Friday, May 27, 2011

Musical notes, by the Fool

I've found a new toy; abc music notation and playing music in Lotro. It's very cool indeed, but not without its frustrations.

Firstly, the good things. I have been hugely impressed by the amount of roleplaying the music system inspires, by the amount of time and dedication some people put into concerts and other musical events.

Would this happen without a workable and well-developed music system? That's a good question, but I suspect not. There is something about the reality of the music that inspires participation. It's not people sitting around, roleplaying eating a muffin. It's not people pretending to a physical reality that, ultimately, doesn't exist.

The music is real. What you write and perform is heard by others. And this gives it an immediacy that makes for compelling in-game interactions. Call it roleplay if you will, or don't if you'd rather not. Whatever it is, it's effective.

I read somewhere (some blog or other, can't remember where now) that the initial music system in Lotro was very basic, but still hugely popular, and that Turbine was taken aback at how enthusiastically players responded. I haven't decided whether or not this is surprising, to be honest, but I'm certainly glad it happened. There's no doubt that the Lotro music system is something that makes the game almost entirely unique, and is something that will only increase the game's popularity.

I say "almost entirely" unique, as I know of one other game that has such a detailed music system; it's Clan Lord, a MMORPG for the Mac that's been around for a long time. Music was cool in Clan Lord, and it's cool in Lotro.

Of course, like anything, the Lotro music system isn't perfect.

Most frustrating of all is the choice of instruments. At the minute the available string instruments are Lute, Harp and Theorbo. All three of them have a gentle attack and a long sustain. Perfect for singing gentle Celtic folk songs, but not so good for much else. It's very limiting. Without some chordal-style instrument that has a sharp attack and limited sustain (acoustic piano, for example, or steel-string guitar) it's very difficult to create complex rhythmic patterns. The rhythms get muddied by the sustain, and smoothed by the gentle attack, and overall you lose the punch, you lose the definition of the music. It's a shame. Perhaps this was a deliberate decision by the developers, trying to encourage the gentle folk style rather than a more modern sound.

The wind intruments are a lot better, although their tonal qualities leave a bit to be desired, and the intonation of the clarinet is awful (well, on some notes, anyway). The drums and cowbells are inoffensive, but I don't know too much about percussion.

Not all the abc notation is implemented, too, which isn't actually a major problem. There are workarounds for most things that only involve typing stuff out. It's a minor nuisance only.

At any rate, I've been having a blast, writing stuff in abc notation. It's a fun puzzle; how do you write a mambo beat in Lotro abc notation? How about a blues? Funk? Swing? Each style is a challenge. Some don't work out well. Blues is not good, as that relies so much on a percussive guitar sound, which Lotro just will not do. Mambo is much better, as that's much more a cowbell and conga sound. And so on.

I'm busy working through the people in the Lonely Mountain Band who have been kind to Aegthil, writing them a song each. Whether they want one or not. Still, even if they hate the tunes it could be worse. They could have lyrics.

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