There are countless ways to spice up the gaming experience at the table, 3d models of dungeon tiles, miniatures, or maybe a dice tower or two. One way to really set the tone for an evening is to set the mood with music and sound and if you’re like me your efforts to do that have been minimal at best. Many of the other enhancements to the game experience I mentioned have companies dedicated to producing the products mentioned, not so with audio enhancement of gaming.
Enter the folks behind BattleBards, a new application dedicated to bringing these audio enhancements to your fingertips. I had the pleasure to speak with the folks regarding what they have to offer us, and just why we may want to get in on the ground floor through their current revamped Kickstarter campaign!
NOTE: During this Q&A process the BattleBards team made a major descision, they dropped their original campaign that focused on a subscription model of their work and changed to a purchase and own model based on the reactions of their investors. I mention it below but I feel they were well on their way to funding their original run but decided to restart under a different model simply because the community spoke, and they listened. The gamble seems to have paid off as they have already funded the new Kickstarter day one.
The BattleBards Team
Melvin Smif: First, I want to thank you all for speaking with me today. I’m a big fan of music and sound effects at the table. Well, in theory I am, I’ve never actually done a lot beyond ambiance music in the background. I suppose that could be my first question actually. What makes you such a proponent of Music and Sound at the table? How would you sway someone who’s never really considered adding something like this?
BattleBards: No worries, it’s an incredible opportunity for us to discussion our passion with dedicated gamers!
The best example of the power of audio at the gaming table that I love to use requires the following YouTube video.The reason this video has such impact is because it shows the glaring hole made by removing the wonderfully evocative music by John Williams necessary to drive home the impact of the scene. It’s the same with gaming. Narrating, say, the loss of a major NPC can pull some heartstrings but accompanying the narrative with a touching piece like Dumbledore’s Farewell from Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince allows the GM to dial in his/her players’ emotional state through audible context. In truth, many GMs use audio quite a bit at the table but as you pointed out, its use is normally restrained to providing some narrative backdrop or ambiance.
There’s a whole world of audio out there that can help make gaming more immersive beyond its use as a background such as NPC and Player interaction through voiceovers, accenting important moments through timed sound effects, and the use of what’s called “Source Audio” which provides a whole new way of interacting with the actual characters, living and breathing in these worlds composed of collective imagination. All of this just scratches the surface of how audio can plunge players even deeper into the worlds tabletop gaming creates.
MS: Do you feel audio is too frequently left out of tabletop gaming?
BB: Too often, it is left out. We’ve lost count how many times a GM runs players through an otherwise deep, thought provoking, or exciting sequence only to have it fall completely flat since the appropriate moods between player and GM were way out of sync. Given the power of audio, a GM need not score every second of a game, but even a dash of thunder, an NPC greeting, or the sounds of an exotic language being spoken by someone in town can add that immersive element to a game that’s tough to get any other way.
Like using minis, tile sets, illustrations, and props, audio is just another tool in the GM’s arsenal to paint a world that players can lose themselves in. In fact, given the tie between sound and emotion, it’s by far the most powerful tool any GM has at his or her disposal.
MS: Along that same line of thought, I often feel like introducing technology to the Pen and Paper scene can feel threatening to some, just look at what happened to Codename: Morningstar (aka Dungeonscape) for a reference. Have you experienced any backlash at all from people claiming this isn’t something “we” need, or have you been met with largely positive responses?
BB: When our last Kickstarter, Realmsound Project was starting up we did get a few folks who questioned the value of bringing audio into the game, thinking that it will detract from the gaming experience. Since the success of Realmsound, we’ve been working hard to show how audio, like any other tool; can add to the gaming experience, providing a context for the scenes the GM unfolds during the creation of a story. With even a dash of audio used at the right moment can add a very real sense of immersion in the game where ever the GM feels it most appropriate.
MS: The first project I can recall your group funding through Kickstarter was the Realmsound Project, a similar project that helped bring gaming sound effects and music to the table. What are the major differences between that first successful run and Battle Bards?
BB: BattleBards is our attempt to take the little experiment of sourcing a batch of professionally created audio and make it into an engine, providing not just a random, one-time collection of music, sound effects, and voiceovers but a vibrant marketplace where top tier composers, sound designers, and voice talent continuously add to this new universe of tabletop specific audio.
