The King of Shreds and Patches: Sound

Let’s talk for a moment about this game’s use of sound. There’s one puzzle in particular where you render a Bedlamite temporarily coherent by unscrambling some dismembered music. It’s not completely essential to have sound — you get some textual feedback, but it’s subtle and requires a lot more trial-and-error if you can’t hear what you’re doing. And for a while, that’s how I tried to solve it. I had the sound turned off. I had forgotten about it. The in-game documentation said that there was occasional sound, and even warned me that there was a sound puzzle, but it also said that I’d know it when I came to it, and, well, I didn’t at first.

I don’t normally turn sound off in games. I generally want the full experience intended by the author. I do find sound in text games a little weird, though. I find that playing IF, like reading a book, essentially puts the mind into a mode disconnected from direct sensory experience — one where you’re seeing through the mind’s eye, and, similarly, hearing through the mind’s ear, filtering out the real world. Illustrations interrupt this mode, but then, so do the command prompts, and you just get used to a certain rhythm of going into and out of reading mode. 1This is why it’s considered a good idea in IF to break up long text-dumps with command prompts, even when the player can’t actually affect anything: it preserves that rhythm. I’m starting to wonder if breaking up the text with illustrations would be just as effective. Sound, on the other hand, plays while you’re reading, and conflicts with the imagined experience.

But that’s not why I had the sound off. I had it off simply because for the last month I’ve been playing IF primarily in public. (I’m spending upwards of two hours a day on a bus these days.) I have headphones I can hook up to my laptop, but digging them out and dealing with the cord (either unwinding it or untangling it, depending on how careful I was about stowing it last time) seldom seems worthwhile, especially for a game that only features occasional sound. And, my personal experiences aside, I think there’s a valid criticism to be made here: if you’re going to use sound in a game, it’s better to make it a constant presence that the player gets used to, not an occasional surprise.

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1. This is why it’s considered a good idea in IF to break up long text-dumps with command prompts, even when the player can’t actually affect anything: it preserves that rhythm. I’m starting to wonder if breaking up the text with illustrations would be just as effective.

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