Music In 4d4 Time

One-Winged Angel. Dancing Mad. The Extreme. Clash On The Big Bridge. Vamo Alla Flamenco. Chocobo. Esper Battle. Final Fantasy is a series defined by its music as much as anything else, to the point where a chief complaint many had with Final Fantasy XIII is that it had no crystal theme or victory fanfare. When you load up a Final Fantasy game, you expect incredible music from start to finish, and anything less than that is unacceptable.

That is an expectation I placed on myself when I started running my d20 Final Fantasy game back in 2003, and while I don’t know if I’ve succeeded thus far, no one can accuse me of not trying.

As of this second week of February 2012, we have had 235 formal sessions of Final Fantasy Omega, with probably another 25 or so uncategorized solo sessions that didn’t get an official number on them. In those 250+ sessions I have played 546 unique tracks of music, according to my sounds directory. At least 60 of those are recordings I did for the big arena tournament, because there is always a tournament in Final Fantasy games, and I felt compelled to record myself giving professional wrestling-esque introductions for every team and person competing. If I had any shame, that could have been embarrassing.

What started as a way to make my players excited when they used big attacks, like playing their character’s theme song when they hit their limit break, evolved into something a lot more detailed than I ever anticipated. The party members have their own musical cues and themes beyond their one theme song. For instance, summoner Naoko Kyuudou’s theme song is Ryoshima Plains from Okami, mixed so part 1 leads quickly into part 2’s drums. Okami’s soundtrack has a very strong Japanese feel to it, signature flute and strings over staccato beats and a bunch of other instruments that I would recognize instantly but could not begin to name. I’ve used other pieces of music from Okami for important things to Naoko — a few of her summons have music from Okami, as does her uncle, an important NPC (not EVERY character has their own theme music, it just feels like that). I now follow Rei Kondoh to find more work she’s done, so I can mine from those soundtracks for more Naoko-specific plot ideas.

Another character has an acoustic-guitar focus, from when he picked Bur Said by Cusco as the theme for his abandoned home. I’ve used that a time or two since. Another has a growing focus on the militaristic drums and rising strings of Hitoshi Sakimoto, best known for his work in Final Fantasy XII and Valkyria Chronicles. The first character there has a piece of music done by Hitoshi Sakimoto with acoustic guitar, and it is the theme for the closest thing they have in common.

I have built a villain solely around Liberi Fatali, the opening theme from Final Fantasy VIII, and the dozen or so versions I have of it from official releases, covers, and remixes tracked down online. One single aspect of my main villain is built around the soundtrack to NieR, the most captivating music I’ve heard in a game in the last five years, because the otherworldly vocals fit that mood perfectly.

My players don’t have the same ear for video game soundtracks that I do, because they’re not insane. But I know I’ve done a good job with music when I can slightly modify a theme and get private messages from all three of them going “Oh shit what have we done?!”

The best gift a player can give his GM is crippling fear and abject terror, and if I have to mix Powder with Gangrel’s WWF theme music to make the theme for Anima to get that fear, I will. Because when it works, when I can set a song playing and see all three of them scrambling to find a way out of the immediate area, that means I’ve done my job well.

And they hate me for it.


Writing And The Management Of The Defantasized Zone

There are two major creative things I am working on in my spare time; Popular Anarchy, my first novel, and Final Fantasy Omega, my tabletop RPG. There are similarities between them, which isn’t too surprising as far as my tastes go. There are swords and sorcery, guns and explosions, cracking wise and often, airships sailing the skies and shooting at other airships, and nefarious villains doing nefarious things.

In the RPG, one of the characters has the ability to call down a rain of meteors on his enemies. He did this to derail a train loaded with biological weapons from hitting a city. The train then attacked the full party, and I believe was defeated by being suplexed (the preferred method for dealing with trains).

Popular Anarchy is significantly lower-powered than this.

I have found difficulties in writing both at the same time. In Popular Anarchy, I have two characters taking a trip via airship from Point A to Point B. My first thought for something to happen on this trip involved a high-stakes battle on top of the airship with people falling off and being narrowly rescued before plummeting to their deaths thousands of feet below. That’s a little at odds with the style of the book (though later I have every intention of high-stakes battles atop airships), but it’s perfectly in tune with gaming, where the players regularly leap through the air between airships because they can probably break the enemy ship with their fists if they hit it right.

In theory, I have a schedule for writing. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, I work on gaming preparation. Gaming itself takes place Wednesday night. I then work on PA on Thursday and Friday. In theory. It’s getting more difficult to switch gears, though, since I’m so focused on some big story stuff happening in gaming.

I’m taking this week off from gaming, but I need to build in a stricter schedule for gaming and writing. I’m going to try planning gaming on weekends and then my novel work during the week; that’s more of a fair distribution of labor. We’ll see how this goes.

If Popular Anarchy has people punching airships, though, you know why.

Attacking The Darkness

Every week, I inform my friends and family that I am the master of their futures and their very lives are in my hands. Whether they live or die is solely my discretion, and my faintest whim will determine the course of their future.

And then we roll some dice and hit things.

Wednesday nights are Gaming Nights around here. Back in 2003 I started a Final Fantasy d20 gaming campaign, custom-built (read that: shamelessly stolen) from various d20 rulebooks and my own fevered imagination. We started with two players, grew to four (and two games!), then went down to three when one of my players decided he had better things to do, like go be a lawyer or something. We miss you, Taylor! Though we understand you have about no time left in the world anymore.

My players are my best friend from high school who moved out here to Kansas City with me in 2003, another really good friend who moved out here to Kansas City with me in 2004, and the girl I moved here to Kansas City FOR, and who I married in 2008. The player who ended up leaving the game was another one of my best friends from high school who moved out here to Kansas City with me in 2003. Aside from gaming, we have maybe two things all in common, one of which is a susceptibility to mind control.

There is a list, somewhere, of things that no one wants to read about, and stories about your gaming sessions are no lower than #4 on that list. So I’m not going to just recap sessions each week here, because no one wants to read that who isn’t already playing in the game. So instead I’m going to try and find interesting things to talk about as far as game design, how I run things, special extras either I or my players have done, stuff like that. We’ll start with music, because this will frame a lot of the later posts.

Final Fantasy games are big on music. Most every character in a game has a leitmotif, there are special battle themes and city themes and mood themes, so forth, so on. When I started planning Final Fantasy Omega, I decided I was going to make music a big part of the game, so I told everyone to pick their character’s theme song, because it would be used for their Limit Break (big super signature attack). I would also have themes for the villains and cities and everything.

We’ve since moved the game online, where we log into IRC every week and type out our dice rolls and character chatter, since the youngest of us is 29 (me!) and everyone’s getting old and lazy, and the player who left still played for a few years after moving to Nashville from KC. I can still do music, though, by setting up a sounds directory in IRC and then using commands in-session to play music.

The sounds directory has, at the time of this writing, 489 items in it. Many of these are tracks that I have played only once. It’s not enough to say I have themes going for certain characters — I’m limiting composers to specific character arcs so I can have a consistent unifying theme for that character and anyone related to him or her.

Most of the music comes from video game soundtracks, so expect this space to talk a lot about music.