By Chris Matel
Inspiration is something that can hit anytime, anywhere. For Tim Schafer, Double Fine Productions' founder and co-creative mind behind many of the beloved LucasArts point-and-click adventures, inspiration emerged from what parents might classify as “the devil's work” for his upcoming title, Brütal Legend. From adolescence on, Schafer has revered the world of metal rock, its artists and the visual tapestry that the music evokes. As an homage, Brütal Legend is meant to do right by the music Schafer has grown up with, and is an effort to make childhood fantasies come to life with a studio that plays by their own rules.
Creating the game wasn't an easy task, however. When asked what he has come away with from his studio's latest project, Schafer commented,“I learned that you can't start music licensing soon enough.” And with over 108 licensed songs, from a pantheon of heavy metal gods, it's hard to imagine anything else being more true—especially when specific missions had been built around certain songs, like Ozzy Osbourne's “Mr. Crowley.”
Luckily, it sounds like acquiring the rights to use songs from the likes of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath and others were among Schafer's and his team's only problems. Despite having the project dropped from Activision's portfolio after their merger with Vivendi, and switching publishers to EA, the team continued to work on their tribute to a music genre that conjures lucid visions and “creativity freedom,” according to Schafer, undaunted. To him, metal has an enduring quality that has evolved over time, something the game tries to capture with 80 different characters spanning the various subcultures of rock: hair bands, goth, and power among them.
As Schafer describes it, the different iterations of metal also take their form in the way the world opens up. It may seem hard to make an open world inspired by heavy metal distinct and unique throughout, but, according to Schafer, rock uses and can illicit settings that range from Viking highlands, to a frozen tundra, and straight into the depths of Hell.
There's a myriad of source material from which to create, not only in terms of environment, but also themes and characters.
From the high-tech, to the biblical, and into the world of the occult, Schafer's goal was to “do right by the metal-heads, first.” Uninhibited by corporate pressures, Brütal Legend is meant to use these fantastical themes in their truest form. That isn't to say the game is only for the most hardcore groupie, however.
Schafer's design philosophy is to embrace the unfamiliar and make it work, allowing his team to “get all of the unknowns out of the way early in production.” Thus, the studio has worked to make not only a metal game, but a successful open-world, action-adventure title; and in Brütal Legend's case, an experience built out of its multiplayer offering, and a simplified design strategy.
According to Schafer, where as Psychonauts was a product of various assets of artwork, coding and animation being dog-piled together with fingers crossed and a hope that things would work out, Brütal Legend is the result of a simple system that successfully let Eddie Riggs move, fight and rock out before anything else. From there, it was about creating multiplayer action—the kind that keeps the staff gaming well after hours.
In reality, the single-player campaign is really a “built-in tutorial.”
Ultimately, however, Schafer wanted to make a game that players could feel like they were apart of, a sensation he said he first felt with Mario 64. To help accomplish this, the studio's music director, Emily Ridgway, melds original score with licensed track to create drama while allowing for personal taste. Combing ambient music from Peter McConnell—a man not unfamiliar with Schafer's games—with the awesome set list, Ridgway has been charged with seamlessly mixing audio samples to bring the player from joyriding in Eddie's customizable hot rod while listening to the in-game, non-denominational MP3 player, into a song-driven mission.
It's from this obsession with all things metal that Tim Schafer prepares to release Brütal Legend unto players in mid-October. Given feedback by the very rockers he has admired over the decades, Schafer feels confident that he and his team have created a game that brings a note of credibility to a genre plagued by under-budget music videos and poseur bands early in its existence.
Heavy metal and video games might be a parent's worst nightmare, but Brütal Legend aims to be a tribute to a confluence of cultures that have stood the test of time, and which have played developmental roles for the life of the man behind the game—also, there's no need to fear as Tim has assured us the only demon that could emerge from spinning the game disc backwards while in the console would be the Red Ring of Death.