Brutal Legend

Brutal Legend is the latest game by Tim Schafer, and stars Jack Black as main character Eddie Riggs. I think most people probably know this game as "Jack Black's video game." He definitely has more reach than Schafer, and Black has been in the spotlight for almost all promotion of Brutal Legend. But, Brutal Legend has Tim Schafer's feel through and through.

Tim Schafer

Tim Schafer is known for creating games with very solid stories backed by great comedic writing that blends into game design. His career started at LucasArts in the hay day of PC adventure games. He co-write and co-designed The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2, and then his role grew larger as he co-directed Day of the Tentacle. His first true lead role came with Full Throttle in 1995, followed by Grim Fandango in 1998.

In 2000, he left LucasArts to form his own company, Double Fine Productions. Their first game was Psychonauts released for PC, Xbox, and PS2 in 2005, which has garnered a very large cult following.

Psychonauts was my introduction to Tim Schafer. Unfortunately, I skipped all those great LucasArts adventure games and still haven't gotten back to them. It was because of its cult following that I finally tracked down a copy in 2007 for Xbox, and it's a pretty hilarious and fun game.


In Psychonauts, you play a child who's been sent to summer camp to learn about psychokinetic powers. These are taught by the camp counselors. Trouble arises as many of the kids at the camp have had their brains stolen and have become mindless drones. Throughout the game you venture into others minds to uncover the mystery and plot.

Psychonauts has some pretty funny characters with great writing. The real comedy is the level design of the world's that exist inside of character's minds. The characters are pretty goofy on the outside. On the inside, their world is imbued with their theme. There's a very strict and meticulous character, who's inner world is nothing but a cube. There's a disco queen, who's inner world is a massive disco dance party. One of my favorite levels is when you inhabit the mind of a fish, and its world puts you as a monster crushing the city beneath you.

The game itself is mostly platforming. The camp is open world, and levels can be revisited to find all the secret crap. Psychonauts definitely has its problems, but the writing and design created lovable characters and a memorable experience. Brutal Legend follows that tradition very well but takes that blend of comedy, story, and game design even further.

Brutal Legend

For Brutal Legend, Schafer created a medieval world based out of his fandom for Heavy Metal music. During his interview on Jimmy Fallon, Schafer said that, as a kid, all his Heavy Metal albums would have elaborately designed mountains and worlds of explosions, fire and brimstone. He wanted to make a game where you could actually walk around in one of these worlds and see what it was like. You can see that in almost all environments in the game. The first areas have exhaust pipe trees, and steel bladed branches. There are massive rock effigies of Band symbols, skulls and bones of gigantic beasts.

In this land, humans are used as slaves and pitted against one another while the demon lords usurp them for their own power and rule. You, as Eddie Riggs, rescue these humans and build an army to eventually overthrow their rule. In the world of Heavy Metal, building an army is a lot like building a band and a fan base. You recruit headbangers, guitarists, roadies and plenty others.

The game itself is completely action/adventure, but features many instances where you team up with your troops to attack enemies. You can command your troops to follow, attack, and defend. These concepts explode further into a full on RTS battle. You build merchandise booths over vents to hell to collect fans. These fans are used to create units for battle. The battle is won when you destroy the opposing team's stage on the other end of the field. The RTS battles can also be played against people, which is the Multiplayer mode in Brutal Legend.

As the game explains, Roadies aren't the ones in the spotlight. But they do direct and shape much of the concert experience. If they do their job correctly, no one will even know that they're there.

Jack Black and casting

Schafer wanted to create an experience that die hard Heavy Metal fans would absolutely love and enjoy. Also from that Fallon interview, Schafer mentioned that throughout initial production and design, he kept thinking to himself, "man, I hope (noted Heavy Metal super-fan) Jack Black will like our game." When it came time to actually cast the role of the main character, it was a no-brainer to reach out to Jack Black and see if he'd be interested.

Many of the other characters in the game are voiced by notable Heavy Metal musicians, such as Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Ozzy Osbourne, Lita Ford of The Runaways, and Rob Halford of Judas Priest, all of whom basically play personas of themselves. Additional voice work includes Tim Curry, Kyle Gass, David Cross, Steve Agee, and Brian Posehn (who actually went to high school with Schafer).

Heavy Metal

In another interview, Schafer has said that Brutal Legend should cater to Heavy Metal fans, but should not be so niche that the general public won't get most of the references. I'm not a Heavy Metal fan by any means, but the casting and environments are pretty obvious. Another interesting parallel which is probably more apparent to Heavy Metal fans, are the subtle comments towards the history of Heavy Metal.

Brutal Legend begins in present day with Eddie Riggs working with a "Metal" band called Kabbage Boy. Kabbage Boy is a bunch of teen kid bringing Pop into Metal. Riggs and another roadie talk about how kids these days just don't understand Heavy Metal and how Metal is dead. "The early 70s were really the days of Heavy Metal."

After being sent back in time, the first major story arc is helping Lars (Rob Halford) and Lita (Lita Ford) overthrow current slavedriver, Lionwhyte. Lionwhyte is a makeup donned pretty boy with massive hair and leather pants, a obvious parody of David Bowie in the 80s.

Much like those kids in the opening adding horrible current Pop culture into Heavy Metal, David Bowie and other Glam Rock bands did the same back in the 80s. They were in the music because of the style and dressing up rather than the actual music. Defeating Lionwhyte/Bowie serves as justice to all Heavy Metal fans out there.

After defeating Lionwhyte, some story occurs and the main love interest kills herself. She's consumed and infected with in the Sea of Black Tears and becomes completely emo. She returns to take you down, dressed in all black with blue skin and heavy eyeliner. She raises her army from the dead, who are a bunch of emo kids with black hair and spikes.

Ophellia's return represents the rise of Death Metal in the 90s. Heavy Metal thought there were finally done with the complete nonsense of Glam Rock, but now they have to deal with something far worse. Eventually you defeat these emo brats and show that Heavy Metal fans are truly the best.

The Perfect Package

I'm not sure that this concept would work with any other music genre. Heavy Metal has a history of branching sub-genres that the core fanbase hates that work as fantastic villains. Heavy Metal has deep roots in Norse mythology, which paint a vibrant medieval landscape. There are axes and swords and fire and demons. Studded arm bands. Skimpy dressed chicks riding fire beasts..

Everything in Brutal Legend works within the aspects of the Story, Gameplay and the theme of Heavy Metal. Schafer may have ran into some problems with Psychonauts, but he definitely learned from them. Brutal Legend is one of the best designed games in a while, and it never takes itself too seriously. It's fun to play and fun to watch as well. ^_^

Definitely play this game.