From Billboard charts to Blasting Aliens.
Long before the advent of Guitar Hero and Rock Band, music stars from around the globe began getting involved in video games, be it as stars of the game or working on the games soundtrack. While the quality of the games in question has varied from excellent to bargain bin fodder there can be no doubt as to the amount of games that have toyed with the concept of melding popular music with a gameplay experience.
One of the first attempts at this blending of pop and gaming was the 1983 game titled Journey. Don’t let the name fool you it has nothing to do with last year’s indie masterpiece of the same name and everything to do with American pop/rockers, Journey. The objective of the game was to play as a member of the band and fetch their instruments while avoiding obstacles. The game was universally panned by everyone who had the misfortune of seeing it but it did include one unique feature that is worth mentioning. The Band’s actual faces were used on the sprites in the form of black and white photographs taken of them while on tour. This may not seem like much now but in 1983 this was a huge technological leap.
The Arcade scene continued to host a variety of rock/game crossovers right through til early 90’s. It was at this time that rock and roll hall of famers decided to get in on the action. Revolution X was released into arcades in 1994 and was a light gun game in which players had to shoot their way through 5 levels in order to rescue the kidnapped members of Aerosmith from the New World Order. The game features many of Aerosmith’s more popular tracks such as “Sweet Emotion” and “Walk this Way” as backing music and if the player could complete the game in a specific manner they were treated to some concert footage of Aerosmith playing at Wembley stadium. The game was popular enough to warrant home ports to both Sega Cd and PC but these ports were poorly received and any chance of a sequel was squashed.
But it wasn’t just the arcades that were getting all the music mash-ups, the home consoles were getting in on the fun too. Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker is possibly the most famous and certainly one of the most fondly remembered of these musician based games. Based loosely on Michael’s weird movie/film clip experiment, Moonwalker the game featured Michael progressing his way through the game by beating up goons using his signature dance moves. A lot of care was taken to increase the authenticity of the game and Jackson fans everywhere were very happy with the treatment that their icon received in the video game realm.
Of course, some bands saw video games as a new avenue for self-promotion and no band in the history of the planet is better at self-promotion than KISS. Released in 2000 on PC and later Dreamcast, Psycho Circus – The Nightmare Child was a vanity project if ever there was one. The game is an FPS based on the four members of the band and their stage alter egos as they shoot their way through the forces of evil. Though the game wasn’t as bad as it sounds it certainly didn’t set the world on fire and what’s worse is that for a KISS-branded game it actually featured very little KISS. About as close as it got was some techno versions of Kiss songs on the game’s soundtrack meaning that even core members of the KISS army were unhappy with the game and it wasn’t long before it was banished to the bargain bins of obscurity.
There was one game series that not only did credit to the musicians associated with it but was one of the most loved fighters of a generation. Def Jam Vendetta and its sequel Fight for New York took the Def Jam music label’s large roster of rappers and put them in a fighter that was both unique and entertaining. Featuring rappers such as Snoop Dog, Redman, Ice T, Busta Rhymes and Ludacris as well as Alt Rock legend Henry Rollins, the Def Jam games took an incredibly solid fighting engine and well-told story and wound together a game that was 50% Street Fighter, 50% WWE and 100% fun. Despite these two super well-received games a new developer was brought in by EA to create a sequel for the then new Xbox 360. The result was Def Jam Icon which was almost universally hated and in one foul swoop the series was finished with only the keenest of fans still hoping for a worthy follow up to appear.
Rock artists and pop stars don’t always need to be front and centre in video games, in fact, some have spent a considerable time in the background working on making games as opposed to starring in them. One of the more notable musicians to have worked on video games is Trent Reznor. The NIN frontman was responsible for the industrial metal soundtrack featured in ID software’s Quake. This soundtrack was so well received that NIN gained many a follower from the gaming community as a result. Trent was also responsible for the title track for the most recent Call of Duty game, Black Ops 2. Trent is such a popular figure in video gaming that many people believe the grey triceratops characters in Super Mario World, called Reznors, are named after Trent. Whether this is simply an urban legend or actually fact no one is quite sure but it certainly adds to the popularity of Reznor within gaming circles.
Another cult musician to make a splash on the gaming landscape is Mike Patton. The Legendary singer of Faith No More, Mr Bungle and Tomahawk (just to name a few) has lent his vocal chords to video games on numerous occasions. Without doubt, the highlight of Mike’s foray into video games is playing the titular character in The Darkness one and two. His voice work is simply outstanding and has been applauded by countless people within the gaming industry. When the Darkness screamed “Jaaaaccckkkkiieeee” it sent shivers down player’s spines and this was all thanks to Mike’s pitch perfect performance. Patton has also provided voices for video games such as Portal and Bionic Commando as well as voicing the majority of zombies in the Valve shoot-em- up Left 4 Dead.
If there is one game in particular that deserves a mention for voice work by famous rock stars it is Brutal Legend. Developed by Double Fine, Brutal Legend is a game that is designed around 80’s style heavy metal and as such features not only an epic fist-pumping soundtrack but some of the most famous metal voices on the planet. Jack Black, a famous musician in his own right, voices the main character but it is the supporting cast that really shows their metal chops. Lemmy Kilmister, Rob Halford and even the grandfather of heavy metal himself Ozzy Osbourne. The game received mixed reviews upon release but its love for all things metal has created a cult following for the game and it is fondly remembered by headbanging gamers everywhere
These are just a few examples of how some of the world’s best musicians have added to gamer’s experiences over the last 30 years. Through voice work, soundtrack contribution and even design influence, famous rock and pop stars have added an extra dynamic to many games. Here’s hoping they continue to do so for years to come.