What kind of songs work well for ShuffleComp?

Question for Disc 1 ShuffleComp participants. When you received your list of 8 songs submitted by other people, how did you pick the song(s) that you wanted to make a game from?

Did you choose a song you already knew and liked? Was it something that had particularly evocative lyrics, or an interesting video? Did you pick a song that had readily implementable nouns or a game-appropriate plot? Was it something else entirely that I haven’t thought of?

Same question goes for Disc 2 participants-to-be. When you receive your songs and you’re trying to pick one for a game, what would make a prospective song appeal to you?

I based my choice on the music alone, I didn’t look for the songs on Youtube before I had selected them.

I picked songs I liked from artists I liked, with songs from several different genres. I had one firm requirement, there had to be some narrative in the song, or enough of a strong theme that it was easy to imagine a narrative from the images. Obviously from that, instrumentals were right out.

My songs:
Andrew Bird - Imitosis youtube.com/watch?v=hnXCzFnkxtY
I chose because I liked the science theme coupled with doubted romance; and the covoluted lyrics.
Beastie Boys - Johnny Ryall youtube.com/watch?v=6WXIc49slVw
Rapping about an alcoholic homeless former rockability star, I don’t know how to make a game of that, but I would to see an attempt.
The Decemberists - The Shankill Butchers youtube.com/watch?v=cLY0HNds_tE
Straight up historical horror
Wu-Tang Clan - Da Mystery of Chesssboxin’
I want to see an implementation of chess boxing in text, also rich with imagery.
Saint Etienne - I was born on Christmas day
Straight romance
Kraftwerk - Trans Europa Express
youtube.com/watch?v=XMVokT5e0zs (German)
youtube.com/watch?v=ARvdP2LRXqs (English)
Retrofuturistictrain journey with a euro flair, I’m weak for retrofuturism
Elliot Smith - Between the Bars
Depressed romance, the song for barbetween
Ladytron - International Dateline
Mix Trans Europe Express and Between the Bars and mix it well, and then move it to orbit and you get this song. Or something.

I’m pretty sure Carolyn meant “how did you pick which song to actually make a game out of”, not “how did you pick which songs to submit for other people to use.” (Took me a moment, too.)

In my case, being offered “Smooth Criminal” pretty much wiped everything else off the board. It was like choosing between taking a job at McDonalds, Bob’s Computer Shack, or Google. If I’d not been offered that, my list also contained a song that would be obscure to non-theater geeks - “Where I Want to Be” from CHESS and I would have totally done that combining chess tropes and possibly some espionage spy-stuff.

Oh, dear, how embarrassing.

When I picked a song I went after one that had some concrete imagery, not just abstractions about love and betrayal and such. It came down to Sulfjan Stevens Vito’s Ordination Songs and Lambchop - Cowboy on the Moon, and I chose Cowboy on the Moon. And then I half finished the game and didn’t submit it because the last week collided with a conference.

What I did was lay hands on all the tracks that I could, put 'em on my phone, and then listen to them on repeat until something clicked.

  • I gravitated towards tracks with lyrics. I like words. They’re useful things to have in a text game.
  • It didn’t need a lot of lyrics, though. One or two fortuitous phrases, plus the right mood, did the job just fine.
  • Too, it helped if the lyrics were clearly audible. (I am not the best person at picking out lyrics.) Yeah, I could go and look them up, but it helps if I don’t have to.
  • I was more interested in tracks that I enjoyed, largely because they stuck in my head more effectively and made me want to pay closer attention to them.
  • I had one track that dealt centrally with identity/politics issues, and I was rather more hesitant about basing something on that one, because Getting Things Right can be Really Hard, and I doubted I could do it justice with a deadline looming.
  • I never got any ideas for Walk Through the Fire, because my brain does not work in fanfic ways and the song is so closely tied to Buffy characters and plot. (For someone whose brain did work in fanfic ways - or who had never seen any Buffy - it could have been great, I dunno.) On the other hand, I spent some time noodling around ideas for a narrative folk song - the narrative and characters are hazily-defined enough for me to play around with.
  • I largely ignored videos. I want to be able to come up with my own visuals.
  • Songs I already knew or didn’t know didn’t make that much of a difference, except that of the songs I knew I gravitated towards the ones I’d first encountered recently (for values of ‘recently’ meaning ‘last few years’).

For Sequitur, I had the premis, some basic story elements, and some rough characters before starting. The songs were used to fill the holes:

I need a setting … “House of the Rising Sun”
I need some character traits … gambler (HOTRS), hot dogs and vegetarianism (“Hot Dog”), French (from a French song)
I need some details on a chemical weapon … “Solid Gold”

Then I used the four songs to flesh out more details and add symbols and themes (e.g., gold=elements=band member names; the band the Animals=animal references).

Only one of the songs I submitted was chosen, and I think the author wrote that it was chosen for a similar reason. The song, “No Cars Go,” was chosen, I think, for the line " … where no stars go," which helped design a puzzle.

