EA books Brutal Legend for fall '09 gig

EXCLUSIVE Q&A: Megapublisher rockin' out with Double Fine's PS3/360 heavy-metal fantasy; Tim Schafer and David DeMartini bang their heads about the deal's details.

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Two months ago, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello addressed rumors that his company might be publishing Brutal Legend. The heavy-metal-themed fantasy action game, created by Psychonauts designer Tim Schafer, was originally slated to be released by Vivendi Games. However, once Vivendi merged with Activision in July, the project was orphaned along with Ghostbusters, World in Conflict: Soviet Assault, Chronicles of Riddick: Escape From Butcher Bay, and others.

"It's a very significant creative risk," Riccitiello said of Brutal Legend. "[But] sometimes significant creative risks end up being some of the world's best products. Spore was also a significant creative risk. So was The Sims, Portal, [and] BioShock. But so was Grim Fandango."

Riccitiello's reference to Schafer's 1998 PC classic--still regarded as a pioneering achievement--was taken by many as a hint that EA was interested in Brutal Legend. Exactly how interested wasn't clear until today, when the Redwood City, California-based publisher announced that it is indeed publishing the game next fall for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. The deal was sealed only recently, with help from one-time original Xbox designer and current Hollywood agent Seamus Blackley, who leads the game-talent division at Hollywood's Creative Artists Agency.

Speaking exclusively with GameSpot, Schafer said that he was intrigued after several major independent developers inked recent deals under the EA Partners [EAP] program. "It was great for us to get the reaction when [EA] saw the games. That meant a lot to us," said Schafer. "It actually was, and just seeing also all the partners that EAP has been working with, you know, with Harmonix, id [Software], Valve, Epic Games, and Grasshopper [Manufacture]."

Brutal Legend hero Eddie Riggs rides the lightning.
Brutal Legend hero Eddie Riggs rides the lightning.

Unlike some other EAP developers, which pick and choose from a menu of EA's QA, marketing, and distribution resources, Double Fine is opting for a full-blown publishing deal. "I think no one knows how to launch a new IP in a really big, worldwide way more than these guys do," explained Schafer. "You can't go at it in a small way, because it's a whole new idea that you're trying to get across to people."

Indeed, after the critically lauded Psychonauts struggled at retail, EA is determined to lower any "risk" surrounding Brutal Legend by letting Schafer focus on his creative duties. That's a big reason that the game has been pushed to the fall of next year, despite being well along in development. Currently more than 65 people are working full-time on Brutal Legend at Double Fine's world headquarters in San Francisco's SoMa district.

The demented minds at Double Fine.
The demented minds at Double Fine.

"It's not so much about market windows, it's when is the game ready to get in the hands of millions of people?" explained EAP chief David DeMartini. "That's what we need to focus on, is looking at when we can get this game out to the mass market and give Tim as much time as possible to make it the quality-level experience that he wants to make it. And then give EA the opportunity to ramp the excitement around the product, based on how good it is, so that when you release it, you've got a ton of people that are lining up and want to play it."

Helping stoke publicity fires will be the presence of Jack Black, the actor-musician-comedian who voices Brutal Legend's hero, roadie Eddie Riggs. According to Schafer, "Jack is still in the [recording] studio. He has a lot of lines, but he is a big gamer and so he was actually prepared for what he calls 'the phone book,' the script of the game." All told, Schafer said that the game, which lets players roam a phantasmagorical realm inhabited by death-metal-inspired monstrosities, will have "at least" 9,000 lines--many of which Black ad-libbed.

Black shows off his Robert Downey Jr. autograph at the MTV Music Awards.
Photo Credit: MTV.
Black shows off his Robert Downey Jr. autograph at the MTV Music Awards. Photo Credit: MTV.

"There's a section of the game where he really just has to curse out this evil demon who's coming up to him, so it was just better to let him go with it than to try and write it," recalled Schafer, laughing. "Sometimes he's really good about sticking to the script, or improving, whatever is best for that particular moment, and he's really into it." Black will also introduce new footage from Brutal Legend during SpikeTV's 2008 Video Game Awards, which he is hosting on Sunday, December 14.

Double Fine and EA are planning to use Brutal Legend's musical angle to stir up interest. Helping them will be the voice-acting talents of musicians Rob Halford (Judas Priest), Lemmy Kilmister (Motorhead), and Ronnie James Dio (Black Sabbath). Though neither DeMartini nor Schafer would go into specifics, both said there were "big plans" for the soundtrack for the game, which may also feature tracks from Black's own band, Tenacious D.

Did someone say
Did someone say "hot rods"?

For the time being, though, Schafer and his team are focusing his bevy of ideas into an overall "kick-ass" game. "One of the advantages of starting this game with a large team already in place is that I really had five different ideas that I was kind of kicking around," espoused the designer. "I'm like, 'How about this game where you're driving hot rods around and have a broad axe and a guitar and there are all these cool things going on?' ... Everyone just got super excited, and it kept going from there, and Brutal Legend became that game."

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