the laptop and the jangling of the little zippers and things. It’s weird stuff like the fact that punches don’t sound anything like punches? So you have to go with the cinematic concept of punch which is that whoosh and then the big meaty clunk, while a normal punch just is pretty much almost silent.
But something we can’t do? Well we just find the solution. And of course with our license with Paizo we’re forever making monsters that no ones ever heard in their entire life so we’re making decisions about what these monsters sound like and how to voice them. Which is super cool.
There’s some really amazing examples, I spent like an afternoon editing vomits the other day. Which was amazing…
GI: Followup question, you are dealing with a lot of things that don’t exist in the real world or that you can’t actually get a microphone up to an airstrike. So what’s the weirdest thing you ever mushed together to make a sound? Or something that people might find interesting to know, “Oh that’s actually such and such?”
BL: Yeah there’s some really amazing examples, I spent like an afternoon editing vomits the other day. Which was amazing amd ended up with real rich sounds that I got from freesound.org which is this fantastic collaborative community where people share sounds with each other. It’s amazing. So I got the sounds of someone retching. And then the vomit splashing on the floor was just pouring a jug of water into another jug which sounds seriously gross and very, very nauseauting.
And the Red Dragon, if people want to listen go to the Red Dragon City Raid, and you can hear my voice, so you can report how high and lovely and light and not very manly it is. And then listen to the roars in the Red Dragon either in the video demo or if you download it, and it sounds epicly huge and fantasticly impressive. So I basically recorded like a “Raaahhhhh” with a bit of throat in it and everything, and then the wonder of pitch shifting and stretching and all this sort of amazing stuff makes this incredibly massive, meaty sounding beast. So that’s really fun.
GI: Okay, so basically don’t come by your house at Halloween because you’ll just have the most terrifying soundtrack?
BL: Oh yeah, we actually totally did that last Halloween yes.
With our license with Paizo we’re forever making monsters that no ones ever heard in their entire life…
GI: I just got back from living in Australia, and since you’re from there I wanted to ask you: what do you maybe find different about the gaming scene there versus here?
BL: Yeah. Here it’s huge. You know, there’s a lot of people into it. There’s a really diverse crowd, even the difference in Gen Con over the last three or four years, the number of women, the acceptance and openness in the styles of what you can be here at Gen Con is really big. And I don’t think Australia has matured to that degree yet. PAX Aus is making a big difference but it’s still brand new. So yeah it’s really a wonderful community here in America of amazingly creative and accepting and beautiful people. I think that’s really great. I mean there’s big cultural differences between America and Australia, Australia has the whole Tall Poppy Syndrome where you don’t want to stand out or think you’re better. Whereas America is totally able to rejoice in people’s successes and really enthused in an unashamed way which is a great thing about Americans.
GI: On that note, is there something that you think people in North America are missing out on that’s happening over there? Or are there any weird hidden secrets that people don’t know about.
BL: (laughs) Ah man, I mean the main thing is if you’re North American the main thing you’re missing out on is Sydney’s beaches. Amazing boogie boarding and beach environments. Australians obviously have this wonderful, self deprecating, sarcastic humour which is really really strong. But I find people say Americans don’t take sarcasm, but that’s just not true, amongst gaming crowds. And people say Americans don’t know there’s other countries in the world but amongst the gaming crowds that’s just not true.
But something we can’t do? Well we just find the solution.
GI: Right. I imagine a lot of it has to do with the fact that we’re all imagining a thousand fantasy worlds in our head, so it’s not hard to remember that Canada exists?
BL: Yeah exactly yeah. I think it’s a matter of creative gaming and that social aspect of connecting people across the world that’s really incredible and amazing and effective at enlightening you, making you more accepting. Helping you to be sympathetic to other points of view and getting a lot out of life.
GI: You guys are recording sounds here at Gen Con, so what kinds of things are you getting from people?
BL: So last year we got a license to produce the official Gen Con soundset so people can now go to Gen Con within Syrinscape and they can walk around the exhibit hall and hear the general hub a bub. And they can hear hawkers calling out selling things, kids whinging for ice creams, people talking about their characters. And then you touch the Dragon Raid and the official GenCon Dragon comes in and roars and nerds run away going “Please don’t eat me!” and that’s been amazing and people really got into donating samples. We got something like a thousand samples, six hundred of which we used.
So this year I’m collecting demon voices and devil voices, humans, heroes, and roars and monsters and things. To do the last chapter of Hell’s Revels for the Paizo Pathfinder game, and that’s going to be really really great.
And you know, one of the really important things in Syrinscape is getting enough variability in the source sounds. You know, no matter how much I mention dragons and processing if you’re always going from a smallish group of voice actors you’re going to run out of variability. So I’ve got guys who’ve given sound here and I’ve loved it and contacted them and asked them to give more stuff. A guy named Morgan Rand who donated a voice at PaizoCon a couple years ago and is now the big bag in Hell’s Revels and has kind of become semi famous for being absolutely awesome. And he does this sort of Professor Snape, sarcastic slow voice thing and he’s been fantastic. And I could never produce a voice like him, his voice is luscious and deep and big and gorgeous.
GI: Okay well thank you so much Benjamin and best of luck at Gen Con!
Syrinscape is available for Apple and Android devices as well as Mac OS and Windows. You can find it at www.syrinscape.com