Certified ginger holding down the fort in Cincinnati, Ohio. The banker day job pays the bills, but the nerdy night job keeps the blood pumping. Lover of cats, baseball, anything Blizzard spits out and yellow question marks.
Syrinscape, the ever-expanding sound effects application that every RPG fan needs, was once again making plenty of noise at this year’s Gen Con. You could no doubt hear the sound effects behemoth from booths away; there were witches cackling, dragons roaring and space ships taking off in all directions, delighting the ears of passersby. The endlessly energetic Ben Loomes, creator of the application, took a moment between recording fan-made sounds at the convention to chat with me about the program and what new features are headed players’ way:
Fresh Mana: We’re here at Gen Con 2017, which is the 50th anniversary and is clearly amazing. I’m here with Ben Loomes… so tell me a bit about yourself:
Ben Loomes: I am a gamer, an opera singer, a pianist, a composer and I also built Syrinscape.
FM: You’re a little bit of everything and very musically inclined!
BL: Yes, a typical musician with a massive and complicated career, combining all sorts of components.
FM: Let’s get to Syrinscape – why did you come up with it, what brought it to life?
BL: Syrinscape makes sound effects… beautiful, immersive sound effects and soundtracks for all of my tabletop games. Literally 10 years ago I looked around at everything that was available, couldn’t find anything that was beautiful with good sound design, wasn’t too repetitive, and I couldn’t find anything that gave me the customization that I wanted. So I literally just built everything from my own table. Then about 5 years ago, it was starting to get under so much demand, people were asking for all sorts of expansions, and they wanted to use it on their IOS and Android devices, so we actually formed a proper company and reproduced the app in a really professional way. Now you can download it on any device and play sounds and music for your games.
FM: So it’s available on your phone, your laptop, your anywhere… I like it! The big thing for you guys right now is the Starfinder hookup with Paizo. What’s inside of the Starfinder pack that makes it a little bit different from the other soundscapes?
BL: The best, most exciting thing about the Starfinder collaboration is that this is the first RPG that’s been brought out with a specific soundtrack specially designed for the game. The design of starship combat, for instance, is built completely into the starships that they’ve built. One of the best things about Starfinder’s starship battle is that each character takes on a role on the deck of the starship, just like in Star Trek. You’ve got an engineer, a science officer, someone steering, someone firing.
At this point in the interview, some Gen Con attendees have taken hold of the Syrinscape demo available at the convention and start to mess with the different effects. As luck would have it, the current sound set was the one for Starfinder, and Ben continued on to explain what we were hearing:
BL: This is actually the sound of the starship going into the Drift, which is -in- the sound set. The way you do faster-than-light travel in Starfinder is you jump to another plane, called the Drift, and once you’re in it distances are distorted, so travelling long distances is much easier. But going back to those roles, there’s a button in the starship sound set for each of the roles on the starship deck. There’s one where the engineer has to wrench a panel off the wall and stick his welder in there, or a screwdriver, and fix the glitching ship. There’s a sound of the science officer doing his thing, with a robotic sound to it. There’s fantastic helm maneuvers where the pilot does a big double backflip. Each and every starship weapon that’s available for those starships is in Syrinscape, ready to use.
FM: That’s nice you can give the different roles something individual instead of a general noise for whatever may be going on.
BL: Absolutely! And typically of Paizo, Starfinder has an incredibly rich, creative world with really well fleshed-out cultures and places. So each of the starships in Syrinscape matches the culture of whoever may be at the helm. For instance, the Pact World, which is kind of the humans and whoever else has joined up with them, their ships are kind of like the one in Firefly. They’ve got physical switches clicking back and forth, which we used torches to make those noises. They’ve got little drawers and interfaces that pull in and out, which for that we used printer sounds. Then talking to the Paizo people about what the Kasatha culture was like, they said that their starships are like the Apple store of starships: smooth and sleek. The Kasatha decks are quiet and humming with little bleeps and bloops.
Again, what’s special about the starship sounds is that they reflect the culture of the specific things; it’s not just a generic kind of lazy starship soundset. We’ve built each and every starship that appears in the core rulebook and we are ready for the Starfinder game.
FM: That’s so cool. I know you guys have been at Gen Con for quite a while now and every year you have a sound booth. What sounds are you recording for right now?
BL: This year we are recording Shoggoth, a multi-voiced Borg-like horror.
BL: In past years we’ve auditioned for particular monsters. Last year we only had one thing, which is really kind of sad because we can only really use a few people’s recordings. But this year we are literally putting everyone who donates a sound into Shoggoth, so it’ll be a massive sound with probably at least 1,000 voices. It’s going to be super cool! Everyone has been speaking in time with a guide track of me saying the words to line them all up so you can understand them.
FM: How long is that going to take you to put that together?
