The members of Orange County’s heavy metal slayers Avenged Sevenfold recently found themselves in a rather enviable position in this depressed music sales climate. That is, the band had money to spare — about a cool half-million — for a dream project.
So the group made a video game.
Late last week, Avenged Sevenfold released “Hail to the King: Deathbat,” a mobile role-playing game available for iOS and Android devices. This isn’t a quick cash-in, says lead singer M. Shadows, noting that the $4.99 game was two years in development and boasts levels that can encourage multiple hours of exploration. The game uses touch controls to have players battle a multitude of undead creatures, telling the story behind the group’s long-standing “Deathbat” logo.
“A band like Mumford & Sons or Imagine Dragons or Coldplay — there’s no game to be made there,” Shadows says. “They’d have to come up with something completely fresh. When you look at us, or Iron Maiden, someone with a logo and a strong personality in terms of what we do image-wise onstage, we felt that the game had already written itself, at least visually.”
Yet Shadows’ goal was more ambitious than just bringing to life the group’s album art. Shadows said he wanted to bring a massive “Legends of Zelda”-like fantasy experience to hand-held devices, complete with original 8-bit-inspired tunes. So the long-standing Warner Bros. band went the indie route, self-financing the game to ensure creative control and working closely with Subscience Studios to get it made.
“We funded this 100% ourselves,” Shadows says. “Nobody owns any of this other than the five members of the band. We put our money where our mouth is. Every single penny has come from us. We put a little money aside when we go on tour, and we were excited about this.”
Emphasizing that this wasn’t just a vehicle to promote the group’s music, Shadows notes that the band went into the studio last summer to record eight tracks inspired by vintage video games. Avenged Sevenfold songs crop up now and again, but Shadows studied some of his favorite video game soundtracks, including those to early “Zelda” and “Castlevania” games, for inspiration.
What he learned was that many Avenged Sevenfold songs, while occasionally outfitted with the requisite imagery for a modern sword-and-sorcery game, weren’t readily transferable to 8-bit music, a genre better known by aficionados as chiptunes.
“When I think of ‘Zelda,’ I thought of all these great melodies and interesting places they take you with the music,” Shadows says. “But most of their songs just kind of have marching drum rhythm to it. ... We didn’t realize that at first. That’s what makes you feel like you’re on a mission inside a world.”
What’s more, some lands featured in the game needed aural accompaniment that existed outside the Avenged Sevenfold catalog.
“We needed a ‘Super Mario Bros. 3’ desert vibe,” Shadows says. “I don’t think we had the songs that we could just turn into 8-bit stuff. But we became really excited little kids when we decided to not write metal and write video game music.”
Video games have been an obsession of Shadows for a few years. A regular player of such games as “Battlefield 4,” Shadows also cites Sega’s remake of Disney’s old “Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse” among his recent virtual adventures. Should “Hail to the King” do well, Shadows says he wants to investigate bringing a sequel to home consoles.
But for now he just wants to make sure Avenged Sevenfold fans aren’t offended by the video game interpretation of Deathbat.
“We’ve been a band for 15 years, and a lot of people have the Deathbat tattooed on them,” he says. “There’s a lot of responsibility when you’re saying, ‘Now we’re giving you the Deathbat back story.’ It’s one of those things where you can completely mess it up. We had to find a balance among incorporating things our fans know while also making a very cool intergalactic story with the typical battle between good and evil.”