Published Mar 28, 2016You may've seen Fucked Up's Damian Abraham rip his shirt off and jump into the crowd, but did he ever land on a three-eyed blobby green alien? He does in Loud on Planet X, an indie game and music mashup that opens with a tutorial at iconic Toronto rock club the Horseshoe Tavern before blasting off into space.
From there, Canadian acts — July Talk, Austra, Tegan and Sara, Cadence Weapon, Metric and METZ among them — defeat waves of icky extraterrestrials with the power of song and assists from bouncers, smoke machines and rock photographers.
"Aesthetically, my favourite special attack is Purity Ring's," says Alex Jansen, the creative force behind Pop Sandbox's Loud on PX. "It's this really cool geometric simple design. And Fucked Up's just nails it. It's the perfect special attack."
"Being immortalized in an avatar, that's the dream," says Lights, who appears solo and alongside Shad. "I think of any person who is a fan of video games — being able to play yourself, that's kind of weird and out of body and I'm so hyped on that.
"I am inspired by video games a lot," she adds. "The fantasy element is something that takes you out of your everyday and that's what music is supposed to do, too."
Music games have been a staple since the Dance Dance Revolution days. But while Rock Band and Just Dance focus on classic rock and radio pop, Loud, available on PS4, Steam, iOS and Android, takes the indie route with a Toronto twist.
Canada's biggest city is actually quite small when it comes to its artistic communities. Jansen wasn't even part of the local music scene. He came out of film and graphic novels (Kenk) before making Pipe Trouble, a retro 2D puzzle game that became a bête noire after the right accused the oil industry satire of promoting eco-terrorism.
Jansen wound up working with Fucked Up's Jonah Falco and Mike Haliechuk on Pipe Trouble's original score while befriending Broken Social Scene's Brendan Canning through pickup soccer. These three would become the linchpins in reaching out to the music community for his new game.
"Fucked Up were the first band on board for Loud, and they did an original score again. Brendan was all like, 'Let me bridge some intros to a few people.' That got the ball rolling. So we just started to cross over communities."
The genesis of the game itself came from Jansen trying to unwind from these stressful social-issues projects by playing retro games like Ms. Pac-Man on a MAME emulator. "I would turn down the music and play with either my own music or music that people were sharing," he says. "That was also around the time that I started playing Plants vs. Zombies."
The result was Loud on Planet X's mix of tower defense and rhythm shooter that brings the indie game and music worlds together. But they've long been a great fit in Toronto — check out Jonathan Mak's Sound Shapes or Jim Guthrie's work with Capybara Games.
In fact, Toronto's supportive indie game community is not unlike the music one that Broken Social Scene fostered, and coincidentally Jansen also brought BSS drummer Justin Peroff onboard. The pair contributed an original score track, as did emerging electro-pop artist Harrison, whom Peroff manages.
"Alex proposed Harrison's involvement, which was absolutely perfect because Harry's a big gamer and we were talking about getting him involved in some videogame scoring. So it was very serendipitous," says Peroff. When he heard Canning was involved, he "kinda snaked [his] way in there" for a new collaboration.
"The team is really doing a great thing by putting the Toronto music scene on the global platform of this video game. The bands they choose are really dynamic in genre and even in age," he says.
Expanding artist fan bases is one of the game's primary functions, which helped it get FACTOR funding, and one hopes the curated song list will be bolstered by more in the future if it proves successful.
"You might buy Loud because you know one of the headliners, but the goal is you're hopefully going to come away discovering some really awesome new band," Jansen says.
"We're a pretty big alternative to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I've heard it described like they are the stadium experience and we're Coachella," he adds, before changing metaphors. "We're the first dive bar where you discover your new favourite band."