Dungeons and DJs: A review of DMDJ

I’ve played and run games with and without musical accompaniment, and if I had to state a preference, I’d side with music every time. It can’t just be haphazard use of music though. It’s best when the music is appropriate to the situation that we are currently in. Lord of the Rings OST is thematic, but having a scene specific for our arrival at the Fey Court or exploring the sewers is what I prefer.  Opposing this is time and ease of access.

How much time is a GM going to spend to find just the right music for a scenario?  I’ve spent a lot of time on it myself, and acquiring a solid collection of tunes is time consuming and expensive, representing almost a side-hobby in itself.   After you’ve traversed that obstacle, then you need to construct a setup that you can use without slowing down the game.  Often that means more prep, and more equipment: getting a sound system in place, setting up your computer, getting a selection of music easily at hand and organized.  If you attempt to add sound to your game without taking all of this into account, you risk bland ambience, distracting shuffles as you set up, or both.

DMDJ from Blueface makes a solid attempt at easing these pains.  As an RPG  music soundboard and dice roller for the iPhone/iPad, it offers great “at your fingertips” control in a  convenient and portable package, surmounting some of the difficulties of setting up sound in your game, though there remain issues to address.

The app is easy to get started with. Within seconds of downloading, I constructed a soundscape consisting of a crowded city street with imperial horns for music accompaniment. It sounded great, but definitely listen to what the app tells you on load:  Play it on real speakers.  The app definitely needs better speakers than your mobile device supplies you, and will sound terrible if you ignore the advice.

Color me surprised at the quality of the music that comes with DMDJ; I typically expect default music to be the musical equivalent of clip art, but this is not the case. Still, I would like an option to bring my own music into the app.  As I mentioned before, I’ve spent much time and energy on building my own library and effects. Not being able to bring them into this device is one aspect of the package that keeps me from replacing my current hodge podge system with it right now.  One thing to keep in mind is despite its UI having a fantasy theme, the app has modern and sci-fi environments and music included with it.

The other deterrent is the inability to save my created soundscapes for future use.  After creating that cool city sounds mix, I was dismayed to find that I couldn’t save it for later.  It only takes a few clicks to make a new soundscape, but when I am running a game, the last thing I need is another  set of things to remember; the full usefulness of an app would be in letting me create soundscapes ahead of time and then accessing what I made with a button push. I want to store a few soundboards at a time, so I have a portable soundtrack for my games that is easy to access. The app stores your last saved sounds, but I need a little more than that.

I am surprised that the dice roller feature exists.  It’s actually very useful and nice, but I was saddened to see that I could store pre-built dice rolls when I couldn’t do that for sound.  The dice roller feels like a distraction from the soundscape usage, and vice-versa. I feel like the dice roller functionality should split into its own app (I would buy it) so that I can get full access to music capabilities of DMDJ.

I like where the app starts from, and I think it is completely worth buying if the developers can address the ability to store multiple soundscapes and import music.  If they bring those in, the app moves from pretty useful to “can’t live without it.”  I hope that they do this, but in the meantime I’ll recommend this to you if you want to add music and sound effects to your game but haven’t really started, as this is a great start.  If you already have a setup, I’ll suggest you wait until we see how the app develops.

DMDJ is available now from the App Store for the iPhone and iPad.

Comments

  1. It sounds awesome! I’m downloading it right now, and I’ll use it saturday on my session. Thanks for the review 😀

  2. It is really very cool as an app! I hope you enjoy and share how it worked out for you!

  3. Sold! Sounds like a handy tool. Our group is always in need of some appropriate music.

  4. Just downloaded this and love it already. Thanks for the heads up, Quinn! I don’t know that I ever would have heard of this without you reviewing it.

  5. Hi everyone! This is Antonis from Blueface Games and I have to say that we’re extremely proud about this review and your comments! Being D&D players ourselves, receiving these comments is so nice! So, lots of thanks to the writer and lots of thanks to all of you too!