MS: Talk to me about your two key fixtures, the Soundboard and Mixer. How will access to them be structured? Are they first downloaded as apps and then logged into or will you have to access via the web?
BB: The Soundboard is the lynchpin to the BattleBards service. You can have the great audio ever composed but without the means to seamlessly integrate it into a gaming environment, it’s useless. Using a system of modular customizable playlists, GMs will be able to setup their own “audio command and control” center, bringing at the ready whatever they need for the coming session.
The Mixer is a tool of endless possibilities (sorry for the cliché). Using nothing more than click and drag, users can layer any and all kinds of audio (think iMovie but purely Audio-based for TTRPGs) to create narrative backdrops with synched sound effects to go with the ebb and flow of the script. Provide ambiance to voice overs in order to command the setting. Create complex sound effects able to describe any event in-game from the rise of a towering earth elemental culminating in a sky-shaking roar to a pack of goblins beating down a weakening wooden door. Without needing to be a sound engineer at all, users with a bit of imagination have a new world to explore here.
Everything will be accessible from the web from any device. Every track purchased will be available for download as well as unlocked on the BattleBards service for streaming. Combine this with the ability to upload and store your own audio on our cloud and you can carry around all of your gaming audio with you anywhere you game with an internet connection. With Sync, you can even carry around your library without an internet connection, just sync the audio you want to take with you and BAM, instant customized gaming audio available in the deepest dungeon.. er.. basement.
MS: Can content made using the Mixer be made freely available to other users? To further that question is there a consideration to having an open sharing area for user generated content?
BB: Yes. Some of the best mods in the video game industry are made by the community and we want to bring that same creativity and passion in with a community of our own. Users will be able to assemble mixes using BattleBards audio and share them with their fellows, quickly earning fame for mixes that get a ton of downloads. As far as publicly sharing mixes created using non-BattleBards audio, it’s yet to be hammered out since that often gets into the murky depths of validating and protecting copyrighted material.
MS: If you can upload to the Mixer couldn’t that allow for some wholly original pieces of audio? If someone user the mixer for that kind of project could they then reach out to you and see if they could sell it through BattleBards rather than give it away freely? I suppose on that note, Mixer aside, how would someone approach you with something they think you could sell?
BB: The BattleBards Mixer is a wonderful tool and is very user-friendly. However, it has purposefully been designed for simplicity in mind to aid GMs at the gaming table. It has not been created for the aspiring professional artist. For artists, they would be much better served using a professional audio suite to put together an original composition. Anyone interested to throw their hat into the gaming audio ring should email us directly and we’ll hook them up with the details for the auditioning process.
MS: Ever thought of teaming up with any of the big name publishers out there to produce audio in combination with a release of theirs?
BB: Oh yeah! We would love to work with a number of publishers for sure. Once we have found our footing post-launch we will be reaching out for sure.
MS: Why do think no one has really done much with this type of gaming enhancement in the past? Or have they and I just never noticed it?
BB: There’s a ton of incredible audio out there but we think it hasn’t hit the mainstream for a couple of reasons. First, the tools. Beyond simply using a music track as a backdrop, integrating audio in any kind of an extensive way is a huge pain in the neck. The GM has enough on their plate as it is and needing to queue up 4 different media players and YouTube windows for anything beyond putting up simple loops detracts from the gaming experience. For this reason, we’ve spent a great deal of time researching just what tools would be needed to bring audio close enough to the GM to allow its use at the table to be practical, enter The Soundboard.
Secondly, sourcing movie-quality music, sound effects, voice overs, and the like is EXPENSIVE, and to build a network of great talent is even harder to pull off. See, we don’t have just a single composer or voice talent on staff. We work with dozens of accomplished artists who have serious cred in film, video games, tv shows, animation, etc. That gives us a lot of variety to work with. And, though they are all super talented, no one individual can do justice to every genre of audio. Each artist has a niche where they truly rock and so we play to that strength to get the best we can out of everyone.
