TMC: Daedalian Musing – Music in the MUD

Music in the MUD
by Delphine Lynx April 11, 2003

Apologies to my readers for the inconsistency of recent entries; reality has a way of intruding, both unexpectedly and repeatedly. That said, as relates to this article: My focus is on the artistic/creative elements of MUDs, and my coding knowledge is relatively limited. Though the following discussion of sound/music is relatively neutral beyond the assumption of its existence, I hope the reader will excuse any inadvertent assumptions which may not be entirely in conjunction with the reality of current MUD sound protocols.

“If being an egomaniac means I believe in what I do and in my art or music, then in that respect you can call me that … I believe in what I do, and I’ll say it.”

The idea of music and sound as complimentary to a creative work is hardly an odd or unique one. It has been used since the beginning of film, and forms an integral element in storytelling. In fact, at this point the absence of music can be seen as such a rarity that it projects an entirely different element; no longer can one be neutral through sound, aside perhaps for if one chooses truly neutral music. It’s a field upon which mountains of literature have been written, but one rarely explored in terms of MUDS – typically for MUDs the discussion begins and ends with “Help me set up sound!”

Before beginning to discuss material , however, it may be worth sidestepping to the issue of whether the use of music is or is not appropriate. In my opinion, specific sounds, like specific images, should be avoided as inherently disruptive to the experience – any direct representation of text tends to destroy what the imagination could render. Likewise, if a description in the text calls for specific music which your character can hear, this should not be portrayed as actual sound, but instead described via text – exactly like all of the other perceptions your character might have.

That said, I view less specific music not as being for the character to see or hear, but for the player. To use an example, I don’t think we should hurt the player in reality if the character is stabbed in the game, or to show the player pictures in reality if their character sees something in the game. But it should be acceptable to target the player with different things than those directed at the character; in this instance this would happen to take the form of music.

In what regard, then, should music be utilized? I would like to draw the reader’s attention to the game Utopia as an example, because in my view it presents music exactly as it ought to be. Admittedly Utopia is not a MUD in the classical sense, but a strategy game – one involving far more players than most MUDs touch upon, and one whose dynamic isn’t based quite so much upon personal interaction and action. That said, allow me to sum up briefly for those among us who’re not familiar with Utopia.

In Utopia, the player is presented, by default, with no music. Should they decide they’d like to play with it on, there are then four songs from which to choose. As Utopia is played in an area-neutral environment, the music choices are clearly static, and do not change as per what the character is doing – all have a similar feel, and all are available at any time. But the differences, though not necessarily in feel, do vary such things as style, tempo, tone, etc, thereby providing a suitable choice for most players.

What’s most important here is the element of choice. Though the creators have chosen a selection of songs which can be seen to demonstrate what the world’s ambience represents to them, they nevertheless give the player the freedom within that to select a piece of music which suits his personal interpretation. Likewise, the music can be turned off entirely if the player decides that it is unsuitable in the particular instance, or if a break is just needed..

My vision of music in the MUD, then, is along a similar vein. If each area creator provided, say, 2-5 songs which could be linked to their area, then the players would have the option, as long as they were in the area, to listen to any one of them, if music were turned on. Through this system, interpretation of the area remains a dialogue between builder and player. Just as the player may choose which connotation of a word or text best applies to their vision of the game, so too must they choose which song best suits their vision. But this choice would occur within a framework set forth by the builder, who has previously selected these songs to specifically represent the mood he or she interprets from the area.

I certainly cannot promise that all players would utilize the feature, or that your builders would appreciate providing sound files along with area files. But after viewing a movie or game in which music is used to excellent effect, I imagine you, just as I do, consider just how nice it’d be if epic confrontations and vast expanses within MUDs could be imbued with the same feeling of grandeur which music, coupled with text, can so deftly weave.

Once you’ve determined that inserting music in this fashion is applicable, the possibilities are endless. Just as countless scenes in movies are dependent on their music to set a tone, so to can you use music in your MUD. Though it goes without saying that music should never replace in any way well written text descriptions, music does provide that little bit of extra, the little bit which may take the player’s response to an area up a notch; up the tiny little notch which represents the difference between the science of a well written description and the art of an experience.

For those interested in an additional example of music which has been exceptionally done in a brief segment, I suggest looking at the trailer for Icewind Dale (Link unavailable, but copies are available from gaming websites).