    Since DMDJ’s launch we have focused on hearing what DMs have to say about it (if you check the Special Thanks page, you’ll see that several DMs were also involved in the design process – you may also know some of them!), so this review has a lot of useful comments we will use. Let me address some points:

    1) The “Save” feature (something like a “Favourites” feature) is a thing that we are currently working on for DMDJ – such a feature can also include even more options. We are currently working on setting up a feedback blog, in order to communicate with all of you about this feature and get feedback on how you’d like to see it implemented. I’ll have more info about it soon! Just for the note, we’re already working on some techniques about this feature.

    2) Regarding users’ music, this is a bit more complicated, since DMDJ uses a game audio engine (so it doesn’t just play the music themes – it actually passes them through this engine, to add effects etc. and to make them fit to the environment). However, we know (from the existing, rich feedback) that this is something needed for DMs and it adds up significantly to DMDJ’s usability and usefulness – so, we’re working on this as well and we will have more news very soon.

    As I mentioned before, your comments are our fuel for development. We will soon have the feedback blog up and running, so I’ll keep you informed about it. And, once again, thank you all for your kind words and comments – it is hard to explain how proud we all feel about them! 🙂 And thanks to Quinn Murphy for this great review 🙂

    Antonis

  6. Now…is there anything this simple and user-friendly for the PC user?

  7. @Quinn: Thanks for the heads up about this app, and the review! I hadn’t heard of it before, and it looks great.

    @Antonis: Thanks for jumping on with some additional insights! I’ll especially be on the lookout for the use-your-own music feature.

  8. Glad everyone is finding the review useful!

    Antonis, thanks for taking time to respond to feedback. I think you’ve got something solid on your hands, and adding those features will make it a must-have for sure.

    @Boris part of what makes this app useful is that nothing this easy exists on a PC, at least not that I’ve found.

  9. This is great. Our DM used it last night and I played with it afterwards. Really nice. I can’t wait for more sound updates. And I hope an iPad 3 compatible update comes soon (buttons are out of sync with the graphic).

  10. Thank you all guys – now, this is the kind of feedback we constantly look for!

    @gamefiend : I’ll keep you updated about those features, as soon as they’re out you’ll be the first to know!

    @Boris : who knows, maybe DMDJ for PC in the future? 😉

    @DaMacGuy : thank you for the kind words! More sound updates are on their way – we’re also aware of the iPad3 issue, an update is on its way to solve it!

    Thank you all!

    Antonis

  11. Thanks for posting about this! I purchased the app and played around with it last night. It’s very cool, and sounds as if it may become even better!

    Some things I’d like to see in a further update:

    More variety in the sound effects library. Having an assortment of human laughs is fine, but screams, moans and cries would be welcome. In addition, how about a category of physical sound effects such as scrapes, crashes, turning gears, arrow hits and horses’ hooves?

    If I have one complaint about the current FX, it’s that many of he monsters sound pretty same-y.

    It would also be nice not to have to keep digging down into the FX menus every time one wants to play a sound. I’d love to have some assignable FX buttons on the main menu screen.

    Other than that, I think it’s a great app and can’t wait to hear what comes next!

  12. Looks like a great app. I just need to get an apple emulator for my android tablet 🙁

  13. Hi!

    Following numerous requests, regarding the ability for users to use their own tracks with DMDJ, we decided to do something about it. So, after a long period of hard work, I can announce that you can now import your own music tracks in DMDJ!

    You can find extensive information on how to do so in our updated User Manual: http://www.bluefacegames.com/dmdj/docs/DMDJ-User-Guide.pdf

    Or you can visit our page: http://www.bluefacegames.com/applications/dmdj/

    The users’ music update, along with some other content & functionality updates, are available in DMDJ v1.2. http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/dmdj/id500586528?mt=8

    Last but not least: thank you for your feedback and suggestions – we’re already working on the next items in our “suggestion & ideas” list, and this is thanks to you and your valuable feedback!

    So, cheers for your help – let us know what you think!

    Antonis

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  1. […] in an easier way to manage sounds and music during your games? Quinn Murphy @ Critical Hits reviewed DMDJ from Blueface a couple of weeks ago – integrating an RPG music soundboard and dice roller in one app for […]