I’m not sure any of this will help one write a playlist, though. Really, I could have used the other four songs instead, but my chosen four clicked with me immediately. There was some prejudice going on here, too. I love animals, and I am interested in science, so the songs that played up to that piqued my interest.


Sorry, I did phrase that badly. What I meant was - when you got your list, how did you pick which one you wanted to make a game from?

(Added a clarifying note at the top.)

For my part, I picked Monkey and Bear because it had a strong plot that I could immediately imagine as an IF game.

My runners-up were Colossal Girl (Wolfmother) and And The World Turned (The Gabe Dixon Band). I actually like both of them better as songs, but I couldn’t resist the imagery from Monkey and Bear for game purposes.

@Hanon: I am pleased it went so well. (I’m guessing part of the reason your text featured on the rockpapershotgun blurb is people would recognize the song.)

rockpapershotgun.com/2014/05 … p-entries/

@Neil: What did you think someone would do with the song? (“No Cars Go”)


When I was picking, I definitely gravitated first towards visuals, because when it comes to pop music I’m a lot more versed in music videos than music (I otherwise listen to classical music). Sometimes I know more about who directed a particular video than who the artists are.

…but since I ended up using all of them, maybe I’m not the best one to be asking.

I didn’t participate in the last one, but am looking forward to participate this time around! My plan is to listen to the songs and find the one that inspires me the most. I likely won’t choose a song that tells TOO specific a story, but also won’t pick a song that’s vague or wishy washy about what it’s about. I’m also in the mood for something upbeat and fun, so love ballads or overly serious themes or emo stuff are out.

@Neil: What did you think someone would do with the song? (“No Cars Go”)”

I primarily submitted the song because I thought it would be a lesser-known song from a fairly popular band, Arcade Fire. I didn’t think much of how it would be used, except for, perhaps, invoking black holes or other giant unexplorable black spaces. I’m glad it was used in the way it was.


I recently wrote up my decision process here: dougo.livejournal.com/154682.html

In short, I ended up picking the song whose title sounded the most like an IF command… but it helped that it had evocative lyrics that suggested both some concrete images and some thematic directions. Only one of my songs (“Take On Me”) was something I had heard before, and I almost picked it partly for sentimental reasons; if there had been a song from a favorite artist I suspect that would have biased me even more towards it. But, I would still definitely need a lyrical hook.

I started by taking a setting from one song (Robot High School, which I hadn’t heard before) and the vague suggestion of saints from another band’s name (Saint Etienne). Working with the idea of saints and robots, I borrowed lines here and there to add props and characters as needed: the box of things costing a dollar each from a Tom Waits song, monopoly money from Aimee Mann, someone whose says their brain is gone from Quasimoto, a former child TV star from Peter Gabriel, prayers from Bon Jovi.

So I guess the answer is that I found the song that suggested an interesting setting most immediately useful, followed by ones with generally interesting lyrics that I could interpret and use however I wanted. I got one instrumental, which was cool–it makes a nice soundtrack to the game overall (Electric pow wow drum)–but I don’t know if it really added much to the process.

I was sort of stuck on using the name of the song as the name of the game, as in the Apollo 18 + 20 tribute. (This heavily influenced my own song selection, but no one bit on I Can’t Find My Money or Don’t Go Into That Barn. Ah well.) So I listened to my songs a few times, and then picked up on one that had a narrative situation… but I didn’t want the whole long narrative, so I just focused on the part about making tea and toast for a loved one. Part of that was that that gave me a lot of medium-sized dry goods to work with and a task to give the player that could allow for a lot of interaction without being a puzzle–I’m not great at puzzles–and also I’d been wanting to work with a system where the objects around you trigger memories, and this was a nice match. Especially because it let you do several things in parallel (there’s tea and toast), which gives the player some variation and also in theory allows for the memories to get diverted into different paths.

But if I hadn’t done that something I probably would’ve tried to do something for “Leaf House,” which has a total of twenty-seven words, is near as impressionistic as you can get, and where I’d have been mostly riffing on the video–some kind of game about a house in the woods with things that weren’t always the right side and probably kitties and possibly an absent master. So I’m not saying “Give me a song with a strong narrative hook.” I have no idea what’ll get me going.

The song I chose but couldn’t make work in time was the Maintain Goats’ Palmcorder Yajna, which mentions a location (the Holt Boulevard Travelodge) and many objects (a camera inside a television, scale maps of the ocean floor) without ever really outlining a narrative or explaining what the hell is going on, so I was free to invent something about cops investigating a crime scene of murdered insects.

It never really came together but I’d probably pick the same kind of song again.

Yeah, the specific song I went for was helpful in suggesting-without-precisely-specifying a setting (a party) and a problem (the end of something).

Huh, I thought I threw my two cents in but don’t see them here. My helpful beta-tester suggested that an Aisle-alike was very likely precisely what the suggestor had in mind when they threw “50 ways to leave your lover” into the song-selection pool. It was handy to hit on a phrase that basically provided the entire blueprint.