Jeff's World of Game Design

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Mix tape

Jeff Warrender
United States
Averill Park
New York
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Since we were talking about music in yesterday's post, I'll go ahead and fire this one off...

The other day I happened to see a stack of cassettes lying around, and thought that it must be possible to get old cassettes cheaply (????), and that perhaps a game with cassettes as a component could be quirky and nostalgic (albeit gimmicky). I mentioned this to my wife and she suggested the game should be about making mix tapes, that classic and quintessentially 80s cultural artifact that kids these days have no familiarity with.

I riffed from this to suggest that perhaps the premise is that our tape recorder has a broken "rewind" button. Thus, after I record (say) "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" (the song) onto my tape, now the Sgt. Pepper album is set up for "With a Little Help From My Friends" so the next person to record off of that album would have to use that song, or maybe burn some time to skip to "Lucy in the Sky w/Diamonds".

I guess technically it would be easier for each "cassette" to actually be a stack of cards, each card representing one song, and you have a tableau representing your mix tape, created by adding cards to the right each time you record a new song. Total length of each side can't exceed 30 minutes, and deadtime at the end is a bummer you'd like to avoid.

Hmm, actually this almost sounds like the way my game Evangelists works, traveling to get story cards to add them to your 'book' (tableau)...


The challenge is to define what makes for a good mix tape, and mostly I guess that entails asking whether it's supposed to be general-use or targeted to specific circumstances. Probably each song is characterized by a few qualities: length, genre, volume, tempo, mood. I assume that's what a mix tape scoring system cares about: do the songs all have an upbeat tempo (a pre-game pump-you-up mix tape), are they all romantic (a tape for your paramour), do the transitions flow smoothly or are they jarring, etc?

The other issue is that even if it were possible to get the rights to use actual albums, probably no one has sufficient musical knowledge to know the 2nd song on Thriller, the 3rd song on Tapestry, the 5th song of Highway 61 and so on. So it's inevitable that you're stumbling around trying to figure out what songs are on the albums anyway, in which case maybe just using fake albums is ok.

On the other hand, the trouble with that is part of the fun, it seems, is supposed to come from getting stuck with songs you didn't want, but maybe that requires context. "Oh, man, you took Don't Stop Believin', now I'm stuck with Stone In Love" (actually not a bad little song) makes sense, but "You took 'My Teeth Won't Stop Chattering', now I'm stuck with 'Sioux Falls Shakedown'" wouldn't feel quite the same, because it's not just the characteristics of the song that matter (even if that's what the scoring system says), it's the feeling of having to take a crappy song. But the key to that is a set of preconceived ideas about which songs are good and which are crappy. And that presupposes a broad familiarity with the albums in question, which a broad audience may not generally possess.

So maybe that suggests sets of album decks tailored to particular genres, and you can play with the deck that your group is most familiar with? Maybe that's not a bad solution actually.
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