Amid the din of all the other music-based games being released this fall comes a decidedly unique twist on the convergence between music and videogames: "Brütal Legend."
Unlike the play-along focus of the "Guitar Hero" and "Rock Band" franchises, "Brütal Legend" offers a comedic fantasy homage to the world of heavy metal. It stars Jack Black as roadie Eddie Riggs and features appearances by Judas Priest frontman Rob Halford, Motörhead's Lemmy and Ozzy Osbourne. The game draws heavily on the imagery and lyrics of heavy metal albums at all levels -- from plot to art direction to dialogue -- and features a soundtrack of more than 100 songs.
The much-anticipated title is the brainchild of veteran game developer Tim Schafer, an unabashed heavy metal fanatic. The founder/president of Double Fine Productions has built a cult following in the videogame industry with such hits as "The Secret of Monkey Island" and "Psychonauts," leading to a great deal of hype and anticipation for the upcoming "Brütal Legend."
In an interview with Billboard, Schafer talks about how the title stands apart from the broader music-game genre, how music can rise above the level of a mere soundtrack and what he believes "Brütal Legend" has in common with Peter Jackson's "The Lord of the Rings" movies.
Did you set out to make an action/adventure game first or was it a music-led thing from the start?
It was a fantasy game inspired by the world of heavy metal album covers. When you look at those great illustrations on Iron Maiden or Diamond Head albums, there's an unbridled creativity there. They're not worried about something being too much, there's no worry about going over the top. They just threw everything on there that they thought looked awesome.
We wanted to create a world where you could go around every corner and see another heavy metal album cover. So then we wondered who we could drop into that world, and I always thought roadies were great characters that can do anything. At a moment's notice they can deal with unexpected situations and fix anything with duct tape.
Then the gameplay came out of what would satisfy that fantasy. You've got to have a broadax. Then give a guy a guitar for a ranged weapon and the combat just came out of that.
At what point did you start approaching artists and labels?
First we got Jack [Black] involved in the project. Early on when we were doing character design, we were inspired by Jack Black and the characters he plays where he just loves the music...just unironically loved rock for both its awesome side and its ridiculous side at the same time. He's just so sincere about it and we wanted Eddie Riggs to be like him.
We showed him our concept for the game and he agreed to do it on the spot. Once we had him, everyone could tell it was a legitimate thing. There have been a couple of heavy metal games but nothing that big. People could tell we were going to be the one to give a heavy metal game its rightful treatment. Then we got Lemmy and Rob Halford. We dealt with their management mostly for their name and likeness. Once you get the artist onboard, they can make things happen very quickly in terms of song approvals and stuff like that, because it was about them.
What do you mean by "rightful treatment"?
I feel like heavy metal games are like "Lord of the Rings" in a certain way, where for years people had done various versions of "Lord of the Rings" and it wasn't until Peter Jackson's version that someone decided to do it completely and do it right. I don't think anyone now wants to do their version of "Lord of the Rings." We wanted to be that ambitious with this.
What was it like working with icons like Ozzy Osbourne, Rob Halford and Lemmy?
Lemmy was pretty quiet at first and we were really intimidated because he was the first of the metal gods to come into the studio. It turns out he's really into ancient warfare and collecting swords and knives from old armies, and he's really into science fiction about alternative futures where modern warfare is fought with medieval weapons. He even invited me to his house to check out his knife collection. And it was awesome. He's just a really authentic guy. He's exactly what he appears to be like.
Then Ozzy just wanted to crack everybody up. He was really funny and good-natured. He had a lot of great stories about his album covers. I actually got to bring in my original vinyl copy of "Diary of a Madman" -- which was the first album I ever bought -- and have him sign it and ask him all these questions. If I knew when I was 14 that I would be having this conversation, I'd have died.
Did any of their ideas or feedback make it into the game?
I was talking to Ozzy because I hadn't written his character as one who swore that much. He plays the Guardian of Metal. So he'd say words like "bloody" instead, and I didn't think that sounded right. I just couldn't hold him back from swearing, and I didn't want to. So we just let it rip. And Ozzy was saying how he had watched the "Osbournes" show in the U.K., where they don't censor it, and it felt weird and wrong to him because he watched the American version so many times. He actually preferred the bleeped-out version because it makes the jokes funnier in some ways. So there's a thing in the beginning of the game where a pop-up asks you if you want the language or not.
At some point, Eddie flips off the camera and we put up a Parental Advisory warning right over the hand, which I think is another reference to heavy metal because of what we went through with Tipper Gore and the Parents Music Resource and the hearings.
How do you see "Brütal Legend" fitting into the broader convergence between the music and videogame industries?
You see a lot of interest by record labels in ways to get their songs in front of people in different ways, because they know videogames are stealing the attention of people who might otherwise be watching TV or listening to music. There's only 24 hours of the day and videogames are taking over more and more of those hours. So they want to get into that space and have their songs in there.
Is there room to make similar types of games based on genres other than heavy metal?
If I was doing one inspired by New Orleans jazz or something, I wouldn't necessarily make it an epic combat game. That just fits heavy metal.
You can showcase all kinds of music by making the right game for that music. [Videogames] tend to be a bit narrow in their focus and explore the same territory over and over again. Like World War II and space. Life is very broad and music covers all aspects of life. But videogames only cover a small portion of it. Videogames can only benefit by including more types of music and making more kinds of games that showcase that type of music.