Months after Car Seat Headrest signed to prestigious label Matador Records, bandleader Will Toledo compared Matador co-founder Chris Lombardi to nothing less than an omnipotent God: "Got to have faith in the one above me, got to believe that Lombardi loves me," sang Toledo on the 2015 album Teens of Style. Five years later, members of CSH have released a video game depicting a world ruled by a tyrannical Matador Records. The game's final boss? None other than Lombardi himself.
Since their breakthrough with 2016’s album Teens of Denial, Car Seat Headrest have become one of the major forces in rock music, with touring and festival appearances cementing their popularity. While the group’s droll lyrics have always been sharply funny, drummer Andrew Katz decided to take things a step further into the comedy world by making extensively absurd, satirical rap music under the moniker of 1 Trait Danger. After a few years, the project has taken on a life of its own, leading to two albums that contain an elaborate cast of characters, unique stories, and repeated musical motifs. It’s all been building to Lombardi’s World, a multiplayer video game that acts as the peak of the 1 Trait Danger world so far.
The journey to Lombardi’s World starts with 1 Trait Danger’s debut, 1 Trait High. On that album, the listener follows a high schooler named Trait and his bully, Cossett, in a world where bitcoin replaces modern currency. Katz imbues these songs with an anything goes attitude, as the album diverges into several random tangents, from an appearance from Katz pretending to be Jimmy Fallon, to a mathlete tournament that ends poorly. In the 1 Trait High storyline, modern geek vs. jock culture is flipped on its head – the hackers are the bullies here. It’s best exemplified by one song where Cossett bullies Trait into giving him his bitcoins, before mocking him for being physically in shape and not coding in Python.
When putting together 1 Trait High’s physical edition, Katz opted for a different type of physical medium than usual, creating a limited version Bitcoin-shaped flash drive. His love-hate relationship with making video games started here. “I wanted it to be a little more of an experience, so I added this game on there that was ten thousand random file folders nested in each other, and there was a little puzzle that you could solve within the files that would lead you to hidden stuff like pictures and unreleased songs,” said Katz.
By the time he was recording 1 Trait World Tour, the sophomore album that follows Trait’s career as a touring rapper, Katz knew he wanted to build another game. This resulted in 2019’s Cossett’s World, a blocky and ugly platform game that’s more difficult than it is enjoyable. There’s no real storyline to be found aside from assorted puzzles, but it concludes with the player trying to kill the 1 Trait High character of Cossett, voiced by Car Seat Headrest’s guitarist Ethan Ives.
“It was my first real foray into video game making, and it shows. It’s not very well made,” said Katz.
While Katz put Cossett’s World together on his own, he knew he wanted the next game to be even bigger. After seeing fans connect over solving the puzzles on the Bitcoin-themed thumb drive, he realized he wanted to make another community-based game with the skills he had acquired from doing the netcode for Cossett’s World. He knew he couldn’t do it alone, so last April, Katz put out a tweet to see if any programmers would work with him to create what would become Lombardi’s World, his third game.
“I knew that I had no clue how to start making a game online, so I basically just asked if anybody would help me,” said Katz. A week later, Emi Schaufeld responded and the two started working.
“We got on a couple-hour phone call, and I talked to her about my vision and to see if it was possible,” Katz continued. “I think not even she knew how difficult it would be.”
Katz programmed what pieces of script he could, while Schaufeld researched how she could put together an online multiplayer game. Even with her experience as a student at New York University's Game Center, the development was a learning process for the duo.
“I had seen what Cossett's World was like and knew together we could definitely do something more interesting than that. Online multiplayer games are not generally the type of game you would make with as small a team as ours, so it was a lot of learning, watching tutorials, trying, and failing. There was a lot of frustration when we failed, but it was really exciting having it slowly come together,” said Schaufeld via email.
Eventually, Katz and Schaufeld couldn’t take the game any further. After watching his tutorials for advice, the two enlisted Nathan of the Dapper Dino YouTube channel to help get the game’s multiplayer features functional. “If you were to ask him about it, [Nathan would] tell you that the entirety of the network code should have been rewritten from the ground up because I was so bad at it,” said Katz.
With time, the game morphed into a different beast than initially imagined. While the original aim was simpler, the finalized Lombardi’s World consists of a series of distinct environments and challenges to complete before you can battle with Lombardi. These include a wintry area where the player goes sledding, a hedge maze, and several parkour levels.
“I started to think about it as like an escape room, where you come into a place knowing nothing, you need to survey the entire area and collect clues, figure out what those clues are for, and start unlocking puzzles to lead to some final thing. In this case, the final thing is beating Lombardi,” Katz said.
So what does Chris Lombardi think of the game? We reached out via email and he explained it simply: “While I haven’t played the game I’m kind of into the idea of being a super villain. They always seem to have the most fun, until they don’t.”
For fans of the 1 Trait discography, Lombardi’s World’s ending sequence features a taste of Katz's soon-to-be released third album. “Shut the fuck up, shut your mouth and shut up, 1 Trait’s back so it’s time to get the fuck up,” raps Katz on 1 Trait Bangers’ opening cut, all before an explosive guitar solo closes the track. The song, which is one of 1 Trait’s best yet, plays across the game when the player eventually beats Lombardi’s wolf avatar.
“I think some of the stuff on this album is some of the funniest we’ve done yet, and some of the most well-produced for sure. I’ve got someone building us a 3D venue, and there’s going to be a concert [in the game] when [the album] comes out,” Katz said.
With Lombardi’s World’s development now over, it’s doubtful that Katz would dip his toes into game making ever again. During a cutscene where Katz explains the game's closing sequence, he talks directly to the player, saying “The last six months have been just terrible...I want to be a musician again. I hate being a game dev. Fuck this shit.” While it’s worth noting Katz said a similar thing after completing Cossett’s World, he seems convinced to never do this process again. “If you’re thinking about making a video game...don’t.”