When Avenged Sevenfold's action RPG Hail to the King: Deathbat comes to iOS and Android on Oct. 16 (and you can check out the game's introductory cutscene above), frontman M. Shadows wants to make sure its influences are very clear.
Shadows originally conceived of Deathbat during a break from the band's touring schedule after the release of their Nightmare album. "I wanted to make a triple A console game," Shadows told me. "So I started writing out a game design document. I bought a bunch of books about how people present their games, how people write their GDDs, how to get a publishing deal and how to do all these things. And I've been lucky enough to have a lot of friends such as Mark Lamia at Treyarch and the guys at Activision. So basically I wrote this thing over a whole summer and it was forty, forty five pages ... It was probably 1/8th of the game written out."
"Unless you want to quit Avenged Sevenfold and be the lead on this thing, seriously, it will ruin your life."
Lamia went on to discourage Shadows from a path down triple A ruin. "I took it to Mark, and he said, man, this game is going to cost you literally 200-500 million to do it," Shadows said. "Unless you want to quit Avenged Sevenfold and be the lead on this thing, seriously, it will ruin your life." Lamia suggested instead that Shadows adapt the idea to the mobile space.
"So a few months later we were in Southeast Asia doing a few dates and I saw everybody on their phones on the way to the hotel, playing mobile games," Shadows said. "So I threw the idea out there, saying hey guys, what would you think of doing an Avenged Sevenfold mobile game, something based around the band, but we sort of veer off and do other things with it. Everybody thought it was a no-brainer. And we wanted to do something that was different, and not stick to the rules of mobile and do this thing ourselves."
Shadows love of games showed through in our conversation — he talked about his grandmother buying him a Nintendo in '86, how he got hooked enough by video games that they had to be regulated by his parents. For Shadows, Deathbat is a chance to make the kind of game he'd want to play. It's an action RPG, but there are no stat-based tech tree upgrades, and the idea of grinding seems anathema to him.
"In our game, you're going to get fucking stuck a lot. It's kind of the point."
"That's been a big thing with gaming — it's easier for casual gamers to get into something like that," he said. "There are lots of things I don't like about these games, so I've tried to make sure to keep a more classic approach. And Zelda is a perfect example. Zelda and Mario are very simple when you break down what they do. Link walks through the world and acquires things to help him get through that world, and he never really gets more powerful, he just gains more hearts, and that's his experience. And you basically are stuck with your sword and your shield, and you have to figure out boss patterns, and figure out how an enemy can be struck.
"I wanted to incorporate simple things like that into this game that I think have been lost. Games are holding peoples' hands to get them through because they're more of a movie experience. If they get stuck, they put the game down. Well in our game, you're going to get fucking stuck a lot. It's kind of the point."
Shadows is clear that he doesn't think this is a new career yet, though his engagement with games and his knowledge of the space is obvious throughout our conversation. He talks about an obsession with 100%'ing Super Meat Boy. He told me about watching the game go through multiple rounds of QA, and how he knows players will find bugs anyway, because that's what happens. But mostly, he sounds excited about doing something new.
"I'm lucky that we have a story to tell."
"I think it feels fresh, it does feel fun. It's nice to learn things. Now that I've made a game with these guys, I can go anywhere and talk to game developers and just talk games with them. And I like that, and I like the whole experience of that. But also I'm lucky that we have a story to tell, with the artwork and the discography, and the story we've built with 15 years of avenged sevenfold, it's been nice to have that story to tell."
"For us, a video game really is the next music video," he said. "It's not going to make us popular on the streets, it's not going to do this or that. But our generation grew up on games, and people have short attention spans. This is a chance for us to tell our story — the game is the story of our Deathbat, and there's visuals and artwork and there's music that we put in the game. So this is another creative outlet for us, instead of making shitty music videos on a 40k budget and throwing them on YouTube and hoping that someone goes and finds it."
Hail to the King: Deathbat launches this week on iOS and Android.