BL: Ah, I’m a bit scared! (laughs) It should be alright, I’ve got people to help me with sound design. I think I’ve just got to work out really good patents and good systems to make it all work for me… or I just go mad.
FM: I hope it’s not too painful for you! It’ll sound so cool with a bunch of voices.
BL: Oh, yeah. I’ve done some work on the stuff that we’ve already got from UK Games Expo and Paizocon and it’s sounding amazing.
FM: What are you working on for your next sound set? I know the Paizo one is colossal and probably taking up a lot of time…
BL: We always have something in the works. The big development excitement is the ability to allow people to remotely control their player’s sounds, rather than pushing Syrinscape sound down through Skype or TeamSpeak, or whatever communication program is being used. We’ll literally just be able to go to a browser window and to a special page on Syrinscape.com hit a button, and then all the remote players that are around the world will hear that sound on their own computer. That’s going to improve online play in a massive degree. It’ll also mean you can control Syrinscape on a tablet, and not just a browser. You’ll be able to navigate away from the page, but keep the sound going in the background.
FM: I’ve played with Syrinscape a little bit and from what I remember, a single person is controlling it. Are you at a point, or will you be at a point where multiple people can be controlling their own character?
BL: Yeah! One of the ideas behind the Mass Dominion Player, which is one of our stretch goals at the moment, is to allow the players to trigger sound effects. That will then be integrated into the rest of the mix. We’ve actually made that work already in our concept builds; I just used the alpha the other day and it was almost like magic. My lead dev guy had a browser open on his computer, I had a browser open on my computer, and we both little Player and Minion apps; I was triggering moods and he was triggering spells, or some kind of sorcery… it was so cool.
FM: Not only will you essentially be playing a game together over a long distance, but you’ll be able to provide your individual sound that’s normally just in your head.
BL: The best example I can use is when you are a Cleric, and when a Cleric’s turn comes up and they realize that they really need to use a Channel Energy spell to heal the party. For a Cleric, that essentially takes away a turn, so with Syrinscape you’ll be able to trigger the Channel Energy sound. Rather than saying “Okay, I’m healing you” and everyone gets their hit points back, you just hear this epic energy expansion with a healing, angelic chorus kind of sound.
FM: How many sound sets do you have now?
BL: Hundreds. One of the things we do here at Gen Con tell everyone that hey, you can buy 1 set for $3.99 for, lets say a dragon sound set, but then I scroll down on the app to a bigger sound set to explain that you can subscribe for all of these sounds for $6.50 per month. That unlocks everything in the back catalog, just like on Netflix. What’s different between us and Netflix is that whatever we release during the period of your subscription, you get permanent ownership of it. I just hate the feeling of people supporting us for a couple of years and they have to stop the subscription for some reason, and then they’re left with nothing. We release about $12 worth of content every single month, and it’s almost like you’re getting a 50% discount so long as you remain a subscriber.
FM: I really love the concept of Syrinscape. When you’re sitting a table playing a game, sure you can be listening to music or whatever you have on in the background, but the application adds a whole new element to something like Dungeons and Dragons. If you hear a troll screaming at you, maybe you’re going to think twice about what you’re planning on doing.
BL: There’s an inevitable visceral reaction, which is sort of involuntary and intense.
FM: Are you able to make a playlist for what you need?
BL: Absolutely. You can organize the hundreds of sound sets that you need available for whatever game you may be playing with a little sub-list on the left hand side of the app. You can also save custom moods, even down to each step in the adventure if you like. If you do a bit of prep before the game, you can just click through those buttons. You can also just type in a keyword search and just go! If the players suddenly decide they want to go see the Kobolds for no apparent reason, you can simply type in “Kobold” and the list of sound sets will be reduced to those just containing Kobold sounds.
You can download the app for free, and get a couple of free sound sets with that, and you could then go on to buy a couple of sets or subscribe, if you like.
FM: Once again the teaming up with Paizo is great, are you teaming up with other big publishers?
BL: Yes! We already support Mutants and Masterminds, a sci-fi RPG, and obviously Starfinder will be in there as well. We’re always in negotiation with really cool companies.
FM: Do you have any big announcements coming up?!
BL: I do have a massive one coming up… which I can’t talk about! (laughs)
FM: Hey, I thought I’d try! I just want to say once again that this is a really great concept because it adds a different element to every game that you play, which makes a huge difference.
BL: I really just made it for myself, so if other people enjoy it, then I’m very happy.
FM: I appreciate your time and I hope you have a great rest of your Gen Con. Good luck with putting all of those voices together!
BL: (laughs) Thank you, I’m going to need it!
I want to thank Ben for being so gracious and fun during what I can only imagine is an exhausting weekend. If you’d like to try out the free demo that he mentioned in the interview, you can head on over to the Syrinscape website and download it for whatever platform you may use. Also be sure to keep up with Ben and his team of audio experts on Facebook, Twitter as well as their YouTube channel.