Some Assembly Required: Issue #4 -- Making music in LotRO

Some Assembly Required

Music to my ears. The Sound of Music. It ain't over 'til the fat lady (er, Dwarf) sings. Time to face the music. Pay the piper.

There is no way around it -- music is such an integral part of our lives and culture that there is almost no way to take a step without its influence showing in some part of our lives, be it an idiom, a movie, a popular catchphrase, or even just a tune stuck in our heads that we cannot escape. Music is so woven into the thread of our beings that it is surprising that more music cannot be found in the world of MMOs. Luckily for us, one world has embraced this connection to music and made it an involved part of the game.

Unlike any other games, Lord of the Rings Online has moved beyond just adding a background score and a few canned clips of music to the game. In fact, it has introduced an entire system allowing players to not only play a variety of instruments in the game but compose original pieces and play together in bands as well. The musically inclined can either play live or convert popular music into ABC files, and the not-so-inclined can use said files files to play right along with their friends. When it comes to harnessing creativity, the music system in LotRO tops the charts.

Want to see how you too can strike up the band and show off your creative prowess with the lute, the theorbo, the clarinet, or even the cowbell? Tune in past the cut for Some Assembly Required's look at the music industry in LotRO.

Lord of the Rings Online screenshot

In a nutshell, the music system in LotRO allows players to have their characters play real-time, free-form music in-game. And this ability is not restricted by class; although the Minstrels are the musicians of the game (go figure), any class can acquire the skill to play the lute. Other classes can acquire one secondary skill of either the horn (Guardian, Captain, Champion, and Warden) or the clarinet (Lore-master, Burglar, Hunter, and Rune-keeper). Minstrels, however, have a wider repertoire -- they can play the aforementioned instruments as well as the bagpipes, the theorbo (a bass guitar of sorts), the flute, the cowbell (yes, an actual cowbell), the harp, and the drum. And while Minstrels are also the only ones who attack mobs with music, all classes can assault the ears of their fellow players depending on how well they play!

So how do you get started? Players needn't grind themselves up to high levels to participate, as instruments become available at just level 5. If you meet that stringent level requirement, all you need to do in order to start strumming is visit a bard in town and get yourself an instrument. Next, equip the instrument in the ranged weapon slot. Finally, to start your jam session, just activate the music system by typing /music. Pretty easy, no?

All that's left is actually plinking out the notes. But here is where it might become daunting to some players, as playing music and sounding good while playing music might be two different things entirely. So here is a quick run-down on how to tease a ballad out of your instrument.

Set the knight to music

After obtaining an instrument and starting the music system, all you need to do to start hearing notes is to type on your keyboard -- 37 notes in three chromatic octaves (low, high, and regular) correspond to keys on the keyboard. Basic notes are already mapped to one through eight and shift + number is the next octave up. Control + number corresponds to a sharp or flat. To choose your own bindings (including one to toggle the music mode on/off), go to options/keymapping/music (about two-thirds of the way down) and set away. Here, you can utilize your entire keyboard instead of worrying about using just the numbers. Personally, I find this method is best left to the truly musically gifted.

Another option is to connect a MIDI piano and use that instead of the keyboard. For those who are competent at tickling the ivories, this method may seem much more natural and result in a better flow of melody. Although LotRO itself does not support the MIDI interface, the Lorebook on the official site directs players to a popular player-created interface that effectively turns a MIDI device into a computer keyboard by mapping MIDI input on computers to keystrokes.

Lord of the Rings Online screenshot

In either instance, manual play is better suited for a solo performance as syncing with other musicians is difficult enough in real-time without adding latency. Although there is a low latency mode that allows you to hear the note the moment you press a key, it only affects the music played by hand that the specific player hears. This means others will hear your timing differently; if you are hoping to blend in with a group, you really do not want this option. So if you aren't a musical genius or you want to play in a group -- and sound good while doing so -- what can you do? LotRO answers: scripted play.

ABC, easy as 123

For those who find manual play to be cacophony, there is still a way to take advantage of this great music system. Built right in is the ability for scripted play; players can add ABC music files to their game folders and then cue up a song to play automatically in-game while they just sit back and listen, chat with friends or the audience, or even *gasp* roleplay. Sound right up your alley? Here's how to take advantage of ABCs.

The first step is to acquire some ABCs. An ABC is an alphabetically based music notation system -- in other words, sheet music in text form. Players can download already-converted files from sites such as The Fat Lute, convert files themselves, or received shared files from talented friends. Once you have the files, add them to \Documents and Settings\ [user]\My Documents\The Lord of the Rings Online\Music. This can be done while you are in game -- there is no need to log out or restart.

Next, you can type /playlist for the exact annotation needed to designate the song you want to choose. When you do, just type /play [filename] . ABCs are also the best way to harmonize many instruments in many parts. If you are itching to really rock out in a band, you can sync ABCs with your fellowship or raid group by typing /play [filename] sync. Once everyone has done so, type /playstart to start the song. If the song has many parts for different instruments, make sure you cue the right part and have the right instrument equipped or you won't be hearing a peep!

Finnson Stiffbeard

Now what's a column highlighting player-generated content without a player who generates content? Meet Finnson Stiffbeard, a stout and jolly old Dwarf who has a keen ear for good music. In fact, Finnson is a wiz at transcribing music to ABC format and has a personal repertoire of musical pieces for solos, duets, and groups. He has taken the time to map out parts in a number of instrument combinations for works such as Fugue in G minor, Bach's Prelude #3 (two-part harmony), Farewell to the Creeks (a five-part piece), Concerning Hobbits (in four parts), Legends of the Fall (four parts), and three versions of Vivaldi's Concerto in G.

Lord of the Rings Online screenshot

Finnson, like many LotRO players, enjoys the music system and takes pride in his contributions to it. I have had the pleasure of hearing him play and even had the privilege of playing along with him. His music makes even me sound good! The experience of such an innovative and immersive music system was definitely worth the cover charge, and I could spend hours just playing with this one feature. Have you had memorable experiences with the music system? Tell us about them in the comments below!

Every two weeks, Jef Reahard and MJ Guthrie take a break from their themepark day jobs to delve into the world of player-generated content. Comments, suggestions, and coverage ideas are welcome, and Some Assembly Required is always looking for players who'd like to show off their MMO creativity. Contact us!