MS: Your Kickstarter plug states “BattleBards – Fantasy Audio for Tabletop Gamers Done Right”, is your focus solely on fantasy gaming or have you collected audio for other genres? i.e. Science Fiction, Steampunk, Gothic Horror
BB: For right now, we’re diving deep into fantasy in order to give gamers a solid base from which to provide audible gaming candy to almost any session possible. However, to offer a bit of a tease, we know what genre is coming next and it’s related to a major, MAJOR movie being released this coming Christmas…
MS: Ha! Nice tease. I can see tons of applications beyond the table for this kind of audio. Podcasts, the rising popularity of “radio” dramas, what restrictions will users have on using these sounds for their projects? Can they be used beyond the table?
BB: There’s a ton of ways to use this audio and we want to work with everyone. Let’s get this level of gaming audio to every passionate gamer out there and what better way than to broadcast it on the air/cyber waves? All of the audio that BattleBards purchases from talent (The Audio Vault) we want to make available to podcasters, radio shows, and whoever is willing to share what we offer in a credible way. For all of the other audio that we don’t own, but’s offer on BattleBards, it will be up to our talent, that’s providing the audio, to allow for non-personal use. In short, for those out there who want to use our audio over a public channel or for interesting media projects, shoot us an email!
MS: Very recently you canceled your first Kickstarter for BattleBards before it reached its end to favor a different style of final product. Why did BattleBards decide to switch from a subscription model to a purchase model? How will this affect how the soundboard and mixer will be available to users?
BB: We launched the first BattleBards Kickstarter Campaign with a subscription model hoping to offer gamers a colossal library of audio as a streaming service. However, as the campaign gained steam we collected more and more feedback from gamers. It became clear that they loved the audio, but not the subscription delivery method. They preferred the ability to select the audio they wanted for download specifically.
It came to the point where we had to ask ourselves if we were really offering a service that most gamers wanted. As we reached 74% funded with 18 days remaining, we decided to do something quite unorthodox and cancel mid-campaign in order to start over with a more desirable pay-to-download model.
Like the Realmsound Project that came before, we’re giving concrete products. The Soundboard and Mixer, critical components for integrating audio in a game setting are all browser based now so there’s no need for actual apps and the like, use it anywhere!
MS: Looks like its paid off! Hey, plan on hitting up any Cons during the upcoming Con Season?
BB: Oh yes. Mike Adams is our Cons Colonel who is mapping out what we can hit and where. Since we’re just getting our start, we’ll likely just be wanderers in the sea of Cons like everyone else but it would be a dream come true to actually have a bigger role in them.
MS: What is the future for BattleBards? Where do you see this application going down the line?
BB: Already, future feature additions to the Soundboard and Mixer are being drawn up to give gamers a chance to play around with their creations in an intuitive manner, as well as some innovations in the works to bring audio even closer to the GM than a click. Eventually, we want to be able to offer native mobile applications to further increase the portability aspect of BattleBards. Lastly, as we mentioned already, we’re looking into bringing the same insane level of quality of audio into new genres beyond Fantasy, and we have some plans in the works to make that happen sooner rather than later.
MS: A few final words from me here. First I want to thank you again for speaking with me, and I want to commend you on switching your project from a subscription model to what you’ll be doing now. While I don’t know yet which I personally would have preferred, it seems you are really listening to the majority of your backers. 74% with 18 days remaining is a strong indicator of a project that likely would have funded so kudos for taking this leap of faith based of the desires of the community. I feel it shows a strong commitment to our hobby. Do you have any parting thoughts?
BB: We can’t thank you enough for giving us this time and platform to talk about what we’re working on. With regards to the move from subscription to purchase, thanks for the kudos. It was an agonizing decision that left several of us in the Team with sleepless nights. Ultimately, we’re gamers. Gaming is where we live and we want to introduce top tier audio to the entire community. If that means we need to tear things down in order to rebuild, then so be it.
Finally, for those of you who really like what we’re doing at BattleBards, we are telling you right now, don’t be shy. Reach out to us and tell us what you want. Let’s join forces and create the best sound library the tabletop gaming community has ever seen.
Here you can find the revamped BattleBards Kickstarter
Currently they sit at 124% funded and climbing so I’m excited to see what sort of stretch goals they roll out. I’ll be throwing my hat into the ring and backing these fine folks, can’t wait to try things out!
Other places to see BattleBards info:
P.S. Big thanks to Toby (author for the blog Roll and Groove) for reminding me of these fine folk and their product! We’ll have to got to more concerts together so you can get me more content.